Throughout the past week, NFL general managers have met with the media to discuss the state of their teams, with a focus on the NFL draft. At some point in virtually all of those interviews, a media member has asked a version of the following question.
“Best player available or draft for need?”
Each GM, more than likely, gave a canned answer, but in his mind, he was thinking about the organizational fit of the players he has in mind. That fit ultimately determines whether a draft pick has the opportunity to be a Pro Bowl-type player or will be a guy struggling to get a second contract in four years. What would, then, be the best fit for 15 of the top prospects in this year’s draft, which starts Thursday night? Let’s start with the No. 1 player in my Top 50, Quenton Nelson, and work down the list.
1. Quenton Nelson, G, Notre Dame
Best fit: Indianapolis Colts
My gut tells me that GM Chris Ballard is itching to trade down out of this spot. He knows he needs multiple players to turn Indianapolis back in to a power. However, if Ballard stays put at No. 6, Nelson would be a perfect fit to help protect quarterback Andrew Luck. Sure, the Colts desperately need some pass rush help and there’s not a ton of it in this draft, but Luck needs help up front. Left tackle Anthony Castonzo and center Ryan Kelly are foundation pieces, and Nelson would fit between them and solidify that left side of the line.
2. Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn State
Best fit: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Three teams selecting in the first four of this draft are often mentioned as candidates for Barkley. Yet each team signed a capable veteran in free agency. The Cleveland Browns picked up Carlos Hyde. The New York Jets obtained Isaiah Crowell. The New York Giants added Jonathan Stewart. Now, none of those teams should pass on a talent such as Barkley, but because they each now have a veteran on the roster, they could prioritize a more valuable position and draft a running back from this talented class in later rounds. The Buccaneers do not have such an option with their current depth chart. Jacquizz Rodgers is one of my all-time favorite players, but at this point in his career he needs to complement a guy like Barkley, not be the No. 1 option. Barkley can also create mismatches in the passing game to aid quarterback Jameis Winston, something the quarterback who will be entering his fourth season desperately needs.
3. Bradley Chubb, Edge, N.C. State
Best fit: New York Giants
The more that I look at the Giants’ roster and think about value in the draft, Chubb should be the No. 1 player on their radar screen. Olivier Vernon is the only pass rusher of any value for the Giants after they traded Jason Pierre-Paul to the Bucs. Most Giants fans I hear from think the team should draft a quarterback, but New York has to get to the passer and Chubb would be a fantastic fit with Vernon going forward.
4. Sam Darnold, QB, USC
Best fit: Cleveland Browns
Darnold’s calm demeanor will serve him well in trying to help the Browns become elite. Okay, okay, it will help in just moving Cleveland out of the NFL’s cellar. That said, he won’t need to carry the burden on his own as the Browns ‘skill players have improved in the past eight months. After getting wide receiver Josh Gordon back late last year, Cleveland added both Pro Bowl wide receiver Jarvis Landry and running back Carlos Hyde this offseason. Corey Coleman, Landry, Gordon and David Njoku create a formidable group of pass catchers, and Darnold will get them the ball and deal with the ups and downs of being this franchise’s quarterback for the foreseeable future.
5. Baker Mayfield, QB, Oklahoma
Best fit: Arizona Cardinals
What I wouldn’t have given to see Mayfield with Bruce Arians, the former Cardinals coach who retired after last season. Talk about “no risk it, no biscuit.” Regardless, the best opportunity for a quarterback to truly succeed as a rookie, barring anything unforeseen, is with Arizona. Larry Fitzgerald is still around. J.J. Nelson is a deep threat down the field. But, most importantly, running back David Johnson, if healthy, can create a dynamic QB-RB situation with Mayfield. It has been rumored that Arizona loves Mayfield, but it might not be the only team to have such feelings.
6. Josh Allen, QB, Wyoming
Best fit: Buffalo Bills
With AJ McCarron on hand to start seemingly, there’s no immediate pressure on Allen to come in and do so. Furthermore, in Buffalo, Coach Sean McDermott has a defensive pedigree, so it’s not as if Allen would have to throw the ball 40 times a game. Also, he wouldn’t be following in the footsteps of Peyton Manning or Tom Brady. The last two quarterbacks the Bills selected in the first round were J.P. Losman and EJ Manuel. This is the NFL, so there will always be pressure, but Allen could chart his own course in Buffalo free from the New York City media pressure and he wouldn’t have to carry the offense early in his career.
7. Roquan Smith, ILB, Georgia
Best fit: Indianapolis Colts
First of all, the Colts have a linebacker depth chart that needs some help. If I listed all the names, most of you would say, “Who is that?” Furthermore, in the AFC South, it’s going to be even more important to be solid at this position. The Jacksonville Jaguars are committed to running downhill with Leonard Fournette, and the Houston Texans and Tennessee Titans have mobile quarterbacks and are committed to taking advantage of that in their offensive schemes. Smith is the type of linebacker who can spy on quarterbacks on third down as well as excel in stopping the run. He’s a sideline-to-sideline dynamo who would fit best in Indy.
