The futures of lots of NFL teams are hanging in the balance. Luckily, the upcoming NFL draft is something that can drastically change a team's outlook.
It's just about draft time, and every team is hoping to fill a hole or improve in some way. Some teams have more needs than others, but those teams typically have better draft picks and have already picked by the time the end of the first round comes. However, when 21 players have been taken, the chances of finding stars decrease.
Luckily for these teams lots of holes are already filled, because the best teams pick at the end of the draft.
But can these talented teams improve and stay at the top of the league? Here are predictions for picks 22-32.
Running back hasn't been an issue for the Rams for a long time, but because Steven Jackson signed with Atlanta, a running back is needed.
It's unrealistic to expect second-year running back Daryl Richardson to carry the whole running game, because he won't do that. Eddie Lacy won't be able to do so either, but having Lacy and Richardson would likely make for a successful backfield. Lacy was absolutely dominant in college, as he averaged a remarkable 6.8 yards per carry over his college career.
Lacy is a power runner who knows how to shed tackles, but he also has speed. Lacy's 40-yard dash time was 4.44 seconds, which is better than Richardson's time of 4.47. Both runners are fast but while Richardson can break tackles, he weighs just 196 pounds and wouldn't be used in goal-line situations. Richardson is a back who can break free and rack up lots of yards, which is what he did in 2012. Richardson broke runs of 53, 44 and 32 yards in just 96 carries.
These running backs have different styles and would make up a dominant backfield. St. Louis has the luxury of owning two first-round selections, and it's likely it uses the first one to upgrade the offensive line. If they do so, the Rams will be free to find a playmaker at wide receiver or running back, and Lacy is a playmaker. Adding a talented interior lineman and a talented player at a skill position would fulfill St. Louis' needs, and Lacy is definitely a talented player at a skill position.
And by picking Lacy, the Rams can move into contender status.
Bjoern Werner's stock has taken a hit, but he's still a remarkable talent that the Vikings can't miss.
Werner, who finished 2012 with 13 sacks, is a premier pass-rusher who has the ability to make a game-changing play. Minnesota's three top defensive ends (Jared Allen, Everson Griffin and Brian Robison) will be free agents in 2014, and they need a replacement. Werner is a player who can step into that role while allowing the Vikings to pursue someone else in free agency (as opposed to spending money on one of these three defensive ends).
Minnesota ranked fifth in sacks in 2012, but it was also 24th in pass defense. If Werner can hurry the quarterback, he can hurry throws and help the pass defense. Minnesota needs to upgrade the secondary, but the safety class is very deep, and a good safety will be available in the second round. Minnesota could also go for a safety in with their second first-round pick as secondary is a big need. However, Werner is very talented and if he's here, the Vikings will waste no time and take him.
The Colts won 11 games in 2012, but they had a poor defense.
Indianapolis ranked 29th against the run in 2012, and it needs to improve against the run with a harder schedule coming up this year. Indianapolis won lots of close games, and that luck won't go their way in 2013. The Colts have lots of holes and need to upgrade them, and adding Arthur Brown is a good way to improve the defense.
Brown finished 2012 with 102 tackles in 13 games, and he averaged 125.5 tackles per 16 games. Adding someone to plug up the middle of the defense can help Indianapolis' run defense, and Brown, who weighs 228 pounds and runs a 4.62 40-yard dash, has the strength and size to help the defense. Indianapolis can go lots of different directions, but Brown could be the best one. He would fill a big need, and he would help the team improve overall.
After trading Percy Harvin to the Seahawks, the Vikings are in dire need of a playmaker.
Even though Minnesota signed Greg Jennings, they would still benefit from adding Clemson's DeAndre Hopkins. Jennings is aging and missed 11 of Green Bay's last 19 regular-season games, and Hopkins, on the other hand, ran a 4.41 40-yard dash. Christian Ponder can't succeed without playmakers, and while he has Adrian Peterson, adding Hopkins would make the entire offense formidable.
