5 teams that improved the most through the NFL Draft
Different teams are looking for different things at the NFL Draft. Contenders often like depth and potential replacements for aging veterans. Middle-of-the-road teams can seek to fill some of their more glaring needs, while teams near the top of the draft may just be searching for the best talent available.
There are a select few teams, however, that do an outstanding job of drafting players that have a chance to make an immediate impact. That doesn’t just mean in the first round, either, as teams can find value players and potential starters in the middle rounds as well.
Here are five teams in particular that did an outstanding job across all rounds finding players who could be capable of coming in, starting immediately, and making their team better from the very first day of camp.
5) Los Angeles Chargers
No. 7 overall pick Mike Williams may not fill a glaring need for the Chargers, but it will make quarterback Philip Rivers a happy man. The big Clemson receiver provides a physical target to complement Keenan Allen. Rivers will be even happier that the next two picks were offensive linemen.
The Chargers managed to get guard Forrest Lamp, regarded by some as the best offensive lineman in the draft, with the 38th overall pick. He should walk in and start from day one, and third-round selection Dan Feeney could well claim the other starting guard spot as well. Don’t be surprised if fifth-round pick Desmond King makes his mark at the safety position, either. He could prove to be a steal.
Los Angeles did quite well adding talent on both sides of the ball.
4) Indianapolis Colts
The Colts knew that their defense needed a lot of work headed into the draft, and they promptly used their first three selections on that side of the ball, getting good value with all of them. Safety Malik Hooker, taken 15th overall, has a chance to be a star within a couple of years, but he’ll immediately help shore up the team’s iffy pass defense. So will cornerback Quincy Wilson, who doesn’t quite have Hooker’s ceiling but has every chance to be a solid NFL player in his own right. He, too, should step into the Indianapolis secondary on day one. Third-round pick Tarell Basham may also wind up starting early for the Indianapolis defensive line, meaning the Colts may well have found three starters in their first three selections.
Even their fourth- and fifth-round selections have a chance to contribute. Offensive lineman Zach Banner and running back Marlon Mack are both decent players for their fourth- and fifth-round draft positions and will also be given every chance to contribute early. The Colts may not have had the best draft, but they added a lot of potential contributors.
3) Washington Redskins
Washington could count themselves a bit fortunate to see defensive tackle Jonathan Allen fall into their lap at No. 17 overall. Regarded as a potential top-ten choice, he’ll help the defensive line immediately and perfectly fills a need. Also helpful is Allen’s Alabama teammate Ryan Anderson, an outside linebacker who doesn’t fill as glaring a need as Allen, but adds depth and playmaking ability to the Washington linebacking corps.
Washington’s best pick in terms of value and need, however, may be grabbing Oklahoma running back Samaje Perine in the fourth round. Washington was hurt by a mediocre run game in 2016, and while Perine won’t be mistaken for the most explosive player in the draft, he’s a good, solid, sturdy back who isn’t really elite in any one aspect but does numerous things very well. He has the potential to be a beast in short-yardage situations and should provide very good value for a Washington team that had a strong draft.
2) San Francisco 49ers
Sure, general manager John Lynch gets lots of credit for engineering a trade to move back one spot, pick up three more selections, and still get the guy he wanted in the first place. You have to use those picks, though, and at first glance, he seems to have done very well there as well. According to the man himself, they got two of the top three guys on their board.
Defensive tackle Solomon Thomas isn’t all that far behind Myles Garrett in terms of raw ability, while they may wind up getting the steal of the draft in linebacker Reuben Foster if his health doesn’t fail him and he stays out of trouble off the field. That’s two top-ten talents in the first round, and even better, both fill needs. Don’t forget about cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon either — the Niners badly needed secondary help, and Witherspoon is a speedy corner who can help immediately in that regard. Lynch wasn’t going to fill every single hole in one weekend, but he’s already making the team better.
1) Cleveland Browns
The Browns had no excuse to botch this with five picks in the first 65 spots and plenty of spots where they were simply lagging behind talent-wise. Myles Garrett was the obvious choice at No. 1, but we’ve seen teams overthink the obvious before. Credit to the Browns for not reaching for a quarterback and going for the best player in the draft, who will surely contribute immediately. The choice of defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi to open the third round is also a nice move to help shore up a defensive front that was too often ineffective in 2016.
One could quibble that they didn’t do enough on the offensive side of the ball, but trading back into the first round to grab tight end David Njoku at No. 29 was a solid move that will help Cody Kessler — or whoever winds up under center for the Browns in 2017. The pick of Jabrill Peppers at No. 25 was probably a bit of a reach, but he’s still one of the best athletes in the draft who can play in the secondary, special teams, and maybe even on offense in a pinch. They didn’t address the quarterback position, though they tried, but DeShone Kizer may eventually become the team’s starter. That’s a lot of guys who can help the Browns immediately after a dismal 2016. That is in part due to a lack of existing talent on the roster, but it’s still a very solid draft job.