NFL Draft: Team Needs and Fantasy Fits (AFC Edition)

NFL Draft: Team Needs and Fantasy Fits (AFC Edition)

This article is part of our NFL Draft series.

A quick glance at the Saints' depth chart reveals a roster that's locked and loaded for Week 1, featuring multiple areas of strength and no glaring deficiencies. There are few other teams, if any, that will be able to say the same when the NFL Draft kicks off at 8:00 PM ET on Apr. 23.

For some, the math is simple. The Bengals have a huge need at quarterback and own the No. 1 overall pick in a draft with a stud QB prospect, Joe Burrow. The Jets are another example, looking utterly deficient at wide receiver but holding four picks inside the top 80 in a draft that's notoriously deep at the position.

On the other hand, Miami has a ton of picks and a ton of holes, lending to a wide variety of draft scenarios. Then we have the situation in Chicago, where a lack of draft capital (and cap space) means it will be impossible to find young talent at every position where it's needed.

My goal here is to find matches between draft capital and team need, focusing on the positions we care about most for fantasy football (QB/RB/WR/TE) to identify realistic options. Keep in mind that I'm an NFL writer, not a prospect/CFB analyst, so try to forgive me if I sound dumb from time to time.

AFC East

New England Patriots

Biggest Need: Tight End

The Match: This draft doesn't have any tight ends projected to go in the first round, and the Patriots don't have a pick in the second round. That can be remedied easily enough with a trade, or else Bill Belichick can see what falls toward the end of Round 3, where he owns a trio of picks at Nos. 87, 98 and 100 overall. But why settle for one option or the other when you can double-dip? The Patriots can go all-in on remaking a barren TE room if they draft Notre Dame's Cole Kmet in Round 2 and follow it up with Virginia Tech's Dalton Keene in Round 3. Neither player had dominant receiving stats in college, but both offer three-down potential with 4.7 speed and prototypical size.

Other Options: The Patriots still need a replacement for that one guy they had at quarterback, and it would also be nice to add a young wideout alongside Julian Edelman and N'Keal Harry (Mohamed Sanu has a non-guaranteed $6.5 million base salary, so he may be cut before Week 1). The Pats could look to Utah State's Jordan Love (meh) or dual-threat Jalen Hurts (fun!) as QB options at No. 23 overall, while Minnesota's Tyler Johnson or South Carolina's Bryan Edwards are solid WR prospects that may be available Day 3.

Buffalo Bills

Biggest Need: No. 2 Running Back

The Match: Life is good when backfield depth is your biggest skill-position need, or at least the biggest need you openly acknowledge... cough, Josh Allen isn't good, cough. Anyway, the Bills seem happy with their entertaining but inconsistent quarterback, so let's give them a No. 2 RB to spell Devin Singletary. I'm tempted to go with BC's AJ Dillon, but I think it would require a second- or third-round pick after the 247-pounder lit up the scouting combine. Instead, the Bills can wait until Day 3 to grab someone like Florida's Lamical Perine or Vandy's Ke'Shawn Vaughn.

Other Options: The Bills overpaid Tyler Kroft last offseason before using a third-round pick on Dawson Knox. The rookie got a lot of snaps and certainly looked the part physically, but he somehow managed 10 drops — third most in the NFL — on 50 targets. The Bills brought in Greg Olsen for a visit, so we know they're interested in adding a reliable pass catcher at the position, though it's probably less of a priority after the Stefon Diggs trade. Purdue's Brycen Hopkins is a likely mid-round pick who could come in and challenge Knox for passing-down snaps. 

New York Jets

Biggest Need: No. 1 Wide Receiver

The Match: No need to make this complicated. The Jets should have an opportunity to draft Oklahoma's CeeDee Lamb or Alabama's Jerry Jeudy at No. 11 overall. (RotoWire's Mario Puig has the Jets taking Jeudy in his 2020 NFL Mock Draft.)

Other Options: The Jets could instead opt for Alabama's Henry Ruggs in the first round, prioritizing speed above all else for their Robby Anderson replacement.

Miami Dolphins

Biggest Need: Franchise Quarterback

The Match: Recent rumors suggest Miami may offer Cincinnati a godfather package to move up for Joe Burrow, but I'm guessing Bengals owner Mike Brown and executive Duke Tobin will reject those offers... or at least that's what I would do in their shoes. The Dolphins can then roll with Alabama's Tua Tagovailoa, who may or may not be available at No. 5 overall but definitely will be an option if they trade up for the second or third pick.

Other Options: The Dolphins should be able to draft Oregon QB Justin Herbert without trading up from No. 5. They'd then be left with two more first-round picks, potentially targeting Lamb/Jeudy/Ruggs or Wisconsin RB Jonathan Taylor at Nos. 18 or 26.

