The NFL Never Sleeps: The Professor’s Take on NFC Draft Needs After Free Agency

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The NFL Never Sleeps: The Professor's Take on NFC Draft Needs After Free Agency

The latest NFL shakeup on the NFC side came when Tampa Bay announced that head coach Bruce Arians will move into a front-office role and that defensive coordinator Todd Bowles will step into the top job, a reminder that there could be more moves to come before the NFL draft, but with the free agency market down to older veterans who could wait until after the NFL Draft to sign with a team, rosters are about as set as they will get before the league’s annual selection ceremony.

That makes it a great time to look at each team’s draft needs and capital; this NFC Draft Needs article and the accompanying AFC version will serve as a reference point in future articles where The Professor will break down player selection props available on DraftKings and FanDuel.

Teams are broken into four groups based on where they stand ahead of the draft; “Ready to Roll Teams” have already fielded a contending roster, “Post-Draft Contenders” will be contenders with a half-decent draft, and “On the Bubble” teams could dramatically swing their 2022 future with a strong draft. The last group, “A Year (or Two) Away”, explains itself; barring a significant leap in play at the quarterback position, these teams need to temper short-term expectations.

Ready to Roll

Los Angeles Rams

Draft Picks: 3 (104), 4 (142), 5 (175), 6 (211,212,218), 7 (238,253)
Needs: OL (Depth)
Wants: OG1, C1, EDGE1/2, CB2

The Rams will continue their strategy of filling non-premier positions in the middle rounds to fill out the roster around their stars and can be expected to target interior offensive linemen, safeties, and 2nd/3rd cornerbacks. The one spot they may not be able to fill is the pass-rushing void left by Von Miller’s exit; if that is the case, it will be interesting to see how defensive coordinator Raheem Morris adjusts schematically now that significant cap space is allocated to inside linebacker Bobby Wagner.

San Francisco 49ers

Draft Picks: 2 (61), 3 (93,105), 134, 172, 6 (187,220,221), 7 (262)
Needs: NA
Wants: LG1, WR2/3, DL1, CB1

San Francisco’s roster is stacked. Left guard is in flux after Laken Tomlinson signed with the Jets in free agency, but that’s a minor concern with head coach Kyle Shannahan’s history at the position. Brandon Aiyuk and Jauan Jennings did well in the WR2/3 roles at times, but they could add a player to push them. The defense also looks ready to roll; the 49ers are solid everywhere, though they wouldn’t say no to a number one corner or a dominant lineman (who would?).

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Draft Picks: 1 (27), 2 (60), 3 (91), 4 (133), 7 (248,261)
Needs: RB2/3, TE1, DT2/3, EDGE2/3
Wants: LG1, Defensive Depth

Tampa Bay is also ready to roll; they currently need to replace running back Ronald Jones, tight end Rob Gronkowski, defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, and edge rusher Jason Pierre-Paul, but the latter three could all be back, and they have good options in all of those position rooms. They might also look for an interior lineman to push Aaron Stinnie back to his role as the sixth man, but the offense should be fine if Stinnie is the starter. Beyond that, look for Tampa to add depth with defensive players who can contribute on special teams.

Post-Draft Contenders

Dallas Cowboys

Draft Picks: 1 (24), 2 (56), 3 (88), 4 (129), 5 (155, 167, 176, 178), 6 (193)
Needs: OL (Depth), TE2, EDGE2
Wants: RB1, WR3/4, LG1, S1

In a watered-down NFC, the Cowboys are set up well to contend again despite significant roster turnover. The Dallas roster is stacked despite the departures of offensive tackle La’El Collins, receiver Amari Cooper, and edge rusher Randy Gregory; they made want to add another receiver to push free-agent signee James Washington as Michael Gallup works his way back from an ACL to ensure lead dawg CeeDee Lamb isn’t overworked early on and could use some insurance at edge rusher if the hot-and-cold Dante Fowler doesn’t work out across from Demarcus Lawerence. The RB1 want is a bit tongue-in-cheek; Ezekiel Elliott’s contract precludes a move, but the once-elite back, who had a great start to 2021, appears too worn down to hold up over a 17-game season.

Green Bay Packers

Draft Picks: 1 (22,28), 2 (53,59), 3 (92), 4 (132,140), 5 (171), 7 (228,249,258)
Needs: WR1, WR2/3, RT
Wants: DT, EDGE, LB3, S3, CB4

Green Bay needs to reboot on offense, but with five of the first 90 picks in an NFL Draft deep at wide receiver and offensive tackle, general manager Brian Gutekunst should be able to fill those current holes and add some luxury items on top of them. The departure of edge rusher Za’Darius Smith creates a need for a third rusher alongside Rashan Gary and Preston Smith, and they need to fill in the depth at linebacker and the secondary, but Green Bay’s defense is set up for another strong season under coordinator Joe Barry.

