The 2018 NFL Draft will be held April 26-28 at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. As we hurtle toward the offseason's marquee event, Jeremy Bergman examines one pressing question for each NFC team.
Arizona Cardinals: Will Steve Keim surprise us all and trade up for their franchise QB?
Strange things could happen in the desert this spring. Despite signing Sam Bradford and Mike Glennon to replace Carson Palmer, Drew Stanton and Blaine Gabbert, the Cards are contenders to find their QB of the future in the first round. The Steves (Wilks and Keim) were fixtures on the QB pro-day circuit. Arizona was negligent last year, when both Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson were within reach, but the Chiefs and Texans each hopped the Cards via trade. In retrospect, that inaction was one of last season's great blunders. Will Arizona use its 15th overall pick -- and whatever else it might take -- to make up for it?
For the Falcons this draft, the focus should be on the front seven. Though Atlanta spent its first pick last year on Takk McKinley, the losses of Clayborn and Poe in free agency impair a defensive line in need of more pocket-crashing power. Not much changed on the offense this offseason -- aside from the exit of Taylor Gabriel, as illustrated in our NFC South Roster Reset -- so the Falcons are free to focus on this, one of their few weak spots. Alabama's Da'Ron Payne would be a steal at No. 26, while fellow SEC defensive tackle Taven Bryan and Michigan's Maurice Hurst also represent good value in the back end of Round 1.
Things are complicated in Carolina. The Panthers are in the middle of an ownership change; they hired Marty Hurney for another GM go-around after firing him in 2012; and Carolina's big offseason move was to fill a hole while simultaneously digging another one in trading 23-year-old cornerback Daryl Worley for 29-year-old deep threat Torrey Smith. In Hurney's first draft since '12, he must address Carolina's issues outside the trenches, which have grown more prevalent ever since Norman's unceremonious ouster in 2016 and Benjamin's trade in 2017. But which vulnerable position is a greater priority for Hurney?
Da Bears' hype train left Chicago Union Station in early January, when Chiefs offensive coordinator and latest Andy Reid disciple Matt Nagy was hired to replace John Fox and coach up Mitchell Trubisky, a signal that the organization was looking to replicate, literatim, what the Rams did with Sean McVay and Jared Goff in 2017. Chicago has since surrounded The Truth with his very own Robert Woods (Allen Robinson), Sammy Watkins (Taylor Gabriel) and Cooper Kupp (Trey Burton). But where will Ryan Pace find his version of Andrew Whitworth, a bacon-saving offensive lineman? Chicago will keep its fingers crossed that the top of the draft is as QB-heavy as advertised, and somehow Quenton Nelson, arguably the draft's top talent, falls to No. 8. If not, it's BPA for a young roster looking to forge its own identity -- as long as it somewhat resembles the Rams'.
Dallas Cowboys: How exactly will the Joneses choose to go on the defensive?
With Dez Drama, Part XLII tabled following a pair of low-wattage receiver acquisitions (Allen Hurns, Deonte Thompson), the Joneses are free to play keep-up on defense. Dallas is entering the third season of the Dak-Zeke rookie-contract era, meaning it has about two more seasons to completely maximize its roster potential outside of the QB and RB positions. The Cowboys' promising secondary still needs more work, but Dallas spent four of its first six picks last year on defensive backs. Sean Lee isn't getting any younger, and Jaylon Smith needs more help at linebacker, too. Dallas could also double down by taking another defensive lineman in the first round to protect against a potential DeMarcus Lawrence departure next offseason. Big D's D needs more D-velopment, but where to start?
Detroit Lions: How can Matt help Matt?
Matthew Stafford is the franchise, so the new regime should try its damnedest to protect him with either skill-position or line help. Eric Ebron's out after four meh years. Is it time to try again at tight end in the draft? Detroit signed old-school (not "Old School") tight end Luke Willson in the offseason to replace Ebron, but new Lions coach Matt Patricia is used to practicing against multi-TE sets in New England. Might he go searching for his own Rust Belt Rob Gronkowski in the middle of the first round and reach for Dallas Goedert or Mike Gesicki? Or will the lead-head rookie signal-caller stay level-headed and protect Stafford the old-fashioned way: with help on the offensive line, where Detroit's guard of two seasons (Graham Glasgow) is taking over at center?
