Analysis: Is AJ McCarron an Upgrade for Buffalo?

Tyrod Taylor departed Buffalo in what can only be described as unusual circumstances. There are not many teams that go to the playoffs, ending one of the longest active playoff droughts in major sports, only to then move on from the quarterback that helped get them there. There’s no denying that the relationship between the front office and Taylor was tenuous at best. At one point during the season, benching him in favor of rookie Nathan Peterman who had a historic first start, throwing five interceptions in 16 pass attempts, only to be removed for Taylor later in the game. It was clear that the front office wanted to move on, and Taylor’s playoff performance where the team only scored three points did nothing to help cement himself as their long-term option, and following his trade to the Browns, enter new Signal Caller AJ McCarron.
McCarron saw his quarterback market collapse around him. Following a trade deadline where the Browns reportedly offered multiple picks to Cincinnati in a botched attempt to secure McCarron’s services, many thought his market would be more competitive. Instead, Buffalo got great value with a minimal investment and McCarron settled for a two-year deal worth $10M with roughly $7.9M guaranteed to act as Buffalo’s interim starter. That role may be short-lived, as Buffalo could have propelled themselves into the mix to draft a quarterback after trading OT Cordy Glenn to move up to 12th overall, swapping first round picks with Cincinnati. Buffalo, with two first-round picks, has enough ammunition to move up in the draft, or select a quarterback at 12 (should one fall to them), but following the Jets trade with Indianapolis, Cleveland might be the only willing trade partner left, and it will likely cost Buffalo both of its first-round selections to leapfrog an interested Denver.
His future’s uncertainty aside, does McCarron provide an upgrade to Buffalo’s offense? It’s hard to compare body’s of work when judging Taylor and McCarron side by side. McCarron, who played behind Andy Dalton in Cincinnati doesn’t have the same amount of tape as Taylor, and much of his analysis is based off a small sample size and potential scheme fit. His historic college career demonstrates a winning pedigree and ability to exercise ball security, but he played for Nick Saban on an Alabama team with one of the most daunting defenses protecting his leads. Similarly, in Buffalo, McCarron will have a high performing defense that will keep games competitive, and if his past is any indication, should provide an upgrade over Taylor with regards to ball security. Taylor turned the ball over a respectable eight time’s last year (rushing and passing), and has a career interception ratio of 2.8:1, whereas if McCarron can maintain his limited sample of 3:1, it may limit the demand on Buffalo’s stellar defense to protect short field.
Taylor’s big arm and his persistent threat to run gave him the opportunity to throw the ball deep off play action, but Buffalo’s offense under Head Coach Sean McDermott was largely ineffectual on high percentage offensive plays. Attempting among the fewest short pass plays in the league which accounted for only 31.82% of their offense. Only Carolina had less of their offense come from these high-efficiency plays with 31.59%. It should be noted, that this metric is not necessarily a causal mechanism for judging offensive effectiveness, the New York Giants had a league-best 41.3% of their offense driven through short passing plays and they were one of the worst offensive teams in the NFL last season (15.4 ppg ranked second to last). But, the metric does show moderate correlation, teams who ran a high frequency of short pass plays such as New England, San Francisco, Los Angeles Chargers, and Pittsburgh averaged 28.9, 20.7, 22.2, and 26.4 points per game respectfully.
Adding to Buffalo’s offensive woes, Tyrod Taylor scrambled over 40 times on broken plays where he threw the ball (third behind Seattle and Cleveland), and his hesitation to release the ball resulted in only 15 of those plays being converted for first downs. His time to throw the ball on average ranked among the bottom of the league at 3.01 seconds after the snap in 2017, and 3.1 seconds in 2016. As a comparison, quarterbacks synonymous with success such as Brady, Rodgers, Brees, and Roethlisberger averaged 2.7, 2.64, 2.58, and 2.56 seconds respectively. Only four qualified quarterbacks had their time to throw longer than three seconds in 2017. Tyrod Taylor (3.01), Brett Hundley (3.0), Deshaun Watson (3.1), and Russell Wilson (3.05). Each of their teams missed the playoffs in 2017, although a significant knee injury hampered Watson’s promising campaign. Taylors slow release and willingness to move outside of the pocket likely contributed to his 46 sacks, which was 3rd highest in the league behind Jacoby Brissett (52) and Matthew Stafford (47), a number that is expected to decrease with the more conservative and quick firing McCarron under center.
It’s hard to determine what other factors contributed to Buffalo’s offensive stagnation last season, Taylor ranked 16th among qualified passers in quarterback rating (89.2), 13th in QBR (56.4), and 16th in completion percentage (62.6%). Where he fell out of the middle of the pack was in yardage, he ranked 25th with 2,799 yards. 1,778 yards behind the league passing leader and MVP Tom Brady. Much of the success in the NFL is symptomatic of the scheme, and while Taylor was unable to thrive under McDermott, he is uniquely suited for Cleveland’s offense under Head Coach Hugh Jackson. Jackson prefers playing to the strengths of a mobile quarterback, and I expect weapons such as Jarvis Landry, Duke Johnson, David Njoku and Corey Coleman, and a commitment to the running game with the addition of Carlos Hyde to help Taylor put together a better campaign in 2018.
McCarron, on the other hand, comes to a Buffalo team that has fewer offensive weapons than Cleveland. Much of Buffalo’s offense was generated through LeSean McCoy, but to develop offensive potency, Buffalo will need to add at least one more weapon in the passing game to complement a developing Zay Jones and big framed Kelvin Benjamin. I think McCarron will put up a better statistical year in 2018 than Taylor did in 2017, but it’s hard to assess whether or not the switch at quarterback will result in added wins. My gut says that Buffalo remains a 9-win team in 2018, but it’s hard to imagine Buffalo’s offense doesn’t improve from its mediocre 2017 showing, and if McCarron does take the next step, we could be looking at a second consecutive playoff berth for the Buffalo Bills.