On the Bubble

Arizona Cardinals

Draft Picks: 1(23), 2 (55), 3 (87), 6 (201, 215), 7 (244, 256, 257)
Needs: RB2, WR2, DT
Wants: OG, WR3/4, EDGE, CB2/3

Arizona’s on-paper roster would put them in “Post-Draft Contenders”, but questions about the internal development of the program after their brutal playoff loss dropped them down a group. Much of this comes down to quarterback Kyler Murray, who has showcased dynamic talent but has struggled to maintain his play throughout an NFL season. The Cardinals need an elite player to replace edge rusher Chandler Jones in the front seven on defense, particularly given J.J. Watt’s injury history, and need another cornerback in case Jeff Gladney doesn’t work out after a season out of the NFL, but their range of outcomes ultimately depends more on Murray’s development.

Minnesota Vikings

Draft Picks: 1 (12), 2 (46), 3 (77), 5 (156), 6 (184, 191, 192)
Needs: NA
Wants: RG1, TE1, CB2, CB3, S2/3

Minnesota aggressively turned over their defense in the offseason and arguably enters the NFL Draft without a glaring need, but there are a variety of position groups where they could stand to get significantly better. If tight end Irv Smith successfully returns from last year’s training camp injury, that could fill the tight end void, but they need to add young, top-end talent to the offensive line and defense.

New Orleans Saints

Draft Picks: 1 (18), 2 (49), 3 (98,101), 4 (120), 5 (161), 7 (237)
Needs: QB1, Secondary (Depth)
Wants: LT1, RB2, WR2, WR3, S2

The Saints could both be dropped down to “A Year (or two) Away”, but were left here because they are continuing to aggressively put together a roster around quarterback Jameis Winston despite their salary cap situation. This was the best roster in the NFL two years ago; last year, they kept the stars and lost the depth, but this offseason saw the departures of key players such as left tackle Terron Armstead and safety Marcus Williams, as well as the retirement of safety Malcolm Jenkins. If general manager Mickey Loomis hits another home run, as he did in the 2017 NFL Draft, he could draft his way out of this predicament, but the Saints went all in during the final years of the Drew Brees-era, and they’re in a difficult position now as a result.

Philadelphia Eagles

Draft Picks: 1 (15,16,19), 2 (51), 3 (83), 4 (124), 5 (154,162,166), 6 (194)
Needs: CB2
Wants: 2023 1sts, WR1 (size), C (Future), DT2/3, EDGE1, LB1, S2/3

Philadelphia has three first-round draft picks in 2022, and with quarterback Jalen Hurts under evaluation, The Professor’s priority would be to flip one, if not two, of those picks for 2023 first-rounders. The Eagles don’t need better players around Hurts to evaluate whether his accuracy is becoming more consistent; if his year-over-year improvement continues, Philadelphia can keep Hurts, but if that doesn’t happen, they will have multiple first-rounders in a 2023 Draft Class with a highly touted quarterback class. Beyond that, look for the Eagles to add a cornerback to replace Steven Nelson, and perhaps the eventual replacements for center Jason Kelce and defensive tackle Fletcher Cox.

A Year (or Two) Away

Atlanta Falcons

Draft Picks: 1 (8), 2 (43,58), 3 (74,82), 4 (114), 5 (151), 6 (190,213)
Needs: QB
Wants: LG, C, RT, RB1, WR1, WR2, TE (Inline), Defense

The Falcons started a reboot with the trade of quarterback Matt Ryan, which puts general manager Terry Fontenot and head coach Arthur Smith at Square One in Year Two at the helm. This strikes The Professor as an exceptionally uncomfortable position; the Falcons are unlikely to win many games with Marcus Mariota at quarterback, which would mean that Fontenot and Smith enter 2023 under immense pressure regardless of whether they have found their quarterback. The Matt Ryan trade seems like a move that should have been made a year earlier if it were to going to happen at all, but now that it’s done, Fontenot and Smith have the flexibility to take this talent-poor roster in any direction they want.

Carolina Panthers

Draft Picks: 1 (6), 4 (137), 5 (144,149), 6 (199), 7 (242)
Needs: QB
Wants: LT1, LG1, DT2/3, EDGE2/3, LB2, CB1

Carolina’s post-2020 declaration that they would upgrade on quarterback Teddy Bridgewater has not yielded much in the way of results. The Panthers added quarterback Sam Darnold, left tackle Cam Erving, and left guard Pat Elflein via trade or free agency last offseason, and are continuing to pay the price for those mistakes as they develop their roster for the 2022 NFL season. Even if Carolina drafts quarterback prospects Kenny Pickett or Malik Willis with the sixth pick, that player would be stuck behind a talent-deficient offensive line. Head coach/football czar Matt Rhule appears to be between a rock and a hard place entering his third NFL season.