AFC North

Baltimore Ravens

Biggest Need: Wide Receiver

The Match: As a Ravens fan, I've been hoping for a first-round WR, but the interior line is a bigger need after Marshal Yanda's retirement, and the impressive wideout depth in this draft encourages a more patient approach. I'm happy with the results from Mario's two-round mock draft, where the Ravens select Clemson WR Tee Higgins at No. 55 overall. At 6-foot-4 , 216 pounds, Higgins would provide a nice contrast to Marquise Brown and Willie Snead, challenging 2019 third-round pick Miles Boykin for a starting job. With Brown operating as a lethal deep threat, Baltimore won't mind if Higgins is more of a Marques Colston than a Kenny Golladay.

Other Options: The Ravens are in good shape at QB, RB and TE, so a double-dip at WR makes more sense than anything else. They have extra picks in the second, third and fourth rounds, but also need to add talent at guard and outside linebacker. Wisconsin WR Quintez Cephus or Michigan WR Donovan Peoples-Jones would be nice picks on Day 3.

Pittsburgh Steelers

Biggest Need: Backup Quarterback

The Match: The Steelers will need to replace Ben Roethlisberger soon enough, and they also could use an 2020 upgrade in the No. 2 QB spot. Counting on a rookie to provide that upgrade may seem dicey, but any warm body stands a decent chance to be better than Mason Rudolph and Devlin Hodges. The Steelers don't have a first-round pick, but they might be able to get Oklahoma QB Jalen Hurts in the second round or George QB Jake Fromm in the third/fourth round.

Other Options: Eric Ebron and Vance McDonald aren't good blockers and also aren't particularly reliable as pass catchers. Plus, McDonald is entering his age-30 season and somehow managed to finish dead last in PFF grading at tight end last year. The Steelers could use a Day 3 pick on Vandy TE Jared Pinkney, who broke out for 50-774-7 in his junior season but then dropped to 20-233-2 in eight games as a senior and ran a position-worst 4.96 40-yard dash at the combine — buy low!

Cleveland Browns

Biggest Need: No. 3 Wide Receiver

The Match: With Andy Janovich at fullback and David Njoku now the No. 2 tight end, Browns coach Kevin Stefanski can probably get away with 20-to-30 snaps per game from his No. 3 WR. Still, it would be nice to have someone better than Damion Ratley and KhaDarel Hodge, a duo that combined for 16 catches on 258 routes last season (per PFF). Enter USC wideout Michael Pittman, a solid prospect who could slip to the third round in a draft with so much talent at his position. Jarvis Landry's versatility allows the Browns to choose a No. 3 receiver without much concern for the inside/outside projection. In this case, Pittman likely would take most of his snaps outside, leaving Landry in his accustomed slot role in three-wide sets.

Other Options: TCU's Jalen Reagor or Baylor's Denzel Mims would be more exciting than Pittman, but it probably requires a second-round pick that the Browns would rather spend on a higher-priority position.

Cincinnati Bengals

Biggest Need: Joe Burrow

The Match: Joe Burrow

Other Options: Anyone that can help Burrow. Ideally, a tight end that can step in immediately as a replacement for Tyler Eifert on passing downs. LSU's Thaddeus Moss would be a nice fit, with the bonus of Joe Exotic Burrow familiarity.

AFC West

Kansas City Chiefs

Biggest Need: Running Back

The Match: Andy Reid seems to prioritize pass-game skills and agility over speed and power, so he should be a fan of LSU RB Clyde Edwards-Helaire. However, No. 32 overall seems a bit early, and the end of the second round might be too late. A trade into the middle of the second round could work, but so could a pivot to FSU RB Cam Akers or Utah RB Zack Moss. Any of the bunch would be a formidable complement to Damien Williams, or perhaps even a threat for the starting job.

Other Options: The Chiefs essentially have three spots where it's impossible to find an upgrade, and Mecole Hardman is the perfect complementary piece for an offense with Patrick Mahomes, Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce, a bunch that should probably be nicknamed The Holy Trinity (unless that's considered offensive?). It wouldn't hurt to find a WR to join Hill and Hardman for 2021 and beyond... someone like Florida's Van Jefferson as a Day 3 pick. The Chiefs won't ever need him to handle a large target count, and his experience as a gunner on special teams would allow Jefferson to help the 2020 squad without playing snaps on offense.

Las Vegas Raiders

Biggest Need: No. 1 Wide Receiver

The Match: I'll agree with RW's Mario Puig again, expecting the Raiders to use pick No. 12 on whichever of CeeDee Lamb or Jerry Jeudy makes it past the Jets at No. 11.

Other Options: The Raiders have another pick at No. 19 but don't own a second-rounder. Missing out on Lamb and Jeudy would hardly be a disaster, with Bama's Henry Ruggs, Baylor's Denzel Mims, LSU's Justin Jefferson and TCU's Jalen Reagor headlining a long list of viable WR options between the middle of the first round and end of the second round. A trade back from No. 19 makes sense if the Raiders want a receiver but don't have a strong preference between the various options.

