The NFL Draft, which was once a made-for-TV event, has now become a traveling, three-day, live extravaganza – Nashville is the lucky city this year. Can the Titans faithful live up to the bar set by fans in New York, Chicago, and Philadelphia? Notwithstanding all of that, at the heart of it, the draft is the most crucial period of the offseason for several teams, as good and bad picks in the first round can shape teams’ futures for years to come. The top 12 of this year’s first round has some of the usual suspects – teams that seem to struggle continuously – Tampa Bay and the New York Jets – and clubs that aren’t used to picking so high – Denver and Green Bay. The first-round picks are essential for every team, but some teams need to hit a home run more than others. With that in mind, let’s examine the Five NFL Teams that Can’t Afford to Miss on their First Round Pick.
1. Oakland Raiders
It goes without saying that the team with the most on the line in the first round of the draft is Oakland. Jon Gruden’s first season back with the silver and black was one to forget. Not only did the Raiders post a 4-12 record, but they also traded their best defensive player (Khalil Mack) and a key offensive playmaker (Amari Cooper). The time to make those moves pay dividends is on April 25, when the Raiders will be on the clock three times – No. 4, No. 24 (from Chicago), and No. 27 (from Dallas).
Not surprisingly, with the loss of Mack, the Raiders’ front seven on defense didn’t pack much of a punch. Oakland was last in the league – by far – in sacks, with only 13 in 16 games. Luckily for the Raiders, the top of the draft board is littered with defensive linemen and linebackers. Among Nick Bosa (Ohio St.), Quinnen Williams (Alabama), Josh Allen (Kentucky), and Ed Oliver (Houston), one of them is guaranteed to be available at No. 4. For the latter picks, the Raiders have a good chance at giving quarterback Derek Carr a new weapon or two. After a brief glimmer of hope before Carr’s injury a few years ago, the Raiders desperately need to get back on track to get some momentum before their impending move to Las Vegas.
2. New York Giants
In 2018’s quarterback-heavy draft pool, the New York Giants owned the second pick. New general manager Dave Gettleman and head coach Pat Shurmur instead decided to shore up the running back position by taking Saquon Barkley. While the Penn State product delivered with over 2,000 all-purpose yards and 15 total touchdowns, the question of who will be the Giants’ quarterback of the future remains.
While Eli Manning is a two-time Super Bowl champion, he has a grand total of one playoff appearance (a lopsided Wild Card round loss at Green Bay in 2016) since hoisting the Lombardi Trophy at the end of the 2011 season, including an 8-23 mark in the past two campaigns. The offense also loses top wide receiver Odell Beckham, Jr. after a trade to Cleveland. New York did get the No. 17 pick from the Browns to go along with the No. 6 pick they earned, so it stands to reason that they could take a QB (perhaps Ohio States Dwayne Haskins) at No. 6 or send a package deal to another club to move up and select Oklahoma’s, Kyler Murray. If Big Blue keeps both picks, one can be used to bolster a defensive line that lost free agent busts Olivier Vernon and Damon Harrison, or Gettleman can add to his receiving corps.
3. Arizona Cardinals
Arizona drafted quarterback Josh Rosen at No. 10 a year ago, but they may be hitting the reset button for 2019. Steve Wilks was one-and-done as head coach after going a league-worst 3-13, and new head coach Kliff Kingsbury is reportedly smitten with former Sooners QB Murray from his time playing against him in the Big 12 while Kingsbury was coaching Texas Tech. Kingsbury was fired as Red Raiders head coach, accepted a job as offensive coordinator at USC, then quickly left that job for the jump to the NFL. If Arizona uses the top pick for Murray, they will need to use Rosen to acquire more picks further in the draft because the Cardinals’ problems go far beyond the quarterback position. Their offensive line ranked dead last in 2018, so that will have to be addressed before whoever is under center can have a chance to succeed.
4. San Francisco 49ers
The silver lining in quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo’s season-ending ACL tear in Week 3 last year is that the Niners received the No. 2 overall pick in this year’s draft. San Francisco is in the unique position to have what they feel is a franchise quarterback, so they must capitalize on this opportunity. The 49ers have depth issues at wide receiver, especially with the team declining the option on veteran Pierre Garcon, but without an elite receiver at the top of the draft board, the Niners might best be wise to take a front-line pass rusher at No. 2, with Nick Bosa and Josh Allen being the top candidates, since at least one of those two will be available.
5. Green Bay Packers
Despite having one of the game’s best quarterbacks in what should be the prime of his career, the Packers are in a rough spot. A combination of injuries, a poor defense, and a widely reported lack of cohesion with former coach Mike McCarthy has led to rare back-to-back losing seasons for Green Bay.
The priority for the front office and rookie head coach Matt LaFleur will be to restock Rodgers’ arsenal. While Davante Adams remains, the Pack has lost Rodgers favorites Randall Cobb, Jordy Nelson, and James Jones in recent years. Tight end Jimmy Graham has also not produced as expected. Iowa tight end Noah Fant and Oklahoma wide receiver Marquise Brown could be solid selections to help Green Bay in its march back to the front of the NFC North.
NFL Draft: Expect the Unexpected
While NFL Draft previews are plentiful since we have so much time to examine just about every aspect of the event, it’s important to note that a big trade can change the complexion of the event for several teams. But that’s what makes the draft so much fun and must-see TV, every year.