The NFL Draft is the most anticipated annual NFL event outside of the Super Bowl. It has been called an inexact science and can dramatically alter an NFL team's fortunes.
A fundamental dilemma facing teams is whether to take the best player available, like the Jets did in 2015 when USC defensive lineman Leonard Williams fell into their laps at the sixth overall pick, or attempt to fill a pressing need. There's a tendency to overdraft a quarterback when taking the latter approach since there are more teams than competent quarterbacks.
Striking out in the draft can set a team back for several years or accelerate a slide into mediocrity. Hitting a home run with draft picks can lay the foundation for an extended window of opportunity as a Super Bowl contender.
Strong drafts at the start of this decade have paid big dividends for the Seahawks. Beginning in 2010, Seattle selected five-time All-Pro free safety Earl Thomas (2010 first round), four-time Pro Bowl strong safety Kam Chancellor (2010 fifth round), Pro Bowl outside linebacker K.J. Wright (2011 fourth round), four-time All-Pro cornerback Richard Sherman (2011 fifth round), three-time All-Pro middle linebacker Bobby Wagner (2012 second round) and three-time Pro Bowl quarterback Russell Wilson (2012 third round) in a three-year span, all of whom are still with the team.
The Seahawks have made five straight playoff appearances, including a lopsided 43-8 victory over the Broncos in Super Bowl XLIII. A heartbreaking close loss the following year in Super Bowl XLIX kept Seattle from becoming the first franchise to repeat as champions since the 2003 and 2004 Patriots.
Below is a look at five teams that need to nail the 2017 NFL Draft.
Team Needs: QB, DE, CB, S
Total Selections: 11
Day 1: 1st Round (1st overall, 12th overall)
Day 2: 2nd Round (33rd overall, 52nd overall); 3rd Round (65th overall)
The Browns have become synonymous with draft futility in recent years, particularly in the first round. Some of Cleveland's biggest misses occurred in 2014 when cornerback Justin Gilbert and quarterback Johnny Manziel were taken eighth and 22nd overall. The 2012 Heisman Trophy winner quickly imploded and may never throw another pass in the NFL.
Eleven picks give the Browns the flexibility and draft capital to move up to land a desired player or down to accumulate additional selections either for this year or next year. There's a sense of urgency to find a solution at quarterback after bypassing Carson Wentz last year with a trade down in the first round. Although this year's crop of quarterbacks isn't considered on par with Wentz as a prospect, North Carolina's Mitchell Trubisky is reportedly under consideration to be taken first overall. Head coach Hue Jackson, who has a reputation as a quarterback whisperer, has publicly expressed a preference for Texas A&M defensive end Myles Garrett. He is a safer bet than Trubisky.
The Browns recently acknowledged that trading picks for a promising young backup veteran quarterback is unlikely. The Patriots seem intent on keeping Jimmy Garoppolo even though he can leave New England in free agency next year. The Bengals aren't going to potentially help solve the quarterback problems of a bitter in-state and AFC North rival without getting a premium for A.J. McCarron.
Cleveland might be able to get both Garrett and Trubisky by being patient. Trubisky could still be available for the Browns at No. 12. Another option is trading up into the top 10 with a team like the Jets, who have the No. 6 pick, that is interested in moving down.
Team Needs: Edge rusher, CB, S
Total Selections: Eight
Day 1: 1st Round (28th overall)
Day 2: 2nd Round (60th overall); 3rd Round (92nd overall)
The Cowboys tied a franchise record with 13 regular season wins and secured the NFC's top seed in the playoffs in 2016. Whether Dallas can repeat as NFC East champions could depend on the draft because of a mass exodus in free agency. A lack of salary cap room prevented the Cowboys from keeping together a secondary that was surprisingly the strength of the defense in 2016. Only one starter, free safety Byron Jones, remains. Cornerbacks Brandon Carr (Ravens) and Morris Claiborne (Jets) and strong safety Barry Church (Jaguars) all bolted to sign elsewhere as free agents. Dallas also lost reserve safety J.J. Wilcox, who played 52.75 percent of the defensive snaps last year, to the Buccaneers.
Dallas hasn't had a strong pass rush since releasing future Hall of Famer DeMarcus Ware in 2014. . The Greg Hardy experiment in 2015 was a failure. Injuries and last season's four-game drug suspension have held back 2014 second round pick DeMarcus Lawrence. Randy Gregory, the Cowboys' 2015 second-round pick, struggled as a rookie and is a repeat offender of the NFL's substance abuse policy. He is currently serving a one-year suspension under this policy. Fortunately for Dallas, this year's draft is deep in pass rushers and defensive backs so Cowboys owner Jerry Jones will have an opportunity to find a "war daddy" to get after opposing quarterbacks.
The Cowboys are hoping to get an additional boost from an already stellar 2016 draft class, which produced quarterback Dak Prescott, the 2016 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year, and running back Ezekiel Elliott, a first-team All-Pro. A back injury prevented defensive end Charles Tapper, a fourth-round pick, from playing as a rookie. A calculated risk was made by taking Jaylon Smith, a top-five talent, in the second round. The playmaking linebacker missed his rookie season because of the severe knee injury he suffered in the 2016 Fiesta Bowl. If he can overcome the nerve damage from his injury, he should give the defense a big boost and could be one of the steals of that draft.
