Monday Morning Draft – Week 1

Monday Morning Draft is back! This is a column that delves into the past weekend’s action from an NFL Draft perspective. As the season goes on, the draft picture and slotting will become more clear, but every Sunday will provide a few hints for next April.

By Charlie Campbell.
Send Charlie an e-mail here: [email protected]
Follow Charlie on Twitter @draftcampbell for updates.

Race for the No.1 Pick:

New York Jets:
The Jets lost to the Bills. With Buffalo in firm rebuilding mode as well, this was a valuable loss for New York’s hopes of getting the top pick in the 2018 NFL Draft. Jets general manager Mike Maccagnan has made a lot of shrewd moves to clear out cap space with veterans who aren’t part of the long-term plan. Moving on from Brandon Marshall, David Harris, Nick Mangold, Ryan Clady and Darrelle Revis will help the franchise to have the resources to build for the future. Maccagnan has also drafted well for New York in his three years there, helping to build the Texans playoff roster prior to that. If Jets ownership is patient enough to give him time to build it the right way, Maccagnan will turn the Jets into a talented team and have them back in the playoff mix.

Unless Christian Hackenberg breaks out this year, the Jets will be targeting a franchise quarterback in the 2018 NFL Draft. USC’s Sam Darnold, Wyoming’s Josh Allen, Louisville’s Lamar Jackson and UCLA’s Josh Rosen are all potential targets.

San Francisco 49ers:
The 49ers lost at home to the Carolina Panthers and are in firm rebuilding mode. General manager John Lynch and head coach Kyle Shanahan were afforded plenty of time in the form of 6-year contracts, so ownership is expected to be patient with this regime after being on its fourth head coach in four years. The 49ers are in dire need for a franchise quarterback to build around. USC’s Sam Darnold, Wyoming’s Josh Allen, Louisville’s Lamar Jackson and UCLA’s Josh Rosen could be fits for the 49ers’ first-round pick.

Buffalo Bills:
The Jets lost to the Bills, and Buffalo is in firm rebuilding mode. Through trades, Buffalo has added the Cheifs’ first-round pick, the Rams’ second-round pick and the Eagles’ third-round pick. The Bills are loaded with picks to have the ammo to move up for a quarterback, but they could easily be in position to get one with their own first-round pick. USC’s Sam Darnold, Wyoming’s Josh Allen, Louisville’s Lamar Jackson and UCLA’s Josh Rosen are all top targets for Buffalo.

Let’s Play Matchmaker:

This section will look at some of the top talent in college football and match those prospects up with teams that have a dire need at the position.

Philadelphia Eagles: Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn State
Carson Wentz could emerge as one of the best young quarterbacks in the NFL this season. Philadelphia has used a lot of picks on its defense with free agecy dollars on the offensive skill positions. Perhaps former first-round pick Nelson Agholor is finally coming around, but clearly the team could use more long-term weapons for Wentz, and a feature back would help protect Wentz by giving him a running game.

Barkley looks like one of the top talents for the 2017 NFL Draft, and Philadelphia would be very fortunate to land the stud runner. There is no doubt that Barkley is a future starter with the ability to become a difference-maker. He is fast to hit the hole and has the speed to break off yards in chunks. He also has good size, elusiveness, vision, balance, and receiving ability that would fit perfectly in the Eagles’ offense. In 2017, Barkley has averaged 9.3 yards per carry for 260 yards with three touchdowns. He has seven receptions for 99 yards and a touchdown as well. The Eagles would be extremely fortunate if they could land Barkley in the 2018 NFL Draft.

Detroit Lions: Royce Freeman, RB, Oregon
The Lions started off the season with an impressive victory over the Cardinals. Matthew Stafford threw for four touchdowns, connecting with rookie wideout Kevin Golladay for two of those scores. While Detroit has to be pleased considering the massive contract it just gave Stafford, once again the team’s rushing offense struggled. Ameer Abdullah recorded only 30 yards on 15 carries. The Lions need a more talented backfield to provide more balance to the offense.

