The 2018 NFL Draft is exactly nine months away and the early favorite to be the No. 1 pick is USC quarterback Sam Darnold, with two more quarterbacks — Wyoming’s Josh Allen and UCLA’s Josh Rosen — also in the mix. A season of college football could certainly throw other prospects toward the top, but for now, it looks like April will be a good time for a team in need of a quarterback.
There’s a strong chance that the team that earns the first selection in the NFL draft will need a new passer under center. But which team will that be?
The teams that finished with the worst records in 2016 are a good place to start looking for candidates, but fortunes change quickly in the NFL. There’s always a chance that the wheels will fall for other teams.
Still, the likeliest teams to tank in 2017 are exactly who you’d expect:
After trading up to take Mitchell Trubisky with the No. 2 pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, it would be shocking if the Bears went back to the well again in 2018. But it wouldn’t be surprising if they have the option.
A roster in the middle of a rebuild means few believe Chicago will do much better than the 3-13 record the team posted in 2016.
What would the Bears do with the No. 1 pick? The best option is likely a trade down and recoup some of the value that was lost when they gave up a 2018 third-round pick as part of the package to get Trubisky.
The 49ers will have their fourth head coach in four years and are starting fresh with a new general manager, too. While the team added a lot of players in the offseason and double-dipped in the first round of the draft with Solomon Thomas and Reuben Foster, it’s still a roster that’s far from being a winner.
Unlike the two seasons prior, the 49ers aren’t looking for a quick fix in 2017 — they’re going to patiently rebuild. And that means wins may be few and far between.
Even Colin Kaepernick’s 90.7 passer rating in 2016 was only enough for one win in his 11 starts, and Brian Hoyer isn’t going to have much to work with when he steps into Kaepernick’s shoes. Kirk Cousins may be a possibility in 2018, but the chance to take Darnold could provide an alternate (and much cheaper) route.
The Jets went from 10-6 in 2015 to half as many wins in 2016. There doesn’t seem to be much optimism about the career prospects of Christian Hackenberg and Bryce Petty, and 38-year-old veteran Josh McCown is probably going to start ahead of both young quarterbacks anyway.
Unless the additions of Jamal Adams and Marcus Maye suddenly revives a Jets defense that went from No. 9 in points allowed in 2015 to No. 28 a year later, it’s hard to believe much in New York’s chances.
The Rams are unlikely to be interested in a quarterback for the same reason it would be a surprise if the Bears took another. But if Jared Goff leads Los Angeles to the NFL’s worst record in 2017, it’s not out of the realm of possibility. The No. 1 pick in 2016 struggled in his limited time as a starter and the team was winless in his seven starts.
No team scored fewer points or gained fewer yards than the Rams last season. Unless wide receiver Cooper Kupp and/or tight end Gerald Everett burst on to the scene as rookies, Goff doesn’t have a wealth of tools to work with, either. Maybe the teachings of Sean McVay will do wonders, but it looks like it could be another rough year for the Rams.
The dark horses
USA Today is projecting a 10-6 season for the Cardinals after a 7-8-1 record last year, but the question is ... uh ... why?
The team lost Calais Campbell and Tony Jefferson, among others, on defense during the offseason and is relying on the play of veteran quarterback Carson Palmer and receiver Larry Fitzgerald, who are both likely to retire after the season.
Big playmakers like David Johnson, Tyrann Mathieu, Chandler Jones and Patrick Peterson make Arizona an unlikely choice, but not an impossible one.
The Vikings were so convinced they had the tools to be a Super Bowl contender in 2016 that the team traded away a first-round pick to get Sam Bradford when Teddy Bridgewater went down with a knee injury. The team’s offense struggled anyway, but that was mostly the fault of an offensive line that couldn’t create space or protect Bradford.
The offensive line still looks like a big question mark for the Vikings, and it will again have to be on the team’s defense to lead the way in 2017. That’s a similar narrative to the one the Jets had before their collapse in 2016 and the Broncos had before going from Super Bowl champion to 9-7. Riding a good defense doesn’t work as often as you’d think.
Out of the cellar
Forever the punchline of the NFL, the Browns may seem like a logical choice after a 1-15 season in 2016. Replacing Robert Griffin III on the roster with Brock Osweiler isn’t particularly inspiring either, but the Browns are a young team that’s acquiring promising pieces in a hurry.
They didn’t lose much in the offseason, but added Myles Garrett, Jabrill Peppers, David Njoku, Kevin Zeitler and J.C. Tretter, among others. They’re not a Super Bowl contender yet, by any means, but the Browns should be better and that’ll likely be enough to get them out of the cellar.
Like the Browns, the Jaguars have been a joke in the NFL for a long time. But similar to Cleveland, they’ve continued to add young players and complemented it with free agent signings like Calais Campbell and A.J. Bouye.
The team’s defense was exciting in 2016 and leaning heavily on Leonard Fournette means Jacksonville shouldn’t take a step back after a 3-13 season last year, no matter how much Blake Bortles does Blake Bortles things.