2018 NFL Draft Guide: One burning question for each AFC team

By Nick Shook
Around The NFL writer
Read full post on NFL.com

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, Nick Shook examines one pressing question for each AFC team.

Baltimore Ravens: How does Ozzie Newsome go out?

Since the Cleveland Browns became the Baltimore Ravens, they’ve had just one GM: Ozzie Newsome. The Hall of Fame tight end has built contenders, dealt with rebuilds and returned to the pinnacle, winning two Super Bowls during his tenure constructing what was Art Modell’s NFL franchise. This will be Newsome’s last year at the helm. After attempting to remedy the first-round whiff that was Breshad Perriman with the signings of John Brown and Michael Crabtree, Newsome still has work to do. Where does the personnel maven turn with the No. 16 overall pick? Baltimore could use help at right tackle, but might add a player to its defensive front seven, depending on who’s available.

Buffalo Bills: Can Brandon Beane swing the rumored deal to move up?

Buffalo’s faithful became quite giddy when the Bills dealt tackle Cordy Glenn and swapped first-rounders with Cincinnati. Suddenly, the Bills had Nos. 12 and 22 in the upcoming draft, which would appear to be enough ammunition to move up. But who will trade with the Bills, if they so desire? Cleveland’s a potential suitor — more on that below — and Buffalo realistically could move into No. 5 or 6 if Denver or Indianapolis wants to make a deal. With the expectation that the Bills would be moving up for a quarterback, though, the asking price understandably would be higher. What it comes down to is simple: How much is Buffalo willing to give up to move up?

Cincinnati Bengals: O-line rebuild ahead?

We can ask about quarterback here — trust me, that’s a burning question, too — but we’ll instead turn to the guys protecting the quarterback. While the Bengalsprepare for another season with Andy Dalton and Quarterback X as his backup, they begin a campaign without a starting offensive tackle for the second time in as many years. Last season, it was Andrew Whitworth; now, it’s former first-round pick Andre Smith. There’s a problem in this draft, though: It’s not strong at tackle. Could the Bengals instead select a guard in the first round (think: UTEP’s Will Hernandez) and use another pick on a tackle? The unit was bad last year after the loss of Whitworth and guard Kevin Zeitler, and doesn’t look like it’ll be any better in 2018 unless the franchise addresses it.

P.S. Keep Ohio State center Billy Price in mind for a later pick, too.

Cleveland Browns: Will John Dorsey strike another deal?

Conventional wisdom says if Cleveland likes a quarterback in this draft more than the others, then it’ll take him at No. 1. Let’s move beyond the first pick and focus on No. 4, a selection gained from the Browns’ draft-night trade with Houston last year that netted the Texans Deshaun Watson. Does Cleveland get a good enough offer for No. 4 — and if so, does GM John Dorsey pull the trigger on yet another trade? He’s made a bevy of moves this offseason and could potentially secure an additional first-round pick in 2019 if he works the right deal. This becomes even more understandable if Cleveland doesn’t like a specific prospect at No. 4, though it’s looking like either defensive end Bradley Chubb or running back Saquon Barkley will be available at that juncture.

Denver Broncos: Can John Elway finally find a reliable QB?

We won’t know the answer to this for a few years, but after a strong start, GM John Elway has had a rough go of it lately. With the fifth pick and his team suddenly in transition, Elway stands with his best chance to find a franchise QB during his executive tenure. Depending on what goes down in prior picks, Josh Allen seems like a possibility here — you can partially blame Brock Osweiler and Paxton Lynch for that — but the intrigue of Baker Mayfield makes one think perhaps Elway chooses the kid with the chip on his shoulder. It’s a pivotal position for Denver, either way, and likely will go a long, long way toward determining how we view Elway as a GM when it’s all said and done.

Houston Texans: Which deep-dive pick will emerge as valuable?

Houston doesn’t have a pick in the first two rounds of the draft. How did we get here? A quick recap:

1) Houston signs Brock Osweiler to a lucrative contract.
2) Houston realizes Osweiler isn’t the answer after one rough season.
3) Houston trades its second-round pick to Cleveland so the Browns will also take Osweiler and his albatross of a contract.
4) Houston trades its 2018 first-round pick to Cleveland to move up and draft Deshaun Watson in the 2017 NFL Draft.

Cleveland owns Houston’s first two picks of this draft, so things don’t get exciting for Texans fans until the middle of Day 2. This is where new GM Brian Gaine has his first opportunity to shine. Which third-round pick will emerge as worthwhile for the Texans? This draft is deep at running back (not really a position of need in Houston), but it might also quietly be deep at cornerback. Why not find a new addition for a secondary that’s now patrolled by Tyrann Mathieu? Houston also needs help on the offensive line, though this class isn’t as deep at tackle.

Indianapolis Colts: Which weakness does the franchise view as most important?

The Colts can go in one of three directions with their first pick in the draft: running back, offensive line or edge rusher. There are needs all over for this squad, but it would seem to benefit the organization most if it found some help for quarterback Andrew Luck. Whether that help comes in the form of blocking or running remains to be seen — a lot has to do with what the Giants decide to do at No. 2 — but with Indianapolis’ trade down from No. 3 to No. 6, it appears as though the Colts decided they’d be OK with at least a couple of different players. DE Bradley Chubb seemed to be the guy at No. 3 around the NFL Scouting Combine, but I look at it as an elimination game between him, RB Saquon Barkley and OG Quenton Nelson. Whichever of the three is still available — assuming at least three quarterbacks are taken in the top five — likely lands in Indianapolis. If multiple players from that trio are still on the board when the Colts come up to pick, then it’s time for Chris Ballard to do some hard thinking (though that’s likely already been done with their internal big board).

