As much as “don’t draft for need” gets mentioned with the NFL Draft, the truth is that teams do draft for need (and they should). That’s why I’m taking a top down approach in this column, spending far more time studying exact team needs than which prospects are actually good. I want to be specific about the exact position a team is looking for, so instead of listing “safety”, you’ll see “single-high free safety” or “two-high strong safety” when necessary. As for the mock draft part of the column, I’ll highlight each Round 1-3 pick in red and list their expected draft position (EDP) courtesy of Benjamin Robinson’s Grinding The Mocks. Consider everything here to be predictive rather than what I (a donkey) would do if I were calling the shots.
Arizona Cardinals Team Needs
1. Outside Corner
If the Cardinals want to continue playing a lot of Cover 1 man defense and blitz at top-five rates, they desperately need to find top-end corners. Veteran CB Patrick Peterson signed with the Vikings and Robert Alford was re-signed cheaply after two injury-filled seasons. Arizona will be in the mix for Day 1 and Day 2 corners in the 2021 NFL Draft.
1.16 Options: Patrick Surtain (EDP: 11), Jaycee Horn (15), Caleb Farley (16)
2.49 Options: Eric Stokes (EDP: 42), Tyson Campbell (44), Asante Samuel (49)
2. Offensive Guard
1.16 Options: Rashawn Slater (EDP: 11), Alijah Vera-Tucker (17)
2.49 Options: Jalen Mayfield (EDP: 28), Alex Leatherwood (37), Wyatt Davis (46)
3. Running Back
The scheme is elite, but the Cardinals don’t have a between-the-tackles runner on the roster with Kenyan Drake landing in Vegas. Chase Edmonds can be an asset in passing situations, but his frame (5’9/210) limits his early-down ceiling. Whoever fills this early-down role will at least have RB2/3 value in fantasy.
1.16 Options: Najee Harris (EDP: 26), Travis Etienne (32)
2.49 Options: Travis Etienne (EDP: 32), Javonte Williams (45)
4. Tight End
Sleeper receiving tight end Dan Arnold left for Carolina, and Maxx Williams is a replaceable run-blocking option. It’s possible that the offense opts to just ignore the position in favor of even more four-receiver sets.
1.16 Options: NA
2.49 Options: Pat Freiermuth (42), Brevin Jordan (68), Tommy Tremble (71)
Los Angeles Rams Team Needs
1. Off-Ball Linebacker
The Rams had one of the worst linebacker groups last season. 2018 fourth-rounder Kenny Young, 2018 fifth-rounder Micah Kiser, and 2019 UDFA Troy Reeder are all backup-level players. It’s a position that the front office has ignored for years.
2.57 Options: Jamin Davis (EDP: 40), Nick Bolton (44), Jabril Cox (56)
3.88 Options: Dylan Moses (EDP: 67), Chazz Surratt (79), Baron Browning (80)
3.103 Options: Baron Browning (EDP: 80), Monty Rice (115)
2020 starter Austin Blythe is a free agent, and the Rams are thin at offensive line depth. A cheap free agent or late-round rookie will likely be filling this spot. Luckily for Stafford and Akers, Sean McVay does more for his offensive line than just about any NFL coach.
2.57 Options: Landon Dickerson (EDP: 39), Creed Humphrey (46), Quinn Meinerz (61)
3.88 Options: Trey Hill (EDP: 75), Kendrick Green (95), Josh Myers (96)
3.103 Options: Drake Jackson (EDP: 129), Michal Menet (NA)
3. Offensive Tackle
Both of last year’s starters are currently on the roster, but both may have to take a pay cut to remain on the roster. Finding the long-term replacement for 39-year-old LB Andrew Whitworth is on the to-do list.
2.57 Options: Alex Leatherwood (EDP: 37), Dillon Radunz (55), Jackson Carman (57)
3.88 Options: Spencer Brown (EDP: 70), Walker Little (92), Brady Christensen (93)
3.103 Options: Walker Little (EDP: 92), Brady Christensen (93), Dan Moore (95)
Jalen Ramsey and Darious Williams are an elite starting duo, but slot CB Troy Hill left for Cleveland this offseason. A third corner is needed. Thanks to Ramsey’s inside and outside versatility, the Rams can find a slot or outside corner.
