By: Jake Leicht
Every year the NFL Draft is intriguing. Over the past five to seven years, the draft has gone from a somewhat popular event to one of the biggest days in the NFL. Draft analysts study prospects from the day that they step onto their respective campuses in an effort to try to gauge their draft values. The stocks of these players go up and down on a game by game basis. Teams and analysts put in hours and hours of work, and it all comes to a head over a three-day process in April.
Every draft has its own twists and turns. Analysts do so many mock drafts by the time draft night rolls around that fans get either very excited about their team picking a player that has “fallen” to them, or they get mad if their team “reaches” for a player that was supposed to go later in the draft. Each draft has teams that will hold pivotal picks on draft night. If team “A” goes one way or another with their selection, it will greatly change the course of not only the draft but NFL history. Each draft also has teams that have so much draft capital in terms of picks that are deemed to “control” the draft because they can move up or back more easily than other teams.
It is very important as an NFL fan to know what teams hold these pivotal picks in the draft, and what teams have the most draft capital in a given year. Knowing these facts will not only make the draft more interesting to watch, but it will also help you be a more informed fan.
Teams That Hold Pivotal Picks:
New York Giants Most draft analysts agree that the Cleveland Browns will be selecting a quarterback with the number one overall pick come April 26th. The only question is whether or not the Browns will select Sam Darnold or Josh Allen. The draft’s first major question mark comes at the second overall pick where the New York Giants are currently sitting. The Giants have major question marks along the offensive line in particular, but there are no offensive linemen in this draft worth taking with the second pick. Quinton Nelson is great, but offensive guards are normally not selected that high. It is much more likely that the Giants address the offensive line in the second, third, or fourth rounds. The Giants do have several great options which could cause a ripple effect in the draft.
Option 1- Franchise Quarterback Eli Manning is not getting any younger. Eli is already 37 years old, and he is coming off one of the worst years of his career. Eli doesn’t move in the pocket like he once did, and the Giants offensive line is atrocious. The fact that Odell Beckham was out most of last year did not help him either. The fact of the matter is that Manning is in the last couple of years of his NFL career. Davis Webb may be a solid developmental option, but how often do the Giants have an opportunity to select a franchise quarterback? Not often. The Giants could easily tap one of the top 4 quarterbacks (Allen, Rosen, Darnold, Mayfield) as the number two overall pick. If they were to pick a quarterback at two, the Jets would certainly still be looking to add their next young signal caller at 3. The Browns would be in a great spot to command a haul of picks at number four overall from a team that is desperate to select the last of the big four quarterback prospects in this year’s draft.
Option 2- Saquon Barkley Of course, the Giants might decide to just take the draft’s best offensive player in running back Saquon Barkley. Barkley has unbelievable talent and can play a multitude of positions with his versatility. If the Giants believe that they could still compete for a championship with Eli Manning at the helm for the next couple of years, Saquon would help take the load off of his back. As previously noted, the Giants offensive line is not good, so adding a player like Barkley is pretty risky. Barkley did not have a great line at Penn State, and he was still able to be very productive. He would also be beneficial to have for the quarterback coming after Manning retires as well. If the Giants took Barkley (or Chubb), it would allow one of the lower picking teams like the Bills, Dolphins, or Cardinals to have a more realistic chance at obtaining one of the big four quarterbacks. If the pick was Saquon, the Browns would be much more likely to either select Bradley Chubb or simply trade out of pick four.
Option 3- Bradley Chubb On March 22, the Giants traded star defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Immediately, draft analysts began speculating that the Giants were going to take a serious look at Bradley Chubb with the second overall pick. It makes a lot of sense to be honest. The Giants trade an expensive albeit productive defensive end and replace him with a young stud defensive end that will be under contract for the next four to five years at half the cost. Bradley Chubb is an electric pass rusher with the ability to either beat opposing offensive tackles with a speed or bull rush. He would be a great fit in the Giants’ defensive scheme as well. Like with the ripple effect of drafting Barkley, if the Giants selected Chubb, it would make the other quarterback needy teams very happy. The Browns would be apt to select Barkley or trade out as well.
Pick number two is really where the draft starts. The Giants could go several different ways, and each way would create a different ripple effect in this year’s draft.