Jacksonville Jaguars: Does Tom Coughlin really believe in his current receivers?

In a semi-peculiar move, Jacksonville let Allen Robinson walk and released Allen Hurns, leaving the Jaguars with Marqise LeeDede Westbrook and surprise contributors Jaydon Mickens and Keelan Colein the receiving corps. They also added Donte Moncrief and Jaelen Strong in free agency, but this turnover at the position begs the question: Does Jacksonville’s power trio of Tom Coughlin, Dave Caldwell and Doug Marrone believe in this group? This receiver room has the feel of a team bringing in players of varying degrees of talent to encourage competition (and also the self-elimination of some) while potentially adding a first-round talent to the mix with the 29th overall pick.

Kansas City Chiefs: Secondary restocking ahead?

The Chiefs traded away Marcus Peters and acquired Kendall Fuller, but watched Terrance Mitchell leave via free agency and suddenly appear to be in need of some young talent in the secondary to go along with Fuller and Eric Berry. Without a first-round pick, it’s a little more difficult to project where they might find it. Kansas City could also consider adding a defensive lineman to compete with local product Xavier Williams, who joined the Chiefs in March as a restricted free agent.

Los Angeles Chargers: Need or BPA?

The Chargers were one inexperienced kicker’s miscues away from making the playoffs last season and return a roster that is strong on paper (and looked good on the field, too). When it comes to where they go from here, the question is: Do the Chargers want to address a perceived need or take a talented prospect, no matter the position? Los Angeles could use a safety, and if Derwin James falls, that’d be a great fit. It’s no guarantee, though, and thanks to the Bolts’ draft position (No. 17) this might be a case of drafting the best player available. There’s some high-level talent that should be available at that slot, thanks to the priority placed on quarterbacks higher up in the draft. Still, could that BPA be a QB? Philip Rivers is getting up there in age, but it’s likely L.A. goes elsewhere in this draft.

Miami Dolphins: Fill out the defense … or sell jerseys?

Wait, an AFC East team not concerned with the quarterback position in this draft? Indeed! Miami is in need of an outside linebacker and could get one of the draft’s best in Georgia product Roquan Smith. Or the Fins could draft a running back to pair with Kenyan Drake behind twilight-dweller Frank Gore. One of those picks might sell jerseys; Smith might not, but he would fill out a defense that’s becoming quite imposing on paper.

New England Patriots: Jimmy Garoppolo replacement on the way?

New England is in need of a successor to its franchise quarterback. The organization also just traded away Brandin Cooks for a first-round pick, giving the Patriots two in this draft — and the opportunity to move up, if they so desire. Do the Patriots use the multiple picks to address needs created by free agency departures (cornerback being one) or do they package them to grab a guy for grooming to eventually replace Tom Brady?

New York Jets: Can the organization avoid whiffing on another quarterback?

In last year’s edition of this piece, Elliot Harrison pondered whether the Jets could avoid drafting anotherquarterback (hint: they did). Let’s take it a step further, because with New York’s trade to No. 3, it’s pretty obvious the Jets are going quarterback. Can they escape the Mark Sanchez/Geno Smith/Christian Hackenberg stench that has wafted from their uniforms for the last half-decade?

Oakland Raiders: Go cornerback in Round 1 (again)?

Gareon Conley returns as Oakland’s No. 1 pick from 2017. He struggled to make an impact in his rookie season for a variety of reasons, and there exists a need opposite him. Could Reggie McKenzie again go cornerback in the first round? Oakland also needs to fill the middle linebacker position. At No. 10 overall, the franchise has a fine opportunity to address either spot. The Raiders could luck out and watch Denzel Ward fall to them and create an Ohio State duo at cornerback, or maybe get the draft’s best linebacker — it just depends on who they think that is.

Pittsburgh Steelers: Is the successor to the throne in this draft?

Ben Roethlisberger has shelved his open pondering of retirement this offseason, which is nice for the blood pressure of Steelers fans (just don’t mention Le’Veon Bell), but it does very little to quiet that little voice in the back of Pittsburgh’s collective mind: Who will replace Big Ben? The Steelers have slowly groomed Landry Jones by sitting him behind Roethlisberger and giving him quality reps, usually during the season-ending bench bonanza against Cleveland. Is he the heir apparent? Is it Joshua Dobbs, who was uninspiring in all but one preseason game in 2017? More than one gut feeling likely thinks not. Do the Steelers look to land one of the draft’s top six QBs?

Tennessee Titans: Defense — but where, exactly?

Tennessee pursued defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh in free agency but ended up missing out on him. Do the Titans attempt to fill the nose tackle spot with a prospect like Washington’s Vita Vea if he’s there at No. 25? Or might they go inside linebacker? This roster doesn’t have much of a glaring need at most positions — at least on paper — but those two stick out more than any other.

Follow Nick Shook on Twitter @TheNickShook.

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