2.57 Options: Asante Samuel (EDP: 49), Aaron Robinson (51), Ifeatu Melifonwu (65)
3.88 Options: Elijah Molden (EDP: 71), Paulson Adebo (75), RoDarius Williams (83)
3.103 Options: Benjamin St-Juste (100), Camryn Bynum (102), Damar Hamlin (108)
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San Francisco 49ers Team Needs
I won’t pretend to know which quarterback Kyle Shanahan is targeting. Justin Fields, Trey Lance, and Mac Jones are all “scheme fits” because Shanahan is the best play-caller in the NFL and all three quarterbacks have a shot at being plus starters. In my rapid-reaction column to the trade up, I ranked the likelihood of the pick as Lance, Jones, and then Fields.
2.43 Options: NA
3.102 Options: NA
2. Offensive Guard
A lot of capital has been spent on tackle, but the interior offensive line is average at best, particularly at right guard. 2019 sixth-rounder Justin Skule, 2017 UDFA Daniel Brunskill, 2020 fifth-rounder Colton McKivitz, and others are projected to battle for the final starting spot.
1.03 Options: NA
2.43 Options: Jalen Mayfield (EDP: 28), Alex Leatherwood (37), Wyatt Davis (46)
3.102 Options: Trey Smith (EDP: 63), Aaron Banks (102), Deonte Brown (111)
3. Off-Ball Linebacker
Fred Warner is in the top linebacker in the league conversation, but the rest of the linebacker depth chart is upgradable. 2019 fifth-rounder Dre Greenlaw and 2019 UDFA Azeez Al-Shaair max out as fringe starters.
1.03 Options: NA
2.43 Options: Zaven Collins (EDP: 28), Jamin Davis (40), Nick Bolton (44)
3.102 Options: Chazz Surratt (79), Baron Browning (80), Monty Rice (115)
The 49ers have CB1 Jason Verrett, CB2 Emmanuel Moseley, and slot CB K’Wuan Williams as starters, but only Moseley is under contract beyond 2021. Plus, some of the depth was lost behind them this offseason. More than half of the 49ers’ snaps last year came in single-high, so look for corners with some Cover 3 experience.
1.03 Options: NA
2.43 Options: Eric Stokes (42), Tyson Campbell (44), Asante Samuel (49)
3.102 Options: Israel Mukuamu (EDP: 97), Benjamin St-Juste (100), Camryn Bynum (102)
Seattle Seahawks Team Needs
1. Outside Corner
2020 Week 1 starters Shaq Griffin and Quinton Dunbar are free agents, and the only move made by the front office this offseason is signing Ahkello Witherspoon to a one-year contract. Last season, the Seahawks ranked 18th in passing EPA defense, a number that could drop further if cornerback isn’t properly addressed. Seattle is specifically looking for Cover 3 zone defenders.
2.56 Options: Tyson Campbell (44), Asante Samuel (49), Ifeatu Melifonwu (65)
2. Offensive Tackle
36-year-old LT Duane Brown only has one year left on his contract, and RT Brandon Shell is a fringe starter set for free agency in 2022. Long-term starters are needed at both spots, even if both Brown and Shell could start games this season. Allowing Day 2 prospects to learn on the bench from these veterans would make a lot of sense.
2.56 Options: Dillon Radunz (EDP: 55), Jackson Carman (57), James Hudson (66)
2017 second-rounder Ethan Pocic only signed a one-year, $3.0 million contract this offseason and has been a fringe starter since coming in the league, partially because of core and back injuries. To alleviate Russell Wilson’s pass-blocking concerns, this is a clear spot to find a short- and long-term upgrade.
2.56 Options: Landon Dickerson (EDP: 39), Creed Humphrey (46), Quinn Meinerz (61)
4. Outside Receiver
2.56 Options: Dyami Brown (EDP: 73), Tylan Wallace (81), Seth Williams (92)