Hot seats don’t cool down in the offseason for NFL coaches. Making those seats more comfortable is a year-round process.
The NFL draft is the biggest offseason opportunity for coaches, with the help of scouts and the front office, to increase their job security.
The following five teams drafted players this year who will instantly help them improve and therefore lower the seat temperature of their respective coaches.
Rex Ryan really only pays attention to one side of the ball, and four of the Bills’ seven picks were on that side of the ball this year. In Ryan’s first draft as Bills coach, only two defensive players were chosen.
Shaq Lawson led the nation with 24.5 tackles for loss and was fourth with 12.5 sacks in 2015, and somehow the Clemson defensive end fell to the Bills at No. 19. He’s likely to be used as a linebacker in the Bills’ 3-4 defense.
The Bills got another steal for their defense in the second round when they took Alabama inside linebacker Reggie Ragland with the 41st pick. Bills general manager Doug Whaley sounded surprised that Ragland was still available in the second round.
Whaley on Reggie Ragland: “We thought he would be our pick at 19 so we never dreamed we would be able to get him and Shaq Lawson.”
— NFL Media (@NFLMedia) May 11, 2016
Part of the reason Ragland slipped into the second round is because he only managed 13 bench-press reps at his Pro Day, but C.J. Mosley and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix have shown that it’s not a good idea to bet against interior defenders from Alabama.
After guiding the Bills to an 8-8 record in his first season, Ryan needs to break the Bills’ 17-year playoff drought to keep his job secure. He’s trying to do that by molding the defense in his own image. It’s not a defense Tom Brady will enjoy going up against even if he only has to face it once after his suspension.
Sure, Gus Bradley got a contract extension through 2017, but he’ll earn that money sitting on his couch in 2017 if the Jaguars don’t at least make a run at .500 in 2016.
Bradley is 12-36 in his first three seasons as Jaguars coach, but the trio of Blake Bortles, Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns gave fans a reason to be excited in 2015.
The defense is another story. The Jaguars allowed 448 points last season, second-most in the league. To say they focused on defense in the draft might be an understatement. Their first five picks were defensive players, led by Florida State defensive back Jalen Ramsey in the first round and UCLA linebacker Myles Jack in the second round.
Not only are Ramsey and Jack both top-five caliber players, they’re also versatile chess pieces. Ramsey can play cornerback or safety. Jack can do a little bit of everything. In 29 games at UCLA Jack recorded 15 tackles for negative yardage, four interceptions, 19 pass breakups, two fumble recoveries, a forced fumble and a sack. A knee injury ended his 2015 season after three games, so the Jaguars are taking a risk. But by using the No. 36 pick on him they’re essentially getting him at a one-round discount.
Third-rounder Yannick Ngakoue, a defensive end from Maryland, finished second in the country in 2015 with 13 sacks and added 14.5 tackles for loss. Fourth-round defensive tackle Sheldon Day from Notre Dame can get after the quarterback pretty well for a 293-pounder. He had four sacks and 15.5 tackles for loss last year.
Every team’s draft class is guaranteed to have at least one or two players who don’t pan out. But the Jaguars added so many bodies on defense that it would be almost impossible for the unit not to improve in 2016.
Coaches of teams that are named for members of the cat family seem to have nine lives in the NFL these days.
Jim Caldwell survived being run over by a 1-7 start last season and bought himself some time with a 6-2 post-bye record. He’ll oversee a team that added some grit the draft and should become a contender in the NFC North.
The Lions addressed all three positions on the offensive line, taking tackle Taylor Decker in the first round, center Graham Glasgow in the third round and guard Joe Dahl in the fifth round. The line needed an upgrade. Matthew Stafford was sacked 44 times last season and the Lions ran for a league-low 83.4 yards per game and just 3.8 yards per carry.
Second-round defensive tackle A’Shawn Robinson and fourth-round safety Miles Killebrew bolster this draft’s smashmouth identity on defense. Robinson is a run-stuffer from Alabama who could have been picked in the first round and the 6’2″, 217-pound Killebrew is a physical box safety.
3] A’Shawn Robinson could be one of the steals of this year’s draft. He’s got maturity and has first round talent…
— Tony Ortiz (@ajortiz3) May 2, 2016
New Lions general manager Bob Quinn made some changes in the organization. Caldwell wasn’t one of them. The talent added in the 2016 draft should help keep Caldwell around for a while.
Jay Gruden’s job might appear to be safe, but all the Redskins really did in 2015 was win the sad-sack NFC East with a 9-7 record. That won’t be as easy this season with Tony Romo healthy and new regimes in Philadelphia and New York.
If Kirk Cousins proves to be more than a half-year wonder, then Gruden has nothing to worry about. With their first-round pick, the Redskins gave Cousins a new weapon with Texas Christian wide receiver Josh Doctson. He’s not as flashy as Will Fuller or Corey Coleman, but he’s a safe pick and he has a nose for the end zone (14 touchdowns in 2015). The Redskins needed to juice up their receiving corps after DeSean Jackson’s injury-riddled, 30-catch season.
WR Josh Doctson’s hands, leaping ability highlights Redskins rookie minicamp https://t.co/jJiX7jp8Kn
— John Keim (@john_keim) May 13, 2016
In the second and third rounds, the Redskins tapped some NFL bloodlines to improve their 28th-ranked defense. USC linebacker Su’a Cravens, cousin of both Dolphins tight end Jordan Cameron and Chargers linebacker Manti Te’o, made 34.5 tackles for loss in three seasons to go with 10.5 sacks, nine interceptions, 16 passes defended and four forced fumbles.
Cornerback Kendell Fuller will be the fourth Fuller brother to play in the NFL. He dropped into the third round because of injury concerns, but according to NFL Draft Scout, he’s the most talented Fuller brother.
The Redskins also addressed concerns up front in the fifth round with Temple defensive tackle Matthew Ioannidis.
Mike Mularkey went 2-7 after replacing Ken Whisenhunt last year and the Titans finished 3-13.
Even though the future looks bright with Marcus Mariota in place, Mularkey is 18-39 in his career as a head coach and will be on a short leash.
So Mularkey and the Titans added more bricks to the fortress around Mariota by drafting offensive tackle Jack Conklin with the eighth overall pick. Conklin is a success story who started out as a walk-on at Michigan State.
Then the Titans took advantage of their three second-round picks. Clemson defensive end Kevin Dodd practically matched teammate Shaq Lawson’s numbers with 12.5 sacks and 24 tackles for loss. Penn State nose tackle Austin Johnson fills a glaring need and 247-pound Alabama running back Derrick Henry can keep DeMarco Murray fresh.
Seventh-round cornerback Kalan Reed could turn out to be the standard bearer for all future Mr. Irrelevants.
The Titans strengthened a defense that allowed the sixth-most points in the league and surrounded Mariota with more talent. They might be a year away from the playoffs, but they’ll take enough of a step forward to keep Mularkey employed.