NFL Draft 2013: Predicting Which Teams Will Make Biggest Leap with New Talent

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NFL Draft 2013: Predicting Which Teams Will Make Biggest Leap with New Talent
Al Bello/Getty Images

When you're at the bottom, there's no where to go but up. 

That's part of the beauty of the draft each year in different professional sports, as teams have a chance to pick up the pieces of a disappointing season and turn it around in less than one calendar year. 

Washington and Indianapolis did just that in 2012, going one and two in the 2012 NFL draft before both making the NFC and AFC playoffs, respectively, in the same season. Of course, top picks Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III were awaiting those teams last year, whereas a marquee quarterback did not emerge in the 2013 NFL draft. 

While this year's draft might not have been as top-heavy as last year's the closeness in prospect rankings across the board has lent us to the opinion of this draft having starters throughout all seven rounds. 

As teams prepare to integrate these rookies over the summer months, it's not unfair to start looking at teams which, top to bottom, selected enough talent to accompany their current roster and free-agent signings to make up the difference in last year's struggles. 

As we look at teams that did not make the playoffs last season and try to climb the mountain this year, here's three squads that did the most to take a leap similar to what the Colts and Redskins did last season. 

*For complete look at results of the 2013 NFL draft, click here

 

 

Arizona Cardinals


2013 NFL Draft Picks:

Jonathan Cooper, OG, North Carolina (No. 7)
Kevin Minter, LB, LSU (No. 45)
Tyrann Mathieu, CB, LSU (No. 69)
Alex Okafor, DE, Texas (No. 103)
Earl Watford, OG, James Madison (No. 116)
Stepfan Taylor, RB, Stanford (No. 140)
Ryan Swope, WR, Texas A&M (No. 174)
Andre Ellington, RB, Clemson (No. 187)
D.C. Jefferson, TE, Rutgers (No. 219)

 

Arizona is part of the toughest division in football (NFC West) but that doesn't excuse its lack of line protection for QBs last season or a 1-11 finish to the regular season after starting 4-0. 

Some of that struggle included the loss of Kevin Kolb at QB, but Arizona had the pieces on defense to compete and beat almost any team in the league on any given week. After this draft, it's hard to point to anything other than the talent out West when talking about potential crutches on this roster. 

Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Starting with guard Cooper and coming all the way down to taking two running backs (Taylor and Ellington) to bolster a position that was ravaged by different injuries through the course of 2012, Arizona had a huge draft. 

Kevin Minter will be a long-term starter at linebacker. Alex Okafor should be one, too, when the rest of the defensive line slows down, and Tyrann Mathieu being paired with former teammate Patrick Peterson again poses a huge threat on special teams for the entire league. 

Although questions remain about Carson Palmer being the QB and Bruce Arians being a first-year coach, we've seen what both of those men can do in the right situation. Palmer is a former playoff QB with a live, accurate arm and Arians was the catalyst for the Indianapolis playoff success in 2012, serving as head coach while Chuck Pagano battled cancer. 

The NFC West is a huge deterrent to this theory, yes, but Arizona should finish well better than 5-11 in 2013 and they added talent at nearly every position in this draft. Offensive line is still a concern, but the fearsome pieces of this defense should help make up for the fact that Arizona won't be the most elite offensive team in football. 

This was a nice collection of players for new general manager Steve Keim and Arians during their first draft together. 

 

 

Miami Dolphins


2013 NFL Draft Picks:

Dion Jordan, DE, Oregon (No. 3)
Jamar Taylor, CB, Boise State (No. 54)
Dallas Thomas, OT, Tennessee (No. 77)
Will Davis, CB, Utah State (No. 93)
Jelani Jenkins, LB, Florida (No. 104)
Dion Sims, TE, Michigan State (No. 106)
Mike Gillislee, RB, Florida (No. 164)
Caleb Stugis, K, Florida (No. 166)
Don Jones, S, Arkansas State (No. 250) 

 

Miami took big strides with its rookie QB in 2012, and with the exception of the Tennessee Titans and maybe Indianapolis Colts, was the most active team in free agency on both sides of the ball. 

Now, this draft class helps shore up the weak points of an otherwise young, growing roster. 

Trading up to get Dion Jordan, a player many thing can average double-digit sacks in his career with the right motivation and coaching, was a big move. Getting Jamar Taylor in the second round was a nice pick too, and the Dolphins filled out their draft with three local talents from Florida (Jenkins, Gillislee and Sturgis) that provide depth at key positions. 

With the AFC East headed up by the New England Patriots and the No. 2 spot in that division really up for grabs, the Dolphins, in my opinion, have the best chance to emerge as a playoff contender after the moves they made this offseason. 

The Dolphins will have to wait and see on the Branden Albert situation, somewhat crucial to their success after watching their marquee OT go to the St. Louis Rams this offseason. However, Dallas Thomas is a pick that could shore up the O-line in the interim. 

With Mike Wallace on the outside now joined by some serious threats in Dion Sims and Gillislee, the Dolphins had a successful draft for both strengthening a weak defense and giving Ryan Tannehill some extra pieces around him. 

 

 

St. Louis Rams


2013 NFL Draft Picks:

Tavon Austin, WR, West Virginia (No. 8)
Alec Ogletree, LB, Georgia (No. 30)
T.J. McDonald, S, USC (No. 71)
Stedman Bailey, WR, West Virginia (No. 92)
Barrett Jones, OL, Alabama (No. 113)
Brandon McGee, CB, Miami (No. 149)
Zac Stacy, RB, Vanderbilt (No. 160) 

 

Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

St. Louis wasn't going to leave the draft without giving Sam Bradford some offensive help. 

It proved that by trading up to get Tavon Austin, cemented it with the pick of his college teammate Stedman Bailey and furthered it with the last pick by grabbing depth for the running back position with Vanderbilt standout Zac Stacy. 

Jeff Fisher and Les Snead came to play, people. 

Throw in Alec Ogletree at the bottom of the first round after trading down with the Atlanta Falcons and picking up a head-hunting safety in T.J. McDonald, who will push for time right away, and this was a huge draft for the Rams in both keeping pace with the NFC West and really getting better on both sides of the ball. 

Barrett Jones was the icing on the cake for the Rams, who will be able to utilize his skill set all over the O-line in situations of injury or lack of production from one of the projected starters. If you factor in St. Louis' surprising defensive performance and addition of Jake Long this offseason, and they are legitimate players in the NFC West. 

We talk all the time about three teams from the same division getting to the playoffs, and St. Louis is right there with all four of the West division teams in terms of chances to make the Big Dance. 

There are no more excuses for Bradford, the offense or this coaching staff. The pieces are in place to compete, and even though it will be one of the toughest schedules to overcome in the NFL, the Rams have a foot in the door and are looking to bust it down. 

 

 

Other Disappointing 2012 Finishers With High-Caliber Drafts


Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODA

Tennessee Titans—Chance Warmack, top pick at No. 8; Justin Hunter at No. 34

Pittsburgh Steelers—Jarvis Jones, Le'Veon Bell top two picks

Kansas City Chiefs—Eric Fisher, top pick at No. 1

San Diego Chargers—Manti Te'o, D.J. Fluker, Keenan Allen among picks

 

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