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.
Links: AFC East | AFC North | AFC South | AFC West
Links: NFC East | NFC North | NFC South | NFC West
Denver Broncos Team Needs
The Broncos roster screams “a quarterback away” after filling out their defense with quality starters at all three levels of the field. Drew Lock has theoretical upside but hasn’t shown nearly enough consistency to go into the year as the unquestioned starter. He was 28th in passing EPA last year. After free agency, there aren’t many veterans worth pursuing (Sam Darnold? Jimmy Garoppolo?), but they are in striking distance to the No. 4 overall pick. They should take their shot with a rookie.
1.09 Options: Justin Fields (EDP: 5), Trey Lance (6), Mac Jones (17)
2.40 Options: NA
3.71 Options: Jamie Newman (EDP: 95), Kellen Mond (107), Davis Mills (113)
2. Off-Ball Linebacker
If there’s a hole defensively, it’s at linebacker. Alexander Johnson is a good player, but he’s playing on the franchise tag and there’s little depth behind him (2018 fourth-rounder Josey Jewell and 2020 fifth-rounder Justin Strnad). The long-term starter at inside linebacker isn’t on the roster.
1.09 Options: Micah Parsons (EDP: 17)
2.40 Options: Zaven Collins (EDP: 28), Jamin Davis (40), Nick Bolton (44)
3.71 Options: Dylan Moses (EDP: 67), Chazz Surratt (79), Baron Browning (80)
3. Offensive Guard
The Broncos were a below-average rushing offense, ranking 23rd in rushing EPA and 22nd in short-yardage rushing EPA. The offensive line ranked 28th in PFF’s run-blocking grade, and the Broncos’ two primary ball carriers ranked second and third in time spent behind the line of scrimmage per NextGenStats, a sign that they were waiting for a hole to open up longer. Overall, 2019 second-round LG Dalton Risner, 2020 third-round C Lloyd Cushenberry, and veteran RG Graham Glasgow isn’t the worst unit, but more competition wouldn’t hurt.
1.09 Options: Rashawn Slater (EDP: 11), Alijah Vera-Tucker (17)
2.40 Options: Wyatt Davis (EDP: 46), Quinn Meinerz (61)
3.71 Options: Trey Smith (EDP: 63), Aaron Banks (102), Deonte Brown (111)
4. Running Back
This will likely be Melvin Gordon’s last season in Denver, and he’ll be 28 years old with a history of lower-half injuries this upcoming season. Mike Boone (5’10/206) provides some spark off the bench, but he has 71 carries through three NFL seasons and doesn't profile as a three-down player in the event of a Gordon injury. An early Day 3 investment would make some sense here to fill out the rest of their intriguing skill-position group.
1.09 Options: NA
2.40 Options: Travis Etienne (EDP: 32), Javonte Williams (45)
3.71 Options: Kenneth Gainwell (EDP: 72), Michael Carter (82), Trey Sermon (95)
Kansas City Chiefs Team Needs
1. Offensive Tackle(s): The Chiefs lost LT Eric Fisher and All-Pro RT Mitchell Schwartz to injuries. There’s not a starting-caliber left tackle on the roster, and the front office is currently banking on Mike Remmers (one-year, $3.5M) or 2020 third-round opt out Prince Tega Wanogho at left tackle. It’s a very bad situation.
1.31 Options: Teven Jenkins (EDP: 25), Jalen Mayfield (28), Liam Eichenberg (36)
2.63 Options: Dillon Radunz (EDP: 55), Jackson Carman (57), James Hudson (66)
3.94 Options: Walker Little (EDP: 92), Brady Christensen (93), Dan Moore (95)
Austin Reiter is a free agent and still on the market two weeks in for a reason. Even if he’s re-signed cheaply soon, the Chiefs need to find an upgrade. One reason why Clyde Edwards-Helaire struggled as a rusher was because of how bad the interior offensive line was.
1.31 Options: Landon Dickerson (EDP: 39), Creed Humphrey (46)
2.63 Options: Creed Humphrey (EDP: 46), Quinn Meinerz (61), Trey Hill (75)
3.94 Options: Kendrick Green (EDP: 95), Josh Myers (96), Drake Jackson (129)
3. Outside Corner
The Chiefs have a bunch of options to defend the slot -- L'Jarius Sneed looks like a fourth-round steal so far -- but only former UDFA Charvarius Ward and 2019 sixth-rounder Rashad Fenton are under contract among the outside corners from last year with Bashaud Breeland hitting free agency. Kansas City managed to be the No. 9th passing EPA defense despite investing little into their cornerback group last year. That’s not sustainable. Draft picks are needed.
1.31 Options: Greg Newsome (EDP: 24), Eric Stokes (42), Tyson Campbell (44)
2.63 Options: Ifeatu Melifonwu (EDP: 65), Kelvin Joseph (69), Paulson Adebo (75)
3.94 Options: RoDarius Williams (EDP: 83), Israel Mukuamu (97), Benjamin St-Juste (100)
4. Free Safety
With few other starting options available, the Chiefs re-signed FS Daniel Sorensen to a one-year, $2.4 million contract. That’s not starter money, and there’s a reason why he played on 40% of the Chiefs’ special teams snaps. More competition is needed.
