Day 2 fixes for Day 1 NFL draft needs
In last year’s NFL draft, the Minnesota Vikings addressed their need at the cornerback position with the No. 11 overall pick, taking Trae Waynes out of Michigan State.
While the jury is still out on whether Waynes will develop into a good NFL corner (he performed at roughly an average level on limited snaps as a rookie), it’s fair to wonder based on first-year results whether the Vikings would have been better off waiting until their second-round pick (No. 45 overall) to address the position. That’s because just a few choices later, at No. 50 overall, the Bills drafted cornerback Ronald Darby out of Florida State, who in his rookie season went on to grade out as the fourth-best corner in the NFL, according to PFF.
Hindsight is 20-20, but looking ahead to this year’s draft — which Day 1 needs might be better filled on Day 2 or later? Here are 10 teams that should consider waiting to fill their biggest roster holes, and the prospects they can select that will provide excellent value:
Tennessee Titans (No. 1 pick in first round)
Day 1 need: Cornerback
Day 2 fix: William Jackson III, CB, Houston
The Titans didn’t place a cornerback higher than No. 57 overall in PFF grades last season, and the need to improve their coverage in the defensive backfield is significant enough that colleague Steve Palazzolo has had them drafting Florida State’s Jalen Ramsey with the No. 1 overall pick. Ramsey would be an excellent choice and could play a hybrid cornerback-safety-slot corner role for Tennessee, but there’s a reasonable chance that Jackson, the No. 2 cornerback on the PFF draft board, could be available with the second pick of the second round. If the Titans could land either Ohio State edge rusher Joey Bosa or Oregon defensive lineman DeForest Buckner with their first pick and Jackson — who earned PFF’s second-best coverage grade in this year’s CB class — with their second, that would fuel an immediate upgrade on defense.
San Diego Chargers (No. 3 pick in first round)
Day 1 need: Defensive line
Day 2 fix: Chris Jones, DE/DT, Mississippi State
We love ourselves some Buckner here at PFF, and he’d be a great fit for the Chargers’ 3-4 defense if they take him at No. 3. But if they go with Ramsey or Bosa or Ole Miss tackle Laremy Tunsil at that spot, Jones could be a great early second-round choice to help address the team’s complete lack of pass rush from its defensive line. Jones ranked behind only Buckner in pass-rush grade among interior lineman last season, having produced an impressive 49 quarterback pressures, and while questions about his effort level could see him drop down the board, our grading indicates he’s one of the best interior players in this entire class.
Dallas Cowboys (No. 4 pick in first round)
Day 1 need: Edge rusher
Day 2 fix: Emmanuel Ogbah, DE, Oklahoma State
Bosa feels like something of a dream fit for the Cowboys at No. 4 overall, but if he’s off the board by then or they choose to draft a QB with that pick, Ogbah would be a great option with the third pick of the second round. Among edge players last season, only Bosa and Michigan State’s Shilique Calhoun recorded higher pass-rush grades than Ogbah, and Ogbah’s 78 QB pressures (including 12 sacks) were the most among 4-3 defensive ends. He is lower on draft boards due to being hit with the “raw” label, but he was wildly productive last season and could boost a Dallas edge rush that really needs it.
Jacksonville Jaguars (No. 5 pick in first round)
Day 1 need: Coverage linebacker
Day 2 fix: Jeremy Cash, LB/S, Duke
Colleague Steve Palazzolo noted UCLA linebacker Myles Jack’s superstar potential in mock-drafting him to the Jaguars with the fifth overall pick last week, but if they go in another direction with that choice, they could find a great value in a different linebacker/safety hybrid in Cash. He could potentially be available in the third round with Jacksonville’s No. 69 overall pick, and while he certainly isn’t as good as Jack, he graded out extremely well as a run defender and pass-rusher in his “strike safety” role at Duke. If he develops into a strong safety he could eventually replace John Cyprien (PFF’s third-lowest-graded safety in 2015), but no matter what he projects as a versatile second-level defender.
Chicago Bears (No. 11 pick in first round)
Day 1 need: Running back
Day 2 fix: Kenneth Dixon, RB, Louisiana Tech
If Ohio State’s Ezekiel Elliott drops to Chicago with the No. 11 overall pick, it is going to be very tempting for the Bears to take him as the replacement for Matt Forte. But if he’s off the board or they choose to address a different position, Dixon would be a great option in the second or third rounds. Our analysts view him as the best receiving back in this class (Forte was a high-volume pass-catcher for Chicago throughout his career), and he ranks fifth in this draft class in breakaway percentage (the rate at which he broke off long runs) and second in elusive rating (a measure of how effectively he generated yards independent of his blocking) — two indicators of his ability to make defenders miss.
