Just hours before the start of the 2020 NFL Draft, Field Level Media’s team of NFL writers and draft analysts take a final look at the most pressing need for all 32 NFL teams.
Safety: The Cardinals have 2019 fifth-round pick Deionte Thompson but little else behind starters Jalen Thompson and Budda Baker. In a division featuring the 49ers’ George Kittle, the Rams’ tandem of Tyler Higbee and Gerald Everett and a rotation of pass-catching threats in Seattle, the Cardinals need safeties who can cover tight ends.
Cornerback: Releasing Desmond Trufant left a gaping hole. If Florida’s C.J. Henderson isn’t available at the 16th overall pick, Atlanta might wait until the second round, where the position group gets deeper with Utah’s Jaylon Johnson, Clemson’s A.J. Terrell and Mississippi State’s Cameron Dantzler.
Edge rusher: Keeping outside linebacker Matt Judon, slapped with the franchise tag in March, is a start, but the Ravens recorded only 37 sacks last season and had another major reshuffling of personnel through free agency. New defensive end Calais Campbell will help. Rush linebacker Jaylon Ferguson can be part of a rotation but isn’t a star. Iowa’s A.J. Epenesa could fall after a subpar combine.
Right tackle: Perhaps Cody Ford (a 2019 second-rounder) deserves more time, but Buffalo would likely be best off bumping him to right guard and finding a new starter at right tackle. TCU’s Lucas Niang, who is coming off hip surgery but was once regarded as a first-round talent, could be a target with the 54th overall pick. Georgia’s Isaiah Wilson would also fit as a bruiser next to Ford.
Cornerback: The NFC South has big-play wide receivers, and while Carolina finished 13th against the pass much was due to playing from behind. Ohio State’s Jeffrey Okudah would make sense if available at No. 7. Otherwise, the Panthers might wait until the second round.
Offensive linemen: The most pressing need is at left guard, where the retirement of Kyle Long creates a major void. The interior of the line was inconsistent in 2019, but right tackle could be upgraded if Bobby Massie is viewed as a better option inside.
Quarterback: Head coach Zac Taylor knows he has to get this one right for the Bengals to set a winning foundation. LSU quarterback Joe Burrow’s Ohio roots are a small piece of the equation. The Heisman Trophy winner checks a lot of boxes.
Offensive tackle: New general manager Andrew Berry scored a right tackle in free agency in former first-round pick Jack Conklin, but the gaping vacancy at left tackle remains. Massive Louisville tackle Mekhi Becton and Georgia’s Andrew Thomas are coveted prospects who could be there when the Browns pick at No. 10.
Center: Travis Frederick’s retirement was a surprise, but at least it occurred before the draft. The Cowboys had a test run at life without Frederick in 2018 when he missed the whole season, and Joe Looney held up but was nowhere near Frederick’s All-Pro caliber. Dak Prescott was sacked 56 times and the interior line was walloped. If Dallas gets a shot at Tyler Biadasz, it could reel him in.
Wide receiver: The Broncos resisted a move for a wide receiver in free agency because of the draft’s outstanding class. Alabama’s Henry Ruggs would pair perfectly with Courtland Sutton, but he might be gone by 15th overall. Crimson Tide teammate Jerry Jeudy or Oklahoma’s CeeDee Lamb might be available. In Round 2, options could include TCU’s Jalen Reagor or Arizona State’s Brandon Aiyuk.
Defensive end: With the No. 3 pick, the Lions should have a chance to fill one of their two greatest needs, considering Ohio State defensive end Chase Young or cornerback Jeffrey Okudah is likely to be on the board.
Tight end: Marcedes Lewis is 36, but he’s back and atop the depth chart in Green Bay. Jimmy Graham (Chicago Bears) is gone after declining production. A playmaker would make life easier for wide receiver Davante Adams. Last year’s third-round pick, Jace Sternberger, was on injured reserve until November and never made an impact.
Wide receiver: Bill O’Brien traded arguably the best wide receiver in the NFL — DeAndre Hopkins — and received a return worthy of a No. 2 wideout. Randall Cobb and Brandin Cooks round out a nice group, but there’s no true alpha. Penn State’s KJ Hamler and Notre Dame’s Chase Claypool are targets for Houston with the 40th overall pick.
Wide receiver: T.Y. Hilton will enjoy working with Philip Rivers. Rivers loves to launch, and behind this offensive line there should be plenty of opportunity for the two to connect. Hilton played hurt most of last season, and 2019 second-round pick Parris Campbell never made a move.
Cornerback: In a 14-week span, the Jaguars traded Pro Bowl cornerbacks Jalen Ramsey and A.J. Bouye, dousing what had been a flourishing homegrown secondary. But they hold the ninth and 20th picks, and Ohio State’s Jeffrey Okudah and Florida’s CJ Henderson represent dream draft scenarios for GM Dave Caldwell.