Green Bay Packers: How'll the new guy handle his first draft on the Throne of Cheese?
Green Bay is in unusual territory. Fresh off a losing season, the Pack is back in the top half of the first round for the first time since 2009, when Green Bay snagged 2010 NFC Championship Game hero B.J. Raji with the ninth overall selection. The Packers have also taken an unconventional approach, at least by their standard, to free agency. They're participating! Brian Gutekunst's new regime addressed roster needs by signing Muhammad Wilkerson and Jimmy Graham, but will he continue the Cheesehead tradition of successfully building through the draft? Partially due to injury, Green Bay's defensive selections from last year haven't borne fruit quite yet, so Gutekunst wouldn't be blamed for tapping another rookie defensive back. After the initial run of corners and safeties at the end of the top 10, secondary secondary options like Mike Hughes and Josh Jackson will likely be available for Green Bay at No. 14.
Los Angeles Rams: Who will be the cherry on top of Wade Phillips' wild offseason?
Mwah! The masterpiece is nearly complete. Les Snead's offseason reshuffling of the defense saw three decorated defenders (Marcus Peters, Aqib Talib, Ndamukong Suh) swoop in and claim starting roles, instantly improving Wade Phillips' unit from last season. But now this Extreme Makeover: Rams House Edition needs a finishing touch in the form of an edge pass rusher or a linebacker to replace the losses of Robert Quinn and Alec Ogletree. The Rams haven't truly hit on a front-seven draft pick since taking Aaron Donald in 2014. Unfortunately, L.A., having gone ALL-IN on 2018, sold its first- and second-round picks and doesn't draft until the back half of the third round (87th overall).
Protect Captain Kirk at all costs. That mantra should be printed on serifed inspirational posters and plastered on every wall in Minnesota's new Eagan complex. $84 million in guaranteed money tells us that Cousins is the Minnesota Vikings for the next three years, so any and all resources further acquired should be used to keep him upright. With their tackles signed through 2021, Minnesota should look to draft the best guard available -- and trade up to get one if necessary. With Joe Berger out to pasture and Nick Easton and new addition Tom Compton both in line to hit free agency next March, guard is the only high priority on an otherwise-loaded roster.
New Orleans Saints: Can Mickey Loomis three-peat?
Will New Orleans' 2018 draft be remembered as "Return of the Jedi" or "The Godfather Part III"? Loomis and Jeff Ireland have put together back-to-back bonkers drafts by the Bayou. They snagged Sheldon Rankins and Michael Thomas in 2016 and reaped a quality quartet in 2017, one that produced two Rookie of the Year awards (Alvin Kamara and Marshon Lattimore) and took the Saints from 7-9 purgatory to the cusp of the NFC title game. How in the wide, wide world of sports can you follow that up? With Demario Davis and Patrick Robinson in-house, the defense looks locked and loaded. Might New Orleans stock up on offensive talent for the stretch run of the Drew Brees era by drafting a late-first-round weapon like Christian Kirk or one of the tight ends? There's also chitter-chatter about New Orleans selecting the heir apparent to Brees in this year's draft -- Lamar Jackson, Mason Rudolph and Luke Falk are possibilities. But would New Orleans dare trade up from 27 to make a splash, perhaps for Baker Mayfield?
New York Giants: How will Dave Gettleman choose to alter the course of NFL history?
The above question is not hyperbole. Gettleman holds all the cards in his hands -- or, more specifically, an infinitely valuable No. 2 overall pick at the top of a QB-rich draft filled with QB-needy teams licking their chops behind him. The Giants can thank the crosstown Jets, who traded up for the No. 3 pick, for their burdensome responsibility. Big Blue's roster is wallowing in the purgatory between playoff contender and rebuild-in-waiting, so how Gettleman attacks the draft will say a lot about the direction of the franchise he has inherited. And it will also dictate the pace of the draft and the course of league history, setting into motion a chain of events that will affect the landing spots for multiple organization-altering (for better or worse) quarterbacks.
(Tri-state side note: Gettleman and Co. also have the added power of dictating the Jets' future at QB. How much cross-Jersey gamesmanship and sabotage will go into the pre-draft waffling and misinformation campaign?)
