NFL Draft Preview: Likely Team Mindsets

We’re two weeks away from the 2017 NFL draft and I wanted to examine what each of the teams will probably be looking for in this year’s draft and the likelihood that they may move up or down the board.

One thing to remember about NFL front offices is to not always judge them based on past behavior. Each draft is different and not every team chases after players solely based on need.

I want to go over each of the teams, in order of when their first pick will come up, and what I expect each team is likely to do in its draft approach. Knowing what these teams might do will be useful in understanding who may be on the board when the Broncos make their first selection and the chances of the Broncos moving up or down this year.

Cleveland: The Browns have 12 picks, five in the first three rounds, and made a habit of trading down last year. I don’t expect them to trade down from the No. 1 overall pick unless they get an offer that blows them away. The Browns’ biggest needs are on defense, so it won’t be surprising if they take Myles Garrett with the No. 1 overall pick. At pick No. 12, the Browns won’t necessarily take a quarterback – they need secondary and defensive line help as well and there should be players worth taking. The second round might be when the Browns take a quarterback because they might get better value.

San Francisco: I’m not surprised to hear John Lynch say he is interested in trading down. Although the Niners have 10 picks, they need a lot of help on defense and may want additional picks. I suspect the Niners will wait on taking a quarterback and ride it out with Brian Hoyer and Matt Barkley for this season. While there’s no guarantee they will eventually get Kirk Cousins, the Niners might be better served waiting a year before using an early pick on a QB.

Chicago: The Bears are another team I suspect would be interested in trading down. They have seven picks but may be interested in additional picks to fill needs. It wouldn’t surprise me to see the Bears focus on the secondary, though they could opt for a tight end.

Jacksonville: Dave Caldwell has been hit or miss with his draft picks but he seems to prefer the best available player in his mind rather than the greatest positional need. Though the Jaguars need a tight end and defensive linemen, it’s not surprising they are linked to Leonard Fournette because that would fit with Caldwell’s “best player available” approach.

Tennessee: Two first-round picks and two third-round picks give the Titans plenty of options in the first two days. I wouldn’t expect them to trade up like they did last year (keep in mind that move up came after a pre-draft trade to move down from No. 1 overall). The No. 5 overall pick will give them their choice of cornerbacks, though they could prefer to go with a wide receiver and select a cornerback later, given how deep the position is.

New York Jets: The Jets’ approach seems to be more about “best player available” than about biggest needs. That would indicate they probably won’t take a quarterback in the first round unless they trade down. Given that they have just seven picks, it won’t surprise me if they would prefer to trade down, because their offseason approach indicates they are rebuilding again.

Los Angeles Chargers: Tom Telesco likely doesn’t believe the Chargers need to rebuild again, so expect him to focus more on positional need this year. The Chargers’ biggest needs are wide receiver and defensive end and either position could be the first pick.

Carolina: The Panthers are another team linked to Leonard Fournette, but Dave Gettleman has shown he prefers to follow his own mind – his own “best player available” mindset. Carolina’s biggest need is offensive tackle, but given that it’s not a good year at that position, it won’t be surprising if Gettleman passes on those players with the No. 8 overall pick. But when it comes to a running back, that’s where he could surprise people with his pick, meaning I wouldn’t dismiss the talk that Gettleman likes Christian McCaffrey.

Cincinnati: The Bengals have 11 picks and have the draft capital to move up the board, but they don’t do it often. The Bengals don’t always focus on biggest positional need, so it’s not a guarantee they take an offensive lineman. They might consider Forrest Lamp, but I suspect they’ll pass on the offensive tackles. If not an O-lineman, the Bengals will likely draft for defense.

Buffalo: I suspect Doug Whaley thinks he just needs to reload rather than rebuild, so he may consider positional need more than best player available. And because the Bills have just six picks, it wouldn’t surprise me if they want to trade down and get better value at a positional need.

New Orleans: The Saints have two first-round picks and two in the third, along with their second-round pick, giving them plenty of early picks to find immediate help. They need secondary help the most, but Mickey Loomis hasn’t always focused on positional need first. He may do so this year, though, if he still believes the Saints are just a few players away from a return to the playoffs.

Arizona: The Cardinals are a team some mock drafters believe will take a quarterback in the first round to develop behind Carson Palmer, but it wouldn’t surprise me if the Cardinals wait until the later rounds to do so. It’s more likely they’ll look at either the secondary or the linebacker position in the first round.

Philadelphia: The Eagles seem to be more about “best player available” and I won’t be surprised to see them stick to that approach. So it doesn’t guarantee they take a cornerback or a running back (their two biggest needs) with their first pick. I don’t expect a trade up the board this year because they have just eight picks.

Indianapolis: It remains to be seen what the new front office will do this year. Chris Ballard has indicated he wants to focus on the offensive and defensive lines, so my assumption is they’ll go with that with the first pick. I would think it’s more likely they take a defensive lineman, though, as it may be too early to take an offensive tackle.

