Can anyone catch the Eagles?
The NFL draft answers a lot of questions, but it leaves others unanswered and even, on occasion, raises a few new ones. Some mysteries are going to need the help of upcoming minicamps, training camps and, yes, the regular season to sort out.
With that in mind, and with the breathless lunacy of draft weekend finally in our collective rear-view mirror, here’s a look at the biggest post-draft storylines to watch.
Who has the best chance to knock off the Philadelphia Eagles?
Look, the Eagles have one of the league’s strongest rosters, and they will deservedly be picked by some to repeat as Super Bowl champs. But history tells us quite clearly that it’s really tough to do. The last team to repeat was the Patriots, and that was 14 years ago. The only teams to appear in consecutive Super Bowls since then were the 2013-14 Seahawks and the 2016-17 Patriots. So with the NFC stacked with contenders, it’s going to be tough for the Eagles to get to the big game in Atlanta. The Vikings and Saints are in go-for-it mode, as are the Rams, who spent the draft dealing down Patriots-style after dealing some high picks for veteran players earlier in the offseason. There’s no reason to think the Falcons and Panthers won’t still be good, and the Packers and Cowboys loom as bounce-back candidates. Whoever from that list of contenders had the best weekend could have a leg up in a really fascinating NFC race.
All 256 picks are in. Full coverage »
•Kiper: Draft grades for every team »
•McShay: Every team’s best pick »
• Graziano: Biggest post-draft stories »
• Nation: Breaking down picks by team »
• Trade tracker: Every move, by team »
•McShay: Top undrafted prospects »
• Barnwell: Who aced Round 1 trades »
• New digits: Picks get jersey numbers »
•Kiper’s winners: Day 1 » | 2 »
•McShay’s awards: Day 1 » | 2 »
• Nation: Pros, cons for first 32 picks »
Who are the rookies you want in your fantasy league?
The Giants’ Saquon Barkley is the obvious choice as the No. 2 overall pick and surefire starter at running back in an offense that features Odell Beckham Jr. at wide receiver. As for running backs beyond the first round — remember, Kareem Hunt and Alvin Kamara were third-rounders last year — I’d expect significant opportunity for Ronald Jones II in Tampa, Kerryon Johnson in Detroit and Royce Freeman in Denver. If the odd noise that seems to perpetually surround Derrius Guice turns out to be much ado about nothing, he could have a major role in Jay Gruden’s offense in Washington.
At wide receiver, I have my eye on Anthony Miller in Chicago as a player who has a chance to play a major role in his offense right away. And don’t underestimate the potential impact of Calvin Ridley as a possession receiver right away in Atlanta. Defenses will never double him as long as Julio Jones and Mohamed Sanu are on the field, and Ridley is viewed by NFL folks as a polished route runner who could make an impact right away in the right situation. The Atlanta offense is the right situation for just about anybody.
How soon will the first-round quarterbacks see the field?
As is usually the case, it depends how much winning their teams are doing. The only first-round quarterback in recent memory who got a true “redshirt” season was Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes, and part of the reason that worked was because last year’s Chiefs got off to a raging hot start and made the playoffs behind Alex Smith. All of the teams that drafted quarterbacks in the first round this year have veterans in place who can play while the new guys get ready, but obviously, there’s going to be fan pressure to play the kid if the team struggles to win games out of the gate. That’s a reasonable expectation with the Browns, as Tyrod Taylor can play, but they’re starved for any wins at all and will want to see top pick Baker Mayfield ASAP. It’s also likely to happen with the New York Jets, as Josh McCown played well last season, but fans almost certainly would rather pay to watch Sam Darnold.
Josh Rosen might have to see the field in Arizona, depending on how Sam Bradford‘s knees hold up. Everybody agrees that Josh Allen needs time to develop before he’s an NFL quarterback, but what if AJ McCarron and Nathan Peterman struggle through Buffalo’s preseason? In Baltimore, it has been a while since we’ve seen the best of Joe Flacco. Lamar Jackson now looms as the eventual replacement, but should the Ravens find a way to use Jackson’s unique skills as part of their offense this season while he develops in a backup role?
If I were betting, I’d say Mayfield is the first of this group to take an NFL snap from a center, but it depends how the incumbents play — and whether the teams in question can win games with them.
How will the late-round quarterbacks factor in?
The most interesting quarterback who was picked after the first round is Mike White, and the reason is that he was picked by the Dallas Cowboys. There’s no drama like Cowboys drama — perpetual and noisy on levels other teams can’t match. While there’s no reason in this corner to doubt Dak Prescott‘s ability to continue to develop into a top NFL quarterback, any struggles by Prescott will intensify concerns among doubting fans and outside observers, who will then want to know what the story is with White. He’s a project and not likely to pose any immediate threat to Prescott. But the Cowboys need to win to avoid the topic, because they’re the Cowboys and there’s always drama.
Otherwise, Mason Rudolph and Kyle Lauletta will be expected to develop behind veterans Ben Roethlisberger and Eli Manning, respectively, with the hope that they’ll have developed into reasonable options when it’s time for those guys to be replaced. Luke Falk will ideally, for the Titans, be stuck behind Marcus Mariota until Tennessee can find someone who will give it something for Falk in a trade down the road. On Danny Etling, the Patriots’ pick at the top of the seventh round: If Bill Belichick found Tom Brady‘s replacement with the 219th pick 18 years after taking Brady with the 199th, the Hall of Fame will cease to be sufficient reward, and they should rename the league after Belichick.
The Saints’ 2017 season was every team’s (and every fan’s) dream, as four of the players drafted made major contributions as rookies. Those impressive immediate returns helped the Saints snap a string of three straight 7-9 seasons and become an instant NFC title contender. Not every year features an immediate-impact draft class such as that, so the odds are that the answer to this question is “no one.” But that’s no fun, so let’s nominate some possible teams. The Denver Broncos, who missed the playoffs two seasons in a row, could theoretically get immediate help from guys such as first-round pass-rusher Bradley Chubb, third-round running back Royce Freeman and fourth-round linebacker Josey Jewell. The New York Giants, who missed the playoffs five of the past six years, should get an immediate running game upgrade with Barkley and Will Hernandez. And while the Green Bay Packers aren’t used to missing the playoffs, they did last season. A return to health from Aaron Rodgers makes them instant contenders, but the cornerback help they got in the first two rounds could be just as important.
What will end up happening with Earl Thomas?
There was a thought around the league that Seattle would deal its veteran safety at some point during this draft for an early-round pick. That didn’t happen, and Thomas is in a bit of a last-man-standing situation on the Seahawks’ defense. With one year left on his deal, do the Seahawks find a way to extend Thomas? Does he become available via trade before the October deadline if the Seahawks struggle? Or is he a red-hot free agent next March?
What will happen next with the Steelers and Le’Veon Bell?
People around the NFL are surprised the Steelers didn’t draft a running back who could help their leverage in negotiations with Bell. They have James Conner, who could replace Bell, in theory, if Bell leaves next year, but Conner doesn’t seem to be a threat to do all the things Bell can do. Without a stronger, more viable replacement on the roster, the Steelers leave themselves in a bind if Bell decides to sit out a game or two in protest of his contract. And given that they’re financially unlikely to franchise Bell again next year, the Steelers could find themselves in the high-end running back market next spring if they can’t get a long-term deal done with Bell this summer.