Here are the GM's options at No. 2, ranked by sense, in my opinion:
1) Draft the QB of the future, possibly Josh Rosen after Cleveland nabs Sam Darnold.
2) Trade down for an absolute haul -- potentially from Buffalo -- signaling a rebuild.
3-6) Await apocalypse.
7) Draft best player available (i.e., Bradley Chubb, Saquon Barkley, Quenton Nelson). Yes, New York would be filling a position of need, but with so many teams in need of a QB, the Giants would be absolutely wasting the value of this pick in doing so. Nelson and/or Chubb can be acquired by trading a little farther down in the top 10; Barkley won't last past the top five.
Philadelphia Eagles: What do you get for the roster that has everything?
Yawn. The Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles -- holy hell, that sounds weird -- had yet another stellar offseason under Howie Roseman, improving an already top-tier front seven by trading for Michael Bennett, signing Haloti Ngata and apparently yanking Chris Long out of impending retirement. Philly also made a lateral -- er, vertical -- move at wide receiver by trading Torrey Smith and signing Mike Wallace. In essence, the best roster in football got ... better. "SKOL," your Philly friends incessantly mock this summer. The Eagles' first-round pick won't improve their roster demonstrably, but he might fill one of Philadelphia's few holes or shallow positions. With Brent Celek and Trey Burton out, Philly needs a second, athletic tight end, and there should be many available at No. 32.
San Francisco 49ers: Best player available or trade down again?
In the second year of their five-year plan, the 49ers are in a fascinating spot in the draft. San Francisco is selecting ninth, right at the end of a top 10 that could see up to five quarterbacks fly off the board. Considering their desire for young talent, the Niners are in a perfect position to trade down to a team desperately desiring the fourth or even fifth quarterback available, like Buffalo, Arizona or New Orleans. It would be the second time in two years under John Lynch that the 49ers traded down. But San Francisco needs depth in nearly every area -- defensive line and secondary are the most pressing -- and there will be highly touted options still available at No. 9. Lynch and Kyle Shanahan's active first draft was generally regarded as a success, but does it behoove Santa Clara's dynamic duo to attack this year's go-around with the same free-wheeling attitude?
Seattle Seahawks: Can John Schneider hit in Round 1 for the first time since 2012?
John Schneider's early-round draft history ain't got no alibi -- it's ugly. A crap cocktail of trading down from late-first-round picks and just drafting poorly has left the Seahawks in the problematic place they inhabit in 2018. They're too talented at certain positions (QB and LB) to completely rebuild, but too chronically hamstrung elsewhere (RB, offensive line) to look the other way. Drafting at No. 18, their highest first selection since choosing Bruce Irvin at No. 15 six years ago, the 'Hawks need to upgrade their offensive line for the nth season in a row, but they also must replace departed vets Richard Sherman and Michael Bennett at CB and DE, respectively. It's imperative that Schneider and coach Pete Carroll hit in the first round. If they don't, Seattle will have to wait until the fourth round, on the draft's third day, to try again; the Seahawks have two picks in the first four rounds and six in the final three. Go figure.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Following the run on QBs, who will fall to the No. 7 slot?
Keep it simple, swashbucklers. After focusing on the front seven in free agency, the Bucs only have a few glaring needs left to address early in the draft: running back (vacated by the ship-jumping Doug Martin) and defensive back. Tampa Bay is in a comfortable position at No. 7 -- not too early, not too late -- and could get lucky if Saquon Barkley falls. If not, it's best defensive back available, baby. Take your pick. Minkah Fitzpatrick, Derwin James or Denzel Ward. Whoever tickles tharrrrr fancy.
Washington Redskins: After an offensive overhaul, what's the plan on defense?
Washington is littered with controversy and commotion, but across the Potomac, the Redskins are having a quietly solid offseason, at least on offense. The 'Skins re-jiggered their attack by trading for Alex Smith, letting Kirk Cousins walk into a historic deal and signing Paul Richardson. But aside from replacing the 23-year-old Kendall Fuller and 26-year-old Bashaud Breeland with 31-year-old Orlando Scandrick, D.C. did little to improve a mediocre defense ravaged by injuries the year before. If Washington is to contend in an unpredictable division, it will need to improve its talent on that side of the football -- snagging a linebacker like Roquan Smith to complement the re-upped Zach Brown would be a steal at No. 13.