The power back Freeman could be a nice value for the Lions on the second day of the 2018 NFL Draft. He was excellent in 2015 before a down year in 2016 as the Oregon football program bottomed out. In the early going of 2017, Freeman has been phenomenal. In Week 1, he partied Al Bundy style with four touchdowns against Southern Utah, running for 150 yards on 23 carries and making four receptions for 50 yards. Freeman beat up on the weak caliber of competition in that game, but showed that it was no aberration by rolling Nebraska in Week 2 for 153 yards on 29 carries with two touchdowns. In 2017, he is averaging 5.8 yards per carry for 303 yards with six touchdowns. He has five receptions for 59 yards as well.

The 5-foot-11, 231-pounder is a thick power back for the NFL. Freeman could be a nice fit for Detroit, in perhaps the second round.

Buffalo Bills: Courtland Sutton, WR, SMU
The Bills traded away Sammy Watkins and are in need of a long-term No. 1 receiver. Zay Jones was drafted to be their No. 2, while Jordan Matthews may not be re-signed for the long term. Against the Jets, the only wideout who made more than one reception was Matthews with two. Buffalo could target a No. 1 receiver with its second first-round pick after taking a quarterback with its first selection.

The 6-foot-4, 216-pounder Sutton is a difference-maker. He has the speed to challenge teams downfield and mismatch size. Sutton is a dangerous red-zone weapon who easily makes contested catches over defensive backs. In Week 2 of this season, he had four touchdown receptions against North Texas. Through two games, Sutton has 10 receptions for 185 yards and five touchdowns. Sutton would be a nice fit in the back half of the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft for Buffalo.

Carolina Panthers: Clelin Ferrell, DE, Clemson
Carolina’s defensive ends collected just .5 sacks against the 49ers, with veteran Julius Peppers notching that half sack. With Peppers and Charles Johnson, the Panthers have two veterans whose best seasons are behind them. The team is going to have to find some long-term edge rushers for the defense.

Ferrell looked like a first-round edge rusher on Saturday night, dominating Auburn. He had a strip-sack, and all night long he was showing excellent speed and pass-rushing moves off the edge. The 6-foot-5, 260-pounder has good length to him with NFL size and speed around the corner. If Ferrell enters the 2018 NFL Draft, he looks like an early-round talent who could be a nice solution for Carolina to get a long-term defensive end.

Baltimore Ravens: Calvin Ridley, WR, Alabama
The Ravens cruised over Cincinnati, shutting out the Bengals as Andy Dalton threw four interceptions. Baltimore’s defense had to go through a rebuilding process after age took it’s toll on the unit that helped the Ravens to a Super Bowl Championship earlier this decade. The Ravens still need more offensive weapons for Joe Flacco. Against the Bengals, the production of Baltimore’s receivers was seriously lacking. Jeremy Maclin had two receptions for 56 yards and a touchdown, but Mike Wallace (1-8), Breshad Perriman (1-5) and Maxx Williams (1-5) did next to nothing. Getting more receiving talent for Flacco is a absolutely necessary.

Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome loves Alabama products, and Ridley would be a great value for Baltimore in the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft. Ridley is similar to Amari Cooper as a fast receiver with excellent route-running, suddenness, athletic ability, and quality hands. Ridley has 12 catches for 127 yards and a touchdown after two games this year. If Ridley gets to the Ravens’ first-round pick, he would be a great fit for them.

Kansas City Chiefs: Austin Bryant, DE, Clemson
The Chiefs have enjoyed an excellent career out of Tamba Hali. He has been a steady pass-rusher while also being a high-character team leader. Hali was Kansas City’s first-round selection in the 2006 NFL Draft and is one of the few active players in the NFL from that draft class. All good defenses need to be at least three deep at pass-rusher. Thus, the Chiefs have to start considering a new defender to replace Hali to form a trio with Dee Ford and Justin Houston.