FA Signing Grade: B+
McCarron’s contract makes him a good investment for Buffalo, even if they draft a quarterback, the team will still be spending less than most of the NFL on the position. McCarron has seen limited action in the NFL, but in his few regular season and playoff opportunities, he has looked more than serviceable. His time in the NFL should make him more polished than the player we saw at Alabama, and if Buffalo’s waiting game pans out and McCarron is their future quarterback or McCarron is an effective bridge for their future franchise quarterback, they would have secured him by playing it safe and allowing their funds to be allocated to needs elsewhere.

Statistics and Data retrieved and generated from NFL Savants, NFL.com, and Pro Football Reference.

Reaction: URI Head Coach Dan Hurley Leaves For UCONN

There goes the neighborhood. Dan Hurley leaving URI for UCONN is a devastating loss for the future direction of the Rhody Rams. After two straight NCAA Tournament appearances, one Atlantic 10 (A10) championship, and one A10 regular season title, Hurley’s time with the Rams is over. His contract with UCONN is reportedly a six-year deal. URI, who Hurley met with prior to signing with UCONN, wanted the program to increase its funding to include a higher salary for the assistants, a new practice facility, and chartered flights for away games. This hiring indicates to me that despite Hurley’s negotiating leverage, the school was either unwilling or unable to meet his requests.
It’s unclear what his departure means for the program in the immediate, players have yet to comment on whether or not they will transfer out of the program. URI commits, including highly rated prospects PF Jermaine Harris, PG Brendan Adams, SF Dana Tate, and SG Tyrese Martin have not yet indicated if they will elect to go to another program. Prior to Hurley’s departure, URI had the 30th ranked recruit class and the top-ranked class in the Atlantic 10. One thing is certain unless URI can hire a respected coach in the near future, the program may lose much of the momentum that Hurley was able to develop over the past two season.

