The Brandt Report  


Browns, Patriots among teams with most riding on NFL combine


The prospects are the stars of the NFL Scouting Combine. But don't forget about who's watching them: teams that'll be making franchise-shaping decisions based on the player evaluations that will be further refined in Indianapolis. Below, I've identified five teams with the most riding on the combine -- teams that are facing pressure to get the 2018 NFL Draft right by correctly answering key questions about potential draftees at Lucas Oil Stadium.

Cleveland Browns

General manager John Dorsey must finally find a franchise quarterback with either the first or fourth overall pick in the draft -- but he can't focus on one player at the expense of the rest of Cleveland's trove of high-value picks, which includes six picks within the first 65 slots and 12 selections in total. The first task, of course, is to continue evaluating the quarterbacks, though Cleveland is in a really good position, possessing two chances to land one of four signal-callers who can definitely help you win in the NFL (to my mind, Josh Rosen is the safest pick there). Beyond the quarterback question, Dorsey and Co. must use the combine to weigh whether it would make sense to trade one of his second-round choices to the Dolphins for veteran receiver Jarvis Landry, who could provide immediate help for a team that can use all it can get.

Dorsey was in Kansas City when the Chiefs went from the AFC West cellar to a wild-card berth and established a playoff atmosphere, and that transformation involved trading picks for veteran QB Alex Smith. If Cleveland, which is loaded with cap space, feels there's a quarterback out there worth signing, I don't doubt the Browns will get into a bidding war for him. That could potentially free up the team to load up on talent at other positions in the draft. Either way, what the Browns see in Indy will be key.

New England Patriots

If recent history is any indication, the Patriots will be targeting a quarterback in the early to middle rounds to groom as Tom Brady's backup and potential heir apparent, now that Jimmy Garoppolo is in San Francisco. New England currently has just six picks in this draft, so it's incumbent upon this team to come away with five or six young players who can replenish and rejuvenate the roster. Brady is still Brady, but the Patriots need depth -- especially if they lose left tackle Nate Solder to free agency -- and the relative paucity of picks means they have to try to hit on each one. The defense could also stand to be shored up. In terms of prospects who might make sense for them, at quarterback, I like Mike White out of Western Kentucky, Chase Litton out of Marshall and Kyle Lauletta out of Richmond -- second-tier quarterbacks who should be there for the taking after Round 1.

Denver Broncos

John Elway is on an 0-for-3 run in his pursuit of a franchise quarterback via the draft, having struck out on Brock Osweiler, Trevor Siemian and Paxton Lynch. He's in prime position to get it right in 2018 via the No. 5 overall pick, even if he has to trade up to secure the passer Denver likes. Keep in mind that Denver's coaches worked with Josh Allen and Baker Mayfield at the Senior Bowl -- that could give them an advantage in terms of knowing those quarterbacks.

That said, the Broncos could use help in other spots, with the running back situation potentially in need of an upgrade and with receivers Emmanuel Sanders and Demaryius Thomas getting a year older. Might they consider signing Kirk Cousins and using their draft capital to replenish the rest of the roster? That fifth overall pick is a plum spot, and it might make sense to snag Minkah Fitzpatrick (Bradley Chubb will not likely drop that far). Or Denver could trade down and still nab someone like pass rusher Marcus Davenport.

Buffalo Bills

The Bills' trip to the playoffs in 2017 was a feel-good story. It was also a minor miracle. Coach Sean McDermott has his work cut out for him in his second season at the helm, given that everyone on the roster got a year older -- including offensive centerpiece LeSean McCoy, who, though still plenty productive in 2017, is about to acquire the dreaded label of "30-year-old running back." Plus, there is still the matter of quarterback Tyrod Taylor. Is he the answer at the position? With Taylor carrying a significant cap hit in 2018, it could behoove the team to try to draft his replacement. With two picks in each of the first two rounds, they'll have the chance to address some major needs, whether under center (perhaps by trading up) or on both sides of the line. With a neck injury forcing Eric Wood to retire, they could look to a draft rich in centers for his replacement. Then there's the matter of potentially having to replace defensive tackle Kyle Williams, who could retire or sign elsewhere. If Buffalo is going to continue trending in the right direction, the team must make the most of this draft.

Carolina Panthers

GM Marty Hurney was placed on paid leave in February while the NFL investigated whether he violated the league's personal conduct policy in regard to harassment accusations made against him by his former wife. Though Hurney was cleared, he must make up for the time lost. And he has plenty to do to boost a roster in need of restocking at a variety of positions. Guard Andrew Norwell, defensive tackle Star Lotulelei and defensive end Julius Peppers might all be gone, while mainstays like tight end Greg Olsen (32), Thomas Davis (34) and Ryan Kalil (32) have plenty of miles on them, with Kalil and Davis planning to retire after this season. Even after the release of Charles Johnson and Jonathan Stewart, Carolina is still projected to have just $27.6 million in cap space, according to Over the Cap. This team obviously has some very useful pieces, including speed receiver Curtis Samuel, linebacker Luke Kuechly, defensive tackle Kawann Short, running back Christian McCaffrey and, of course, quarterback Cam Newton. This draft will be key to keeping the Panthers in the competitive mix.

Follow Gil Brandt on Twitter @Gil_Brandt.



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