Remarkably, Hopkins caught 18 touchdown passes and racked up 1,402 receiving yards, averaging 17.1 yards per catch along the way. Hopkins is a great wide receiver who can change a game with one play, and because of him, Minnesota can wait to upgrade the secondary. The Vikings pick 52nd in the second round, and it's likely that a safety will be there.
Minnesota doesn't have tons of other needs, as it had a solid run defense and pass rush. With two first-round picks, the Vikings will be free to fill a hole and go for it all, and here, they can go for it all with Hopkins.
Why? Because if Hopkins can help Ponder and continue to produce as well as he did with Clemson, he can be an absolute steal.
After getting lit up by Colin Kaepernick and losing Erik Walden, defensive end is a major need in Green Bay.
Even with Werner off the board, Green Bay can help itself out here. Jones didn't have as many sacks as Werner or Damontre Moore (who has seen his stock take a major hit), but he still finished with 5.5 sacks and 58 tackles. Jones weighs 275 pounds and is 6'4, so he has the frame to succeed.
Green Bay let Kaepernick and the 49ers score 45 in the playoffs, and it can't afford to do that again in Week 1 against San Francisco. Walden was completely fooled by Kaepernick, and while it's unrealistic to expect Jones to shut down the explosive Kaepernick, he can help contain Kaepernick and other option offenses. Jones is a playmaker who can get to the quarterback and get by big lineman, and he'd be a huge help in Green Bay.
The Houston Texans don't have a glaring hole at middle linebacker, but they have a chance to take an impactful middle linebacker and fill one of the bigger needs with this pick.
Minter is a tackling machine, as he averaged 10 tackles per game and finished a game against Florida, a BCS team, with 20 tackles. Against a prominent Clemson squad, Minter recorded 19 tackles. Minter also averaged one sack every two games in his last eight games, and he sacked Florida quarterback Jeff Driskel twice against the Gators. While there are better players, Minter is one of the better tacklers in the draft.
Brian Cushing, who tore his ACL early in 2012, can play all three linebacker positions. Brooks Reed could move to inside linebacker, so the Texans could use Minter at middle linebacker, Cushing at outside linebacker and Reed at inside linebacker. That would make for a strong linebacking corps, and it would allow the Texans to fill one of the only "holes" they have.
Because Elvis Dumervil bolted to Baltimore, Denver has a gaping hole at defensive end.
Dumervil was a playmaker who could hurry or sack the quarterback, and he helped the Broncos a lot. However, he's gone, and Denver needs to fill the hole left by his departure and create another one-two punch with Miller and another defensive end. That other defensive end can be Carradine, who has the potential to become a star and allow Denver's defense to remain at the top of the league.
Carradine tore his ACL in 2012, but according to Yahoo Sports, he looks fully healthy. In 2012, Carradine played in 11 games, and he recorded 11 sacks. In those 11 games, Carradine also recorded 80 tackles, or 7.3 tackles per game. The 6'5, 265 pound defensive end can get by strong lineman and bat down passes with his height, and because of that, Carradine can be a star. If he fully recovers from his ACL tear, Carradine will be a steal for Denver.
And he'd be a nightmare for opponents.
Trufant's stock has risen during pre-draft events and workouts, so the Patriots would be lucky to get Trufant here.
New York could take Trufant 13th and Minnesota could take him with one of its first-round picks, but I think Trufant will slip to the Patriots. He wasn't extremely impressive during the 2012 regular season and outside of one game with 10 tackles, Trufant's performance didn't show up on the stat sheet. Then, he took scouts by storm.
Trufant ran a blazing-fast 4.38 40-yard dash, and he recorded 16 reps on the bench press. While Trufant only weighs 186 pounds, he makes up for his size with his quickness. Trufant's workouts have been extremely impressive, and as a result, he will likely be picked in the first round. New England doesn't have a great cornerback, and there won't be great receiving talent to choose from. Unless Hopkins, Allen or another talented receiver falls to the Patriots, it's likely they will improve the secondary.