UConn gains one of college basketball’s hottest coaches and a member of basketball royalty. Hurley’s father, Bob Hurley is a Hall of Famer and coached St. Anthony High School in Jersey City to a record 28 championships. His older brother, Bobby Hurley, now head coach of Arizona State University, played for Duke and was a former 1st round selection of the Sacramento Kings. With the addition of Hurley, UConn is now in a position in the American Athletic Conference to compete against the likes of Cinncinatti, Witchita State, and Houston. It may take a season or two of rebuilding, but Dan Hurley will undoubtedly attract elite-level recruits to his program

Commentary: The Identity of the Patriots, and the Future

The Patriots under Bill Belichick have rarely been scrutinized during his eighteen-year tenure as the team’s head coach, but entering this offseason the tone around New England has begun to change. Following a year that saw what was reported as nothing less than a power struggle between the head coach, ownership, and the team’s star quarterback, New England may be struggling to maintain its identity. The trading of backup quarterback and rising star Jimmy Garoppolo prior to the trade deadline to San Francisco for what was viewed as below value (a second-round pick) was the first event in a string that attempted to stabilize the relationship between the Patriots leadership. Some NFL insiders had Garoppolo pegged as the future of the Patriots and the quarterback Bill Belichick most wanted to work with moving forward, but Garoppolo’s departure, reportedly spurred by owner Bob Kraft, was an attempt to keep Tom Brady and the nuclei of their success in New England intact.

The dynamic between the Patriots head coach and quarterback, like many relationships that last nearly twenty years, has become strained. The seemingly unlimited access of Tom Brady’s personal health guru Alex Guerrero to Patriots players may have contributed to the rift in the locker room where half the team consulted Guerrero at the TB12 facility, and the rest of the team relied on team doctors. The undermining of the Patriots training and conditioning staff was the first form of fractionalization in the locker room that Belichick had to contest. Guerrero’s access even landed him on the sideline of Patriot’s games and it wasn’t until the second half of the season that Guerrero was prevented from being on the Patriots’ sideline during games. Further complicating matters, at one point in time, Jimmy Garoppolo was prevented from seeing Guerrero and the training staff at the TB12 facility and was only seen two weeks after when reports of the incident landed in the media.

Belichick is known for his control over the holistic operations of the Patriots. Every aspect of the Patriots’ culture is monitored and carefully crafted, and Belichick has been remarkably successful in the face of an evolving social media that has drastically changed during his tenure. The access of fans to players has increased dramatically with the invention of platforms such as Twitter and Instagram, yet the Patriots have rarely had incidents where players have spoken out of line, even high profile players such as Randy Moss and Chad Ochocinco adhered to the norms established in the Patriots locker room for dealing with the media. When players come to New England there has been an expectation of normative behavior that was all part of a winning tradition, but there are signs of that culture changing in New England beyond what we saw during the 2017 campaign.

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All-Pro Tight End Rob Gronkowski used Twitter to wish former teammate Danny Amendola luck after the receiver signed a two-year deal with the division rival Miami Dolphins. The Tweet garnered attention due to the emphasis on “FREE” and “HAPPY”. Gronkowski, who many have reported has debated retirement since last year’s training camp due to concerns over health and his declining enjoyment in the game, has been the prominent story of the offseason for the Patriots who recently released talented Tight End, Martellus Bennett. Reading into Gronkowski’s comments of may suggest a confirmation that the businesslike culture in New England has worn on Gronkowski. Former players have made similar suggestions, and recently Lane Johnson spoke out against the Patriots’ culture, stating he wouldn’t sign with New England. Though he has never been a part of the Patriots’ locker room, he has played with former players LeGarrette Blount and Chris Long, and his opinions may be representative of some of the perceptions around the league.Perhaps after a few Super Bowl victories Gronkowski is looking for a change of scenery where he can play the game in a fun atmosphere at the expense of success, or maybe he just wants out altogether. The Patriots are of course hoping that an offseason provides Gronkowski with a much-needed break. If his strategy is to try to use his position to negotiate a new contract as it has been suggested by some, then he is likely out of luck, Belichick has rarely renegotiated deals, and when he does, the restructuring generally favors the Patriots (see Amendola’s contract restructure).

