NFL draft questions for teams in the top 10: Will the Colts trade up? Can the Lions fix their defense?
The 2023 NFL combine is in full swing, which means that the NFL draft is swiftly approaching. This year’s draft will offer plenty of excitement, starting right at the top. The Chicago Bears are “leaning toward” trading the No. 1 pick, sources told ESPN’s Adam Schefter. And with multiple quarterback-needy teams in the top 10 of this year’s draft, there’s a lot at play here.
Most draft decisions will be made after the combine and free agency, but all 32 teams are already putting together their draft boards and starting to figure out their plans for Round 1. Today, we’re just focusing on the first 10 teams set to pick in April, all of which have a lot of intrigue surrounding them. We asked each of our NFL Nation reporters for those 10 teams one big early question, including positions the teams could target and how they might approach their Day 1 picks.
Which top prospect fits best with the Bears’ plans? Will the Lions use both of their first-round picks on defense? Are the Falcons potentially in on one of the top quarterbacks? Let’s dig in.
CHI | HOU | ARI | IND | SEA
DET | LV | ATL | CAR | PHI
Taking the trade-back possibility out of it, does Will Anderson Jr. or Jalen Carter fit better with the Bears’ defensive plans?
Either would well fit in coach Matt Eberflus’ 4-3 defense, as Chicago ranked last in sacks (20) and quarterback hits (43) in 2022. But Eberflus said the 3-technique defensive tackle — the position Carter plays — is the “engine that makes everything go,” and he had a similar type of player with the Indianapolis Colts in DeForest Buckner. Game-wrecking under-tackles don’t become available in free agency all that often, so the draft is likely the best path for Chicago to address this position.
Anderson, on the other hand, could replace what the Bears had on the edge with Khalil Mack. The Alabama product was one of college football’s best edge rushers and run-stoppers, and he could provide an immediate boost at defensive end. But Carter in the middle of the defensive line seems like the better fit at this point, and edge rusher should be a top priority for the Bears in free agency.
A Wednesday morning update here, though: The Athens-Clarke County Police Department has secured arrest warrants for Carter stemming from his alleged involvement in a fatal crash involving a teammate, and he will be arrested for reckless driving and racing. Chicago will obviously monitor this situation. — Courtney Cronin
How can the Texans set up whichever QB they draft for success?
Houston has to add more targets, and it has a second first-rounder at No. 12 overall. The receiver spot is a question, especially since there’s still uncertainty whether Brandin Cooks, who was the team leader in receiving yards (699), will be traded or return after demanding a trade during the 2022 season.
But regardless of what happens with Cooks, the Texans must add another receiver or two through the draft. They were 28th last season in WR receiving yards at 2,154. A wideout like USC’s Jordan Addison, Boston College’s Zay Flowers, Ohio State’s Jaxon Smith-Njigba or TCU’s Quentin Johnston could make the new quarterback’s life easier. — DJ Bien-Aime
Is it safe to assume GM Monti Ossenfort and the Cardinals will go with the best defender on their board here?
You know what they say about assuming. There are some glaring needs on defense, so a pass-rusher wouldn’t be a shock at No. 3, especially since Arizona finished with 36 sacks (tied for the seventh fewest in the NFL). Losing J.J. Watt to retirement and the possibility of losing Zach Allen in free agency should put a sense of urgency on rebuilding a pass rush that was consistently one of the best in the NFL for years before last season’s drop-off.
Arizona will move away from the “best player available” approach under Ossenfort and focus on drafting for need. But “best defender available” could make sense, especially since one or both of Anderson and Carter should be on the board when the Cardinals pick. — Josh Weinfuss
What’s your early gut feeling on the likelihood that the Colts a) stay home at No. 4 and draft a QB, b) trade up to get a QB, or c) go another route?
It’s a tough call because we don’t yet have a great read on the Colts’ evaluation of the available quarterbacks, which makes it difficult to understand how motivated they might be to make a move. But in the end, I lean toward the Colts staying at No. 4 overall.
