Monday Morning Draft – Week 18

Drake Maye

Race for the No. 1 Pick of the 2024 NFL Draft:

Chicago Bears:

In Week 17, the Bears clinched the No. 1-overall pick of the 2024 NFL Draft when the Panthers lost to Jacksonville and the Cardinals shockingly beat Philadelphia. The Bears had the No. 1-overall pick in the 2023 NFL Draft prior to trading down with Carolina. As part of that trade, the Bears have the Panthers’ first-round pick in the 2024, which has turned out to be No. 1 overall as well.

The Bears have a big decision to make whether to stick with Justin Fields, or look to trade Fields while drafting a quarterback like USC’s Caleb Williams, North Carolina’s Drake Maye or LSU’s Jayden Daniels. Fields has accuracy issues, and his pocket passing is inconsistent. Many around the league believe Chicago will select a quarterback in the 2024 NFL Draft and trade Fields. If the Bears move Fields, they could recover an early-round pick, as the team gave up one of those for defensive end Montez Sweat.

Top General Manager Candidates:

  • Detroit Lions director of scouting development Mike Martin
  • Atlanta Falcons vice president of player personnel Kyle Smith
  • Indianapolis Colts chief personnel executive Morocco Brown
  • Buffalo Bills director of player personnel Terrance Gray
  • Tennessee Titans director of pro scouting Brian Gardner
  • Philadelphia Eagles director of scouting Brandon Hunt
  • Miami Dolphins assistant general manager Marvin Allen
  • Washington director of pro scouting Eric Stokes
  • Miami Hurricanes general manager Alonzo Highsmith

Top Head Coach Candidates:

  • Super Bowl winning head coach Jon Gruden
  • Detroit Lions offensive coordinator Ben Johnson
  • Seattle Seahawks quarterbacks coach Greg Olson
  • Detroit Lions defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn
  • Dallas Cowboys defensive coordinator Dan Quinn
  • Los Angeles Rams defensive coordinator Raheem Morris
  • Washington Commanders offensive coordinator Eric Bienemy
  • Indianapolis Colts defensive coordinator Gus Bradley
  • Green Bay Packers special teams coordinator Rich Bisaccia

Head Coach Hot-Seat Tracker:

  • Washington Commanders: Ron Rivera
  • New England Patriots: Bill Belichick

Let’s Play Matchmaker:

Cincinnati Bengals: Rome Odunze, WR, Washington

The Bengals cruised over Cleveland, as the latter’s coaching staff decided to rest its top starters before the team’s playoff game next week. The injury to Joe Burrow killed Cincinnati’s season, but the franchise easily could bounce back next year with a healthy Burrow. Tee Higgins is set to enter free agency, and it could be tough for the Bengals to re-sign Higgins and Ja’Marr Chase. The Bengals have other important free agents like D.J. Reader and Jonah Williams as well. Cincinnati might lose Higgins, but the 2024 NFL Draft is strong at receiver, so the team could draft a cheap replacement to pair with Chase.

Odunze has played well in 2023, making some clutch catches and using his size to be a weapon on the sideline. He has 87 catches for 1,553 yards and 13 touchdowns on the year. With Michael Penix at quarterback in 2022, Odunze broke out for Washington, recording 75 receptions for 1,145 yards and seven touchdowns.

Odunze (6-3, 215) has good size, but he could have problems separating from NFL defensive backs and will have to win on a lot of contested catches. Odunze is phenomenal at winning contested catches along the sideline because he is deadly on back-shoulder throws. He could be a great replacement for Tee Higgins and a highly impactful first-round pick for Cincinnati from the 2024 NFL Draft.

Detroit Lions: Cam Hart, CB, Notre Dame

The Lions won their 12th game of the season with good performances from Jared Goff, Amon-Ra St. Brown, their running back duo, and Aidan Hutchinson, who leading an opportunistic defense. Chauncey Gardner-Johnson had an interception in his first game back from the injury he sustained in Week 2, but Nick Mullens – 396 yards passing – and Justin Jefferson (12-192-1) still ripped off big numbers in Detroit. Losing Emmanuel Moseley to a season-ending injury has really hurt the Lions this season, and they need to add more cornerback talent to go with Cam Sutton via free agency and/or the 2024 NFL Draft.