During the “Tom vs.Time” series, it was suggested that entrepreneur and wife of Tom Brady Gisele Bundchen had been diverting attention away from her career to take care of the family while Tom has devoted most of his time to focusing on his conditioning and playing career. In January, Gisele had reached out to friend and former NFL player AJ Feely in an attempt to convince Tom to stop playing. But, Tom has never been shy to suggest that he will play until his mid-forties if his play and body allows. Traditionally, players have broken down well before the age of forty. I am not willing to bet against him, but time always wins, and the only force more influential than time is a wife.

Bottom line, so long as the Patriots continue to be in the mix and favored to win the Superbowl, I don’t see Belichick struggling to recruit talent during the offseason. For veterans that have not had the opportunity to make a deep playoff run, six rings are an impactful negotiating tool, and the promise of success or career revitalization has allowed for New England to get better than market value contracts from many talented veterans or underperforming stars looking to prove their value on the market for the following year. New England is finally nearing the end of the back nine of their dynasty, but so long as they have Tom Brady and Bill Belichick we would be foolish to suggest anything is over now.  

Moving forward it is almost assured that the Patriots dynasty has been left in the hands of Jonathan Kraft and Offensive Coordinator Josh McDaniels. McDaniels, who had accepted the Colts head coaching vacancy prior to backing out of the deal to return to New England was dropped by his agent who said the move was ‘career suicide.’ To go to such lengths to stay in New England indicates that McDaniels is confident that when Jonathan Kraft takes over, and Bill Belichick moves on, he will be slated as the next head coach of the Patriots. Given the continuity that the Kraft family has heralded as key to the team’s success, it makes sense that McDaniels would feel confident in a position with the Patriots being long term. He is not Belichick, but he has been around the organization long enough to understand what it takes to win in the NFL. Even if the Patriots culture is changing, the future beyond Brady, Belichick, and Bob Kraft seems secure. Can we expect the same levels of success that was enjoyed in New England during the Brady and Belichick era? I think that would be unreasonable, but I don’t think it’s unreasonable to assume that the Patriots will continue to compete. One new challenge that McDaniels will face is the fact that many players take a discount for the opportunity to play with Brady and under Belichick, once they are gone much of that leverage goes with them, but rings do talk, and once McDaniels is the Head Coach, the first couple years will be critically important to establish himself and maintain the organization’s prestige.

 

Analysis: Sam Bradford’s Fit In Arizona

With Carson Palmer’s retirement, Arizona sought out veteran quarterbacks Sam Bradford and Mike Glennon, inking Bradford to a surprising 1-year $20M deal with $15M guaranteed, and Glennon to a 2-year $8M contract to act as his veteran backup. While the signing of Bradford may not come as a surprise given his upside and ability to hit receivers, his inability to stay healthy makes his cap number surprising. But is Bradford a good fit in Arizona? Let’s break it down.

Al Holcomb steps in as Arizona’s new Offensive Coordinator, coming from Carolina with new Head Coach Steve Wilks. It’s hard to say how the offense in Arizona will change, but given the continuity of personnel and polarizing difference at the quarterback position between Carolina and Arizona, we should expect Arizona’s offense to remain largely similar in scheme to last season.

Arizona ran more plays (719) with the quarterback under center than any other team in 2017. Over 53% of their offense came from these formations, and when their quarterback was under center they threw (223 times) more than any other team. Bradford is well respected in the league for his ability to release the ball quickly, at times averaging two seconds from snap to release in 2016. Which plays well in Arizona’s offensive design.

With a versatile back like David Johnson, defenses will have to respect the run, and this will allow Bradford to run more play action while under center, giving a physical receiver like Larry Fitzgerald the opportunity to leverage five yards of contact and create separation for a quick hit.

Last season, Arizona threw 505 short passes, accounting for nearly 37% of their total offensive plays, generating 3050 yards. Bradford, who set an NFL record completing 71.6% of his passes in 2016 will benefit from a west coast offensive design in Arizona that allows for him to release the ball quickly to receivers running short and intermediate routes. If he can continue to maintain a high passing efficiency there’s no reason to believe that Bradford can’t manipulate his ball security and a well above average running game to keep Arizona competitive in an improving NFC West.

