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2024 NFL Draft: Nine teams that most need to ace their picks

All 32 teams will tell you they need a good draft, naturally.

The Houston Texans certainly would. Their 2023 draft class was a seismic franchise-shifter. So would the Detroit Lions, who appeared to capitalize on their slew of high picks with immediate results. Even the Carolina Panthers should reluctantly agree after watching C.J. Stroud outperform Bryce Young during the quarterbacks' rookie year.

So yes, every team would love the 2024 NFL Draft to unfold as favorably as possible. That is obvious. But let's face it: Some teams really need things to go right this April, for both short- and long-term reasons.

You'd be hard-pressed to get an NFL decision-maker to admit it on the record, but some teams' drafts just mean more than others' will. I tried to narrow it down to the most pressing situations, but also those with the most at stake or those with the most (or fewest) disposable resources.

Here are nine teams that absolutely must nail the draft this year.

Denver Broncos
Total draft picks: 8

The Broncos cut ties with Russell Wilson this offseason and currently have the least-experienced QB room in the NFL. Finding a quarterback is absolutely essential for Sean Payton this offseason, but herein lies the rub: They don’t have many tradable assets, and the rest of the roster is in tough shape.

Sitting at No. 12 in the 2024 NFL Draft, plus owning all their future Day 1 and 2 picks, all Denver lacks when it comes to making a QB trade is this year’s second-rounder, which was given to the Saints as part of the trade for Payton. That last part means the Broncos can’t match what the Texans sent the Cardinals last year to move up to No. 3 overall for Will Anderson Jr. -- at least in terms of current draft assets. Plus, who’s to say that a team such as the Vikings (who own Nos. 11 and 23 overall) wouldn’t outbid them?


Without a viable QB starter (Jarrett Stidham?) in place, the level of urgency to make a deal feels high. The Broncos play in a tough division and already have shed some skin this offseason with the release of Justin Simmons and the Jerry Jeudy trade. Dealing up might cost Payton a chance to fill out his thinning roster, but does he have a choice? It’s the ultimate catch-22.

Chicago Bears
Total draft picks: 4

No team has more valuable 2024 draft capital than the Bears, starting with the Nos. 1 and 9 overall picks. They lack a second-rounder, but otherwise, with their four picks coming in the top 122, the cupboard is pretty stocked. Now GM Ryan Poles must get dinner service started.

They’ve been busy in free agency and added Keenan Allen via trade, but there’s still a lot more to accomplish. The Bears have not yet added a major piece defensively this offseason, having missed out on a few of the big-ticket free agents and being unable to swing any trades on that side of the ball, so finding pass-rush help -- likely with the No. 9 overall pick -- figures to be the second-biggest priority.

Clearly, this draft is largely about the Bears’ quarterback vacancy and the expected selection of Caleb Williams. We won’t gloss over that franchise-shifting decision. Williams isn’t quite the slam-dunk pick at No. 1 that many of us imagined, with several talented alternatives and with Williams coming off a short-of-brilliant final season at USC.

Poles has to know that his QB choice can handle the pressure of the job in a division that looks strong right now, but one of the best ways to set that QB up for success is to add a fruitful draft class. His first two classes have landed some quality talent, but there also have been missed opportunities. What they do with their pair of top-10 picks will define the Bears’ trajectory for the next half-decade. No pressure.

Minnesota Vikings
Total draft picks: 9

All signs point to a bold move up for a quarterback, even as provisional starter Sam Darnold provides some insurance. The good news is that the Vikings don’t need to take someone who is capable of starting on Day 1.

The Vikings’ dream scenario would be quarterbacks going Nos. 1, 2 and 3, but with the Vikings’ top option (not named Caleb Williams) still being on the board. But how likely is that? Moving up is one matter; the availability of the right QB worth trading up for is quite another. 

What happens if the Commanders or Patriots take the Vikings’ preferred option at Nos. 2 or 3? Would they move up to No. 4 for their third- or fourth-favorite quarterback? Washington’s Michael Penix Jr. or Oregon’s Bo Nix are fallback options. But is Minnesota prepared to take one of them at No. 11 overall? Complicating matters is the fact that the Broncos (No. 12 pick) and Raiders (No. 13) also might be QB-hunting.

The Vikings also aren’t done building defensively and play in a division where the Lions, Packers and Bears are all seemingly on the upswing. Kevin O’Connell might not end up on the hot seat after a losing season, but if the Vikings take a big swing at a top QB, they’d better play it right.

Washington Commanders
Total draft picks: 9

So far, new GM Adam Peters quietly has done a nice job adding layers of depth, professionalism and talent to what was a tired roster. But there are big voids at the top of the food chain, starting with the most important position.

Holding the No. 2 overall pick, the Commanders don’t sit in the catbird’s seat, but they’re just below it. Every quarterback not named Caleb Williams should be there for the taking. It’s one of the deepest, most exciting QB classes in recent memory. But this pick -- right or wrong -- will be embossed to Peters’ résumé for the next decade. Getting it wrong could cost people jobs.

Washington has been stuck on a bad teacup ride at quarterback for a few decades now, and every time we thought it might stop, the vomit-inducing spin has kept on. Finding the perfect solution also will require Peters delicately considering all sides from their arranged-marriage staff. It’s a pressure-packed decision that’s sure to be questioned, no matter who they end up with.

Once they make the pick, the Commanders must surround that QB with a lot more talent. Both lines of scrimmage need reinforcements. The secondary remains incomplete. Wide receiver, once an unquestioned team strength, feels thin suddenly. One draft won’t be enough to address all this. But if Peters nails his QB selection, those issues suddenly feel less burdensome.

