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From the Bears to the Jets: teams that need to nail this year’s NFL draft

In theory, the NFL draft is an even playing field. Unlike the Super Bowl, you don’t automatically win the draft because Patrick Mahomes is nestled on your roster. Teams are free to build draft capital or ship it away in lieu of constructing the missing parts of their roster through trades and free agency.

But the reality in 2024 is that, while a team like the Houston Texans can preen around for a while after nailing last year’s draft, the pressure for most other teams is sky high. The teams below range from the terrible to those who need a bit of help to get to the next level.

Buffalo Bills

Position needs: Wide receiver, defensive end, safety.

The Bills have their quarterback. What they don’t have is even one Super Bowl appearance in the Josh Allen-Sean McDermott era, despite getting awfully close. But close isn’t good enough any more.

Now they’ve traded away Stefon Diggs and are hampered with the biggest non-QB dead money in NFL history. They also released impact players like Jordan Poyer and Tre’Davious White.

Clearly Buffalo need to draft a stud wideout. The options are vast, though they may need to trade up to get their guy (while the Bills have 10 picks in 2024, only two of those are before the fourth round.) They also need help at safety having bid farewell to Poyer and Micah Hyde, and they could do with a long-term option at defensive end as well. Other than Allen (and maybe Ed Oliver), Brandon Beane has failed to find studs in the draft. Given the financial hits from Diggs’s dead money and Allen’s mega deal, that has to change or Buffalo are in danger of taking a big step back.

Chicago Bears

Position needs: Quarterback, defensive line, edge.

There are two lenses through which to view Chicago’s upcoming nuptials with Caleb Williams, the presumptive No 1 pick. The first is that Williams is being handed to Chicago on a platter. His insane playmaking ability and mindboggling accuracy have earned Williams the “generational talent” label. Picking Williams is a no brainer, so it’s really the No 9 pick where the pressure on GM Ryan Poles gets cranked up. Presumably Poles will opt for a defender, perhaps a pass rush threat to pair with Montez Sweat. Whether he hits or misses on that player, or trades down to collect more picks, is the real question since Williams is such an obvious pick. Even if he underperforms, Chicago won’t feel the heat because nearly every other team in the NFL would have gone for him.

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Except … the layers enveloping the decision to hand the keys to Williams run deep. Chicago shipped away Justin Fields who has looked like a legitimate franchise quarterback at times, and the Bears got virtually nothing in return. They have added weapons for Williams in the form of Keenan Allen and D’Andre Swift, and boast a serviceable and deep offensive line. But mostly Chicago cannot miss again under center, especially with a draft class swirling with other potentially great quarterbacks. The wounds from the Mitch Trubisky era and how the Bears could have picked Mahomes instead that year still run deep. If in a few years we’re mocking Chicago for taking Williams when they could have picked future Hall of Famers Jayden Daniels and Drake Maye, the team may actually implode.

Denver Broncos

Position needs: Quarterback, cornerback, wide receiver, edge.

Denver need a lot of pieces but mostly they need direction. Russell Wilson is gone, though Denver are saddled with $53m in dead money for 2024. Right now, the Broncos’ top quarterback is Jarrett Stidham, a man who has thrown eight career touchdown passes. Will Sean Payton be able to accomplish what John Elway was not and find a franchise QB? It will require pulling a rabbit out of a helmet. The Broncos have the No 12 pick but the top four passers could easily be gone at that point. After No 12, Denver don’t select again until the third round, and only have eight total picks, so they’re not exactly working with a ton of draft capital. GM George Paton filled a few holes in free agency, most notably signing Brandon Jones to replace Justin Simmons at safety.

But by virtue of playing in the same division as the Kansas City Chiefs and a Los Angeles Chargers team that could drastically improve under John Harbaugh, the clock is ticking on the Payton era.

Los Angeles Chargers

Position needs: Offensive tackle, edge, running back.

We wouldn’t even ponder that the Chargers are a possible worst-to-first contender if they hadn’t landed this year’s biggest free-agent, Jim Harbaugh. Harbaugh and Justin Herbert are a tremendous nucleus, but the Chargers more than any other team will be packed with new players in 2024. The team shed four defensive starters, along with Keenan Allen, Mike Williams, and Austin Ekeler on the other side of the ball.

What Los Angeles do with the No 5 overall pick is one of the most intriguing dilemmas of this year’s draft. Conceivably, they could have their pick of any non-quarterback. Do they draft a tackle to pair with Rashawn Slater? Do they find a new weapon for Herbert? Or perhaps they trade down and spread out the roster building.

No one believes Harbaugh will turn the Chargers into Super Bowl contenders in year one but that doesn’t mean the expectations aren’t enormous. The draft decisions Harbaugh and Joe Hortiz make in 2024 will set the tone for their leadership. Remember the in-fighting between Harbaugh and GM Trent Baalke had a lot to do with Harbaugh’s departure from San Francisco.

Minnesota Vikings

Position needs: Quarterback, cornerback.

It’s no secret the Vikings will be targeting a franchise quarterback after letting Kirk Cousins go. This draft will be the team’s most important in recent history. With the 11th and 23rd picks, not to mention seven further picks in the later rounds, Minnesota have plenty of draft capital with which to operate. Anything and everything is on the table, except Caleb Williams. We don’t yet know if the Vikings have anointed any of the other QBs as the second coming. Perhaps they are comfortable waiting to see who is available and letting their quarterback whisperer head coach Kevin O’Connell do his thing. Trading up seems more plausible, though.

Minnesota will also need to build around their new quarterback. Another offensive weapon would be ideal as would more offensive line depth. They could use an upgrade at cornerback as well.

But let’s be real, the direction of the Vikings will be determined by who the Vikings select as their quarterback. If they trade away their present and their future and find the next Josh Allen, that’s fantastic. If they stay put, get their guy and he’s a bust, yikes. Third year GM Kwesi Adofo-Mensah doesn’t have a lengthy enough tenure to for us to make a solid prediction of who he will go for. But if he gets this wrong, he and O’Connell may not be around to fix it.

New York Jets

Position Needs: Offensive line, wide receiver, safety, quarterback.

GM Joe Douglas has been busy this offseason. He fortified the offensive line as promised, bringing in three new starters, including one of the best left tackles in recent history, Tyron Smith. But he still needs to add another impact player or two given that this new-look line isn’t exactly teeming with spring chickens and some, including Smith, have a history of injury issues.

New York have the No 10 pick overall and like so many teams could go several directions. That includes snagging one of these studs wideouts to add to a receiver room featuring Garrett Wilson, Mike Williams, and Xavier Gipson.

The Jets also need to start considering a successor to Aaron Rodgers, who will be 41 in December, deeper in the draft. It should be noted that New York have the Mr Irrelevant pick this season. But it should also be noted that things like the Brock Purdy Miracle don’t happen to the Jets.

Mostly, the pressure is on Douglas and Robert Saleh – who gave up a 2024 second-round pick in the Rodgers trade – to not only hit on a few young impact players in this draft for the future, but keep their roster healthy in the present. Rodgers is returning from the achilles injury he suffered in Week 1 last season. Williams, coming off ACL surgery, may not even be ready for training camp. And as improved as the offensive line appears, guard Alijah Vera-Tucker is coming off achilles surgery and OT Morgan Moses had an operation on a torn pectoral.