With less than a month until the 2018 NFL Draft, the annual league meeting is usually the last opportunity for reporters to try to siphon as much information about a team’s draft plans as they can.
Free agency is in the books and draft strategies are coming together. And even though coaches and general managers are careful not to give things away, we can still dig for hints.
On Tuesday, a few coaches and executives offered brief insight into what we can expect early in the first round:
Picks 1 and 4. Cleveland Browns: Down to two quarterbacks
It appears to be a two-man race to be the No. 1 pick in April.
Chris Mortensen on NFL Live right now: It's down to Sam Darnold or Josh Allen for the #Browns.— Marcus Mosher (@Marcus_Mosher) March 27, 2018
But while the race is reportedly narrowed to two, Hue Jackson didn’t tip the team’s hand Tuesday. The Browns will have Darnold, Allen, Josh Rosen, and Baker Mayfield all in for visits.
“I think the guy’s in there,” Jackson said. “I really do.”
Don’t expect the Browns to pick Saquon Barkley or any other non-quarterback with the No. 1 pick in April. That’ll leave plenty of options to add talent at any other position with the No. 4 pick.
2. New York Giants: Really love Saquon Barkley
If the Giants love any player other than Sam Darnold or Josh Allen, there really isn’t much reason to keep their cards close to the vest. General manager Dave Gettleman definitely didn’t hold back when he was asked about Barkley.
Dave Gettleman was absolutely glowing today when talking about Saquon Barkley: "He's big, he's powerful, he can step on the gas, he's got different levels of speed, he catches the heck out of the ball and he gets the blitz pickup stuff. He's real."— Dan Graziano (@DanGrazianoESPN) March 27, 2018
The only running back picked in the top three in the last decade was Trent Richardson in 2012 — a pick that was a colossal mistake for the Browns. Reggie Bush, Ronnie Brown, and Ki-Jana Carter were the three before that and also didn’t work out well.
But Ezekiel Elliott and Leonard Fournette sparked quick turnarounds for the Cowboys and Jaguars in the last two seasons. Taking a running back early is in vogue again and Barkley is one of the most special prospects ever at the position.
Gettleman’s comments don’t necessarily guarantee the Giants will take a running back. If anything, it could be a case of the GM speaking freely about a player they won’t draft because there’s no risk of revealing plans.
The Giants may want a quarterback who could eventually supplant Eli Manning, or they could trade the pick to a team interested in a passer, or they could take NC State’s Bradley Chubb to replace Jason Pierre-Paul. But it definitely seems like the Giants would be happy if they ended up with Barkley.
3. New York Jets: No idea what they’re doing
Or at least that’s what it sounded like Tuesday.
#Jets coach Todd Bowles, at the annual coaches breakfast, said they traded up to No. 3 not with one player in mind but with 6-7 they believe they’ll have a chance at. Will zero in in a few weeks.— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) March 27, 2018
So the Jets like six or seven players. But wanted to trade up from the sixth pick so ... they wouldn’t miss out on any of them?
The reality is the Jets probably do have a plan and a reason they wanted the No. 3 pick. But Todd Bowles isn’t someone who reveals much of anything.
Bowles on Hackenberg: “He’s a quarterback on our team.”— Calvin Watkins (@calvinwatkins) March 27, 2018
He’s not wrong.
5. Denver Broncos: Not ruling out a quarterback early
The only hint that Vance Joseph gave Tuesday was he wasn’t giving hints. When asked if the addition of Case Keenum meant the Broncos won’t be taking a quarterback at No. 5, he punted.
“I can’t say,” Joseph said. “Right now we’ve got three guys on our roster that we feel really good about. Obviously the draft is coming up and we’ll see.”
Unless the Browns trade one of their top two picks or take a pair of quarterbacks, at least one of the top four quarterbacks — Darnold, Allen, Rosen or Mayfield — will be available. But the Broncos aren’t willing to say if they’re in that market.
6. Indianapolis Colts: There are three clear options
The Colts added three second-round picks by moving down from No. 3 to No. 6 in the order, but didn’t want to go any further and miss out on a premium talent. Since the trade, the Colts haven’t been shy about explaining exactly what they hope will happen and who they will choose between.
