The NFL draft is hugely important to every team in the league, but there is no question that some franchises are in more desperate need of a strong draft than others. A couple draft picks can totally change the direction of an organization either for better or worse.
There is no doubt that the order for the 2014 draft looks much different than most expected heading into the 2013 season, which means that things went south in a hurry for a handful of teams. Not only do those teams need to right the ship, but the perennially bad teams must figure out a way to turn things around as well.
Here is a look at the full 2014 NFL draft order as it currently stands as well as further analysis regarding the teams that absolutely must hit on their first-round picks.
|Current 2014 NFL Draft First-Round Order|
|2||St. Louis Rams (via WAS)|
|7||Tampa Bay Buccaneers|
|12||New York Giants|
|13||St. Louis Rams|
|16||Baltimore Ravens (pending coin flip w/ DAL)|
|17||Dallas Cowboys (pending coin flip w/ BAL)|
|18||New York Jets|
|21||Green Bay Packers|
|22||San Diego Chargers|
|24||Kansas City Chiefs|
|26||Cleveland Browns (via IND)|
|27||New Orleans Saints|
|28||New England Patriots|
|29||San Francisco 49ers|
|NFL.com (Playoff teams subject to change)|
Essentially every expert out there seemed to believe that the Houston Texans would at least compete closely with the Indianapolis Colts for the AFC South title in 2013 after two consecutive playoff appearances, but the Texans proceeded to match the all-time franchise mark for futility with a record of 2-14. Because of that, Houston will make the first overall pick in the draft for the third time, and it's fair to say that the results were mixed in the past.
The Texans misfired in a big way with their first ever draft pick when they took quarterback David Carr, but they hit a home run with defensive end Mario Williams in 2006, who has since signed with the Buffalo Bills. Houston actually has a lot of talent on defense, and it has playmakers on offense too with the likes of Arian Foster, Andre Johnson and DeAndre Hopkins. The Texans' biggest problem resides at the quarterback position, and it seems likely that they will address that issue with the No. 1 pick.
Houston may be somewhat gun shy after the Carr pick failed so many years ago, but something needs to be done. Neither Matt Schaub nor Case Keenum is the answer. This class is stacked with intriguing quarterback prospects, and at least one of them is bound to be Pro Bowl-caliber. The favorite among the group is Teddy Bridgewater of Louisville, and he is poised to enter the draft, according to Brett McMurphy of ESPN.
With that said, the Texans have to do their due diligence on every quarterback. Just because the consensus is that Bridgewater is the No. 1 guy, it doesn't mean that Houston must take him. This is a franchise-changing pick, and the wrong decision could send the Texans into a deeper tailspin. If Bridgewater is determined to be the best quarterback, though, he needs to be the pick.
Like the Texans, the Jacksonville Jaguars need a quarterback in order to return to relevancy. In fact, the Jags' situation is even direr than the Texans' since Jacksonville has been among the league's worst teams for the past several years. It's safe to say that the Blaine Gabbert experiment was a bust, and Chad Henne is nothing more than a decent backup. The Jaguars will pick third, and they have an opportunity to finally start moving in the right direction.
Assuming the Texans take Bridgewater first, the Jags will have a number of potential intriguing options when it comes to gunslingers. Johnny Manziel, Brett Hundley and Derek Carr are among them, but a new candidate has emerged. UCF junior quarterback Blake Bortles has yet to announce a decision regarding the draft, but he may have played his way into a top-five position. Bortles was dominant in leading the Knights to a Fiesta Bowl win over Baylor, according to ESPN College Football.
If Bortles declares, then the Jags will look long and hard at him, especially because of the Florida connection. At the same time, Jacksonville could decide to avoid the quarterback position altogether in the first round. The Jaguars need help in a number of areas, and they could end up with an elite pass-rusher such as Jadeveon Clowney of South Carolina or UCLA's Anthony Barr. It would be really tough to enter 2014 with Henne as the starting quarterback, but the talent at other positions may be too good to pass up.
Although it can be argued that the Texans were the league's most disappointing team in 2013, the Atlanta Falcons can stake claim to that distinction as well. Atlanta came agonizingly close to reaching the Super Bowl last season, but it never sniffed it during the current campaign. The Falcons could never get off the ground, and they were ultimately done in by injuries, primarily to wide receivers Julio Jones and Roddy White. The good news, however, is that they have the pieces necessary to bounce back.
In terms of skill-position players, Atlanta is pretty much set. The Falcons struggle mightily in the trenches, though, which is why it should come as no surprise that they are targeting offensive and defensive linemen, according to D. Orlando Ledbetter of the Atlanta Journal Constitution.
When asked about the draft in November, Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff gushed about the depth available along the lines, per Ledbetter.
Now moving forward on to (2014), there are some really hot positions out there right, interestingly enough, along both fronts, again, which is rare to have two seasons in a row that there a number of defensive linemen out there as well as a number of offensive linemen that are going to be difference makers. So, that's a positive.
With the No. 6 pick in the draft, Atlanta should get a shot at an elite lineman. Clowney and Barr are both possibilities on defense, while Texas A&M offensive tackle Jake Matthews will be the primary target on the other side of the ball. If the Falcons can nab one of those players, then they will be well on their way to returning to contention.
Follow @MikeChiari on Twitter