Arizona Cardinals
Total draft picks: 11

Even in a 4-13 season, the Cardinals actually showed some promise. They were competitive most weeks, won two big road December games and have pledged to build around QB Kyler Murray. And this offseason, they’ve made a few smart additions: offensive tackle Jonah Williams, cornerback Sean Murphy-Bunting and some reinforcements for the defensive line.

Now, though, playtime is over. Honeymoons don’t last long in this league, and the Cardinals need results. Yes, the 49ers aren’t going anywhere in the NFC West, and the Rams should be competitive again. But with the Seahawks in transition, the Cardinals must show they’re ready to do more than play in close games.

Clearly, the Cardinals are hoping for a windfall trade down from the No. 4 pick. They also could stand pat and take their top wide receiver, another big need. But with seven picks in the top 104 overall (right now), everything lines up for this to be a huge draft for GM Monti Ossenfort. He worked the phones hard last year and could do so again. Will their maneuvering pay off?

New England Patriots
Total draft picks: 8

There’s a case to be made that after tearing down the House That Bill Built, the Patriots’ renovation will take ample time. And that’s true. But that doesn’t mean this draft class doesn’t hold a ton of weight in terms of how that process unfolds.

No. 3 overall is the highest the team has picked since the 1990s -- before Belichick and before Robert Kraft, who, at age 82, is eager to build another winner. The owner is now counting on GM Eliot Wolf, who’s never sat in the captain’s chair before, to make the most of that selection. The Patriots took a cautious approach to free agency (they currently lead the league in cap space), increasing the importance of the top pick.

The quarterback situation speaks for itself. Since Tom Brady, Patriots quarterbacks have thrown for 68 TDs and 62 INTs in their past 67 games, and presumptive bridge starter Jacoby Brissett can only do so much to change that dramatically. 

Will the Patriots and Wolf settle for what could be their third choice at QB? Or might they entertain a trade down, accumulating more picks and looking longer-term at the rebuild? This situation might not easily be graded for a few years, but it doesn’t negate the importance of this draft class to the franchise’s future.

Buffalo Bills
Total draft picks: 10

No sugarcoating here: The Bills have had a rough offseason. They watched Josh Allen’s salary-cap number rise by about $20 million this year, made a flurry of cost-cutting moves at the start of free agency and just recently had to swallow hard in trading Stefon Diggs away -- to a fellow AFC contender, no less.

It’s the kind of move that probably will pay off down the road. In the short term, though, the Bills have some serious work to do, and not a ton of resources with which to do it. I give GM Brandon Beane a ton of credit for supplying this two-ton sound bite: “I mean, are we better today? Probably not.” 

But how will he keep the Super Bowl window ajar? Bills fans, who are helping finance a new stadium, would like to know. The truth is that this is Beane’s biggest draft since landing Josh Allen in 2018.

The availability of a banner crop of wide receivers helps, but whether a pass-catcher will fall to the Bills at No. 28 is another matter. They can trade up, but the lack of a third-rounder would hurt those efforts. Buffalo also lacks safety and DL depth and probably will need to draft more than one receiver. An RB complement to James Cook would be nice, too. Can the Bills achieve all this in one draft?

New York Giants
Total draft picks: 6

The Giants might truly be one of the more fascinating teams to watch in the 2024 NFL Draft. Picking sixth overall, they could be in a terrific position to grab one of the draft’s best receivers. Even if they were to miss out on the first wideout taken, this is a rare draft where the second- and third-best options on one team’s board could be first on other teams’ boards.

If it happens that way, the Giants likely would make -- at worst -- a standup double of a pick there. But there’s this lingering, itchy quarterback temptation that just won’t subside.

GM Joe Schoen hasn’t downplayed the possibility of drafting one. He attended several of the top QBs’ games last season, and the Giants have since met with just about all of them in the pre-draft process. Most importantly, owner John Mara has signed off on the Giants using a high pick on a quarterback, even after the massive Daniel Jones extension.

How will Schoen play it? A deal can be made if either the Patriots or Cardinals are willing to move out of Nos. 3 or 4, respectively, but don’t want to drop out of the top 10. But taking a QB in the top six also means the Giants would have fewer assets to beef up the roster of a team that started last season 2-8.

Los Angeles Chargers
Total draft picks: 9

Jim Harbaugh gives the Chargers a huge boost, so in that sense, they’ve already had an impactful offseason. But the roster bloodletting can’t be ignored; Los Angeles moved on from nearly 20 players, including RB Austin Ekeler, WRs Keenan Allen and Mike Williams, four defensive starters and others.

The Bolts own the fifth overall pick, and there’s a scenario where quarterbacks go off the board with Nos. 1 through 4, leaving the top non-QB to fall into their hands. If it unfolds that way, adding WR firepower with either Marvin Harrison Jr. or Malik Nabers would be a no-brainer. Trading down also makes sense.

Either would be a positive first step, but there’s no guarantee it will unfold that way. Plus, the Chargers have other holes that need patching. Finding RB help shouldn’t be troublesome, but replenishing the secondary, adding OL depth and even drafting a second wideout appear to be higher priorities -- and likely tougher chores, too.

The Chargers have tremendous assets in Harbaugh and quarterback Justin Herbert, and there are other redeeming qualities on the roster. But for Harbaugh to lead a worst-to-first charge, it’s going to take a few big hits -- perhaps three new starters minimum -- from this draft. Will his recent college experience, including his time molding a boatload of Michigan prospects, give Harbaugh a scouting edge?

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