By: Jimmy Gang – Staff Writer
With the NFL Draft approaching, from April 30 to May 2, the top pickers in the league will choose college players to lean on for future success. The top five teams pick in the draft with the anticipation of shaping a franchise’s direction. Here’s the list of picks, including the Cincinnati Bengals, the Cleveland Browns and thoughts on things to come.
- 1 TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS
This pick is looking increasingly like a lock to make Jameis Winston the new face of the Buccaneers. Tampa Bay has a lot of pieces in place already, and if it can solidify the offensive line in the later rounds, Tampa could be a dark horse playoff contender in a weak NFC South come fall.
Fun fact: Since 1997, only three positions have been drafted first overall: quarterback (11 selections), offensive tackle (three selections), and edge rusher (three selections). The last player outside of these positions to go first overall was University of Southern California wideout Keyshawn Johnson in 1996.
- 2 TENNESSEE TITANS
This pick is where the trade winds begin to blow and probably where they are blowing the strongest right now. Lots of media members are expecting the second overall selection to be Marcus Mariota, but few see Tennessee as the team that ultimately ends up picking him. Potential candidates to trade up for Mariota include: New York Jets, St. Louis Rams, Cleveland Browns, San Diego Chargers, and Philadelphia Eagles.
Fun fact: Each of the past four years, an AFC South team has owned or tied for the worst record in football, and no one team in the division has done so more than once in that span.
- 3 JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS
Where do we begin with Jacksonville? It seems like it has been dwelling in the early part of the NFL draft for a millennium. It’s easy to forget that this was once one of the better franchises in the sport, earning two AFC Championship game berths in the first five years of its existence. Reports have Jacksonville also looking to move down, but if it finds that the market is too dry for them it will likely look to take an edge rusher like the University of Florida’s Dante Fowler, who recently said in an interview with the Florida Times-Union that he would be “stunned” if Jacksonville passes on him at three.
Fun fact: The No. 3 pick has been involved in a trade for two of the past three years, the only off year being when Jacksonville selected Central Florida quarterback Blake Bortles No. 3 overall last year.
- 4 OAKLAND RAIDERS
This would probably be the spot for Marcus Mariota had Oakland not landed Derek Carr in round two last year. Given that Oakland finally seems to have it figured out at quarterback for the first time since the days of Rich Gannon, defense is the likely target for Oakland here. The Raiders are desperately hoping that Leonard Williams drops to them at four, but don’t expect them to trade up to get him due to the plethora of holes they have on their roster. Other options for Oakland would probably include a wide reciever like Kevin White from the University of West Virginia or Amari Cooper from the University of Alabama.
Fun fact: The four overall selection has only been used on defense once since 2007 (Wake Forest linebacker Aaron Curry was selected at 4 in 2009)
- 5 WASHINGTON REDSKINS
No one really knows what is going on with the quarterback situation in Washington, D.C. Is Robert Griffin III the future? Will they enter the Marcus Mariota sweepstakes? Personally, I think Griffin III deserves another shot, he looked pretty good when he still had knees and the defense in Washington wasn’t terrible. If I were general manager Scot McCloughan and head coach Jay Gruden I’d look to build the defense with a rush linebacker like Shane Ray or a dominating interior force like nose tackle Danny Shelton, especially after losing linebacker Brian Orakpo to Tennessee in free agency. Maybe if the defense can keep other teams off the scoreboard Griffin III won’t feel like he has to do everything himself.
Fun fact: This is the first first round pick that Washington has owned since the 2012 draft, when the franchise gave St. Louis their 2013 and 2014 first round picks to move up and select Baylor quarterback Griffin III.
- 12 CLEVELAND BROWNS
It’ll be interesting, as it always is, to watch what the Cleveland Browns do with their two first round selections in this year’s draft. Cleveland is a franchise that has been desperately searching for an identity (read: franchise quarterback) ever since the franchise was revived back in 1996, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see Cleveland try to establish their identity again in this draft. Rumors about Cleveland this offseason have flown with everything from trading the 19th overall pick to Philly for Sam Bradford so that the Eagles could auction the 19th and 20th picks to the Titans for Marcus Mariota, to the Browns packaging the 12th and 19th picks to Tennessee to select Mariota themselves. One thing is certain: If you are going to expect anything from owner Jimmy Haslam, expect everything.
Fun fact: This is the fourth time in the past decade that Cleveland owns two first round draft selections, and each of the previous three times the Browns have used the latter selection (pick number 22 each time) on a quarterback (Brady Quinn in 2007, Brandon Weeden in 2012, and Johnny Manziel in 2014).
- 21 CINCINNATI BENGALS
Cincinnati has hit a bit of a conundrum: It is becoming increasingly evident that Andy Dalton is holding this franchise back from taking the next step as a team. The franchise currently holds the league’s longest playoff win drought (last time it won a playoff game the Houston Texans, Jacksonville Jaguars, Carolina Panthers, Baltimore Ravens and even myself weren’t even a thing yet). However, it is unlikely that we will see the Bengals make a move to the top of the draft to take either Jameis Winston or Marcus Mariota, and the gulf between the top two quarterbacks and the third quarterback is quite wide, so taking a quarterback at this spot would be a reach. In all likelihood, Cincinnati will look to upgrade its defensive line here, but in the past it has gone with the best player available with their pick, so don’t be surprised when a highly regarded prospect at a non-need position falls into its lap and it snatches him up.
Fun fact: This is the third time in the past six drafts that the Bengals have held the 21st overall selection, with the previous two 21st picks being used on tight ends (Jermaine Gresham in 2010 and Tyler Eifert in 2013).