Chicago Bears

Draft Picks: 2 (39,48), 3 (71), 5 (148, 150), 6 (186)
Needs: NA
Wants: OL, WR1, WR3/4, TE, DT, EDGE, LB, CB2, S

Chicago has their presumptive quarterback of the future in Justin Fields, and with edge rusher Khalil Mack traded to Chicago, the roster that made the playoffs under general manager Ryan Pace, head coach Matt Nagy, and defensive coordinator Vic Fangio is largely gone. Chicago has some good young talent, such as running back David Montgomery, receiver Darnell Mooney, linebacker Roquan Smith, and cornerback Jaylon Johnson, but new general manager Ryan Poles has the flexibility to build out the team around Fields as he sees fit, though he lacks high-end draft capital in this year’s NFL Draft.

Detroit Lions

Draft Picks: 1 (2,32), 2 (34), 3 (66,97), 5 (177), 6 (181, 217), 7 (234)
Needs: QB1
Wants: DT, EDGE, LB1, CB1, CB2

The good thing for the Lions is they have three picks in the top 35 and five picks in the top 100. The bad thing for the Lions is that the same franchise that prevented quarterback Matthew Stafford from winning a single NFL playoff game doesn’t have any obvious path to getting another stud at the game’s most important position. The Lions have assembled a strong offensive line, quality skill players in running back D’Andre Swift, tight end T.J. Hockenson, and receiver Amon-Ra St.Brown and free-agent addition D.J. Chark has shown the ability to be a field-stretching receiver, so a young quarterback would have an enviable situation, but if Kenny Pickett or Malik Willis isn’t that guy, it won’t matter much.

New York Giants

Draft Picks: 1 (5,7), 2 (36), 3 (67,81), 4 (112), 5 (147,173), 6 (182)
Needs: QB1
Wants: Offense, EDGE, LB1, S2/3

The Giants have poured resources into the offense around quarterback Daniel Jones through free agency and the draft, but despite their best efforts, it’s debatable whether they have added any actual difference-makers. Signing receiver Kenny Golladay in free agency last offseason is the most prominent of their recent errors, but while it’s been bad around him, Jones hasn’t helped matters. Examples such as Matthew Stafford in Detroit, Deshaun Watson in his final season in Houston, or Joe Burrow as a rookie in Cincinnati show that quarterback talent can shine through on even the worst rosters, and it’s hard to say that is the case with Jones.

Seattle Seahawks

Draft Picks: 1 (9), 2 (40,41), 3 (72), 4 (109), 5 (152,153), 7 (229)
Needs: QB1
Wants: OL, Defense

The fact that the Seahawks enter their rebuild with a “normal” number of picks in this year’s NFL Draft speaks to the attrition this roster suffered over the past decade. Seattle made a habit of trading high-end draft capital for non-essential players, such as gadget weapon Percy Harvin, or a safety who should be playing linebacker in Jamal Adams. The Seahawks go into this draft with an extra second-round pick after trading quarterback Russell Wilson and have stars at wide receiver in D.K. Metcalf and Tyler Lockett, but this team is stripped down to the studs and could go any direction as they rebuild.

Washington Commanders

Draft Picks: 1 (11), 2 (47), 4 (113), 6 (189), 7 (230,240)
Needs: NA
Wants: A different vision?
Washington has a quality roster with some star players on both sides of the ball, but the decision to pair Carson Wentz with a supposedly elite defense reminds me of the Jay Cutler marriage with the Chicago Bears defense. In past years, The Professor continued to bet on Wentz’s talent, but his stint with the Colts ended that; like Cutler before him, Wentz has too many turnover-worthy plays that defy explanation. Washington may be a solid team, but does anyone see Wentz hoisting the Lombardi in the future given the way his career has gone? The Professor was on Washington before the 2021 NFL season but is out after they followed up that trainwreck with the Wentz trade.

Conclusion

This article looked at NFC teams and their draft needs ahead of the 2022 NFL Draft. For more from The Professor, check out his AFC Draft Needs Article and the rest of his content on BeerLife Sports.

About the author:

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Steven Clinton, better known as "The Professor", is a former D-1 Quality Control Assistant (Northwestern, Toledo) who holds a B.A. in Economics and M.S. in Predictive Analytics from Northwestern University. He maintains an end-to-end NFL game projection model and is a film junkie who breaks down the tape of every NFL game.