We look at the teams that did the most to help themselves during the 2017 NFL Draft

 

It’s a cliche, but it’s true: “every team got better this week.” However, the NFL standings are a zero-sum game. We can’t claim that every single team added a win to their record this weekend because those wins have to come from somewhere else.

Here’s my best estimation of the teams that actually helped make themselves a playoff contender for THIS season. Some caveats on this:

— I remind you: I’m looking at this season (2017) only. Kansas City trading up for QB Pat Mahomes may help them in the long run, but it won’t mean much to their playoff hopes in 2017. Conversely, Buffalo trading down for a future 1st rounder will definitely help them in the long run, but won’t mean much in 2017.

— Some positions make a more immediate impact than others, so I’m trying to take that into account as well. Quarterbacks (and cornerbacks) tend to struggle as rookies, for example.

— I’m trying to focus on teams with a legitimate chance to make the playoffs in 2017. The Cleveland Browns added the most talent (by far) via the draft, by sheer volume alone. I would count 6 possible starters in their class, and 1 potential Pro Bowler (yes, even as a rookie) in Myles Garrett. However, that may mean the difference between 2 wins and 5 wins, so at the end of the day, it won’t mean much to the playoff landscape.

With that said, here are the teams that I believe helped their playoff chances the most.

(5) Arizona Cardinals

instant impact adds

LB Haason Reddick (R1), DB Budda Baker (R2), G Dorian Johnson (R4)

Most people presumed the Cardinals would look to find Carson Palmer‘s heir apparent in this draft, but either by choice or by circumstance, they did not. That could end up biting them in the long run, but in terms of 2017 play, it should help them stay in the playoff picture.

This Cardinals defense, while awesome, had a few holes here and there. Speedsters Haason Reddick and Budda Baker should help in that regard; they’re going to be quick contributors whose versatility will allow the team to be even faster and more multiple. Meanwhile, Dorian Johnson gives the team another starting-caliber lineman to help their running game.

(4) Carolina Panthers

instant impact adds

RB Christian McCaffrey (R1), WR Curtis Samuel (R2), OT Taylor Moton (R2)

I’m actually not in love with this draft class in terms of long-term value, but it’s going to add an instant jolt of electricity to their 2017 hopes.

In fact, adding McCaffrey and Samuel reminds of the Kansas Chiefs adding Tyreek Hill last year. The Chiefs offense was always decent but not good enough to be a true contender; for a time, it appeared Hill added that star factor that made the team legitimately dangerous in the playoffs. Even if they’re not full-time starters, McCaffrey and Samuel can add that type of jolt.

Like Dorian Johnson in ARI, Taylor Moton could be starting quickly for the team as well.

(3) Washington Redskins

instant impact adds

DT Jonathan Allen (R1), LB Ryan Anderson (R2), CB Fabian Moreau (R3), RB Samaje Perine (R4)

No matter what the Redskins management thinks, Kirk Cousins is a top 12 QB. Or at the very least, he plays like a top 12 QB. But Cousins can’t make the playoffs on his own, particularly with a defense that’s soft up front and filled with holes.

Enter their 2017 class. There are some long-term injury concerns about Jonathan Allen (as well as ever Alabama player, it seems), but there’s no denying his ability to contribute right away. Similarly, Ryan Anderson is a sturdy vet from an elite program who should be able to contribute immediately. It’s a smart short-term spark to a defense in desperate need of help.

(2) Houston Texans

instant impact adds

QB Deshaun Watson (R1), LB Zach Cunningham (R2), DT Carlos Watkins (R4)

Hey, wait, you gave a whole “caveat” explaining how rookie QBs tend to struggle? And yes, that’s true. However, Deshaun Watson is a three-year starter who’s used to winning his job early on. He started his first year in high school, and college, and I expect him to quickly win over the locker room and coaching staff in Houston.

I doubt Watson will be a good starting QB as a rookie, and he may not even be league average. But anything close to that mark should be able to help to keep the Texans in the playoff hunt in an improving AFC South. I’m not a Tom Savage guy, so I don’t believe he would have been consistent enough to win 10 games. Watson, in a limited and managed role, can.

Adding solid vets like Cunningham and Watkins to the defense can only help; after all, that dominant D will be the reason a rookie QB will be able to make the playoffs.

(1) Los Angeles Chargers

instant impact adds

WR Mike Williams (R1), OG Forrest Lamp (R2), OG Dan Feeney (R3), CB Desmond King (R5)

This isn’t the splashiest draft class in the world, but it could be the most impactful. It’s ironic though because I actually ranked the selection of WR Mike Williams as one of the worst picks in the first round. In my mind, he didn’t address the team’s biggest needs.

Fortunately, the other picks did. The highlight of the class to me is CB Desmond King in R5; it may be my favorite pick in the entire draft. I’ve listed King among the most underrated prospects in the draft, and that’s when I thought he’d be going in R3. King’s not a super freak athlete, but he’s tough and well-trained in terms of technique. He’s a four-year starter with good ball skills (including 8 interceptions in 2015). I’m not saying that Desmond King will be the next Richard Sherman (a R5 pick himself) but he can be a poor man’s version of that. It’s an excellent value in R5, even if his name will be lost in the shuffle of the week.

The same can be said for their R2/R3 picks. Forrest Lamp and Dan Feeney are interior linemen who should be able to contribute right away. Linemen (particularly centers/guards) are safe picks who can transition into the starting lineup quickly. I would expect both to be starting by the end of the year.

I’m not going to pick the Chargers to make the playoffs, necessarily, but I’d at least consider it. And that’s why they rank #1 on this list for me. Before the draft, I didn’t give them a second thought as a playoff contender. However, I actually believe they have a puncher’s chance now. Put Philip Rivers behind a decent offensive line, and you’re going to put up points. Gus Bradley’s defense has some good pieces as well in Joey Bosa, Denzel Perryman, and Jason Verrett.

The AFC West isn’t as strong as it usually is (especially if you note the Raiders’ point differential from last year), allowing the door to crack open for a potential upset.

 

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