As the 2019/20 NFL year moves towards the postseason, for many teams out of playoff contention the focus becomes not the Super Bowl, but the NFL draft. With an acknowledgement of the fact that draft standings can change significantly between now and the new year, lets take a way too early look at the current teams slated to pick in the top 5 in Nevada in April: what issues and questions may be swirling around the minds of their draft decision makers?
1: Cincinnati Bengals
The winless Bengals crept under the radar this past offseason as a team likely to have the number one overall pick. With all the commotion around the idea of the Dolphins tanking, the fact that Cincy went into this season with a young, inexperienced head coach and a roster in dire need of reconstruction, tended to get lost in the mix.
The defense ranks last in the league in yards per game, whilst the offense isn’t doing much better at 27th overall. Does that mean the Bengals may go for the best overall player in the draft in Ohio State defensive end Chase Young? I doubt it.
A team doesn’t go 0-10 if it has a franchise quarterback. Head coach Zac Taylor has already benched long time starter Andy Dalton in favour of rookie Ryan Finley, and that hasn’t jump started the offense. That screams of a team knowing they are likely to be in a position to draft a quarterback and needing to find out what it has in the rookie option already on the roster. And now its been announced the team is going back to Dalton. Clearly, Finley hasn’t impressed.
LSU’s Joe Burrow stands out as the likely number one pick, especially given the injury to Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa. Nonetheless, if the Bengals feel there isn’t much to choose between Burrow and Tagovailoa, or another signal caller like Oregon’s Justin Herbert, they could look to trade down and address both their immediate offensive needs in the first round.
2: New York Giants
The loss to the Bears on Sunday might have been a silver lining for Giants fans. The franchise is now firmly in the Chase Young sweepstakes. Make no mistake, if Young is sitting there when the Giants pick in April, they will race that card to the podium.
It’s clear that Big Blue needs an elite pass rusher. They haven’t really had an elite pass rusher since Jason Pierre-Paul left town, and even then JPP’s production came in fits and starts.
Adding Young would also benefit a young secondary, including cornerbacks Julian Love and Deandre Baker. Markus Golden has filled in admirably with 7.5 sacks, but again has a history of inconsistent production as a pass rusher.
Obviously, the Giants are in need of an inside linebacker to help defend against the run heavy offense of the Cowboys, which is key to winning the division currently, but I couldn’t see them picking a player like Isaiah Simmons unless they trade this pick to a QB needy team. Though after all the controversy in the Big Apple last year around general manager Dave Gettleman’s roster building decisions, there would be riots across town if the team passed up the opportunity to draft Young.
3: Miami Dolphins
If Miami’s plan was really to ‘Tank for Tua’, then a number of developments this season have thrown that into disarray. Firstly, the play of Burrow has muddied the waters as to who is the consensus top quarterback in the draft. Alongside that, victories over the Jets and Colts have pushed the team further down the pecking order.
The injury to Tua though, as well as Burrow’s performances, might mean general manager Chris Grier and head coach Brian Flores, can pick the player they wanted all along (if that was indeed the case). Medical personnel expect Tagovailoa to make a full recovery, and therefore as we move closer to the draft he may move back up many team’s draft boards.
The Dolphins, though, haven’t taken a scorched earth approach to their roster in order to select just one player, no matter the importance of the position. Years of mediocre performances in South Beach have resulted in Grier and Flores choosing to trim the roster back to its roots, with the hope of allowing young buds to flourish. The Fins have three first round picks this year, as well as a bevy of early round picks next year. They’re reconstructing the entire roster, not just the quarterback room.
Could the team instead add talent to rebuild the overall quality of the roster, whilst retaining Ryan Fitzpatrick or Josh Rosen as a placeholder for a future quarterback selection? Even if they aren’t enamoured by the idea of keeping Fitzmagic or Rosen around, they could feasibly pick up a quarterback like Washington’s Jacob Eason later in the first round.
Washington dropped from the second overall pick to 4th this week, though this may put the franchise in the perfect position to draft either a cornerback to replace veteran Josh Norman, or to pick up offensive help for Dwayne Haskins.
Team president Bruce Allen clearly holds sway within the organisation, especially if reports that the team selected Haskins against the wishes of then head coach Jay Gruden, are true. As a result, it’s tough to see Washington doing an Arizona Cardinals and selecting a quarterback in the first round in back to back years. Allen himself said around the time of Gruden’s firing that he was confident in the talent level on this roster. Whilst that statement is dubious in the extreme, this is such a dysfunctional franchise that I don’t doubt Allen’s confidence in his public pronouncements.
The primary options here would seem to be either Jeffrey Okudah, also from Haskins’ alma mater Ohio State; Georgia’s offensive tackle Andrew Thomas; or Alabama’s wide receiver Jerry Jeudy.
Okudah would step into the defensive backfield alongside Quinton Dunbar, who is excelling in his first full season as a starter, and add some quality in the secondary to match with the young talent on the defensive line.
Despite that, it seems clear that Washington has to focus on offense. If they truly believe Haskins is the signal caller to take them forward, they have to build around the ex-Buckeye. They rank last in the yard in passing yards per game with only an average of 167.5 yards per game, which is quite frankly abysmal. Rookie wide receiver Terry McLaurin is carrying the passing game alone, putting up 638 receiving yards and 5 TDs. In second place? Passing down back Chris Thompson with 276 yards and 0 TDs; followed by wideout Paul Richardson with 245 yards and 2 TDs. That level of production, or not as the case might be, is laughable. The team cannot properly evaluate Haskins when he has such a dearth of weapons.
The other alternative is a player such as Thomas to replace left tackle Trent Williams, who does seem likely to leave the team, though probably for much less draft compensation than Allen could have obtained had he traded him during the early part of this season.
5: Denver Broncos
Again, it all comes down to the quarterback. Noticing a trend here?
Despite selecting Missouri Tigers quarterback Drew Lock in the second round of last year’s draft, he is yet to see action during the regular season and now sits on injured reserve. Given the fact that in recent years, chief decision maker John Elway has thrown early picks at the game’s most important position with no success, he’s probably not likely to double or triple down in 2020.
Veteran cornerback Chris Harris is scheduled to become a free agent at the end of this season and is currently 31 years old. The same goes for another pair of thirtysomething defenders in lineman Derek Wolfe and outside linebacker Von Miller. It seems unlikely the Broncos let a franchise player like Miller walk, but stranger things have happened.
Quite frankly, years of ineffective drafting have robbed Denver of effective and exciting young talent. Receiver Courtland Sutton and running back Phillip Lindsay obviously stand in contrast to that, but the franchise needs to add players of their calibre to avoid repeated early picks in the draft year after year.
The advancing age, and likely free agency departure of Harris, make Okudah a candidate to be the top player on Denver’s board if they remain at this pick. In addition, if Thomas makes it past the NFC East duo of New York and Washington, he would step in as an immediate upgrade over penalty prone left tackle Garrett Bolles, himself a former first round pick.