8. Tremaine Edmunds, LB, Virginia Tech
Best fit: Oakland Raiders
I’ve said for a couple of years that the Raiders’ linebacker depth has been nonexistent. They haven’t even had quality starters at the position. The lack of inside linebackers has been startling. Okay, the lack of depth in the secondary and along the front has been astonishing as well, but the linebacker hole has been glaring for years. The thing about Edmunds is he can play any linebacker position in any scheme and stay on the field for all three downs to do it. Furthermore, he could play three different spots on all three downs as well. The Raiders have spent a ton of assets on the secondary in free agency and signed Tahir Whitehead to play middle linebacker, but adding Edmunds would be key for both the team and the player.
9. Josh Rosen, QB, UCLA
Best fit: Miami Dolphins
It’s been widely discussed that fit for Rosen is ultra important. Dolphins Coach Adam Gase has dealt with a litany of quarterbacks and egos over the years and understands the position and its needs. Gase moved Clyde Christensen to director of football and player development to insert Dowell Loggains as his offensive coordinator, so there are plenty of resources around Rosen to help him from a coaching standpoint. Furthermore, the addition of Danny Amendola alongside Kenny Stills and Devante Parker would give Rosen plenty of experienced options in the passing game.
10. Vita Vea, DT, Washington
Best fit: Washington Redskins
The Redskins were 32nd in run defense in 2017 and have no impact players on the defensive line, especially inside. Vea would be a good fit because the Redskins have to face the varied run games of the Dallas Cowboys and Philadelphia Eagles four times a year. Furthermore, he can stay on the field to rush the passer from the interior, which would give Ryan Kerrigan more space in which to work on the outside.
11. Lamar Jackson, QB, Louisville
Best fit: Arizona Cardinals
Like Mayfield, Arizona is the best fit for Jackson. He might be the last quarterback off the board in the first round, but if he ends up with the Cardinals, he has a great chance of seeing the field first. Sam Bradford and Mike Glennon are in front of him, but no one in the NFC West would fear that offense with either of those two in charge. If Jackson lined up under center with Larry Fitzgerald in the slot and David Johnson in the backfield, look out. Teams didn’t fear Seattle until Russell Wilson took over. Teams didn’t fear San Francisco until Colin Kaepernick took over in 2012. Fitzgerald could serve as a mentor for the young signal caller until he got his feet under him, which helps make Arizona the best fit for Jackson.
12. Derwin James, S, Florida State
Best fit: Los Angeles Chargers
Joey Bosa. Melvin Ingram. Denzel Perryman. Casey Hayward. Those four players are marquee names for one of the most underrated units in the NFL — the Chargers’ defense. What they don’t have, though, is that same level of player in the secondary. Now, safety Tre Boston is still a free agent, but even if he comes back to the Chargers, there’s room for a ballhawking player such as James. He would be the perfect fit for this nasty defense and would make it complete.
13. Josh Jackson, CB, Iowa
Best fit: Green Bay Packers
The Packers have made it a habit to find tall, long and athletic cornerbacks. They selected Kevin King for that exact reason last year, and Jackson would make for the best fit this year. They did re-sign Tramon Williams after a few years away, but a Jackson-King duo in the NFC North would be tough to beat. Jackson’s length is problematic for receivers, and his ball skills are necessary for a team that only picked off 11 passes in 2017.
14. Minkah Fitzpatrick, S-Nickel, Alabama
Best fit: New England Patriots
The Patriots apparently haven’t shown much interest in the defensive back class with their on-campus visits. Now, that could mean nothing or it could mean everything. The crux of the issue for New England is that it truly had no answer for Philadelphia’s offense with cornerback Malcolm Butler off the field in Super Bowl LII. Now, Fitzpatrick shouldn’t, and won’t, play on the perimeter, but he can play any number of spots on the inside and ably cover the inside receivers whom Patrick Chung and Devin McCourty cannot.
15. Denzel Ward, CB, Ohio State
Best fit: Kansas City Chiefs
The Chiefs don’t have a first-round pick after trading with Buffalo last year so they could draft quarterback Patrick Mahomes. That was a wise move to get a player of Mahomes’s ability, but it has left the Chiefs vulnerable on the defensive side of the ball, in particular at cornerback. Coordinator Bob Sutton’s defense relied on the mercurial talents of Marcus Peters at cornerback to lock down his side of the field. But he’s gone. Darrelle Revis is as well (not that he was ever truly the player we remember). Ward would step right in as Peters did in 2015 and become CB1 for Coach Andy Reid’s Chiefs. Alas, Ward will wear a different jersey, but he would fit perfectly in Kansas City.
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