NFL Draft 2014: Teams in Most Desperate Need of Nailing Top Selections

Matt FitzgeraldCorrespondent IIIJanuary 17, 2014

Mike Lombardi, center, the Cleveland Browns vice president of player personnel, answers questions at during an NFL football news conference with CEO Joe Banner, left, and owner Jimmy Haslam at the team's practice facility in Berea, Ohio, Friday, Jan. 18, 2013. (AP Photo/Mark Duncan)
Mark Duncan/Associated Press

Some of the NFL franchises choosing near the top of the 2014 draft have talented teams in place that simply experienced down seasons or suffered one too many key injuries.

There are other front offices that will be under the microscope more than others, though, with the need to hit big on their premier selections and give their respective rosters an instant boost.

Here is an overview of the organizations in most dire need of a spark, along with projections as to who they will take with the picks at their disposal.


Jacksonville Jaguars (No. 3 overall)

Jan 18, 2013; Jacksonville FL, USA; Jacksonville Jaguars new head coach Gus Bradley (left), owner Shad Khan (middle) and general manager Dave Caldwell pose for photos after a press conference at EverBank Field. Mandatory Credit: Phil Sears-USA TODAY Sport
Phil Sears-USA TODAY Sports

It's only going to be the second season for Jacksonville's regime to build some momentum for a perpetually putrid team, but the powers that be must make a wise choice with the third overall pick.

That may not necessarily mean taking a quarterback. Although the pick is one of dire need for the Jaguars to ascend to the NFL's elite, it's also important not to force the issue at the top of the draft.

An impact player such as South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney could still be on the board. Clowney, at 6'6" and 274 pounds, would all but guarantee help for what has been a lackluster pass rush, finishing last in the league the past two seasons in sacks.

Defensive-minded head coach Gus Bradley could mold Clowney into an absolute beast in his game plans, giving Jacksonville a shot at turning things around in a murky AFC South division.

It's also important to hold running back Maurice Jones-Drew's interest as he approaches free agency. General manager David Caldwell isn't stopping his big star from exploring other options:

There's the home-state angle in selecting UCF QB Blake Bortles, the excitement factor with Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel and the possibility of Teddy Bridgewater from Louisville as well.

But the Jags must make certain they're sure on a franchise signal-caller to pull the trigger on a potential one this early. Otherwise, Clowney is the wise choice here—assuming the Houston Texans don't take him in the top spot to pair with J.J. Watt.


Cleveland Browns (Nos. 4 and 26 overall)

Mark Duncan/Associated Press

CEO Joe Banner and general manager Mike Lombardi, in conjunction with owner Jimmy Haslam, decided to fire their first coaching hire in Rob Chudzinski after one 4-12 season.

That proves this brain trust isn't waiting around for a long-term rebuilding plan and is demanding immediate results. The problem is, Cleveland is the only team without a head coach at the moment. As the search wears on, it will be important to find someone precisely on the same page with the front office.

Continuity is important in stable, consistently winning franchises, yet it's something the Browns have repeatedly avoided since reentering the league in 1999.

Ex-Browns player Scott Fujita expressed sympathy for the ever-devoted fans going through the constant flux without any progress:

If a quarterback is indeed the pick at No. 4 and he starts right away, it will mark the 20th different player to start under center for the Browns since their rebirth. That's downright pathetic.

With Brian Hoyer still recovering from a torn ACL, pressure will be on to take a QB—and the right one. It may require a trade-up and possible moving of the second first-rounder acquired in the Trent Richardson trade.

Should the Browns see their future face of the franchise on the board and think he'll be gone, they must do everything possible to get a deal done, move up and make the bold choice.

The Browns are reportedly high on Manziel, something's Ian Rapoport confirmed on Jan. 13:

Manziel would bring the buzz and passion the Dawg Pound has desperately been awaiting. If the team can land him, an additional wide receiver and a running back in Round 2, Cleveland's offense would suddenly be formidable and dynamic.

Even before this critical draft, though, Banner, Lombardi and Haslam have to get the coach right.


Oakland Raiders (No. 5 overall)

ALAMEDA, CA - JANUARY 30:  New Oakland Raiders head coach Dennis  Allen (R) speaks to reporters as Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie (L) looks on during a press conference on January 30, 2012 in Alameda, California. Dennis Allen was introduced as th
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Head coach Dennis Allen and GM Reggie McKenzie play in an AFC West division in which every team but the Raiders went to the playoffs in 2013. That helps explain a second straight 4-12 campaign, yet McKenzie remains optimistic, per the team's official Twitter account:

Last year's first-round pick was cornerback D.J. Hayden. That was McKenzie's first shot at landing a blue-chip prospect, and Hayden doesn't appear to be a game-changer after his rookie campaign.

With two QBs who seem capable of competency in Matt McGloin and Terrelle Pryor, the decision Oakland faces becomes even more complicated.

A good place to start is either the offensive line—which was decimated, did a poor job in pass protecting and was inconsistent in run blocking—or the defense, a unit that was gashed for 255.8 yards per game through the air.

Depending on what the St. Louis Rams do at No. 2 overall, Texas A&M tackle Jake Matthews or Auburn's Greg Robinson should both be on the board. Either option would provide a cornerstone bookend on the offensive line for years to come.

If defense is the call, UCLA's Anthony Barr is a wise selection. The dynamic outside linebacker has great speed and agility as a former running back. He can pressure the quarterback off the edge and make plays anywhere on the field, making him a great fit no matter where Oakland lines him up.

McKenzie must nail this one, though. Otherwise, both he and Allen will probably be searching for new jobs next offseason.