My idea is to try to balance both current success vs building for the future, and come up with something that gives us an improved immediate team but sets us up to get even better subsequently. I’m taking the idea to heart that the rebuilding on the defensive side will have to continue in 2018 and cannot be fully completed this year. Where as offense, I think we can essentially get the right guys on our roster this off season so that we might not need to do anything notable except retain guys for a few years. I think finishing the offense up and getting personnel set to run an offense that can both pass and (especially) run the football effectively will help our franchise QB’s efficiency and durability. I think a strong running game will help the defense. On defense, I’m prioritizing front 7 a little over secondary, but I believe glaring needs in the secondary - especially at cornerback which is a deep group in this draft class - warrant picks.
Free Agent Signings:
Jonathan Hankins, DT (Giants)
Gerald Hodges, ILB (49ers)
R1 - Forrest Lamp, G, Western Kentucky - A day 1 starter at guard and pro bowl potential. He’s a lot like Zach Martin, but perhaps a tad less dominant at run blocking. I think he represents fine value at pick 15. He would upgrade us RG, allow our offense to have a legitimate swing tackle (Haeg), and help us run the offense that we should be running in order to both win games and keep Luck healthy. Building in the trenches is of the utmost importance, and there is a big drop off after Lamp at guard which there isn't at some other positions.
R2 - Tyus Bowser, Edge, Houston - An explosive athlete and a good fit as a 3-4 OLB. Body time and athleticism is highly reminiscent of Khalil Mack. I don’t think he’s far enough along as a player to have quite the immediate impact that Mack had for the Raiders, but he should be able to contribute some immediately and grow into an effective player. He projects well both rushing the passer and being able to drop into coverage when needed. He could wind up being excellent, and seems like a fairly realistic guy who could be on the board here as he's a guy who seems like a noticeably more natural fit in a 3-4 base defense than a 4-3.
R3 - Sidney Jones, CB, Washington - Previously regarded as one of the top corner’s in the class, but will probably drop due to a torn achilles and a deep class at the position. He could be a key piece in the future, and this can be a chance to land him in the third round. I had him rated as a late 1st rounder before the injury.
R4 - Rasul Douglas, CB, West Virginia - I’ve got us coming back to corner for some immediate help too. A big, physical man corner. Has pretty ordinary athleticism at the NFL level, but good ball skills. Will likely drop to the 4th round in this cornerback class, as his drills at the combine were reportedly a bit awkward looking. Had an awesome senior year on the field at WVU though.
R4 - George Kittle, TE, Iowa - A good blocking tight end who was a criminally underrated athlete coming into the combine. Has legitimate receiving potential at the next level, in addition to his blocking chops.
R4 - Aaron Jones, RB, UTEP - The second most explosive running back at the combine. He’s a super productive college player who is pretty good in the passing game as well as very good taking the ball out of the backfield. Running behind our stronger offensive line with a now elite interior (after the addition of Lamp) he should be able to produce immediately adding an element of explosiveness to a running game that we don't quite have.
R5 - D.J. Jones, DT, Ole Miss - A very athletic interior D-lineman who has the body type that suggests 3-4 nose tackle. Great explosiveness. He would represent competition and depth at the nose tackle position for us.
Projected 2017 Lineup:
QB - A. Luck, S. Tolzien
RB - F. Gore, A. Jones, R. Turbin
WR - T. Hilton, D. Moncrief, P. Dorsett, C. Rogers
TE - J. Doyle, E. Swoope, G. Kittle
OL - A. Castonzo, J. Mewhort, R. Kelly, F. Lamp, L. Clark, J. Haeg, D. Good, B. Scwenke, A. Blythe
DL - H. Anderson, J. Hankins, K. Langford, H. Ridgeway, T. McGill, A. Woods,
M. Hunt, D. Jones
Edge - J. Sheard, J. Simon, T. Bowser, A. Ayers, B. Mingo, C. Maggitt
ILB - E. Jackson, G. Hodges, S. Spence, A. Morrison
S - C. Geathers, D. Butler, T. Green, M. Farely
CB - V. Davis, R. Douglas, D. Morris, R. Melvin, C. Milton, (S. Jones)
K - A. Vinatieri
P - J. Locke
LS - M. Overton
I see a team that can seriously compete at a high level in 2017, and become even better in 2018. I really think that getting the offense right is really key (and often underestimated on this forum). We're almost there, but not quite. We need a few more pieces to be able to punch teams in the mouth running the football. And we obviously need to prioritize putting pressure on opposing quarterbacks - because this is the biggest weakness our team had in 2016. I believe Ballard has taken some good steps to doing this already, but it's certainly not time to take the foot off the gas pedal in this regard either. More pressure on opposing QBs will also instantly help our secondary. I think the roster I see listed above would be totally capable of making a deep playoff run, and is poised to absorb some of the inevitable injuries you'll get over the course of a season. And with one more good offseason, things could be looking very sweet.