Denver Broncos I don’t think anyone knows what the Denver Broncos are going to do on draft night. I am not sure John Elway does either. The Broncos are in a very precarious situation heading into the 2018 NFL Draft. They just signed quarterback Case Keenum to a two-year deal. Even though Keenum was very good last year for the Minnesota Vikings, he is far from a franchise quarterback. Their two best wide receivers are aging fast. The Broncos also seem to be interested in moving on from running back CJ Anderson as well. Their offensive line was porous to say the least last season. They obviously have one of the best pass rushers in the game in Von Miller, but their secondary took a major hit when they cut Aqib Talib this offseason. The Broncos just have so many ways that they can go on draft night that will be hard for any team drafting behind them to predict where the Broncos will be heading with their fifth overall selection. They have plenty of options. Incidentally, their options are very similar to the ones that the Giants have at pick 2.
Option 1- Franchise Quarterback John Elway really needs to find the next franchise quarterback of the Denver Broncos either this year or next year. Elway has not proven that he can evaluate the quarterback position particularly well. Other than landing Peyton Manning during the 2012 offseason, the Broncos have not been set at the position for quite some time. The question is whether or not one of the big four quarterbacks will be available for the Broncos at pick 5 overall. There have been rumblings that the Broncos may be interested in making a deal with the Browns to move up one spot so that they would be guaranteed to be able to grab their next signal-caller. The Broncos did coach both Baker Mayfield and Josh Allen at the Senior Bowl. More than likely, Allen will be gone by pick 4 or 5, so the most likely option for them would be Mayfield. Mayfield is accurate enough to thrive in the Broncos offense, and he would give them some stability at the position for the next five to ten years.
Option 2- Quinton Nelson The Broncos offensive line was absolutely atrocious last season. They need help at tackle and guard. Quinton Nelson would immediately step in and be their best offensive lineman. Nelson is one of my favorite prospects in the draft because he is basically a finished product. If he did not develop at all for the rest of his career, Nelson would more than likely end up with several Pro Bowl invitations. He just blocks with such a bad attitude that you can’t help but be impressed with him as a fan. ESPN does not often highlight offensive guard film during pre-draft coverage, but they have focused on a couple of plays in which Nelson has bullied opposing defensive tackles and linebackers. The Broncos could use a guy like Nelson to set the tempo along the offensive line. He would not solve all of the Broncos problems up front, but he would be a great building block piece.
Option 3- Bradley Chubb/Saquon Barkley If there are four quarterbacks taken with the first four picks (Browns would have traded back with someone), then the Broncos would have their pick of Bradley Chubb, Saquon Barkley, and Quinton Nelson. That would be their best case scenario unless they were dying to grab a quarterback. Even if there are three quarterbacks taken within the top four picks, one of either Chubb or Barkley would be there. Of the two players, I think that the Broncos would probably go with Bradley Chubb since Elway has had a lot more success drafting defensive talent than offensive talent. Barkley would obviously have to be considered as well, but I really don’t think that the offense as currently constructed would maximize his talents. Of course, if they are able to pick Barkley, the Broncos may try to change their offense to make it work. I think Broncos fans would be ecstatic if they came away from the draft with either of the two top non-quarterback prospects.
Teams with the Most Draft Capital:
Cleveland Browns The Cleveland Browns hold the most valuable draft picks in the NFL draft. They hold not only the first and fourth overall picks, they also have picks 33, 35, and 64 in the second round this year as well. The Browns traded their third-round pick to the Buffalo Bills in order to obtain Tyrod Taylor. They also acquired Damarious Randall from the Packers in exchange for DeShone Kizer and flip-flopping draft picks in the fourth and fifth rounds. Cleveland also moved a fourth-round pick to the Miami Dolphins for Jarvis Landry. As you can see, the Browns have already capitalized on their abundance of draft picks by adding real NFL talent to their roster. The fact is that John Dorsey is in position to really turn the Browns roster over come April 26th. Owning the first and fourth overall picks will obviously net them two potential franchise changers, but Dorsey really needs to hit on the three second-round selections this year as well. As a Browns’ fan, I hope that they will stay at four and select either Bradley Chubb or Saquon Barkley. However, if a team like the Dolphins or Bills want to move up to pick 4 and give up a haul of picks, I would understand if the front office wanted to make that move. Best case scenario for the
Browns would be if the Denver Broncos fell in love with whatever quarterback prospect was left at pick 4, and they wanted to move up one spot to get that player. That would allow the Browns to pick up another mid-round pick while still getting the position player that they were targeting at pick 4 anyway. Dorsey could easily flip a couple of those second-round picks to a team with only a few draft picks like the Seattle Seahawks to jump back into the first round. The Browns do have some holes on the roster that needs to be filled, but having too many rookies on a team that just finished 0–16 is probably not a great idea. At some point, the Browns have to cash in on all of this draft equity and simply build a winner. This could be the second straight year that the Cleveland Browns come away from the draft with three first-round picks.