Team Needs: edge rusher, RB, CB
Total Selections: Seven
Day 1: 1st Round (15th overall)
Day 2: 2nd Round (46th overall); 3rd Round (80th overall)
The Colts should have a stranglehold on the AFC South, arguably the NFL's weakest division. Instead, the Colts missed the playoffs the last two seasons because former general manager Ryan Grigson squandered an opportunity to amass talent when quarterback Andrew Luck was at his cheapest on his rookie contract. The five-year, $122.97 million extension containing $87 million in guarantees that Luck received last offseason reset the NFL pay scale.
After hitting a home run in 2012 with Luck's draft class, Grigson whiffed too many times in successive drafts. Most notably, he made one of the worst trades in recent history by dealing his 2014 first-round pick to the Browns for running back Trent Richardson early in the 2013 season.
Grigson didn't fare much better in free agency as he didn't find a true difference maker on the open market. Curiously, he took a short-term approach during free agency in 2015 opting for players past their prime who were in their 30s. The biggest contribution has come from running back Frank Gore, who topped the 1,000-yard rushing mark last season as a 33-year-old.
New general manager Chris Ballard, who came from the Chiefs, has used free agency to help shore up a defensive unit that ranked 30th in total defense, 27th against the pass and 25th against the run in 2016 with value signings instead of making a splash. Most notably defensive end/outside linebacker Jabaal Sheard and defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins came over from the Patriots and Giants respectively.
There isn't anybody on the defense that is going to remind opponents of the potent pass rushing duo of Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis from the Peyton Manning era. Since Ballard was a part of the Kansas City brain trust that found success recently with Marcus Peters and Tyreek Hill, who had character concerns, it would not be a surprise for him to target the talented but troubled Joe Mixon to replace Gore if he is available in the second round.
Team Needs: CB, S, DL, QB, WR
Total Selections: Eight
Day 1: 1st Round (13th overall)
Day 2: 2nd Round (45th overall); 3rd Round (77th overall)
The Cardinals missed the playoffs last season for the first time since Bruce Arians became head coach in 2014. Arizona was bracing for losses in free agency as a conscious decision was made to prioritize edge rusher Chandler Jones over defensive lineman Calais Campbell, who got a four-year, $60 million deal from the Jaguars. Safety Tony Jefferson priced himself out of Arizona with a breakout season in 2016. Safety D.J. Swearinger (Redskins) and cornerback Marcus Cooper (Bears) also exited in free agency.
Cooper, who was acquired at the final preseason roster cut downs from the Chiefs, might be an underappreciated departure. Brandon Williams, a 2016 third-round pick, quickly lost his starting job because of early-season struggles. Justin Bethel hasn't been able to make the transition from special teams ace to regular defensive contributor.
With 2017 expected to be Carson Palmer's last season, the Cardinals will probably try to find their quarterback of the future in the draft. Using the 13th overall pick on a quarterback may be a reach considering Arizona's other needs. Since wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald will likely follow Palmer out the door, another weapon in the passing game must also be found.
Team Needs: ILB, CB, RB
Total Selections: Eight
Day 1: 1st Round (24th overall)
Day 2: 2nd Round (56th overall); 3rd Round (88th overall)
The Raiders are entering a different phase after reaching the playoffs last season for the first time in 14 years. General manager Reggie McKenzie hit the jackpot in the 2014 draft by selecting defensive end/linebacker Khalil Mack with the fifth overall pick and quarterback Derek Carr in the second round. He landed another keeper in the 2015 draft with wide receiver Amari Cooper, the fourth overall pick.
It will become vital for McKenzie to continue having successful drafts where head coach Jack Del Rio and his staff develops young talent now that the time to pay Carr and Mack is rapidly approaching as both are in line for offseason contract extensions.
Carr is a higher signing priority because he is entering his contract year. Mack won't be in his contract year until 2018 since first-round picks are subject to a fifth-year option, which the Raiders exercised for $13.846 million. Carr could become the NFL's first $25 million per year player while Mack's extension should make him the NFL's highest-paid non-quarterback averaging more than $20 million with at least $75 million in guarantees.
The Raiders will be facing an extremely unusual situation because of the success of Carr and Mack. It is rare for teams to have a quarterback on a lucrative contract while also having one of the league's highest-paid non-quarterbacks.
Reuben Foster could solve Oakland's inside linebacker problems should the diluted sample he provided in his NFL Combine drug test cause a slip toward the end of the first round. The Raiders thought they were in good shape at cornerback after signing Sean Smith last offseason in free agency and because of David Amerson's breakout 2015 campaign. The Raiders ranked 24th against the pass last season, allowing 257.5 yards per game and tied for 20th with 27 touchdowns given up through the air largely because of Smith's inconsistency and Amerson's regression.
Marshawn Lynch coming out of retirement to end his career in his hometown would only be short term fix at running back after losing Latavius Murray to the Vikings in free agency. However, this is one of the deepest running back draft classes in quite some time.