NFL Draft 2013: Teams That Will Make Huge Leap with Smart Picks

Alex BallentineFeatured ColumnistFebruary 10, 2013

ARLINGTON, TX - DECEMBER 23:  Quarterback Drew Brees #9 of the New Orleans Saints looks for an open receiver against the Dallas Cowboys at Cowboys Stadium on December 23, 2012 in Arlington, Texas.  (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
Tom Pennington/Getty Images

The most successful NFL teams build through the draft. 

Taking a look at the 2013 Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens, their roster is mostly comprised of players that were originally drafted by the team. The Ravens have been contenders for years, but one great draft can push a team over the edge from good to great.

The following teams find themselves on the precipice of taking the next step as a franchise. Whether they barely missed the playoffs or are picking in the top 10, these teams have the most to gain by playing their cards right come draft time. 


New Orleans Saints

The Saints boasted one of the most dynamic offenses in the league last season, but still missed the playoffs. 

That's a huge disappointment for the New Orleans faithful, but it's actually a good thing when it comes to the draft. The front office can go into it essentially focused on one side of the ball, thus narrowing the field of players it needs to decide from.

Picking at No. 15 in the first round, the Saints should have no issues filling one of their biggest needs—a behemoth to clog up run lanes in the middle of the defensive line. Once that need is addressed, they can spend the subsequent rounds adding depth to the defense. 

With Sean Payton back as the team's head coach and the draft serving as an opportunity to beef up the defense, the Saints could once again be an elite team in 2013.


Carolina Panthers

The Atlanta Falcons should be challenged much more in the NFC South next season—the Panthers join the Saints as the other team in the division ready to make a leap. 

The young Panthers got off to a horrible start last year. However, after going 3-9 in the team's first 12 games, Cam Newton and Co. rebounded to finish out the season with four straight victories. 

Newton was set up for a sophomore slump after a strong freshman campaign. However, he and the Panthers figured things out toward the end of last season and have a good core that can be built into a winner. 

This draft class will be crucial for that building project. 

The Panthers added the heart of the offense in Newton in 2011, then hit it big with Luke Kuechly in the 2012 draft. If they can get it right once again with the 14th overall pick by selecting a run-stuffing defensive tackle in the first round, they will be well on their way to becoming a contender next season. 


Cleveland Browns

Since coming back to the NFL in 1999, the Browns have been a fixture in the top 10. 

However, that could be changing. The Tom Heckert-Mike Holmgren regime did a good job of bringing young talent into the organization and the last two seasons have been marked with games that were lost in the final quarter. 

Theoretically, a new coaching staff could be just what the doctor ordered for the Browns' late-game struggles. Former head coach Pat Shurmur struggled with late-game play-calling and it showed in the team's execution. 

The Browns have a surprisingly solid offensive line, Trent Richardson will be much more effective in his second season and Josh Gordon is a star in the making at receiver. On defense, Joe Haden is a lockdown corner and the defensive line is teeming with young talent. 

If the Browns successfully add one more playmaker on the defensive side of the ball at pick No. 6, they will be a prime candidate to make a huge leap in 2013.