FA Signing Grade: B

A prove it deal is perfect for Bradford who may be acting as a stopgap for a possible rookie draft selection at 15. But, the cap number of $20M for an injury-prone quarterback who missed all of last year’s contests may be high. Either way, Bradford was at one time one of the highest rated quarterback prospects and has proven that when healthy he can be an effective NFL signal caller.

Graphics credit to NFL Savants.

NFL Mock Draft and Pick Analysis: Picks 1-10

Photo: Kelvin Kuo | USA Today Sports

Cleveland Browns

The Need: The Browns have an obvious need at the quarterback position and this draft is loaded with talent. The DeShone Kizer saga in Cleveland ended shortly after it began and their willingness to give up on their most capable pro-style offense quarterback USC product Cody Kessler was indicative of their belief in the disparity between the natural talent of the two players. New GM John Dorsey will want to establish his era with the franchise with a fresh start at the quarterback position. If it doesn’t work out this year, Hugh Jackson’s hot seat may start to burn before the season’s end.

The Pick: Josh Rosen, QB, UCLA
Rosen is the most natural passer in the draft and is the most NFL ready of the top quarterbacks. He has good size and arm strength that will carry him at the next level. I think Sam Darnold has a higher ceiling, but a lower floor. Ultimately, Rosen’s openness about wanting to avoid Cleveland may land Darnold in this spot, but I can’t ignore Rosen’s big performance against crosstown rival USC, and the come from behind victory over Texas A&M.

New York Giants

The Need: Coaching changes often come with a desire to bring in personnel that will define the future of a franchise, and Giants new Head Coach Pat Shurmur might as well be a miracle worker for how he handled the quarterback situation in Minnesota. Not only did he have three quarterbacks competing for the starting job, he and Viking Head Coach Mike Zimmer ignored media and fan pressure and played the guy they thought would give them the best chance to win. Injuries played a huge role in that decision-making process, but he managed to maximize production from quarterback carousel while the Offensive Coordinator in Minnesota. New York is a different animal though, and Quarterback Eli Manning has two rings and the respect of the fan base backing him up. Reports from New York is that Manning was instrumental in the development of rookie Quarterback Davis Webb, and drafting a quarterback with the second pick could be a great opportunity for a young QB to learn good habits from one of the best in the game. Bottomline, the Giants underperformed this year and another opportunity to draft a quarterback in the top five next year with Manning under center is unlikely.

The Pick: Sam Darnold, QB, USC
If Josh Rosen is the most natural passer in the draft, Sam Darnold is without a doubt the most impressive. Darnold has all of the intangibles that you look for in a starting quarterback. Great size, arm strength, leadership qualities, attitude, and knowledge of a pro-style offense. His only downsides are inconsistent throwing mechanics and hand size. Sam Darnold has the type of personality that a big market team like New York wants, and if he gets the opportunity to sit behind Eli Manning for a year or two to learn the system he will have all the tools necessary to keep the Giants in a position to be a competitive football team. On a side note, a quarterback room with Eli Manning, and UCLA products Josh Rosen and Davis Webb would be a fun one to watch in camp.

Indianapolis Colts

The Need: If only we knew what was really happening with Andrew Luck. Conventional wisdom suggests that the Colts are in the market to grab the best talent available, and I tend to agree. This team struggled to pressure the quarterback, and while I think they will inevitably draft a quarterback in this draft, it won’t be at three. There’s one player in this draft that has the capability to completely transform a front seven.

The Pick: Bradley Chubb, DE, North Carolina State
The ACC Defensive Player of the Year Chubb has elite tools and the type of size that requires opposing teams game plan around him at the point of attack. Having originally joined NC State to play the linebacker position, Chubb has the type of speed and burst from the line of scrimmage that will make him an effective pass rusher. For those that put stock in pedigree, his father played for the Patriots, his brother Brandon Chubb played for the Rams and Lions, and his cousin is standout Georgia Bulldog Running Back Nick Chubb (who will likely be a day two selection in this year’s draft).

