Not every NFL team has made the same buy-in for this year’s draft.
Several franchises have opted against waiting until the end of April to cash in on their chips, instead flipping their picks to acquire big-ticket veteran quarterbacks and receivers in trades. That divergence has created an imbalance in draft capital, as eight teams are without first-round picks this year while another eight own two.
It’s only natural, then, that this draft will have heavier consequences for some general managers and coaches than others. And while each franchise would like to serve its long-term interests while addressing immediate needs, some will have to balance the two considerations in draft deliberations.
With that in mind, here are the 10 teams with the most at stake in this year’s NFL draft:
1. Green Bay Packers
The return of Aaron Rodgers combined with the trade of Davante Adams created a unique dilemma. No team with a comparable win-now mandate enters the draft with as big of a positional problem as the Packers face at wide receiver. Adams alone accounted for more than one-third of Green Bay’s receiving yards (1,553 of 4,526), and the departure of Marquez Valdes-Scantling, who signed with the Chiefs, left the offense without a natural successor for a No. 1 target with whom Rodgers has an established rapport. It should pretty much be a lock, then, that general manager Brian Gutekunst will end the Packers’ nearly two-decade first-round receiver drought by using at least one of his two Day 1 choices on a pass catcher. But an expected run at the position in the early-to-middle portion of the round could leave Green Bay with scant options capable of contributing from the outset, so zeroing in on the right prospect will be crucial. With two second-rounders as well, Green Bay could be in line to add depth along both its fronts to bolster its chances for a Super Bowl run in Rodgers’ remaining years.
2. Carolina Panthers
Many teams earned placement on this list thanks to their wealth of draft capital. Carolina, by contrast, lands here due to the team’s shortage of it. The Panthers pick at No. 6 and then not again until No. 137, late in the fourth round. That’s not an enviable spot for a franchise needing to upgrade at quarterback and left tackle, the two positions to which general manager Scott Fitterer acknowledged the team had narrowed its first-round focus. The most economical option, then, might be to trade back and add Day 2 ammo. Good luck, however, finding a partner. And even if Carolina could find a taker, slipping back too far risks falling out of range of the premier tier of signal-callers or pass protectors. No matter what direction the Panthers take, however, their top pick will be called on to jump-start an offense that has been essentially rudderless since Matt Rhule’s arrival as coach.
3. New York Jets
What do you get the team that needs almost everything? That’s the question for general manager Joe Douglas, who has second-year quarterback Zach Wilson in place but few other foundational pieces. Fortunately, with two picks in the top 10 and four in the first 38, Gang Green will have ample opportunity to infuse young talent at several key areas. Among the priorities are wide receiver, where Douglas’ failed attempt at acquiring Tyreek Hill seems to signal an interest in adding a splashy target for Wilson, and defensive end, as coach Robert Saleh will depend on significant progress from the pass rush to fuel the last-place defense’s turnaround. But Douglas can’t be boxed in by positional constraints alone, and he’ll need to provide a solid return on the final assets from the Jamal Adams and Sam Darnold trades.
4. New York Giants
Leaving behind the No. 7 overall pick this year as part of last spring’s trade with the Chicago Bears was about the only favor that Dave Gettleman did for the G-Men’s new regime, as coach Brian Daboll and general manager Joe Schoen are saddled with a cap-strapped group still lugging around a good deal of dead weight. To get off on the right foot, Schoen must set right several of Gettleman’s wrongs. Most notably, that entails repairing the offensive front, an effort that began in free agency but will remain incomplete until a cornerstone offensive tackle is added – and it wouldn’t hurt to upgrade at left guard or center, either. The Giants’ long underperforming edge rush is another sore spot that should be addressed within the first two rounds, and cornerback should also be a priority with James Bradberry seemingly on the outs given his $21.8 million cap hit for 2022.
5. Detroit Lions
The stakes of this draft are not lost on coach Dan Campbell and general manager Brad Holmes, the latter of whom said his team was on the hunt for a “game-changer” with the No. 2 overall pick. Identifying that player might be the most crucial task for the duo, but the franchise will also be under pressure to make the first of its two first-round selections from the Matthew Stafford trade pay off. Holmes’ work unearthing future starters for the Rams with Day 2 and 3 picks was part of what helped him land the top job in Detroit, and replicating his efforts will be vital for a defense that needs help at every level.