Tyler Eifert has seen his stock rise recently, but he could definitely fall to the end of the first round.
Statistically speaking, Zach Ertz had a better 2012 season than Eifert. Eifert caught 50 passes for 685 yards and four touchdowns, and he never caught more than six passes in a game. He is 6'5" and weighs 250 pounds, so his build is very similar to Ertz's. However, Eifert is very physical, and he is willing to go up for a ball and make a play. Eifert, who won the John Mackey Award (the award given to the nation's best tight end), has great hands and can fill a huge hole in Atlanta.
Atlanta doesn't need to improve in many areas, so it is free to go for a playmaker here. Tony Gonzalez isn't retiring yet, but it's safe to assume that he's going to play only one more year. Using Eifert and Gonzalez in a two tight end set for one year wouldn't hurt, as the Patriots have had lots of success with it. Once Gonzalez retires, the Falcons will need a replacement at a position that is becoming more and more important.
Eifert can be that replacement.
Gonzalez provides a security blanket for Matt Ryan, and he's a great guy to throw to on third down. Ryan and Eifert could develop this kind of chemistry, and it would be like Gonzalez never left. 2013 could be a bit rocky at first, but Ryan will have Gonzalez while he works out the kinks with Eifert. It would be a perfect fit, and it would allow the Falcons to keep an element of their offense that helps make them so successful.
The 49ers could try to improve a secondary that was torched during the playoffs, but they really don't have a huge need.
San Francisco doesn't need a tight end, but Ertz could completely change the 49ers offense. New England has had lots of success with Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, and the same thing can happen with Ertz and Vernon Davis. Ertz was coached by Jim Harbaugh at Stanford, and he has experience in a two tight end set because he played with Levine Toilolo at Stanford.
Ertz would be a great complement to Davis in San Francisco's offense. Davis is a speedy tight end, while Ertz has great hands and weighs 249 pounds. Davis dropped a key pass in Super Bowl 47, and while it wasn't an easy catch, it's one that should have been made. Ertz could be a safety vault for Kaepernick, as Michael Crabtree is also prone to drops.
Kaepernick likes to throw the ball hard, and he throws the ball into tight spaces at times. Ertz can catch these passes, and he could develop good chemistry with Kaepernick. In 2012, Ertz was able to catch 69 passes for 898 yards and six touchdowns with two different quarterbacks at the helm. If Ertz is drafted and he and Kaepernick develop chemistry, San Francisco's offense will be even scarier than it already is.
Because the 49ers don't have big holes and because they also own the 34th pick in the draft, the 49ers will be free to take Ertz with this pick. The safety class is deep, so the 49ers can easily nab a talented safety with the 34th pick. Ertz may not be available then, and he's a guy the 49ers want to get their hands on. Ertz is an underrated player and a perfect fit for the 49ers, and he could be exactly what the 49ers need to take that final step towards a championship.
The Baltimore Ravens will conclude the first round by taking an attention-grabbing middle linebacker to replace Ray Lewis, another guy who was in the spotlight a lot.
Lewis rode into the sunset when the Ravens won Super Bowl 47, and he has now retired. With Minter and Ogletree off the board, Te'o, who has been in the spotlight a lot lately, would be the best option at middle linebacker. Somehow, the middle linebacker intercepted seven passes in 2012, and he also recorded 111 tackles. Te'o wasn't exactly amazing in the championship, but he finished the game with 10 tackles.
Te'o ran a 4.71 40-yard dash, so he isn't extremely fast. His fake girlfriend scandal didn't help either, and it wouldn't be extremely surprising to see Te'o picked in the second round. However, Te'o is still a player who can step in and help out, which is what the Ravens need. His pre-draft drama won't drop him too far, and at this point the Ravens will need anyone they can at middle linebacker.