Los Angeles Rams (No. 15 pick in first round)
Day 1 need: Wide receiver
Day 2 fix: Leonte Carroo, WR, Rutgers
Several mock drafts have the Rams taking a wide receiver like Ole Miss’ Laquon Treadwell with the No. 15 overall pick, but on the PFF draft board we have Carroo (No. 35) ranked just seven spots behind Treadwell (No. 28). That’s a value pick considering Carroo will likely be available with either of the Rams’ second-rounders (Nos. 43 and 45) and possibly their third-rounder (No. 76). Carroo is tops in this year’s receiver class in yards per route run after ranking 10th in overall grade among college WRs a season ago.
Detroit Lions (No. 16 pick in first round)
Day 1 need: Defensive tackle
Day 2 fix: Sheldon Day, DT, Notre Dame
Haloti Ngata had a solid first season with the Lions, but he’s 32 years old and Detroit could really use a disruptive 3-technique defensive tackle to line up next to him. Louisville’s Sheldon Rankins and Ole Miss’ Robert Nkemdiche have been mentioned as first-round possibilities, but according to our board Day would be an excellent value in the second round and might even be available with Detroit’s third-round pick. He will get knocked down some boards due to his smaller size for the position, and even though his measurables are comparable to those of Rams star Aaron Donald, he had nowhere near the same level of explosive workout results at the combine. Still, Day was one of college football’s most productive players in 2015, earning the second-highest grade among interior defenders and excelling both against the run and as a pass-rusher. He only recorded four sacks, but his 46 QB pressures ranked fourth among DTs.
Washington Redskins (No. 21 pick in first round)
Day 1 need: Linebacker
Day 2 fix: Scooby Wright III, LB, Arizona
Inside linebacker was a problem area for Washington in 2015, one of the reasons why some mock drafters have connected the Redskins at No. 21 overall to Alabama’s Reggie Ragland, PFF’s third-highest-graded linebacker in this class who performed well in all three facets: run defense, pass rush and coverage. However, Wright is a guy who will almost certainly be available with Washington’s third-round pick (No. 84 overall) and looks like a potential steal. He missed most of 2015 due to injury but was by far PFF’s top-graded linebacker in 2014. He ranked second in pass-rush grade after producing 14 sacks and was dominant against the run. There’s some question as to whether he’s a liability in coverage, but he was wildly productive for Arizona overall.
Cincinnati Bengals (No. 23 pick in first round)
Day 1 need: Wide receiver
Day 2 fix: Sterling Shepard, WR, Oklahoma
The Bengals saw wide receivers Marvin Jones (Detroit) and Mohamed Sanu (Atlanta) sign elsewhere in free agency, which is why they’ve been connected to WR prospects as early as their first-round No. 24 overall pick. But instead of drafting a Laquon Treadwell or Josh Doctson at that spot, Cincinnati could potentially score a tremendous value with their second-round pick (No. 55) in Shepard. He was PFF’s top-graded college WR in 2015 (just like Tyler Lockett was in 2014 before becoming a breakout third-round rookie for Seattle last season), and would be an ideal weapon out of the slot to pair with outside WR A.J. Green and seam-stretching tight end Tyler Eifert. Shepard has sneaky deep-threat ability, too: He caught 11 of 17 deep targets including four TDs and zero drops, good for a 65 deep-ball catch rate that ranks third in the class.
Arizona Cardinals (No. 29 pick in first round)
Day 1 need: Edge rusher
Day 2 fix: Joe Schobert, OLB, Wisconsin
Even following the trade for Chandler Jones, the Cardinals could afford to add more edge-rushing ability to a defense that had the fourth-lowest pass-rush grade in 2015. That’s why prospects like Georgia’s Leonard Floyd and Eastern Kentucky’s Noah Spence have been connected to Arizona at No. 29 overall. However, a strong value pick in Round 3 would be Schobert, who quietly earned the top pass-rush productivity score among outside linebackers last season, recording 52 total pressures (including nine sacks). He also graded out well in pass coverage and against the run.