6. Kansas City Chiefs
In a spring in which the rest of the AFC West engineered bold signings or trades, the Chiefs instead took a long-term view and opted to retool by sending All-Pro wide receiver Tyreek Hill to the Dolphins for a pick package that included first-, second and fourth-round selections this year. Now equipped with two picks at the end of the first round and four of the top 62 selections, coach Andy Reid and GM Brett Veach have to replenish an outfit in danger of losing its six-year stranglehold on the division. The Chiefs certainly have the means to move up the order, and perhaps the motivation is there as well given Veach’s history of aggressive deals involving the draft. Wide receiver and defensive end would be obvious potential targets if Veach moves up, but Kansas City also could stay put and try to address each spot on Day 1.
7. New Orleans Saints
One of the themes of this offseason has been aspiring contenders trading out of the first day of this year’s draft in an effort to pick up veteran help. One outlier: New Orleans, which parted with 2023’s first-rounder to position itself with two choices in the top 20. After making a serious run at Deshaun Watson, the Saints could have an eye toward Malik Willis or Kenny Pickett if either signal-caller is within striking range. But a franchise that has staved off a rebuild for years might look to bolster its playoff chances in the weakened NFC by adding two immediate starters. At Nos. 16 and 19, the Saints should be in a good spot to land a long-sought complement to Michael Thomas at wide receiver, but finding a fill-in for departed left tackle Terron Armstead could prove difficult. Whatever route general manager Mickey Loomis takes, he’ll need a sufficient payoff to alleviate the sting of having to sit out the first round next year.
8. Seattle Seahawks
With the franchise’s poor drafting finally proving to be insurmountable, a Seahawks team coming off its first losing campaign in 10 years is staring down an imposing rebuild — even if the current regime won’t acknowledge it. That effort might not hit high gear until next offseason, when Seattle will have multiple first-round picks thanks to the Russell Wilson trade and could be poised to make a big swing for one of the top quarterbacks. Still, if Pete Carroll is to field an even mildly competitive crew in 2022, there are deficiencies to address at key spots, most notably offensive tackle and cornerback. For a team short on young talent and chasing three playoff squads within the division (including the defending-champion Rams), it’s imperative that general manager John Schneider find reliable starters with their three Day 2 picks (Nos. 40, 41 and 72).
9. Jacksonville Jaguars
An overly aggressive free-agency spending spree reinforced what was already readily evident: This roster is in serious disrepair. That freewheeling approach might highlight that patience is at a premium, especially after Jacksonville squandered its first year of Trevor Lawrence’s rookie contract on the Urban Meyer fiasco. Taking Michigan defensive end Aidan Hutchinson with the No. 1 overall pick would be the widely expected and perhaps most sensible move for a franchise in need of reliable contributors and locker-room leaders, but could general manager Trent Baalke throw everyone for a loop by instead grabbing Georgia defensive end Travon Walker? Eschewing one of the most accomplished defensive prospects in years for a talented but underdeveloped alternative would earn Baalke even more ridicule for his already rocky stewardship of the franchise.
10. Philadelphia Eagles
The pressure has eased considerably since Philadelphia essentially swapped one of its three first-round picks for an additional Day 1 choice in 2023 via a trade with the Saints. Still, the Eagles are one of five teams with two selections in the top 20 and own five of the top 101 picks. Regardless of whether Jalen Hurts entrenches himself as the starter or the team sets the table to acquire an alternative next year, elevating this team from the middle of the NFC will require more young, low-cost talent. Despite taking two first-round receivers in the last two years (Jalen Reagor and DeVonta Smith) and a second-rounder in 2019 (JJ Arcega-Whiteside), Philadelphia looks very much in the market for another pass catcher. The first round should set up nicely for the Eagles to add help there as well as along the defensive line or in the secondary, but GM Howie Roseman will have to follow up last year’s strong class with another formidable group after a few years of spotty returns.
Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Michael Middlehurst-Schwartz on Twitter @MikeMSchwartz.