General manager Chris Ballard has not made a trade up the board in the first round in the six previous drafts he has overseen. In fact, he’s far more likely to trade down. Staying at No. 4 will still afford the Colts one of the top QBs — a group that includes Alabama’s Bryce Young, Ohio State’s C.J. Stroud, Kentucky’s Will Levis and Florida’s Anthony Richardson — while protecting other picks necessary to help build around that new QB. — Stephen Holder
Seattle is one of five teams with two first-round picks. How would its ideal Round 1 play out in April?
Let’s start with the assumption that the Seahawks will either sign quarterback Geno Smith to a multiyear deal or franchise-tag him before the March 7 deadline, freeing them up to devote their early-round draft capital to improving the front seven of their defense. If they like Carter and Anderson as much as draft analysts do, then an ideal scenario would be the Bears trading the No. 1 overall pick to a quarterback-needy team that’s currently outside the top five, improving the odds that three QBs are taken in the top four and leaving at least one of those two defenders available at No. 5.
The 20th overall pick is right around the part of the first round where Seattle could be tempted to trade back, though there might be less urgency since the Seahawks already have three Day 2 picks. Ideally, the best player on their board at this point would align with whatever remaining needs they have. That could include defensive tackle, edge rusher, inside linebacker or center. — Brady Henderson
Will the Lions use both of their first-round picks on defense, and which positions need the most help?
After ranking near the bottom of the league in most defensive stats for a second consecutive year, it makes sense for the Lions’ front office to address that aspect immediately. Detroit’s offense has proved it can thrive with quarterback Jared Goff running the show, ranking as a top-five unit, but the Lions have to strengthen the defense to build off their first winning season since 2017. They gave up more than 6 yards per play in 2022, and only two teams allowed more points (25.1 per game).
The Lions could use a defensive end and a cornerback to take the next step in their rebuild, and the first round should offer multiple options for both positions at each of their pick slots. — Eric Woodyard
If Las Vegas addresses quarterback in free agency, what becomes the focus for this pick?
Well, it depends on whether GM Dave Ziegler and coach Josh McDaniels favor need or best player available. A veteran quarterback could join Las Vegas with the primary condition of the Raiders upgrading the offensive line, too. That means a plug-and-play offensive tackle would be in play.
Otherwise, it’s all defense. I expect the Raiders to seriously consider adding another pass-rusher or a shutdown cornerback with their No. 7 pick. Yeah, you’ve heard this before, but the Raiders allowed 7.3 yards per pass attempt (25th) and managed just six interceptions (tied for last) in 2022. — Paul Gutierrez
Are the Falcons confident enough in Desmond Ridder to pass on a quarterback if one of the top guys falls to them at No. 8?
Who can say with extreme confidence right now whether Levis or Richardson is better than Ridder, last year’s third-round pick? If Young or Stroud were somehow available at No. 8, it would certainly be worth a conversation inside Atlanta’s draft room, but even then, it would depend on what the Falcons did pre-draft at the spot. Atlanta liked Ridder’s work ethic and improvement as his rookie season went along, and he threw two touchdown passes and zero interceptions in four games. Considering the big needs on defense and potentially the offensive line, the Falcons would likely pass on a quarterback here.
Here’s one other thing to watch, though: Can the Falcons convince another team to trade up to get the No. 8 pick if a QB is there, giving them more capital to help rebuild the roster? — Michael Rothstein
Could Carolina spend big on a quarterback in free agency and draft one here?
No, spending big on a quarterback in free agency is almost out of the question with the team’s salary cap situation. The Panthers’ cap room currently ranks in the lower half of the league. In all likelihood, they will sign a veteran who has the potential to be a bridge at a backup price. And don’t be surprised if the Panthers trade up into the top three or four picks to get their choice of quarterback. GM Scott Fitterer has been adamant in the past that the best long-term solution for building a championship-caliber roster is with a quarterback on a rookie deal. — David Newton
The Eagles just went to a Super Bowl but have a lot of players hitting free agency. What are their biggest offseason needs?
Eight of their 11 defensive starters from 2022 are pending free agents, and three of those players are defensive linemen: Fletcher Cox, Javon Hargrave and Brandon Graham. Even if one or more of them are re-signed, the front office places a high priority on the trenches and will want to replenish that area.
Cornerback is another position to watch, especially if James Bradberry signs elsewhere when free agency opens in mid-March. — Tim McManus