Six teams have already traded out of the first round of the 2020 NFL Draft, the same number that ultimately did so in 2019. In 2018, four teams went without a first-round pick and each of them (Texans, Chiefs, Eagles and Rams) made the playoffs while combining for a record of 45-19.
Unfortunately, 2019 did not offer the same fate for teams absent of a selection among the first 32 picks. The six teams (Colts, Browns, Chiefs, Cowboys, Saints and Bears) combined for a record of 54-42 with just two playoff teams included. But Kansas City managed to win the Super Bowl and boast a 12-4 record without the contributions of a first-round selection.
Over the last two drafts, 10 teams were without a first-round pick and they finished with a combined regular-season record of 99-61 with six playoff appearances. Only two of them (Colts and Browns) had a sub-.500 record in the season following a draft without a first-round pick.
Let’s examine how the draft focus has shifted for the six teams not currently scheduled to pick in the first round.
The Bills’ top priority this offseason was to add a playmaking wide receiver for Josh Allen and given the lack of free-agent options, the expectation was the answer would come through the draft via pick No. 22 or a trade up. Mission accomplished for general manager Brandon Beane after he landed star receiver Stefon Diggs whose separation ability, vertical receiving skills and proven talent in the league are perfect to surround the Bills’ young quarterback.
Now slated to pick at No. 54 overall for the first time, Buffalo has a modest slate of needs including cornerback, backup running back and adding youth at defensive end.
If cornerback is the route the Bills, Virginia’s Bryce Hall or Utah’s Jaylon Johnson are potential targets that offer the right set of skills for their zone defense. Buffalo could also be in striking distance to land one of the top running backs in the class to complement Devin Singletary and provide even more playmakers in the offense. The near-complete roster that Beane has assembled positions Buffalo to let the talent fall and pounce on the top talent available regardless of position.
The Bears are still paying their debts for acquiring superstar pass rusher Khalil Mack and aren’t scheduled to make a first-round pick for a second consecutive year. They do own two second-round selections in Nos. 43 and 50. Given the depth of this year’s class, Chicago should be able to land two talented prospects to help bounce back from last year’s 8-8 mark after a 12-4 record in 2018.
The Bears’ top remaining needs to address are cornerback, interior offensive line and safety which play perfectly to the way this year’s class stacks up. There is plenty of starting-caliber talent at all three positions and it’s safe to think Chicago is positioned well to land two of them in the second round.
The Texans have curiously depleted themselves of premium draft capital while simultaneously trading away premium talent. This strategy puts considerable stress for Houston to hit on the draft picks it does have and the Texans currently own pick Nos. 43 and 57 in the coming draft.
Houston is in good shape to land a wide receiver and take advantage of a deep and talented crop available in this year’s draft. But even bigger needs exist on a defense that ranked in the bottom five of the league in 2019 and has done next to nothing to improve the personnel so far this offseason while losing one of its key pieces in D.J. Reader.
The Colts are primed to bounce back from the whirlwind that was the 2019 season after losing Andrew Luck to retirement and seeing two division rivals reach the postseason. Philip Rivers is the new Colts’ quarterback and general manager parted with his first-round pick in exchange for defensive linemen DeForest Buckner, a move that suggests Indianapolis is all-in on taking advantage of this window to win with Rivers.
While Indianapolis is without a first-round pick, the Colts are picking at Nos. 34 and 44 in the second round. Perhaps those can be used as trade chips to move back into the first round and snatch quarterback Jordan Love should he fall a bit. Otherwise, Indianapolis can focus on landing another weapon for Rivers in the passing game at tight end or wide receiver.
The Colts are in prime position to let talent fall to them and land two impact prospects despite being without a pick on Day 1.
Los Angeles Rams
While the Rams do have an elite cornerback in Jalen Ramsey, they are without a first-round pick until the 2022 draft. With a host of needs due to an unbalanced approach to constructing the roster, the Rams have to make every pick it does have count.
With glaring needs at linebacker, edge, cornerback and offensive line, the Rams can’t laser in on any one spot but rather hope for a steal when it comes to the best player remaining on the board at No. 52 overall. A trade back should also be within the realm of consideration for Los Angeles given its needs and lack of premium draft capital.
After spoiling an elite defensive unit in 2019 due to insurmountable injuries on offense, the Steelers are primed to bounce back this season with a healthy Ben Roethlisberger, JuJu Smith-Schuster and James Conner. Part of what made the defense such a stout unit last season was the trade for safety Minkah Fitzpatrick who stabilized the secondary with a playmaking presence. At the expense of pick No. 18, Pittsburgh should have no regrets in landing a prize like Fitzpatrick who is just 23 years old and under team control for three more seasons.
Pittsburgh has to wait until pick No. 49 where they should have plenty of options. An investment in the defensive line to help replace the loss of Javon Hargrave is certainly a possibility or Pittsburgh could consider its options in a deep class of offensive line talent to provide much-needed depth and long-term options where questions are starting to mount. Adding more depth at pass rusher isn’t out of the question nor should the idea of bringing another offensive weapon to the mix.