The 6-foot-2, 205-pounder Hart is a big corner who will enter the next level with good development and experience. In 2023, Hart totaled 21 tackles, four passes broken up and three forced fumbles, but the numbers don’t illustrate how very good Hart was as a senior. He had a superb game against Marvin Harrison Jr., leading the way to limit the star receiver to three catches for 32 yards. Hart moves well for a big cornerback and can play man or zone coverage. With his skill set and experience, Hart could be a starter early in his NFL career. Hart could be a good second-round pick for the Lions and allow them to add more line talent in the first round of the 2024 NFL Draft.

New York Jets: Joe Alt, OT, Notre Dame

The New York Jets’ season ended in Week 1 when Aaron Rodgers went out for the year. With Rodgers coming back next year, New York has to improve his blocking front to give him more protection next year. Rodgers is aging, and more brittle than he was 10 years ago. In the first round of the 2024 NFL Draft, the Jets will have some great options available. While other prospects have a better skill set and more upside, Alt might be the safest selection because his technique is superb and he looks like a very safe pick to be a good pro starter.

Alt is big with long arms, has good strength in the upper body, uses his hands well, and demonstrates good technique. Alt was consistent and productive for Notre DAme. However, he has issues with his anchor because he is stiff and doesn’t bend well. That lack of bend will be challenging to fix given how tall Alt is, but he still is a very safe pick to be a good NFL starter. Alt would make a lot of sense for the Jets’ first-round pick in the 2024 NFL Draft.

Tennessee Titans: Malik Nabers, WR, LSU

Tennessee beat the Jaguars and knocked them out of the playoffs. Derrick Henry (19-153-1) ran well in what could be his final career game with the Titans. DeAndre Hopkins (7-46-1) was the only Tennessee player to have four catches or even 42 yards through the air. Hopkins is under contract for next season, but clearly the Titans need more playmakers at receiver to go with him.

In 2023, Nabers collected 86 catches for 1,546 yards and 14 touchdowns. He was dominant for the Tigers, showing excellent speed, route-running, and run-after-the-catch skills. While Kayshon Boutte was supposed to be LSU’s No. 1 wide receiver in 2022, Nabers outplayed him and was a steady contributor for Jayden Daniels. Nabers caught 72 passes for 1,017 yards and three touchdowns that season.

Nabers has decent size at 6-foot, 195 pounds as well as being fast and athletic. He would be a great first-round pick for Tennessee in the 2024 NFL Draft.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Troy Fautanu, OT, Washington

The Buccaneers won the NFC South with a shutout over Carolina. However, Tampa Bay couldn’t even score a touchdown and was able to come away with the victory via only three field goals. The Bucs have to improve their ground offense this offseason, and they could use more talent on the inside of the line. Derrick Brown dominated their guards, and they clearly are weak in the middle of their line.

Fautanu (6-3, 317) has been a very reliable and steady left tackle for Michael Penix Jr. this season. Fautanu became the starting left tackle in 2022 and has been a consistent contributor for Washington. Multiple team sources said they like Fautanu and see him as an early-rounder. Some had him projected as a second-round pick with a potential move to guard because of length limitations. Others said they were thinking Fautanu could be a first-round offensive tackle because he has 35-inch arms, similar to Rashawn Slater. Pro evaluators like Fautanu’s athleticism, but he is not real powerful and his anchor is just okay. Anchor issues, however, are reduced on the inside of the line. Fautanu could be an upgrade as a guard for Tampa Bay.

Houston Texans: Terrion Arnold, CB, Alabama

On Saturday night, the Texans clinched their first playoff appearance since Bill O’Brien blew up the Super Bowl window that had franchise greats like J.J. Watt and DeAndre Hopkins playing in the prime seasons of their careers. Houston got a road win in Indianapolis to make it into the postseason, but the Texans came close to allowing the Colts to steal a last-minute victory. It has been clear this season that Houston could use more cornerback talent to go with Derek Stingley Jr.