1.31 Options: NA
2.63 Options: Richie Grant (EDP: 58), Andre Cisco (64), Jevon Holland (65)
3.94 Options: Hamsah Nasirildeen (83), Caden Sterns (84), Ar’Darius Washington (98)
Las Vegas Raiders Team Needs
1. Right Tackle
Vegas traded Pro Bowl RT Trent Brown to the Patriots for cap savings, and the front office hasn’t found a replacement in free agency. Current starter Brandon Parker was a 2018 third-round pick, was in line to start when this same front office signed Brown to a lucrative contract, and is in the final year of his contract.
1.17 Options: Christian Darrisaw (EDP: 17), Teven Jenkins (25), Jalen Mayfield (28)
2.48 Options: Liam Eichenberg (EDP: 36), Alex Leatherwood (37), Dillon Radunz (55)
3.79 Options: Jackson Carman (EDP: 57), James Hudson (66), Spencer Brown (70)
3.80 Options: Walker Little (EDP: 92), Brady Christensen (93), Dan Moore (95)
2. Free Safety
New DC Gus Bradley needs a starting free safety for his Cover 3 defense. 30-year-old FS Jeff Heath is under contract for one more season and maxes out as an average starter. This long-term starter will be responsible for cleaning up some of SS Johnathan Abram’s coverage mistakes.
1.17 Options: NA
2.48 Options: Richie Grant (EDP: 58)
3.79 Options: Andre Cisco (EDP: 64), Jevon Holland (EDP: 65), Hamsah Nasirildeen (83)
3.80 Options: Caden Sterns (EDP: 84), Ar’Darius Washington (98), Damar Hamlin (108)
3. Offensive Guard
Richie Incognito had to re-sign for less money in 2021 and will be 38 years old shortly. A long-term left guard replacement is needed via the draft, even if it’s a Day 2 or Day 3 project that’s just a backup as a rookie. Incognito was unhealthy for most of last season.
1.17 Options: Alijah Vera-Tucker (EDP: 20)
2.48 Options: Wyatt Davis (EDP: 46), Quinn Meinerz (61)
3.79 Options: Trey Smith (EDP: 63)
3.80 Options: Aaron Banks (EDP: 102), Deonte Brown (111)
4. Slot Corner
Veteran slot CB/SS Lamarcus Joyner walked in free agency, leaving the Raiders with just 30-year-old fringe starter Nevin Lawson as the top option. He’s on a one-year contract.
1.17 Options: CB/SS Trevon Moehrig (EDP: 24)
2.48 Options: Asante Samuel (EDP: 49), Aaron Robinson (51)
3.79 Options: Elijah Molden (EDP: 71)
3.80 Options: Elijah Molden (EDP: 71)
Los Angeles Chargers Team Needs
1. Offensive Tackle
With better health, the Chargers should get quality right tackle play out of Bryan Bulaga moving forward, but left tackle is a need. Current starter Trey Pipkins is a 2019 third-round project from Sioux Falls, and risking Justin Herbert’s health with a developmental project at his blind spot isn’t something I’d be willing to do.
1.13 Options: Penei Sewell (EDP: 5), Rashawn Slater (11), Christian Darrisaw (17)
2.47 Options: Liam Eichenberg (EDP: 36), Alex Leatherwood (37), Dillon Radunz (55)
3.77 Options: James Hudson (EDP: 66), Spencer Brown (70), Walker Little (92)
3.97 Options: Walker Little (EDP: 92), Brady Christensen (93), Dan Moore (95)
2. Offensive Guard
Chargers LG Forrest Lamp heads to free agency after four shaky seasons as a second-rounder, and 2020 trade acquisition Trai Turner was released after an injury-filled career-worst season. Veteran G Matt Fieler can hold things down for one season, but the Chargers still need a 2021 starter.
1.13 Options: Alijah Vera-Tucker (EDP: 19)
2.47 Options: Alex Leatherwood (EDP: 37), Wyatt Davis (46)
3.77 Options: Quinn Meinerz (EDP: 61), Trey Smith (63)
3.97 Options: Aaron Banks (EDP: 102), Deonte Brown (111)
3. Outside Corner
The Chargers are missing a starter after releasing CB1 Casey Hayward and are currently relying on Michael Davis to take another leap. 32-year-old slot CB Chris Harris is also heading into the final year of his contract. Los Angeles was 13th in passing EPA defense last season.
1.13 Options: Patrick Surtain (EDP: 11), Jaycee Horn (15), Caleb Farley (16)
2.47 Options: Eric Stokes (EDP: 42), Tyson Campbell (44), Asante Samuel (49)
3.77 Options: Ifeatu Melifonwu (EDP: 65), Kelvin Joseph (69), Paulson Adebo (75)
3.97 Options: Israel Mukuamu (EDP: 97), Benjamin St-Juste (100), Camryn Bynum (102)
4. Outside Receiver
Keenan Allen is locked up long-term in the slot, but Mike Williams is only under contract for this season and the current third receiver competition is between two former undrafted free agents. In this vertical-based offense, this final starting spot is best reserved for a speedster.
1.13 Options: Ja’Marr Chase (EDP: 6), DeVonta Smith (12), Rashod Bateman (30)
2.47 Options: Rashod Bateman (EDP: 30), Terrace Marshall (36), Dyami Brown (73)
3.77 Options: Dyami Brown (EDP: 73), Tylan Wallace (81), Seth Williams (92)
3.97 Options: Nico Collins (EDP: 97), Sage Surratt (98), D’Wayne Eskridge (110)