With an extremely talented incoming NFL draft class in 2014, some organizations will have to trade picks in the present and future to move up in the first round.
Draft analysts across the Internet are extolling the depth of this group of prospects, but that evaluation can be misleading. High-profile positions like quarterback, offensive tackle and pass rusher are certainly deep, but teams in need of contributors at other positions can get squeezed out.
Those are the franchises that would mortgage their middle-round or future picks for a higher spot in the first round this year. It's a risk, but if the players they're targeting are available, the reward could be substantial.
Teddy Bridgewater, Blake Bortles, Derek Carr and Johnny Manziel are all top-five-caliber quarterbacks. If Brett Hundley chooses to declare himself eligible as well, he would fall into that group too.
The Houston Texans, Jacksonville Jaguars, Cleveland Browns, Oakland Raiders and Tampa Bay Buccaneers could all reasonably select one of those five signal callers in the first seven picks. For context, the most QBs taken in an entire first round was six in the historic 1983 draft.
The Minnesota Vikings pick eighth. Their quarterbacks in 2013 were Christian Ponder, Matt Cassel and Josh Freeman—each of whom was more overmatched than the last. Outside of the draft, the alternatives aren't pretty.
For QB-needy teams — Vikings, Texans, Jaguars, etc. — the draft is now really the only option. Also, Mark Sanchez/Michael Vick’s stock soar— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) January 2, 2014
The lack of a capable quarterback is especially unfortunate considering the presence of Adrian Peterson and Cordarrelle Patterson. The former won the 2012 MVP award even without a passing game to support him, while the latter is a game-breaking weapon who can be lined up all over the field but needs a big-armed passer to maximize his ability as a deep threat.
It will take future first-rounders to move up from eighth, but it would be worth it for the Vikings. If Hundley doesn't declare and there are only four high-profile QBs, it would be vital.
New York Jets
The New York Jets won't know exactly what they have in Geno Smith unless they surround him with better receivers and they shouldn't have a problem getting one at No. 18. Moving up is a matter of getting the value they need.
Sammy Watkins is the top receiver in the class, but the Jets won't have a shot at him. If he goes to the St. Louis Rams with the second overall selection, it could trigger a chain reaction in which all of the top three receivers go in the top nine picks, with Tampa taking Mike Evans and the Buffalo Bills taking Marquise Lee ninth.
Under those circumstances, it would be very difficult for New York to swipe in and snag Lee, since Buffalo is a division rival with the same need.
If the Rams don't go with Watkins second, however, they will surely look for a receiver with the 13th pick. That's more likely, since their need for offensive line help became more dire at the end of 2013.
Rams tackle Jake Long has torn ACL and MCL http://t.co/lGAgB5w9nN— Sports Illustrated (@SInow) December 24, 2013
The Jets could negotiate with the Detroit Lions, Tennessee Titans or New York Giants, who all pick between the Bills and Rams, to try to swoop in and land Lee. Doing so shouldn't cost the Jets more than one first rounder, which is ideal.
The next tier of wideouts is slated to go in the late first round. Picking any of them at 18 would be a reach, and they would not be as prepared to contribute immediately.
They found a way to win 10 games with the very worst pass defense in the NFL, which is not a sustainable formula for the Philadelphia Eagles.
Eagles defense looks all kinds of discombobulated. Who had the tight-end?— Smart Football (@smartfootball) December 30, 2013
Picking a versatile safety like Ha Ha Clinton-Dix will help out a lot, and at first glance it seems like Philly might get lucky in terms of landing him. Safety is not a priority for the teams picking in the teens, meaning he could conceivably fall to the Eagles in the mid-20s.
There's just one problem—Clinton-Dix is the only first-round-caliber safety, and as a mid-round value he could certainly be the target of another team trading with the Pittsburgh Steelers or Baltimore Ravens who pick 15th and 16th, respectively.
With such a woeful defense, the Eagles are the most in need of making that move before someone else does. Clinton-Dix's level of talent is too good to pass up, even if it costs Philly a second- or third-round pick to do so.
San Francisco 49ers
One of the most stacked teams in the league, the San Francisco 49ers aren't in dire straits at any position, but they could make strides in their rivalry with the formidable Seattle Seahawks if they acquire more big-time talent.
San Francisco currently has 12 draft picks in 2014, including two in the second and two in the third. With that much draft capital, the Niners would be better suited to package some of those second- and third-rounders to move up from the late first round.
It would be nice for the Niners to land a wide receiver to take the load off Anquan Boldin as he ages, but it would take too big of an offer to move up for someone like Lee.
Rather, they could target a cornerback like Darqueze Dennard, who could go as high as the teens, or jump up a couple spots to snag nose tackle Louis Nix III if he has an impressive showing in offseason workouts.
San Francisco could go any number of different ways, but the important thing is that they not stand pat.