Cornerback: Bashaud Breeland re-signed, but only for one year, and the group of Charvarius Ward, Rashad Fenton and Keith Reaser isn’t inspiring. Kansas City should upgrade by the end of Round 2, with Clemson’s A.J. Terrell, Alabama’s Trevon Diggs or LSU’s Kristian Fulton all options at No. 32 overall.
Cornerback: Even before the signing of Eli Apple fell through, the Raiders needed help at cornerback. Florida’s CJ Henderson would be a great option at No. 12 or No. 19.
Quarterback: Don’t put it past Anthony Lynn to roll with Tyrod Taylor as his starter, but the Chargers look primed to take a quarterback in the first round after Philip Rivers walked. Will they trade up for Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa? If not, Oregon’s Justin Herbert seems likely at No. 6.
Center: Brian Allen and Austin Blythe did not adequately fill the void created by the departure of John Sullivan. Allen missed much of the season. Blythe’s more natural position is guard. Tyler Biadasz is a name to watch from the Wisconsin offensive line factory, but the 2020 center class is very deep.
Quarterback: The Dolphins have been connected to Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa for more than a year. With Tagovailoa’s recovery from hip surgery apparently on schedule, the question is whether he’ll be available at No. 5 overall. Miami might have to jump up a few spots for Tagovailoa, but would the Dolphins be just as happy with Oregon’s Justin Herbert?
Wide receiver: Trading Stefon Diggs leaves the Vikings with Adam Thielen at No. 1. Tajae Sharpe came on board to compete with a bunch of underdogs for No. 2.
Tight end: The Patriots never really addressed Rob Gronkowski’s departure last offseason, despite a terrific draft class at the position. This year’s group is far less exciting. New England might miss out on Notre Dame’s Cole Kmet, but Dayton’s Adam Trautman or Florida Atlantic’s Harrison Bryant might be there in Round 3.
Linebacker: Kiko Alonso and Alex Anzalone are coming off serious injuries while Demario Davis is in a contract year. The Saints don’t have a lot of draft picks, but they likely need to add a few linebackers.
Edge rusher: The Giants had 36 sacks last season, and Markus Golden, who led the team with 10, hasn’t been re-signed. Defensive end Leonard Williams (franchise tag) was retained, but the outside linebacker spots are bereft of finishers. Darrell Taylor (Tennessee) and Terrell Lewis (Alabama) are second-round targets the Giants are monitoring.
Offensive tackle: GM Joe Douglas’ only free agent reinforcement at tackle was the unproven George Fant, but asking Fant and Chuma Edoga (a 2019 third-rounder) to solve the protection woes is too optimistic. Fortunately for the Jets, a top tackle — Alabama’s Jedrick Wills, Iowa’s Tristan Wirfs, Louisville’s Mekhi Becton and Georgia’s Andrew Thomas, in some order — should be there at No. 11 overall.
Wide receiver: Greg Ward came out of nowhere to play like a No. 1, but that’s not an expectation for a full season. Alshon Jeffery, 30, and DeSean Jackson, 33, are dragging significant durability concerns into 2020, so the time to find the next lead receiver is now. Colorado’s Laviska Shenault and Alabama’s Henry Ruggs III could get a long look.
Defensive tackle: Javon Hargrave is a considerable loss because of his nonstop motor inside. Acquiring Chris Wormley appears to be a short-term fix, and the XFL options the team added are no sure thing.
Defensive tackle: Trading DeForest Buckner brought the 13th overall pick in return. With a strong set of edge rushers, look for the 49ers to address the interior defensive line with at least one of their two first-round picks. South Carolina’s Javon Kinlaw is one of the draft’s biggest boom-or-bust prospects.
Defensive end: Whether or not Jadeveon Clowney moves on, upgrading the pass rush remains the No. 1 goal. Bruce Irvin and Benson Mayowa were brought back, but more help is needed after Seattle recorded just 28 sacks. Penn State’s Yetur Gross-Matos fits GM John Schneider’s preference for length and speed.
Offensive tackle: The Bucs signed four-year veteran Joe Haeg. He has 35 games of starting experience, but he played only 74 offensive snaps as a reserve for the Indianapolis Colts last year. Iowa’s Tristan Wirfs and Louisville’s massive Mekhi Becton (6-foot-7, 364 pounds) could be options at No. 14.
Edge: Yetur Gross-Matos (Penn State) is widely projected to be picked in the 20s. The Titans’ first pick at No. 29 might present better options to trade back with teams coveting a specific need, but Gross-Matos has size, athleticism and the ability to play defensive end or tackle.
Edge rusher: The No. 2 pick puts first-year Redskins coach Ron Rivera in position to draft his version of Julius Peppers - picked second overall in 2002 by the Carolina Panthers - in Ohio State’s Chase Young. Young is considered more polished than last year’s No. 2 pick, Buckeyes teammate Nick Bosa.
—Field Level Media