Indianapolis Colts The team with the second most draft capital is the Colts. At one point, they held the number three overall pick in the draft. Indianapolis was able to drop down to the 6th overall pick in a trade with the New York Jets that also netted them with the 37th and 49th picks this year AND a second round pick next year. This was a sensational move for Chris Ballard in his second year as the team’s general manager. With Jets moving to pick three, this almost ensures that there will be two or three quarterbacks taken before the Colts are on the clock. Simply put, the Colts are in a position to net a franchise player after adding three second-round picks. That is insanely good for a team in rebuild mode. The Colts could cash in even more if another team looks to move up for a quarterback. At this point, the Colts are probably down to either Barkley, Chubb, or Nelson. The recent chatter is that the team has been diving into background work on two linebackers that were thought to go between picks 9 and 15 in Roquan Smith and Tremaine Edmunds. Smith has potential to lead any defense that he is thrown into due to his nose for the football. Edmunds is a more intriguing prospect in terms of talent since he will only be 19 years old when his name is called on April 26th. Are the Colts doing background work on these players because they are interested in them at pick 6, or are they doing their homework just in case they move back to pick 11 or 12 where the Dolphins and Bills currently sit salivating over the quarterback prospects? Either way, the Colts will be able to take an impact player in the first round this year.
With their three second-round picks, I expect the Colts to try to bolster their offensive unit. Goal number one should be protecting Andrew Luck. Their receiving corps is very pedestrian outside of T.Y. Hilton, and they have some question marks at the running back position as well. The depth at the running back position this year are well documented with players such as Derrius Guice, Nick Chubb, Sony Michel, and Ronald Jones all potentially being either low first round or second rounds picks. If the Colts could get one of those backs in the second round (providing they don’t get Barkley in the first), Ballard would have to immediately feel better about his running back situation. Colts’ fans love second year player Marlon Mack, but I haven’t seen enough to dub him a first string talent that would have to carry the load for an entire season. The Colts will also have several wide receiver options in the second round as well. No matter what they decide to do, Indianapolis needs to put as many playmakers around Andrew Luck as possible.
Buffalo Bills Last year, the Buffalo Bills traded the 10th overall pick in the 2017 draft to the Kansas City Chiefs in exchange for the Chiefs’ 27th overall pick, a third round pick, and their first round pick in 2018. That first rounder end up as the number 22 overall pick. The Bills exceeded expectations this past season to the point that they actually made the playoffs for the first time since 1999. Because of this, the Bills ended up earning the 21st pick in this year’s draft. They ended up moving that pick along with their franchise left tackle Cordy Glenn and the 158th overall pick to the Bengals for the 12th and 187th picks. More on this trade later. This leaves the Bills with two first, second, and third round picks this year. They also have picks in the fourth, fifth, and sixth rounds respectively as well. To put it bluntly, Buffalo has a unique opportunity to cash in with prospects during this year’s draft. The problem is that the Bills seems to be telegraphing exactly what they want to do with all of these picks…
The Buffalo Bills are desperately trying to move up to get their quarterback of the future. During the season, they decided to bench Tyrod Taylor for Nathan Peterman. At the time, the move didn’t make very much sense because the Bills were in the playoff hunt. Why would they throw a rookie out there with no experience in a road game on the west coast during their playoff hunt? The only logical answer was they wanted to see if Peterman was a franchise quarterback. He infamously went on to throw five interceptions in the first half of that game versus the Chargers, and the Bills had to go back to Tyrod Taylor for the rest of the season. Fast forward a couple of months, and they traded Taylor to the Browns in exchange for a third round pick. They did sign AJ McCarron to a two year deal this offseason, but he doesn’t seem to be anything more than a bridge quarterback in the eyes of many NFL talent evaluators.
This leads us to the Cordy Glenn trade. The Bills traded Glenn in an effort to move up higher in the first round of this year’s draft. The prevailing thought in NFL circles is that the draft is not very deep this year, especially after pick 20 or so. The fact that the Bills were sitting at picks 21 and 22 left them in a precarious situation. Most years those picks would be very valuable to teams looking to trade down. This year, that is not the case. If the Bills wanted to get in the conversation of getting one of the big four quarterback prospects this year, they had to move up. Trading Glenn will definitely have a negative effect to their offensive line, but in order to have a remote chance of jumping up to pick 2, 4, or 6, the Bills had to do it. Because of how much effort the Bills have already made to put themselves in position to move up for their quarterback of the future, it would be a major disappointment for them if they were unable to do so. I think that the Bills have put themselves in position to make whatever deal necessary to net them their QB1. You can’t move as much as they have in order to accumulate draft picks to simply stand by and watch this unique opportunity pass them by.