Bryant showed that he is a skilled quarterback hunter last Saturday night when he dismantled Auburn with four sacks. All night, Bryant was using his speed to run around the right tackle, and showed an ability to close as other defenders helped cause quarterback Jarrett Stidham to scramble around with Bryant cleaning up plays. That could be effective for Kansas City with Bryant teaming up with Ford and Houston. On the final two plays of the game for Auburn’s offense, Bryant had back-to-back sacks to close out Clemson’s eight-point win. Kansas City is without a first-round pick in the 2018 NFL Draft due to last year’s pick trade to select Pat Mahomes, but Bryant would be a nice fit for the team’s second-round pick.

Jacksonville Jaguars: Kevin Toliver II, CB, LSU
The Jaguars had a resounding victory over the Texans as Jacksonville’s defensive line registered 10 sacks and three forced fumbles that resulted in turnovers. Free agent addition Calais Campbell set a franchise record with four sacks, while Yannick Ngakoue had two strip-sacks and recovered a fumble. The only disappointment defensively from the season opener was cornerback A.J. Bouye being flagged for three pass interference penalties. Bouye is a very physical corner who grabs a lot, so that could be problematic all year.

If Bouye straightens out and plays as well as he did for Houston last year, the Jaguars could still use a third cornerback, because all good defenses need to be at least three deep at corner. In the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft, Toliver would be a nice fit for Jacksonville. He is a defender who has good size to match up on big receivers, yet enough quickness to run with wideouts downfield. Toliver would make sense for the Jaguars’ first-round pick.

Team Draft Report:

In this section, we take a deeper look at specific teams and where they stand in regards to the 2018 NFL Draft.

Los Angeles Rams:
The Rams got off the Sean McVay era to a great start with a thrashing of the Colts. While it is only one game, and the Colts were without Andrew Luck, the Rams definitely look vastly improved over a year ago. Jared Goff’s improvement is striking, while the defense was playing fast and physical even without Aaron Donald. The NFC West is open for the Rams to rise as the Cardinals are declining, the 49ers are rebuilding, and the Seahawks will have to deal with age and big contracts in the not-too-distant future. If Goff continues to improve like he has since McVay and quarterbacks coach Greg Olson started working with him, the Rams could be one of the top up-and-coming teams in the NFC.

McVay was an excellent coach for Kirk Cousins in Washington, while Olson has a track record of repeat success. Olson got great seasons out of average or below-average quarterbacks like Marc Bulger, Josh Freeman and Blake Bortles. Even Blaine Gabbert had a decent completion percentage with more touchdowns than interceptions in part of a season of play with Olson. Olson also laid the foundation for Derek Carr in Oakland, so Goff won the lottery with the coaching staff that was brought in this offseason.

The Rams also made some wise moves to improve their offensive line this offseason. Andrew Whitworth has been a rock-solid left tackle throughout his career, but at his age, he isn’t a long-term starter. The Rams could look to further improve their blocking for Goff and Todd Gurley in the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft. Taking a tackle like Washington’s Trey Adams or Texas’ Connor Williams would make sense. Either could start out his career at guard or right tackle before eventually replacing Whitworth as Goff’s blind-side protector.

The Rams paid a steep price for Sammy Watkins with a second-round pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, so one can safely assume that they are going to make a big effort to sign him to a contract extension. With Watkins, Cooper Kupp, Tavon Austin, Josh Reynolds, Mike Thomas and receiving rookie tight end Gerald Everett, the Rams are well equipped with receiving threats for Goff. Todd Gurley could be one of the top running backs in the NFL during his career if he can stay healthy and focused, so the Rams shouldn’t need to use early-round picks on the skill positions in the foreseeable future.

Defensively, the Rams have a few positions they could address. They traded away cornerback E.J. Gaines, so adding more cornerback talent to go with Trumaine Johnson would make sense. Some second-day targets to consider include Auburn’s Carlton Davis, Oklahoma’s Jordan Thomas and Ohio State’s Denzel Ward.

