Suggesting that some teams don't need a good draft this year feels a bit foolish. After all, every team arguably needs a good draft, right?!
But there's a deeper point here: Some teams really need to nail the 2023 NFL Draft, or else there might be serious consequences -- including the fates of the people who drafted and coached them. That's a lot to heap on a collection of players who have never stepped foot on an NFL field.
However, all you need to do is look at our top team classes from the 2022 NFL Draft. Our top three-graded rookie crops belonged to the Jets, Lions and Seahawks -- and those three teams improved by a combined 10.5 wins over their 2021 records. No. 4 on our list, the Chiefs, won three fewer games but won Super Bowl LVII with some surprisingly big contributions from first-year players.
Our lowest-graded 2022 draft team, the Vikings, won five more games than the year before. But the three next-lowest clubs on the list -- the Rams, Raiders and Cardinals -- saw their combined win total drop by 18 games from 2021 to 2022.
That's why we think a good draft could be a game changer -- or fate sealer -- for these 10 NFL teams (listed in alphabetical order) this April.
It's no shock to see the Cardinals here, as they're picking third overall -- the result of a complete freefall from the 10-2 start during the 2021 season, carrying over in a 4-13 campaign last year that led to Kliff Kingsbury's ouster and GM Steve Keim stepping down.
So while it's arguable that the team now is going to be remade under a new regime, arguably entering a rebuilding phase, there still is a lot at stake here. The first-year combo of head coach Jonathan Gannon and GM Monti Ossenfort have a lot of boxes that need checking.
Kyler Murray remains an enigma, one who is coming off a torn ACL and who is likely not going anywhere anytime soon. The Cardinals have been quiet in free agency after J.J. Watt retired. The franchise's recent draft classes have been underwhelming. You might be hard-pressed to indicate two or three areas of strength on this team right now.
There's still a chance DeAndre Hopkins could be traded, which could add draft assets to their treasury, which right now includes five selections in the top 105 overall. There also have been reports that the No. 3 overall pick might be up for sale. That's a lot of potential movement that could come down in the next month or so.
Clearly, the Panthers have already tipped their hand to the direction that largely will determine if this offseason is a success. By trading up to the No. 1 overall pick, everyone knows that quarterback is what they're taking.
Moving up cost them some quality picks, which is the price of doing business, plus WR D.J. Moore. Losing its top wideout theoretically hurts Carolina's ability to develop a new starter, one who's a young, cost-controlled asset under agreement for four years. That part can't go overlooked.
But getting the quarterback right is the biggest part of the equation. And just because you're taking the first swing doesn't mean you'll end up with the best quarterback in a class. Just ask Mitch Trubisky or Baker Mayfield, former top QB picks who watched others drafted below them turn into stars.
Bears fans rejoiced at the acquisition of Moore and a draft-pick bounty for the No. 1 choice in April's draft, along with the added benefit of Justin Fields remaining the quarterback. But now there's the chore of getting that No. 9 pick right -- and the options are fascinating. (Don't forget that it will be GM Ryan Poles' first first-round selection; he didn't have one a year ago.)
With three, possibly four QBs likely to go in the first eight selections ahead of Chicago, the Bears are likely to have at least one of Poles' seven blue-chip players on the board. They might even have two or three from which to choose, and while having options sounds nice, it could make it a tougher call in real time.
- Would they draft Georgia DT Jalen Carter, a top-five talent who is facing character questions since his arrest?
- Would they consider a receiver such as Ohio State's Jaxon Smith-Njigba, a one-time teammate of Fields', even after using big resources at wideout?
- Will there be an offensive lineman or pass rusher worth taking at that spot?
Poles likely knows how much is riding on that pick -- and the rest of the 2023 selections -- with the Bears starting to gain momentum just as Aaron Rodgers appears set to leave the division.
Likewise, the Lions have to feel the tides turning in their favor in the NFC North, and not just because of Rodgers. They swept the Packers last season, with both victories coming during Detroit's 8-2 finish down the stretch.
GM Brad Holmes has done a remarkable job remaking the roster over the past two years, and he's set his team up for success with the Jared Goff trade netting the Lions an additional first-round pick. They're sitting at Nos. 6 and 18 in Round 1 and have five of the first 81 picks. It's a great time to be a fan of the team.
But there are holes remaining. They could use some more help on defense, even after free agency additions. They probably need a tight end, a receiver, an offensive lineman and maybe a running back. Other spots also could use patching. Each one of their eight selections still matters.
Yet the biggest mystery is at quarterback. Might they consider using a higher pick on one? That's the toughest part, I surmise: knowing when to make a move for the right quarterback. There might be a way to find Goff's potential successor outside of Round 1.
If the Lions can nail this draft, they might truly be moving to a place this franchise hasn't been in a long, long time.
The Packers have to know they're entering a period of uncertainty -- really, whether or not Aaron Rodgers is traded. But the assumption is that both sides will find a way to make a Rodgers-to-the-Jets trade work eventually. Once that happens, the Packers will be fully in draft mode. They have 10 picks currently, and though four of them are No. 232 and after, they theoretically should have the ammo needed -- especially if they receive capital from the Jets this year for Rodgers -- to make whatever moves they feel necessary. Move up, trade for 2024 picks, stay put. It should all be on the table.
The Packers' recent draft classes have been interesting and somewhat unexpected, with a few head-scratchers mixed in. But GM Brian Gutekunst has made some bold picks, some of which have already paid off in a big way; others, including Jordan Love, remain in wait-and-see status.
Gutekunst knows that if Love is going to have success as the starter, he's going to need as rock-solid a roster as possible around him in his first year as QB1. This draft class will be crucial to defining the next phase of Packers football, one way or another.
