The 2013 NFL Draft pits an extremely deep pool of prospects, which means that not many teams can go wrong with their selections. So for those perpetually struggling franchises, it makes hitting on first-round choices all the more pivotal.
Several team's sport regimes will be under intense scrutiny due to the impending season's make-or-break implications. If things don't go according to plan and substantial improvements aren't made, it could be yet another house-cleaning ordeal.
Here is a breakdown of the organizations near the top of the order that desperately need to net big returns on their Round 1 investments in April, including projected picks for each.
Oakland Raiders (No. 3 overall pick)
This is perhaps the most enticing position of the entire draft. The Raiders have many needs, a touchy quarterback situation and a very young coach in Dennis Allen who cleared out most of his staff from last year and desperately needs to win.
The problem is, Oakland's AFC West rivals form tough competition. The Denver Broncos figure to challenge for the Super Bowl, and the new regime in Kansas City has made bold moves in free agency to significantly upgrade the roster—and the quarterback position.
Carson Palmer is due $13 million in salary this season and is very unlikely to restructure his deal, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter:
Interesting: now "highly unlikely" Carson Palmer will be willing to restructure his contract meaning OAK pays him $13 million or cuts him.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) March 25, 2013
Oakland also has an unproven commodity in Terrelle Pryor, making GM Reggie McKenzie's decision at the game's most important position all the more difficult.
However, the answer under center may not come unless McKenzie feels very strongly about Geno Smith or Matt Barkley. No. 3 is probably too early for them in any event.
A growing consensus pick is Sharrif Floyd, the dynamic defensive tackle out of Florida. It's hard to argue with, too, because his Gators faced outstanding competition in the SEC, which was and is filled with future NFL players.
Plus, Floyd ran a 4.9 40-yard dash at the combine, has a relentless motor, outstanding quickness for his size and takes wise pursuit angles in tracking down ball-carriers.
Personnel needs dictate the pick of Floyd as well. The defensive line is very suspect, and Floyd has the speed and versatility to line up on the edge if necessary.
In light of news reported by CBS Sports' Jason La Canfora, though, Floyd should be a fixture on the interior with the forthcoming release of defensive tackle Tommy Kelly.
The Raiders will release veteran DL Tommy Kelly Wednesday. Would expect him to draw some interest pretty quickly— Jason La Canfora (@JasonLaCanfora) March 27, 2013
According to NFL.com's Gregg Rosenthal, Kelly would have made $6.5 million in 2013.
So that move makes Floyd pretty much a no-brainer—assuming he's on the board. If not, look for Utah defensive tackle Star Lotulelei as an option after his phenomenal pro day.
Detroit Lions (No. 5 overall pick)
Two things need to be prioritized for Detroit. First, the defensive side of the ball needs a pass-rusher, a playmaking linebacker or a lockdown cornerback. The second order of business should be balancing the offense out a bit more, which can be accomplished by adding protection on the offensive line.
As a result, the focus should turn to defense. In order to combat the talented offenses within the NFC North division, the Lions must become more disciplined.
If BYU's Ezekiel Ansah is on the board here, it would be wise for the Lions to snag him and put him at defensive end in the 4-3. The defensive line is currently book-ended by Jason Jones and Ronnell Lewis, and Ansah is a bewildering combination of strength, speed and quickness.
Placing Ansah alongside Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley would make the Detroit defense extremely exciting and one of the scariest front fours in all of football.
Should another team be too enticed by Ansah to pass him up, Alabama cornerback Dee Milliner is a strong choice. He could instantly start opposite Chris Houston, and quickly emerge as a No. 1 Pro Bowl-caliber corner.
Ansah is considered a massive risk due to his rawness, while Milliner comes from a pro football production line in Tuscaloosa. Milliner is the safe bet here; however, the Philadelphia Eagles could also take him off the board just one pick before.
Either player should make an outstanding impression with this franchise—and will need to. Otherwise, Jim Schwartz, the coaching staff and the front office will likely be seeking work elsewhere in 2014 should the Lions not make the playoffs.
New York Jets (No. 9 overall pick)
It may be a fresh gig for general manager John Idzik, but he might be under more pressure than any of his counterparts around the league in his first year on the job.
Head coach Rex Ryan is beloved by his players, but is definitely on the hot seat this year along with the rest of his staff. There is significant pressure to succeed and get back to the form that saw the Jets go to two straight AFC Championship games at the start of Ryan's tenure.
Given the lack of immediate impact recent choices have had in Kyle Wilson, Muhammad Wilkerson and Quinton Coples, Idzik must find a prospect who can come in and be an instant stud.
Who should the Jets choose at No. 9 overall?
Thankfully, this draft is loaded with players like that, but there are tons of intriguing prospective pros with high upside yet raw abilities.
LSU's Barkevious Mingo falls into this category. Although he could be an absolute terror in Ryan's 3-4 defensive scheme as an edge rusher from the linebacker spot, Mingo was not very productive in college and is one of the likelier bust candidates near the top of the draft.
A lot of mocks have him going at No. 9, as recorded by B/R's AFC North lead writer Andrea Hangst.
Outside linebacker is definitely a big need, and the other option here is Jarvis Jones of Georgia. He was an absolute stud for the Bulldogs, and after his disappointing pro day, still believes he's the best player in the draft, as reported by D. Orlando Ledbetter of the Atlanta Journal Constitution:
Jarvis Jones said: "At the end of the day I think I'm the number one player."— D. Orlando Ledbetter (@AJCFalcons) March 21, 2013
Jones' 4.9 40 time was slow, but he's been given a clean bill of health by renowned orthopedist Dr. Craig Brigham to at least soften concerns about his spinal stenosis condition.
If the Jets look past Jones' short sprint at the pro day, he should be a wonderful choice with the ninth overall pick due to his ability to pressure the quarterback, tackle in the open field and even drop in coverage.