The other defensive spot at which the Rams could use help is an edge rusher to go across from Robert Quinn. Some second-day players to consider include Florida State’s Josh Sweat, Louisville’s James Hearns, Wake Forest’s Duke Ejiofor and Missouri’s Marcell Frazier.

After an ugly season in their return to Los Angeles, the Rams appear to be headed in the right direction with McVay and Olson working wonders with Goff. If Goff continues to improve, the Rams could be one of the up-and-coming teams in the NFL.

New England Patriots:
The Patriots got their Super Bowl defense off to a rough start against the Chiefs, but New England has bounced back plenty of times in the past. There is a ton of talent on the Patriots’ roster, and once they get some time for new pieces to acclimated to their schemes, the Patriots should start rolling once again. New England will be in “win now” mode as long as Tom Brady continues to play. Thus this offseason, it wouldn’t be surprising if the Patriots trade away early-round picks for veterans who can contribute immediately, just like last spring.

If the Patriots do keep their early-round picks in the 2018 NFL Draft, they have some needs they can address to increase their chances of getting another ring with Brady. Kansas City illustrated that New England’s offensive line is vulnerable. The Patriots don’t have a bad offensive line by any means, but it isn’t a dominant unit. In the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft, New England could look for a tackle upgrade with Notre Dame’s Mike McGlinchey. The Patriots won’t be picking high enough for the top tackles like Washington’s Trey Adams or Texas’ Connor Williams.

New England also could consider the blocker who lines up next to McGlinchey in guard Quenton Nelson. Nelson is a tremendous blocker who is a bulldozer in the ground game and rock solid in pass protection. Some scouting sources think Nelson could be a future Pro Bowler and a Logan Mankins-type guard in the NFL. Either McGlinchey or Nelson would be nice additions to upgrade New England’s protection of Brady.

Defensively, the Patriots could use help as evidenced by the Chiefs lighting up the scoreboard. Veteran starting cornerback Malcolm Butler is a free agent after this season, and considering New England tried to trade him a few months ago, it is a safe assumption that the team won’t be willing to pay Butler as much as other teams will. The Patriots gave a huge contract to Stephon Gilmore, so it seems unlikely they would sign two corners to big deals. In the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft, New England could consider players like LSU’s Kevin Toliver II, USC’s Iman Marshall and Florida State’s Tarvarus McFadden.

Aside from cornerback, New England could use help in the front seven. After Dont’a Hightower was injured, the Patriots’ defense really missed him, and they still haven’t found a true replacement for Jamie Collins after trading him to the Browns last year. Chiefs running back Kareem Hunt totaled 246 yards with three touchdowns as he ripped the New England defense on the ground and through the air. Some linebackers for the Patriots to consider perhaps on Day 2 during the 2018 NFL Draft would include Texas’ Malik Jefferson, USC’s Porter Gustin, Florida State’s Matthew Thomas, Alabama’s Shaun Dion Hamilton and USC’s Cameron Smith.

The Patriots also could use more edge rushers. Derek Rivers is missing his rookie year with a torn ACL, and Kony Ealy didn’t work out for them. New England needs more defenders who can get after the quarterback across from Trey Flowers. Some players who could fit for New England include Florida State’s Josh Sweat, Louisville’s James Hearns, Wake Forest’s Duke Ejiofor and Missouri’s Marcell Frazier. Sweat is a first-round talent who could be available later because of concerns around a previous knee injury.

Every year in the NFL, some weird results happen in Week 1 that prove to be freak games later on in the year. The Chiefs are definitely a good team, and so are the Patriots. As long as Brady is continuing to play at a high level, New England will be in the Super Bowl mix. The Patriots could address a few needs in the 2018 NFL Draft that help them to win a Super Bowl in 2019. I’m still confident in my Super Bowl pick for this year, which featured the Patriots repeating as champions.

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