Cleveland Browns (From Texans)

The Need: Its hard to imagine that with all the needs the Browns have they stay at four when the value of Josh Allen could drive a bidding war for this pick. But, the Browns have five picks in the first two rounds and own two additional picks in round four and five which could indicate that they select the best player available. After the Trent Richardson bust, Browns fans may shy away from selecting a running back with this pick, but Isaiah Crowell and Duke Johnson have had trouble staying on the field, and Crowell is entering Free Agency. Johnson is invaluable in the passing game, but they could use another running back to drive the offense through. After watching the success rookie runners had last year in Jacksonville, Kansas City, New Orleans, Carolina, and Cincinnati, the Browns may look to follow suit with a running back selection at 4.

The Pick: Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn State
Saquon Barkley knows how to get the ball into the end zone. He totaled 43 touchdowns his last two seasons at Penn State and averaged over 220 rushing attempts in his three years. He’s also an underrated pass catcher. Last season, he caught 54 passes and showed improved reliability in the passing game from his previous campaigns. In nearly 800 touches, he only put the ball on the ground 4 times during his career at Penn State. Cleveland could use reliability, and preventing short field is a good start.

Denver Broncos

The Need: Let’s not fool ourselves, Brock Osweiler and Trevor Siemian are not the future signal caller for the Denver Broncos. I was waiting for the team to give Ole Miss and former Last Chance U product Chad Kelly the nod when things started going downhill. The team is constructed to win now, and if they don’t land a veteran quarterback in free agency expect them to launch themselves after the most NFL ready available quarterback in the draft.

The Pick: Baker Mayfield, QB, Oklahoma
I struggled with this one. Wyoming’s Josh Allen is widely regarded as a better quarterback and is drawing comparisons to John Elway, something Bronco fans desperately want. Josh Allen has the height, size, no character concerns, and an underdog story that makes you want to watch Dodgeball. With all that being said, Baker Mayfield flatout knows how to win. He doesn’t have the same ceiling as Allen, but he played on a bigger stage under intense media pressure and always came to play. He’s the type of guy that makes me think of Bruins Forward Brad Marchand. He might not be the biggest guy, but I certainly don’t want to be targeted by him. Mayfield might also be the most accurate passer in the draft, and putting the ball on numbers moves the sticks. I may have talked myself into changing this to Allen, but let’s see where this takes us.

New York Jets

The Need: Ageless Josh McCown may be back in New York in the offseason, but that doesn’t mean the Jets aren’t looking for quarterback play. Their last high selections at quarterback haven’t worked out in New York (Smith, Petty, and Hackenberg), and there is no indication that volume isn’t their strategy. Steve Young said it best, “if you don’t have a quarterback go get one,” and I think they will do just that. Though I have my doubts he gets by Denver, if he’s there and the Jets haven’t already made Kirk Cousins the highest paid quarterback in NFL history, this selection is easy.

The Pick: Josh Allen, QB, Wyoming
Don’t let a quarterback coming from a weak conference scare you, Carson Wentz’s productivity alleviated a lot of concerns about quarterbacks coming from outside of the power five conferences (SEC, PAC 12, ACC, Big 10, and Big 12) when he was drafted second overall from an FCS school. Josh Allen got his college career started at JuCo and rose to one of the most sought after quarterbacks in the 2018 NFL Draft. There’s no doubt he is competitive, and his 6’5” frame should provide a lot of confidence to GMs that want someone who is durable and can survey the field. Allen doesn’t have as much tape against FBS opponents as some of the other quarterbacks in the class, but he has shown enough to get him near the top 5. Some mocks have him going as high as one, and while I think the talent might be there, I’m not sure he’s as safe a pick as Darnold or Rosen. He very well might be the second or third quarterback off the board though, especially if he performs well at the combine and during interviews.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The Need: The Tampa Bay Bucs continue to be an enigma to me. They are fellow Couch GMs contributor James’ favorite team and I’ve enjoyed the roller coaster ride he endures year in and year out. Jameis Winston’s leadership on Hard Knocks inspired a lot of hope in fans this past year, but his play did not. Neither did the secondary when Brent Grimes wasn’t on the field (and he’s a free agent this year). Hargraves appears to be a corner that with a little more consistency will continue to line up outside against teams second receivers and adding another defensive back might be the safest pick. Even though the running game became relevant again last years, teams that made deep playoff runs had prolific passing attacks. Stopping that should be their priority. I see the Bucs adding a defensive weapon at seven. Chubb would’ve been the most logical pick, but I don’t see him making it this far. Especially when factoring that one of the teams selecting a quarterback may land Kirk Cousins and look for a need elsewhere.