Baltimore: Ozzie Newsome’s mindset is usually “best player available” but he will draft for need if he finds a player worth taking. It’s a good year to draft an edge rusher and that’s the Ravens’ biggest need, so I believe that’s what Newsome will do with the No. 16 overall pick.

Washington: Seems like Bruce Allen will have the final say on draft day decisions this year. Washington has 10 picks and the team likely believe it needs just a few players to return to the playoffs. So it wouldn’t surprise me if Washington tries to move up the board for a safety – perhaps Malik Hooker or Jamal Adams if either player starts falling down the board.

Tampa Bay: The Buccaneers’ current regime seems more focused on positional need, though they have made some surprising moves up the board (Roberto Aguayo, anyone?). Tampa Bay has just seven picks this year, so I suspect they won’t be trading up. The defensive line is where Tampa Bay needs the most help.

Denver: I’ve talked about John Elway before – he has made moves up the board but he didn’t do so for the sake of doing so. So don’t count on him trading up the board to get an offensive line. I believe Elway will be content to let the board unfold and take the best available player at No. 20 overall or try to trade down. The Broncos have 10 total picks, so if they do trade down in the first round, they could try moving up in later rounds.

Detroit: New general manager Bob Quinn could be thinking the Lions aren’t far from returning to the playoffs and the Lions do have eight picks, so there might be a move a few spots up the board. But it is a good year to find a pass rusher, which the Lions really need, so they might prefer to stand pat unless a quality player slides down the board.

Miami: When Mike Tannenbaum was with the Jets, it was not unusual to see him make bold moves up the board. Given that the Dolphins almost made the playoffs last year, could he be tempted to do that now? Miami has eight picks and needs a linebacker, though not a pass-rushing one, and there’s not much of a need to move up for one. But the Dolphins also need a guard and might be tempted to move up for Forrest Lamp if he falls down the board.

New York Giants: Offensive tackle is the Giants’ biggest need and I would expect the Giants to let the board unfold and not try to move up. They also need linebacker help and that’s a position at which the Giants can afford to be patient, too.

Oakland: Reggie McKenzie has traded down in recent drafts, but this could be a year in which he moves up the board if he sees a player he likes sliding down. Though the Raiders could use a running back, their biggest needs are on defense, particularly at cornerback. There is talk about the Raiders trading for Richard Sherman, but there’s no guarantee such a deal will happen, so expect McKenzie to take a corner in the draft at some point.

Houston: You’ll hear a lot of talk about the Texans taking a quarterback in the first round to develop, but Rick Smith has preferred to go with the best player available and it wouldn’t surprise me if he waits to draft one. After all, there are still a couple of veterans available in free agency and Smith can always consider one of them if he doesn’t find a QB he likes in the draft.

Seattle: Offensive line is the biggest need but there’s little need to be trading up for one this year. Seattle is in good shape for the first two days because the Seahawks have three third-round picks, along with their picks in the first and second. But they have just two picks in the final four rounds, so they might want to trade down on day two.

Kansas City: The nightmare scenario is the Chiefs trading up for Christian McCaffrey. On one hand, the Chiefs have 10 picks. On the other hand, they don’t need a running back, a return man or a slot receiver, so trading up for McCaffrey makes no sense. It’s more likely the Chiefs will look for help on defense in the first round, though it’s not a pressing need and thus a move up the board doesn’t appear likely.

Dallas: The Cowboys don’t always draft for need, but I suspect they do so this year given how much they need to replace players in the secondary. They also need a pass rusher. The Cowboys have traded up before, but with just seven picks, I don’t think this is a year they’ll make a move up the board.

Green Bay: Ted Thompson is mostly content to let the board fall where it may and take the best player available. I would not expect that to change this year. Cornerback is the biggest need, but the Packers could consider a running back or pass rusher instead.

Pittsburgh: The Steelers are another team that focuses on the best player available and is content to let the board fall where it may. Their biggest need is at linebacker but they could consider a wide receiver to complement Antonio Brown.

Atlanta: The Falcons’ biggest need is at right guard, though they could also consider a defensive tackle given that Dontari Poe is only on a one-year deal. Pass rushing help is also needed. Thomas Dimitroff tends to focus on need but doesn’t necessarily follow the mindsets of mock drafters in terms of valuing a player.

Los Angeles Rams: They have no first-round pick but have eight total picks, though I don’t anticipate them trying to move into the first round. Their biggest need is a pass rusher to fit Wade Phillips’ scheme but they could consider a cornerback.

Minnesota: Another team with no first-round pick, the Vikings have eight total picks and are likely to focus more on developmental players on the offensive and defensive lines.

New England: We know that Bill Belichick likes to work the draft board and is known for trading down, but after a busy offseason with several players acquired through trade, it seems more likely that Belichick will stand pat and take the best available players when the Patriots make their first selections in the third round. After that, though, Belichick could trade down to get an additional pick to add to the team’s depth. New England needs offensive line and linebacker help

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Bob Morris

I'm a sports writer in real life, though I've always focused on smaller communities, but that hasn't stopped me from learning more about some of the ins and outs of the NFL. You can follow me on Twitter @BobMorrisSports if you can put up with updates on the high school sports teams I cover.