The Debrief  

Intel Trueview  

Debrief: Teams that improved the most at the 2018 NFL Draft

Print

After three days and 256 picks, the 2018 NFL Draft is finally over. With this Day 3 edition of the 2018 NFL Draft Debrief, let's break down the teams that improved the most:

New York Giants: It's fair to question whether Giants general manager Dave Gettleman made the right choice for his franchise over the long term by selecting running back Saquon Barkley at No. 2 overall and waiting to take a quarterback until the fourth round (Kyle Lauletta, No. 108 overall). There is no doubt, however, that the 2018 team will be better because of it. Barkley and guard Will Hernandez (Round 2, No. 34 overall), a nasty player who many believed had first-round talent, should make Gettleman's team tougher up front right away.

That theme continued with third-round nose tackle B.J. Hill (No. 69), who is reminiscent of former Giant Linval Joseph. Currently making Pro Bowls in Minnesota, Joseph was selected during Gettleman's first stint with the team as pro personnel director. Third-round edge defender Lorenzo Carter (No. 66) has the tools to start sooner rather than later.

This was Gettleman's mission-statement draft, like when he selected hog mollies Star Lotulelei and Kawann Short to open his tenure as Panthers GM in 2013. He wanted this Giants team to get similarly tougher, and he believes they can get back to contending right away. He selected players geared to help QB Eli Manning now, possibly in a fruitless quest to get to 9-7. But nine wins will sure play a lot better in New York than a 3-13 record.

Arizona Cardinals: Steve Keim has the most difficult task possible for a general manager: construct a second era of franchise success with a brand new coach (Steve Wilks) and quarterback (with Carson Palmer retiring). He's off to a great start after landing Josh Rosen with the No. 10 overall pick Thursday without mortgaging the future. Rosen's presence provides clarity for a franchise that looked adrift just a few months ago. The roster still boasts plenty of Keim-picked defensive talent, but the offense is nearly starting over from scratch.

This draft reflected that, with the Cardinals' first four picks coming on the offensive side of the ball. Christian Kirk (Round 2, No. 47) is the type of tough, heady receiver who can line up in the slot and outside and excel quicker than most rookie wideouts. He has a perfect mentor in Larry Fitzgerald, and Kirk has the opportunity to be Arizona's No. 2 receiver before Rosen hits the field. Third-round offensive lineman Mason Cole (No. 97) is expected to play on the interior after lining up at tackle and center at Michigan. That versatility should come in handy for an offensive line constantly plagued by injuries. Fourth-round running back Chase Edmonds (No. 134) profiles as a passing-down back who can give David Johnson a breather.

While the Browns, Jets and Bills all expected to be reborn with quarterback hope this weekend, the Cardinals needed luck and panache to pull it off as well as they did.

Dallas Cowboys: The timing of tight end Jason Witten's retirement news caught the Cowboys off guard, but the franchise legend might have done the team a favor. His playing speed slowed down the Cowboys' offense, and his playing time started to look like a nod to his career achievements. With Dez Bryant already cut, it makes sense for the Cowboys to get a clean break from the Tony Romo-era skill position talent, even if that break isn't their choice.

Witten's departure shouldn't distract from a productive week. Linebacker Leighton Vander Esch (Round 1, No. 19) is a baller who should replace Anthony Hitchens and terrorize ball-carriers alongside Sean Lee. Connor Williams (Round 2, No. 50), who could play tackle or guard, adds quality depth to an offensive line that cost the Cowboys games last year because it was so thin. Owner Jerry Jones was smart not to let his team's line success calcify, continuing to build on its strength. The team's bids for pass-catchers (third-round wideout Michael Gallup, No. 81; fourth-round tight end Dalton Schultz, No. 137; trade acquisition Tavon Austin) are long shots to make major impacts this year, but I like Dallas' first two picks enough to include the Cowboys here.

Chicago Bears, Tennessee Titans and Green Bay Packers: I've already written about each of these teams at length in the winners and losers from the first two days, so I won't repeat myself much here. The common denominator for all three teams was the addition of defensive difference makers, like Bears linebacker Roquan Smith, who can upgrade their teams right away.

Atlanta Falcons: The Falcons' Super Bowl window is so wide open that it aches. They transformed their identity in 2017, but the well-balanced roster still had a chance to win a title, evidenced by Atlanta's first-and-win situation late in the home stadium of the eventual champion Eagles in a Divisional Round playoff game. GM Thomas Dimitroff has to balance the urge to go for it now with his usual long-term vision, and this draft showed off why he's one of the best.

Taking receiver Calvin Ridley in the first round (No. 26 overall) caught a lot of Falcons fans by surprise. I love the pick because Mohamed Sanu, for all his role-player greatness, hasn't topped 705 yards in either of his two seasons in Atlanta thus far. The last time the Falcons drafted a quality wide receiver was when Dimitroff staked his career on the move up for Julio Jones in 2011. After years of striking out with mid-round picks at wideout, Ridley provides a perfect complement to Jones, offering a new dimension to Atlanta's loaded offense. Colorado cornerback Isaiah Oliver, the team's second-round pick (No. 58), could help complete one of the better cornerback trios in football. Dimitroff's mid-round picks continued the organizational theme of speed and testing through the roof that has given the organization an identity. The NFC is loaded, but don't forget about the Falcons as one of the favorites for the Super Bowl.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: GM Jason Licht's trade down in the first round to take defensive tackle Vita Vea (No. 12 overall) continued an offseason-long obsession with his defensive line. The Bucs' Eagles-lite approach should make their beleaguered secondary look better, although Licht did his best to fortify the cornerback position with two second-round picks, M.J. Stewart (No. 53) and Carlton Davis (No. 63). Running back Ronald Jones, taken No. 38 overall, is perhaps the most explosive pure runner in this class and a likely Day 1 starter. He's also emblematic of a draft in which Tampa's needs and high picks matched up well.

Denver Broncos: Like the Giants, the Broncos are a proud franchise that desperately wants to wipe away an embarrassing 2017 season. Perhaps that led GM John Elway to give veteran QB Case Keenum so much money while passing on the quarterbacks in this draft. For the short term, that could pay off. Getting Bradley Chubb at No. 5 overall was a steal, because he has a chance to be the best player in the draft. Playing opposite Von Miller will only help Chubb, a complete performer who plays with an incredible motor on running and passing downs.

Elway has struggled to draft offensive talent throughout his front-office tenure in Denver, but second-round wideout Courtland Sutton (No. 40) has a chance to end that cold streak. Denver desperately needs a No. 3 receiver, and Sutton's ability to win contested catches between the numbers should make him a fine complement to Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders. Third-round running back Royce Freeman (No. 71) should also have a chance to start, giving Elway a chance to have three big early contributors. After years of poor drafts, Elway needs to prove he can evaluate college talent, because many of his successful free-agent signings are no longer with the team.

Los Angeles Chargers: Defensive coordinator Gus Bradley has to be thrilled. The Chargers filled perhaps their biggest need with one of the best values in the draft when safety Derwin James fell to them with the No. 17 overall pick. James can match up with Chiefs TE Travis Kelce in the AFC West and provide the versatility that every team is looking for in safeties. GM Tom Telesco followed that pick up with three more quality defensive picks in the next three rounds. After largely taking care of the offensive line in free agency and the draft over the last two years, the best thing Telesco could do for QB Philip Rivers this year was to re-sign Bradley to a new contract (done) and keep the scoreboard quiet by finding Bradley's type of players.

Follow Gregg Rosenthal on Twitter @greggrosenthal.

Print

Headlines

The previous element was an advertisement.

NFL Shop