Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck.
The NFL is an ever-evolving league built upon parity. In the salary cap era, any team from any market can build a competitive on-field product with smart free-agent acquisitions, sound drafting and effective coaching techniques. That's why the Indianapolis Colts were able to establish themselves as a perennial contender during the Peyton Manning era, while large market teams like the New York Jets floundered in mediocrity.
With the draft a mere 23 days away, there are several teams on the precipice of contending for a Super Bowl championship in 2013. The San Francisco 49ers, Denver Broncos and New England Patriots will be the preseason favorites; however, there are several other teams that are capable or competing with the elite squads of the NFL.
Although the draft can yield impact players at nearly every position, there are certain teams that utilize their rookie prospects earlier than others.
For example, the Cincinnati Bengals were powered to the playoffs in 2011 by A.J. Green and Andy Dalton. The Washington Redskins made the playoffs in 2012 with Robert Griffin III and Alfred Morris leading the way. In comparison, the New York Giants have received minimal production from Prince Amukamara and David Wilson in their rookie campaigns.
This offseason, there are several teams that just need a little extra firepower to establish themselves as serious Super Bowl contenders. With a solid draft class, one of the following squads could shock the masses and hoist the Lombardi Trophy next February.
Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III.
The Washington Redskins ascended to the top of the NFC East in 2012 after finishing in last in 2011. Robert Griffin III, Alfred Morris and the read-option offense took the league by storm and incited a revolution that could start a tradition of college-style offenses making their way into successful NFL schemes.
RGIII's health is obviously a huge concern, as it's unlikely he'll be the same player in 2013 as he was last season. Very few athletes can come back to full strength less than a year after major knee surgery.
However, Griffin does not need to run in order to be a successful quarterback. He has the arm strength to play as a pocket passer. If he can run enough to keep defenses accounting for him on every snap, Griffin still has the ability to be a lethal offensive threat.
On the other side of the ball, the 'Skins had the leagues 27th-ranked defense and gave up nearly 275 passing yards per game. If the defense does not improve drastically in 2013, Washington will be one-and-done in the playoffs again, if they even make it back.
Although the Skins could use a well-sized possession receiver to complement Santana Moss and Pierre Garcon, it's imperative the team improves the secondary.
With Ryan Kerrigan and Bryan Orakpo returning from injury, the linebacker corps will stabilize itself. However, with uncertainty at safety, the Skins could be inclined to use their first draft pick (No. 51 overall selection) on a safety such as D.J. Swearinger or a cornerback like Jamar Taylor.
If the Skins can stay healthy, all this team needs is a little extra depth in the secondary in order to make a serious run in 2013.
Indianapolis Colts wideout Reggie Wayne.
As we learned from the 2011 Philadelphia Eagles, free agency is not the most effective way to build a contending roster.
The Indianapolis Colts may have made out with a free-agent "pillaging," but team chemistry could be a real concern in 2013. After making the playoffs last season, there is a solid corps of young players on the Colts that has the ability to keep this franchise relevant for the next decade.
With a full season under his belt, Andrew Luck seems primed to take the next step forward as a premier pocket passer. The addition of Darius Heyward-Bey will add versatility to an offense that has the ability to establish itself as a top-five NFL offense.
On defense, the Colts gave up an average of 378 yards per game. With the departure of Dwight Freeney, Indianapolis will have to find a way to establish a pass rush to help a secondary that just added LaRon Landry and a linebacker unit that brought in Eric Walden and Lawrence Sidbury.
If Bjoern Werner is still available or Cornellius Carradine's knee checks out, both could be fits. In the third round (traded second round selection to Miami), the Colts could take a look at an outside linebacker such as Khaseem Greene or Sio Moore, both of whom have the speed to play in coverage or contain the run.
After an active free-agency period, the Colts just need to add a few more pieces to make themselves legitimate contenders for a Lombardi Trophy. This team has the offensive weapons to bring the organization back to prominence, but the free-agent additions on defense must prove themselves as impact players.
The Cincinnati Bengals have one of the most dominant defensive lines in the NFL.
Super Bowl-winning franchises nearly always have a dominant pass rush. With Geno Atkins and Michael Johnson both putting forth dominating 2012 campaigns, the Bengals are in line to develop into one of the best defenses in the NFL.
With the Andy Dalton to A.J. Green connection emerging as a scoring threat on every play last season, the Bengals are in good shape offensively. If Mohamed Sanu can develop into an outside threat, it will just create more opportunities for Andrew Hawkins and Jermaine Gresham over the middle of the field, which will greatly diversify the Bengals passing game.
Cincinnati's most glaring hole is in the secondary, as the team does not have a true No. 2 corner. Dre Kirkpatrick should continue to develop in his second year, but Cincinnati needs to shore up its pass defense if the team wants to make a playoff run next season.
Desmond Trufant, Xavier Rhodes, Arthur Brown and Bjoern Werner are all viable options for the Bengals in the first round. This franshise in one impact player away from becoming a serious contender, especially in an NFC North division that has seen the Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers decimated in free agency.
The Bengals are a talented, experienced roster that has not found a way over the hump yet. Another talented draft class could get them there.
David Wilson does his signature backflip after scoring a touchdown against the Cleveland Browns.
The New York Giants generally force their rookies to sit out the proverbial "redshirt" year before their youngsters are placed into significant roles. Prince Amukamara was benched on several occasions during his rookie year, while David Wilson saw minimal action for the majority of the team's 2012 campaign.
With the decline of David Diehl, the Giants have a glaring need at right tackle. James Brewer has not played a meaningful snap in his two season, yet he may be the guy the team is relying upon to take over that role.
The departure of Chase Blackburn has left the team with Dan Connor at middle linebacker, and Corey Webster's disastrous 2012 season makes him a huge question mark at cornerback.
The Giants could break from tradition and draft an offensive linemen early, or they could find their next star pass-rusher to play alongside Jason Pierre-Paul after next season.
Regardless, with the departures of Kenny Phillips, Martellus Bennett, Michael Boley, Osi Umenyiora, Chris Canty, Ahmad Bradshaw and Blackburn, the Giants will have some young, unproven players in starting roles next season. Although that's not necessarily a bad thing, depth will be key to the team's success.
The more the team can play and develop its immense young talent fit within the scheme, the longer fans will be able to enjoy a successful Eli Manning era in which every year brings about the possibility of a Super Bowl championship. This draft class could be the cherry on top of a successful offseason from general manager Jerry Reese.