One two-point conversion cost the Texans the No. 1 overall pick, and they've now been passed up by the Panthers, who traded into that spot. Did Houston have serious talks with the Bears about moving up? I don't know. All indications are that the Texans need a quarterback, but they appear for now to be willing to let Carolina have its first crack before drafting one.
New head coach DeMeco Ryans will need this offense to level up from what we saw last season, when the Texans scored more than 20 points only four times (including that Week 18 win over the Colts that lost them the top pick). But it's not like Houston's defense is anything close to what Ryans had in San Francisco. The Texans only held their opponent to fewer than 20 points four times in 2022, as well.
The Texans have plenty of draft assets to remake the roster, tied for the most picks in the 2023 NFL Draft with 12. Two of those picks are in the top 12. Six are in the first 104. GM Nick Caserio did work the board last year with a series of trades to target specific players, but they all came on Days 2 and 3. Will Texans fans appreciate such a measured approach this time around? Maybe. But the nerves will be high in the early part of Round 1. Their two top-15 picks from last year, Derek Stingley Jr. and Kenyon Green, have gotten off to slow starts.
This one is pretty obvious. There's immense pressure from the fan base and owner Jim Irsay to rebuild a winning culture, and this time there's no lucking their way into Peyton Manning or Andrew Luck.
With the No. 4 overall pick, GM Chris Ballard is clearly in limbo for his QB-needy team. If he doesn't move up, there's a chance the Colts could be left with the fourth-best passer on their board, assuming the possibility of another team leapfrogging into the Cardinals' pick at No. 3. If Ballard opts to move up, he might have to give up some 2024 NFL Draft assets in order to do so -- and even so, that might be for the third QB drafted if he's not going all the way to No. 1 (which seems highly unlikely).
Ballard's highest trade up came with the 41st overall pick, to get running back Jonathan Taylor back in 2020. He's shown some aggressiveness in lower rounds. But when drafting high, Ballard's instinct has always been to stand pat or move down and collect more picks. That's a reasonable approach when you're building a foundation. Desperate times, however, call for more desperate measures. This situation might be the greatest challenge of his Colts career.
Josh McDaniels has already let go of the franchise QB (Derek Carr) and traded away the star tight end (Darren Waller). He took a team that scrapped its way into the playoffs (and nearly took down the Bengals two years ago) and stumbled to a six-win season, losing to the Colts in Jeff Saturday's debut and to the Rams and Baker Mayfield two days after he joined the team. One win was pretty much lateralled to them by the Patriots.
So things are a bit dicey, even with the additions of Jimmy Garoppolo and Jakobi Meyers and the retention of Josh Jacobs. The Raiders are tied for most picks this year with 12, although eight of those land outside the top 100. But with the Davante Adams trade sapping their draft-pick allotment last year, every one of the 2023 selections will count more heavily this time around.
The Raiders badly need an influx of talent. They need offensive line help. The defense can't stop good quarterbacks, which is a problem in the AFC West. Oh, and they'd ideally be on the lookout for a young QB to develop behind Garoppolo.
That's a lot of areas that still need addressing. Owner Mark Davis has voiced his confidence in McDaniels and GM Dave Ziegler to get his team back to the postseason, but without gaining some real help from this draft class, things could turn dire in a hurry.
GM Kwesi Adofo-Mensah had a curious first draft on the job that included a major move down in Round 1 a year ago, when he swapped picks with the division-rival Lions. It's not Adofo-Mensah's fault that his eventual first- and second-round picks, safety Lewis Cine (No. 32 overall) and corner Andrew Booth (No. 42), both had their rookie seasons interrupted by injury. Each player could help strengthen a major trouble area in 2023.
The bottom line is, among their 10 picks last year, the Vikings found one immediate starter -- OG Ed Ingram -- with the rest combining to contribute three total starts. Draft classes aren't judged based on what happened in one season, of course, but that's a little concerning, even with a veteran-led group that won 13 games and the NFC North title in 2022.
Things are likely to look a lot different this season. The depth across the board is worrisome. There's the life-after-Kirk Cousins question that keeps lingering, with the QB, who turns 35 in August, heading into the final year of his contract. And just how much better is this defense, which finished 31st last season, after free agency additions such as Marcus Davenport, Dean Lowry and Byron Murphy?
The Vikings have only five selections (and no second-rounder) currently on hand in the 2023 NFL Draft. They could look to trade down in Round 1 to acquire more capital. Minnesota might take that kind of approach more than once. Will the analytics-minded front office net more talent and immediate help this time around?
The franchise feels like it's at a flashpoint. The club could be sold, and a change at the top of the franchise could lead to questions about the future of head coach Ron Rivera, who has gone 22-27-1 in his three years on the job, and the front office. The franchise quarterback might not currently be on the roster. Chase Young is headed into a critical season after a lost Year 3. There are just so many unknowns in Washington.
As of right now, the Commanders' free-agency and trade options are very much limited by how little salary-cap space they have (under $3 million, per Over The Cap) available. Draft-wise, they have eight selections, but only three come in the top 100. Their first pick (No. 16) lands smack dab in the middle of Round 1 -- likely too low to nab a QB or a top offensive lineman. It might allow them to draft a starting-caliber corner, but they'll need to stay on their toes, with trade-up candidates below them possibly ready to pounce.
The Commanders did well by landing Jahan Dotson 16th overall a year ago, and it's possible that running back Brian Robinson (picked 98th overall last year) and quarterback Sam Howell (144th) end up outplaying their draft slots, so there's reasonable hope that this scouting department can find talent. If it doesn't, this franchise, which has won double-digit games once since 2005, could dig an even bigger hole for itself ahead of a possible transfer of power up top.