Matt Williamson is a former scout for the Cleveland Browns, and spent the last 10 years at ESPN as a scout and co-host of the podcast “Football Today.”
The draft is an extremely important process, and is the lifeblood of the NFL and every team in it. However, it is common for fans and media to get overexcited with the immediate impact it will have on the upcoming season.
Most draftees will need plenty of time to develop before becoming impact NFL players. Every year, though, a few teams get an immediate shot in the arm (just ask the Cowboys and Chargers last year) from their rookie class.
Which teams have the best chance of seeing such an improvement in 2017? Here are five that qualify from the AFC. The NFC will be out later this week.
The Ravens’ first four selections came on defense, further fortifying an already-stout unit. Elite at stopping the run, Baltimore added a very talented cornerback in Marlon Humphrey and two edge pass-rushers in Tyus Bowser and Tim Williams, who only lasted until the middle of the third round because of off-field concerns.
Both Bowser and Williams could pay big dividends as early as Week 1, while Chris Wormley fits perfectly as a 3-4 defensive end that can spell Baltimore’s massive interior tackles on passing downs.
Despite the defensive focus, Ozzie Newsome didn’t neglect the other side of the ball, finding great value in selecting Nico Siragusa and Jermaine Eluemunor in the fourth and fifth rounds, respectively. Siragusa and Eluemunor are very different offensive line prospects, though Siragusa is more ready to help the team. Their additions should shore up a line that lost Rickey Wagner in free agency.
The ninth overall pick might have been too early for John Ross, but this offense hasn’t been the same since losing Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu. And remember, the Bengals saw three wide receivers get swiped off the board in the 2016 draft right before they were on the clock.
This organization knows exactly who Andy Dalton is and has invested heavily to surround him with talent at running back, wide receiver, and tight end. Say what you want about Joe Mixon, but it should take him little time to take over as Cincinnati’s lead back.
While there are still huge concerns with the Bengals’ depleted offensive line, their edge pass-rush was vastly improved with the addition of Jordan Willis and Carl Lawson. For different reasons, Mixon and Lawson were selected much later than their talent and college production would indicate. Cincinnati could benefit immediately as a result, and its offense could have a far different feel to it in 2017. That is, if the offensive line isn’t a total disaster.
Having the first overall pick in a year where one player stood above all the rest, as well as manipulating the draft to bring in three first-round selections obviously helps quite a bit in this regard! Cleveland’s cause was also helped by its 1-15 roster from a year ago having nowhere to go but up. But the Browns got much better in this draft and added a ton of athleticism.
Myles Garrett is the type of player that opposing offenses are quickly going to have to gameplan around, which makes the other 10 defensive players that much better. Jabrill Peppers might not make an instant impact, but this rebuilding organization has ample time for Gregg Williams to figure out exactly the best way to use Peppers’ many talents.
Caleb Brantley is a very talented player that lasted until the sixth round due to a pre-draft assault charge. With little risk to the team, Brantley could pay off for the Browns on the field. David Njoku is just scratching the surface of what he can become, but already might be more threatening than recently released Gary Barnidge.
DeShone Kizer most likely will not become an instant difference maker, but just think how incredibly well set up the Browns will be if he can develop into a franchise quarterback? Oh by the way, Cleveland’s draft equity a year from now is ridiculous, with five picks in the top two rounds.
Los Angeles Chargers
Many predicted Malik Hooker would go to the Chargers in the first round, but Los Angeles’ newest team went in another direction, selecting Mike Williams. The Chargers have dealt with one wide receiver injury after another over the past few seasons, putting too much stress on Philip Rivers.
Rivers is still a great player, but he has been throwing far too many interceptions and can’t carry this offense alone. With Keenan Allen returning, Williams can ease into his role. Rayshawn Jenkins and Desmond King are great mid-round additions to the secondary, but the key to this draft is the Chargers’ ability to rebuild their offensive line and get far more talented and athletic in front of Rivers.
Dan Feeney is a pure guard, and while that might also be Forrest Lamp’s best position, the team would be best-suited seeing how he fares at right tackle. Lamp very well could be the best offensive line prospect in this entire draft.
Without question, the Titans needed to come out of this draft with two things: A top wide receiver prospect and substantial cornerback help.
It might have been early for Corey Davis and Adoree’ Jackson at No. 5 and No. 18, respectively, but the Titans got Marcus Mariota the best wide receiver in this draft, while also adding Taywan Taylor and Jonnu Smith to the pass-catching mix.
Jackson has rare ability as a returner, and should also help this secondary with his man-to-man coverage skills. The Titans moved to a more man coverage-heavy scheme as the 2016 season went along, which fits Jackson well.
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