In the NFL draft, a top-10 pick is as good as gold.
With a rookie pay scale now in place, NFL teams have the luxury or selecting in the top 10 without breaking the bank. Fewer teams are forced to trade out of the top of the first round due to financial concerns, which means connecting on a top-10 pick becomes paramount for the rebuilding of a franchise.
For some teams like the Jacksonville Jaguars, recent years have yielded a handful of top-10 selections. And while many teams are in need of a franchise quarterback, there isn’t always a top-tier signal-caller available in the draft. Jacksonville found its potential franchise quarterback in 2011 when it selected Blaine Gabbert with pick No. 10.
But for teams with needs that don’t match up with talent, making the right selections to build for the future becomes even more important. The Cincinnati Bengals had several holes to fill in 2011, but opted for the ultra-talented A.J. Green with the No. 3 pick. It was a move that set up an offensive restructuring and yielded a potential All-Pro receiver around which to build.
Five of the top 10 teams picking in the 2013 draft currently have head coaching vacancies to fill. How those teams choose to use their first selection will rely heavily on who is at the helm in April, but one thing is certain.
No team picking in the top 10 can afford to miss this year.
Kansas City Chiefs
Romeo Crennel was let go by the Chiefs on “Black Monday,” a day that saw seven NFL head coaches depart from their teams. Crennel failed to fully utilize his talent in Kansas City, but he was also without a quality quarterback.
The Chiefs will almost certainly use their No. 1 overall pick on a quarterback in the hopes of giving the franchise a signal-caller around which to build. Matt Cassel and Brady Quinn are not the answer, and unfortunately for the Chiefs, their options will also be limited in the draft.
USC’s Matt Barkley and West Virginia’s Geno Smith are expected to be the two top quarterbacks selected this year, though neither compare to the talented crop of quarterbacks to spring from the 2012 draft. Still, the Chiefs don’t have much of a choice, unless they opt to add a quarterback in free agency to fill the need.
Either way, Kansas City needs to make the most of owning the No. 1 pick. The Chiefs are in position to be a much better football team next season. Kansas City’s roster is talented, but desperately needs a boost this offseason.
Jacksonville’s recent performance on the field has been less than stellar, and general manager Gene Smith paid the price when he was fired on New Year’s Day.
The Jaguars picked at No. 10 in 2011 and No. 5 in 2012, coming away with Blaine Gabbert and Justin Blackmon in the process. With another year under their belts and a healthy Maurice Jones-Drew (should he get a new contract and be on the field in 2013), Jacksonville could field a much better offense.
But the issues in Jacksonville aren’t all on the offensive side of the ball. The Jaguars were No. 30 in the NFL in total defense this season, and they need help in several key areas, including the outside linebacker and defensive tackle positions. It’s a good year to need front-seven help, and Jacksonville will have plenty of options if it want to address its defense.
With so many opportunities to make a splash at the top of the draft in recent years, Jacksonville needs to start seeing a return on its investments. Whoever ends up calling the shot in Jacksonville will have a great opportunity to start building the Jaguars up, and it starts this year with the No. 2 pick.
The Lions put together their best season in decades in 2011 and looked to be well on their way to becoming an NFC North superpower, but injuries, disciplinary issues and an inability to close out football games sunk the Lions’ 2012 season.
Head coach Jim Schwartz was expected to continue Detroit’s rise to dominance, but several questionable decisions may have Schwartz in hot water moving forward. He has a lot of say in personnel matters in Detroit, and this year’s draft could help Schwartz make a case for riding out the rest of his contract in the Motor City.
Detroit has been one of the best teams in the league at drafting based on value in recent years. The Lions selected Ndamukong Suh with the No. 2 selection in 2010 and proceeded to pick another defensive tackle (Nick Fairley) in the 2011 draft. The need wasn’t necessarily there, but the value was. Suh and Fairley may be the best defensive tackle combination in the league right now.
The Lions have excellent personnel in place on the defensive side of the football. Injuries and inconsistency derailed Detroit this year, but it’s hard to imagine another letdown in 2013.
Given the wealth of talented defensive playmakers at the top of the draft this year, Detroit may be in the rare position of being able to select based on both need and value. The Lions need help at linebacker and cornerback, and depending on how Cliff Avril’s contract situation plays out, they may need additions at the defensive end position as well.
Detroit can’t afford to waste the No. 5 pick this year. The Lions need to regain momentum, and this offseason provides many opportunities.
The Browns are undergoing yet another regime change. Tom Heckert and Pat Shurmur were fired on New Year’s Day, and with new ownership in control in Cleveland, the Browns’ staff will have a whole new look in 2013.
Tom Heckert’s less-than-stellar track record may have had something to do with his departure this offseason. His most infamous move was trading out of the No. 6 pick in 2011—a selection the Atlanta Falcons used on Julio Jones.
Heckert was a big proponent of trading down and using the extra picks to add depth at positions of need. With Heckert out of the picture, the door is open for the Browns to bring in a front-office staff that will make wise choices with their valuable top-10 selections.
The Browns made some progress in 2012, and rookies Trent Richardson and Josh Gordon looked like potential Pro Bowl players. While the jury is still out on quarterback Brandon Weeden, there are plenty of indications that Cleveland may be moving in the right direction.
The Browns field one of the youngest teams in the league, but they are still a couple pieces away from the top of the AFC North. With the No. 6 pick this year, Cleveland will need to add a player who can be a difference-maker on either side of the ball to get it over the hump.