The Pick: Minkah Fitzpatrick, DB, Alabama
Fitzpatrick played on a Nick Saban defense. Historically, players from the Alabama defensive unit have fared well in the NFL and I have no reason to doubt the playmaking ability of Fitzpatrick. LSU might be the SEC defensive back producer but Fitzpatrick has the ability to step in and make a difference on day one. He has the versatility to safety or corner, and with the departure of Grimes looming the Bucs could use another starting quality defensive back.

Chicago Bears

The Need: The Bears let their star wide receiver walk last offseason, and have seen their young athletic receiver Kevin White plagued by injuries. Josh Bellamy has been a pleasant surprise, but the Bears need a true number one wide receiver for Tribusiky to throw to. I expect that they will pursue one of the top free agents at the position, but if they fail to attract a veteran receiver with a young quarterback I expect them to draft someone to fill their need.

The Pick: Courtland Sutton, WR, SMU
I can see why most mocks have Calvin Ridley here, but I look at Sutton as a big bodied receiver who can fight and come away with most jump balls. Chicago struggled in the Red Zone last year, and adding a big target like Sutton could alleviate some of those problems. I have a lot of confidence in his ability to keep contested balls out of defenders hands, and his large size hasn’t detracted from his speed down the sidelines. He did play against lesser competition at SMU than Ridley did at Alabama, but Sutton looks like he can become an elite Red Zone threat at the next level and that’s something the Bears desperately need to support their young quarterback.

San Francisco 49ers

The Need: If you ask a San Francisco fan right now, they might tell you that if the team doesn’t sign or pick anyone they would still come away as the victors this offseason. The signing of Jimmy Garoppolo paired with Head Coach Kevin Shanahan is enough to make any 49ers fan giddy. Shanahan is well-respected as an offensive mind in the NFL for developing quarterback play and he now has a guy that he feels can run his system effectively. Their defense on the other hand needs help, and while they could use another interior lineman, there are enough of those players in Free Agency where the 49ers will look to sure up their defense. They were close in a lot of games last year, but their defense lacked a lockdown corner that could matchup against top-tier wide receivers. I expect them to address that need one way or another this offseason.

The Pick: Denzel Ward, CB, Ohio State
Ward has been high on some mocks and low on others, which surprises me, as the Junior was a consensus All-American and a member of the First-team All-Big Ten. Ward is the type of athlete that will turn heads at the combine. He can jump out of the gym and may set the bar for defensive backs in the 40-yard dash if LSU cornerback Donte Jackson doesn’t have anything to say about it. Where he struggles is at the line of scrimmage, veteran receivers will be able to use their physicality to gain position on him early in routes and keep ward from being able to make a play on the ball. I expect him to match up well against smaller receivers and may be relegated to covering underneath receivers in the NFL.

Oakland Raiders

The Need: New Raider Head Coach John Gruden will be looking to build on a strong foundation out in Oakland. The team underperformed after projecting to be a playoff team just last year, and Chucky will try to get them back on track by improving on the defensive side of the ball.

The Pick: Roquan Smith, LB, Georgia
Smith is a talented versatile linebacker that can fill a gap in run support and drop back into coverage. He had a standout performance at Georgia this season, showing that he has the ability to pursue sideline to sideline. With the development of Reuben Foster’s pending legal troubles San Francisco could take him before Oakland gets the opportunity, but if he’s available for Gruden at 10, I expect the Raiders to take the talented linebacker as a building block for their new defense.