Denver Broncos

Biggest Need: Wide Receiver

The Match: The Broncos already have their protypical No. 1 in Courtland Sutton, so why not go with a versatile weapon like Colorado WR Laviska Shenault, who thrives after the catch and also scored seven rushing TDs the past two seasons. Shenault ran a 4.58 40 at the combine, but that's actually pretty good for a guy built like a running back — 6-foot-1, 227 pounds. While a Deebo Samuel comparison likely would lead to disappointment, the Broncos can at least look toward Samuel's role with the 2019 49ers as a template for how to use Shenault.

Other Options: With nothing of note behind Sutton on their depth chart, the Broncos would be wise to draft multiple wide receivers, or at least a tight end that can help them shift toward more two-TE looks and fewer three-WR alignments. Penn State's KJ Hamler would be a major slot upgrade on DaeSean Hamilton, while Dayton's Adam Trautman is a 255-pound TE and likely Day 3 prospect who could challenge Jeff Heuerman and Nick Vannett for the No. 2 job behind Noah Fant.

Los Angeles Chargers

Biggest Need: Franchise Quarterback

The Match: The 2010s brought us a bunch of QB draft busts matching the following description: tall white guy with a big arm who runs a fast 40-yard dash for his size but isn't actually a skilled runner, coming off a good but not dominant college career. Is it silly to dismiss Oregon QB Justin Herbert on the grounds of a fairly shallow aesthetic comparison? Probably. Will I do it anyway in my rookie auctions/drafts? Absolutely. Do the Chargers care what I think? For sure not.

Other Options: I'm a fan of Justin Jackson, but I'm not so sure the Chargers agree, given how Austin Ekeler dominated work when Melvin Gordon was absent insSeptember. Gordon is now off to Denver, leaving the Chargers with 200-pound Ekeler and 199-pound Jackson in their backfield. Boston College product AJ Dillon is a 247-pound behemoth who might be available when the Chargers pick at 71st overall in Round 3.

AFC South

Houston Texans

Biggest Need: New GM and Head Coach

The Match: Lincoln Riley.

Other Options: The Texans can use the first-round pick they acquired in the DeAndre Hopkins trade to... oh, wait. Nevermind. But really, they could use more help at wide receiver even after the Randall Cobb signing, with both Will Fuller and Kenny Stills entering contract seasons. Options in Round 2 could include Clemson's Tee Higgins, Baylor's Denzel Mims and Arizona State's Brandon Aiyuk, among others.

Tennessee Titans

Biggest Need: RB depth/passing-down back

The Match: This is a much lower priority than various weaknesses on defense, as Derrick Henry has actually held his own on passing downs when given the chance. The Titans should be fine using a mid-round pick to replace Dion Lewis, who was cut this offseason after disappointing the past two years. Appalachian State's Darrynton Evans and Maryland's Anthony McFarland weren't super productive as pass catchers in college, but they both show the speed — 4.41 and 4.44, respectively — to develop into effective third-down backs in the NFL.

Other Options: Corey Davis is entering the fourth season of his rookie contract and could be cut next offseason even if he gets the fifth-year option (it's guaranteed for injury only). If ever there were a draft to find a decent WR prospect in the fifth round, this would be the one. Maybe the Titans get lucky and stumble into Kentucky WR Lynn Bowden or South Carolina WR Bryan Edwards in Round 5.

Indianapolis Colts

Biggest Need: Tight End

The Match: Jack Doyle is a solid inline tight end, but his lack of speed is visible to the naked eye, and it also shows up in a career average of 9.0 yards per catch. The Colts should replace Eric Ebron with a catch-first TE like Missouri's Albert Okwuegbunam or Florida Atlantic's Harrison Bryant. The former likely requires a Day 2 pick, while the latter could make it to Day 3. The Colts traded their first-round selection to San Francisco, but they do have picks at Nos. 34 and 44 overall.

Other Options: I really don't hate a WR trio of T.Y. Hilton, Parris Campbell and Zach Pascal, but it definitely requires optimism to anticipate all three being healthy and productive at the same time. The Colts could use some size at the position, and Liberty's Antonio Gandy-Golden is a likely mid-round pick who has inches and pounds to spare (6-4, 223). 

Jacksonville Jaguars

Biggest Need: Wide Receiver

The Match: The Jaguars essentially get a 'TBD' grade at every skill position, with Gardner Minshew, Leonard Fournette, Tyler Eifert and even DJ Chark still having a lot left to prove. Meanwhile, Dede Westbrook and Chris Conley are entering contract seasons, and the Jags have major needs along the offensive line and on the defense side. The depth of this draft should allow them to wait until pick No. 73 and still grab an impressive WR prospect like Devin Duvernay, who went for 1,386 receiving yards his senior season at Texas. Duvernay primarily worked from the slot in college, but his 4.39 40 time (at 200 pounds) implies inside/outside versatility.

Other Options: Forget about the patient approach and use one of those two first-round picks on a burner like Henry Ruggs or Denzel Mims.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jerry Donabedian
Jerry was a 2018 finalist for the FSWA's Player Notes Writer of the Year and DFS Writer of the Year awards. A Baltimore native, Jerry roots for the Ravens and watches "The Wire" in his spare time.
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