Even in what looks like an historically great class of running back prospects, LSU's Leonard Fournette comes out on top. The depth of quality options, though, makes it clear: 2017 is a great year to draft a runner.
06 Mar 2017
by Rivers McCown
Biggest Hole: Secondary wide receiver
Antonio Brown, it turns out, is pretty great at football. The Steelers had hoped to have Martavis Bryant around to terrify their opponents for years to come, but his substance abuse violation and punishment throws his likelihood of returning to the field into the hands of the Goodell Random Suspension Generator.
In his absence this year, the Steelers intermittently got great games from UDFA Eli Rogers and (when healthy) tight end Ladarius Green. But they did not find a consistent performer in the bunch. 2015 third-round pick Sammie Coates struggled to catch deep balls. Cobi Hamilton and Darrius Heyward-Bey are options in run-heavy game scripts, but the Steelers would like to get more at this position.
It's possible that Goodell ends the suspension for Bryant and this all goes away pretty easily. (And secondary wide receiver being the No. 1 need tells you all you need to know about how good this team could be in 2017.) But it's also possible that the Steelers make a proactive buy here and use another high-round pick or bring in someone like Kenny Stills to try and help Ben Roethlisberger's deep strikes.
Flush with cap space for the first time in what feels like forever, the Steelers should franchise and/or sign Bell to a long-term deal with relative ease. Timmons is a more interesting debate. He missed 18 tackles in 2015 and 12 more this year, and he turns 31 in May. Is this a player the Steelers want to hang on to, or is it time to bring in some youth at the position?
Biggest Hole: No. 1 Wideout
There has been something deeply odd about the Baltimore offense ever since Gary Kubiak was lost to the Broncos. Joe Flacco is a walking Elite Meme at this point, replete with a terrible contract, but he shouldn't be holding the Ravens back. The offensive line seems solid, especially up the middle. Kenneth Dixon's emergence late last year, combined with Terrance West's resurrection, set them up pretty well at running back. It's an offense that is somehow less than the sum of its parts.
With Steve Smith retired, the Ravens enter 2017 with Mike Wallace and Breshad Perriman atop the depth chart. Being part of a head-scratching offense is a tradition for Wallace, who has spent his days since Pittsburgh in Minnesota and Miami, piling up empty stats as a high-volume target. Perriman missed his entire rookie season, and though he played in 2016 and showed flashes of the talent that made him a first-round pick, he's not exactly someone to be relied upon at this point. Beyond those two lie people who have had more words written about them in the Matt Waldman Rookie Scouting Portfolio than on the rest of the football Internet combined.
The Ravens are probably capped out of a run at someone like Alshon Jeffery, but it would definitely make sense for them to consider wide receiver early in this year's draft. Perhaps even in the first round if someone like Eastern Michigan's Corey Davis is still on the board when the Ravens select at 16.
Williams and Wagner are the priorities for Baltimore. Williams is a fine nose tackle on a team that seems to develop fine nose tackles at will, and Wagner is an undrafted find turned decent right tackle. Neither loss will kill the Ravens, which is good, because they don't have a lot of money to play with at the moment. You probably forgot that Matt Elam was alive. If so, you now have something in common with Ozzie Newsome.
Biggest Hole: Defensive tackle
The Bengals don't really have gaping holes so much as they have lost a lot of depth over the years. The offense with Andy Dalton was fine... but without Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu it wasn't the embarrassment of riches it had been in the past. The secondary is OK, but with Leon Hall injured and moving on, it wasn't as good as it had been a few years ago. The running game was acceptable, but Jeremy Hill is coming off his worst year and Giovani Bernard has a torn ACL. The offensive line isn't what it was a couple years ago. And so on.
One thing that has been a problem for the Bengals for years is stuffing the run. Nose tackle Domata Peko seems to have a get-out-of-jail-free card. The Bengals were 25th in adjusted line yards up the middle in 2016, and Peko's play was one of the root causes of this. (Another similar player the Bengals have relied on for way too long is Rey Maualuga.)
The Bengals don't have a bad team, but without the same star power or depth they had earlier in the decade, they can't afford to carry holes on their roster. I hear Baltimore had a pretty good nose tackle last year. If only Cincinnati ever spent in free agency...
Zeitler is young enough to be a core player for the Bengals, so I would expect the franchise tag to be in play for him if the two sides can't come to an agreement. Whitworth is much better than either of the tackles the Bengals drafted to replace him, to this day, but that may not matter because of age biases against older linemen.
Burkhead led all running backs with less than 100 carries in DYAR, behind an offensive line with some clear holes. He may be a nice find elsewhere. Kirkpatrick finished 16th among qualifying corners in success rate, so he's another key cog that is going to force the Bengals to make a tough decision.
Biggest Hole: Quarterback
I mean, you knew that, right? Everyone knows that. Josh McCown has been released after years of talk about his great clubhouse presence because he's not actually a good quarterback. Robert Griffin is on the roster with an $8.7 million cap hit, but the number of believers out there is dwindling. And Cody Kessler showed flashes of competent backup play last year but is nobody's long-term solution.
The Browns have a few options. The trade market could yield Jimmy Garoppolo or Tyrod Taylor. The most frequently mentioned quarterbacks in the first round are DeShone Kizer of Notre Dame, Mitch Trubisky of North Carolina, and Deshaun Watson of Clemson. Given that pretty much everybody thinks that Cleveland is taking Texas A&M edge threat Myles Garrett at No. 1 overall, the Browns could use their second first-round pick (No. 12, from Philadelphia as part of the Carson Wentz trade) on one of those players. They could also attempt to go the free agent route, picking up Mike Glennon or making a play for eternally franchise tagged Kirk Cousins.
My advice would be to go for Taylor as a short-term option, along with a high-round pick on a quarterback they think can eventually be franchise-caliber. Let Taylor absorb the punishment, perhaps get a return on him if Hue Jackson can make all the lights come on, and prepare the Cleveland area for yet another Quarterback of the Future.
Real shortage of free agents for this team for some reason. It's almost like they have $100 million in cap space. If the Browns want to continue with Pryor, they appear to both have the player's heart and the financial maneuverability to do whatever is necessary to keep him. The rest of this list is basically irrelevant.
27 comments, Last at 14 Mar 2017, 11:32pm by LionInAZ