Arnold totaled 61 tackles, five interceptions and 11 passes broken up in 2023. He played well for Alabama in 2022, recording 45 tackles, an interception and eight passes broken up. The 6-foot, 188-pounder has quality size to go along with instincts and good technique. Arnold’s only real flaw is not being fast, and that presents some limitations for the NFL. Still, Arnold looks like a good fit for a zone team. He would be a good pick for the Texans in the first round of the 2024 NFL Draft.

Pittsburgh Steelers: Layden Robinson, G, Texas A&M

The Steelers earned their 10th win of the season in a game where Baltimore rested star quarterback Lamar Jackson. Very late in the season, running back Najee Harris finally started playing well for Pittsburgh, but to keep that going during the 2024 season, Pittsburgh could use more talent on its offensive line. The Steelers could use more talent at guard or tackle to help improve their ability to run the ball next fall.

Team sources said they were impressed with the play of Robinson in 2023. They stated Robinson (6-4, 315) looks like a potential starting right guard for the NFL. They noted that while he has some athletic limitations, he is strong and is a people mover at the point of attack. Robinson is a tough, nasty, and power right guard for the next level. He could be limited on some of the wide zone-run plays in the NFL because he lacks foot quickness and overall athletic ability. Still, he has a violent play style and demeanor. Robinson could be a second-day prospect for the 2024 NFL Draft, and he has the potential to be a steal for Pittsburgh. He could be an excellent second-round pick for the Steelers.

Team Draft Report:

In this section, we take a deeper look at specific teams and where they stand in regards to the 2024 NFL Draft.

Chicago Bears:

The Bears became a much-improved team over the course of the 2023 season. Chicago’s defense played much better over the back half of the year, and quarterback Justin Fields put together some good games to lead the team to some impressive wins. As a result, general manger Ryan Poles is faced with a very difficult decision as to whether stick with Fields, or select a new quarterback with the No. 1-overall-pick of the 2024 NFL Draft.

There are a lot of vocal Bears fans who want to stick with Fields, but in my latest 2024 NFL Draft I have the Bears drafting a quarterback. Fields is a dynamic runner, and in some games, he passes the ball well, but Fields has not developed consistent accuracy as a pro quarterback. Additionally, he is nearing the end of his contract and will be an expensive player to re-sign. The Bears could take his replacement in the 2024 NFL Draft and have the massive advantage of a starting quarterback with a cheap contract. Chicago also could probably get a second-day pick for Fields while adding a potentially cheap starter. USC’s Caleb Williams, North Carolina’s Drake Maye and LSU’s Jayden Daniels are all worthy of going high in the first round of the 2024 NFL Draft. While Fields has been a warrior on the field, his passing ability has not progressed enough, in this analyst’s opinion, for the Bear to pass on selecting a quarterback with more natural accuracy.

Looking back at a writeup on the Bears in Monday Morning Draft for Week 1, I wrote this sentence at the end of one section, “The Bears should have plenty of cap space, so perhaps they can fix their defensive line in free agency by signing some veterans like Brian Burns, Chase Young or Montez Sweat.” Poles must have had the same thought, as he traded a second-round pick for Sweat and signed the veteran end to a monster contract. The Bears could use an edge rusher across from Sweat, and I have them taking one with their second first-round pick in UCLA’s Laiatu Latu. Latu or Alabama’s Dallas Turner would be a phenomenal addition to pair with Sweat. That would give the Bears a dynamic tandem to get after the quarterback.

The other defensive position they could consider in Round 1 of the 2024 NFL Draft would be cornerback because Jaylon Johnson is set to be a free agent. If Johnson leaves in free agency, Chicago could consider a No. 1 corner like Clemson’s Nate Wiggins. However, Poles has been inclined to take corners on the second day of NFL drafts, so Chicago might find a corner to go with Kyler Gordon and Tyrique Stevenson on Day 2.