“We can go a lot of different directions,” Jim Irsay said, via the Indianapolis Star. “We have a lot of needs. We could go pass rusher, we could go franchise running back, we could go offensive lineman. We don’t really feel the pressure to go any direction except the one that helps us have the longest sustained success going forward for greatness.”
The pass rusher is Chubb, the franchise running back is Barkley, and the offensive lineman is Notre Dame’s Quenton Nelson. The question is just who will be available and who the Colts prefer. But there doesn’t seem to be any reason to believe the Colts will throw us a curveball.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: On the hunt for a running back
Landing Barkley is a long shot for the Buccaneers. But Tampa Bay definitely wants to address the position and likely wants to find a starter.
“The free-agent running backs that came out this year, all of a sudden there was a big market and the price — we were in on it,” Buccaneers coach Dirk Koetter said, via the Tampa Bay Times. “We were in on at least one and the price just skyrocketed and we had a lot of other guys we wanted to sign and Jason (Licht) and Mike Greenberg have to balance that all out. The good news is, it’s well publicized, it’s a very strong running back class in the draft.
“We’re going to be adding a running back here somehow, some way between now and when fall camp starts.”
The problem is that No. 7 isn’t the ideal spot to try to find a running back this year. So don’t be surprised if the Buccaneers move.
Licht said the #Bucs have not ruled out moving up or back in the draft.— Trevor Sikkema (@TampaBayTre) March 27, 2018
Running back isn’t the only need for the Buccaneers, so there’s many other directions they could go. But it’s the one Tampa Bay is most transparently in the market for.
8. Chicago Bears: Offense is Matt Nagy’s preference
The Bears spent a lot of money in March to help quarterback Mitchell Trubisky. The teams signed Allen Robinson, Trey Burton, and Taylor Gabriel, but new head coach Matt Nagy hopes they keep adding to the offense.
#Bears coach Matt Nagy was asked if he'd prefer an offensive player with the No. 8 pick: "It would make sense, wouldn’t it? If you think I am going to tell you anything about where we’re going with this draft, you’re crazy. There are some special guys in that group there."— Brad Biggs (@BradBiggs) March 27, 2018
Nagy is an offensive-minded coach who spent the last two seasons as the Chiefs’ offensive coordinator and three seasons before that as the Chiefs’ quarterbacks coach. So his comment is probably just a nod to his offensive preference.
But there’s logic to it too. The Rams and Eagles did well to supply Jared Goff and Carson Wentz with tools after their rookie seasons. The Bears have done the same so far and will likely continue that trend in the draft.
9. San Francisco 49ers: In the market for a receiver
The 49ers haven’t given Jimmy Garoppolo much help so far this offseason. The only big offensive additions have been running back Jerick McKinnon and offensive lineman Weston Richburg. But the team’s subpar wide receiving corps has been left untouched.
The reason, according to 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan, is that they didn’t want to overpay a subpar receiver in free agency.
“What you don’t want to do is have a bunch of guys who are OK but are paid like the best,” Shanahan said. “That’s where you get in trouble and have to stay away from in free agency. It’s usually why the draft is the best way to go.”
The top receivers for San Francisco are Pierre Garçon, Marquise Goodwin, and Trent Taylor. It’s a group the 49ers likely want to upgrade and probably won’t wait long to address in the draft.
10. Oakland Raiders: Need just about everything except a quarterback
When Raiders coach Jon Gruden met with reporters at the NFL Combine, he didn’t provide too many details about what he thought of the team’s roster, which he was still evaluating.
A month later, he says they could use talent just about everywhere.
“We have needs. I’m not going to pound the table and say it’s one particular area,” Gruden said, via NBC Bay Area. “Our secondary is an area we’re going to continue to look at. Offensive tackle is going to be a position we continue to look at. Wide receiver — we’re not done there. I’ll keep going. Inside pass rusher on defense is a priority.”
He also added linebacker and running back to the list of positions where the Raiders need help.
Gruden plays to use RBs differently in a lot of packages, like the Eagles did, "And we might draft a RB too. There are some great ones this year."— Vic Tafur (@VicTafur) March 27, 2018
The Raiders’ 6-10 season in 2017 was a disappointment for a team that looked like a Super Bowl contender in 2016 before quarterback Derek Carr suffered a broken leg. It doesn’t seem like a team that should take too much rebuilding to climb back into the mix, but Gruden definitely thinks there’s work to be done.