The Bears also might want to consider adding more receiver talent for Fields or their new quarterback. Drafting a wideout to go with D.J. Moore would give them a pair of mismatch playmakers. If Chicago passes on a quarterback at No. 1, the organization should trade down to load up on more first-round capital for the 2025 and 2026 NFL Drafts. If the Bears move down only one or two spots, they still could have a shot at Ohio State’s Marvin Harrison Jr. Moving out of the top five would probably cost Chicago Harrison, but there are other good receivers to consider like LSU’s Malik Nabers, LSU’s Brian Thomas Jr., Washington’s Rome Odunze and Florida State’s Keon Coleman. As other teams like the Bengals, Chiefs, Chargers and Dolphins have illustrated, surrounding a young quarterback with dynamic playmakers really helps that signal-caller develop at the pro level.

With two top-16 picks and free agency dollars, this will be a huge offseason for the Bears to add talent who could turn them into a playoff team quickly. Poles has a great opportunity, and if he drafts well, the Bears could be back as legit playoff contender in the NFC as soon as next season. However, Poles must get the quarterback decision correct with either replacing or sticking with Fields.

Arizona Cardinals:

Two years ago, the Detroit Lions were among the worst teams in the NFL and landed the No. 2-overall pick in the 2022 NFL Draft. Now two years later, the Lions are going to the playoffs thanks to astute drafting, good coaching, a capable veteran quarterback, and being armed with extra draft picks thanks to the Matthew Stafford trade. The Arizona Cardinals have the same opportunity now because they have a talented veteran quarterback, a promising young coaching staff, and are armed with extra draft picks. New general manager Monti Ossenfort has a great opportunity to build the Cardinals into a top contender in the NFC.

The Cardinals are slated to have a the fourth-overall pick in the 2024 NFL Draft and a pick in the back half of the first round from the Houston Texans. High in Round 1, Arizona could have the opportunity to move down with a team that wants one of the top quarterback prospects. That would be a wise move because it would probably provide Arizona with multiple first-round picks in the 2025 NFL Draft as well. Adding five first-round picks to the roster over three-draft span is what Lions general manager Brad Holmes did, and that could be an avenue for Ossenfort to rapidly stock the Arizona roster with talent.

If the Cardinals opt not to move down or don’t receiver a quality offer that makes it worth their while, there will be some excellent prospects available to them high in the first round. In my latest mock 2024 NFL Draft, I have the Cardinals taking Ohio State wide receiver Marvin Harrison Jr. While Arizona has some talent at receiver, the team does not have an elite No. 1 receiver like Harrison. He could be a huge asset for Kyler Murray and make the Arizona offense much more dangerous. Having Harrison on the outside would open things up for Hollywood Brown, Trey McBride, and the rushing offense. Harrison would be a tremendous addition to the team’s scoring attack.

If Arizona were to trade down in the first round with a team that is looking for a quarterback, that could cost the team a shot at Harrison, but the organization could have some other good options later in the first round like LSU’s Malik Nabers, LSU’s Brian Thomas Jr., Washington’s Rome Odunze, Florida State’s Keon Coleman, Texas’ Xavier Worthy and Texas’ Adonai Mitchell. Anyone from that group could be a candidate for Arizona’s second selection in the first round of the 2024 NFL Draft.

If the Cardinals don’t trade down and someone takes Harrison ahead of them, they could consider adding a defensive player like Alabama edge rusher Dallas Turner. They need more difference-makers in their front seven, and Turner would be a dangerous quarterback hunter to pair with Zaven Collins. With their pick from the Texans, the Cardinals could consider other edge rushers like UCLA’s Laiatu Latu or Florida State’s Jared Verse. Arizona also could target some interior defensive line help with someone like Ohio State’s Michael Hall Jr. or Michigan’s Kris Jenkins.

Cornerback is another position worthy of Arizona’s consideration with its pick from Houston. Adding a No. 1 corner is going to be needed via the 2024 or 2025 NFL Draft. Clemson’s Nate Wiggins is the best cover corner in the 2024 NFL Draft and would offer an upgrade for Arizona.

The Cardinals have a lot of needs, but with two first-round picks and a high second-round pick, they have flexibility with how they build their roster. If Ossenfort drafts well in 2024 and 2025, the Cardinals are fully capable of producing a quick turnaround and being in playoff contention a couple of years from now.