The 2014 NFL draft should present plenty of drama within the first 10 picks. With the record 98 underclassmen having declared themselves eligible, there is potential for both extreme upside and also selecting a bust.
Several teams in particular are going to be faced with dilemmas. Much of it depends on how the picks that precede them play out, but their combinations of circumstances and personnel will make decisions all the more difficult.
Here is a look at the three front offices that essentially have one shot to land a blue-chip player, needing one the most to galvanize a turnaround from their losing ways.
Jacksonville Jaguars (No. 3 overall)
This is quite a spot for Jacksonville to be in, because anything can happen ahead of it with the St. Louis Rams in the second slot. The Cleveland Browns, what with their additional first-round choice, could even leap over the Jags to get the player they want.
One obvious position of need for the struggling Jaguars is quarterback, but all three of the top prospects are underclassmen.
Although Teddy Bridgewater (Louisville), Johnny Manziel (Texas A&M) and Blake Bortles (UCF) are all bursting with potential, none of them are the surefire best bet.
Another area that leaves much to be desired is the defensive line—a spot South Carolina's 6'6", 274-pound beast, Jadeveon Clowney, would help. The problem is that the Houston Texans may choose to pair Clowney with J.J. Watt up front. Or they could choose one of the three QBs, and what if it's the one Jacksonville wants?
The layers of this onion seem infinite. Eventually a solution will be reached, and let's get to why Clowney is probably the pick.
New Texans head coach Bill O'Brien is a guru to the point that he made Matt McGloin—more on him in a minute—into an NFL-caliber signal-caller at Penn State. No matter which of the promising trio Houston likes most, O'Brien has the chance to mold either Bridgewater, Manziel or Bortles into a star.
That would leave Jags general manager David Caldwell torn between two dicey QB options at most—as St. Louis could trade out of No. 2—or taking a chance on one of the most physically gifted defensive prospects in recent memory.
Clowney may have made like a political ambassador, but said he'd be happy with whichever team drafts him, per WJXT Jacksonville sports anchor Michael Kelly:
Not bringing in a QB through the draft may be a tough sell and will likely signal another year of rebuilding in Jacksonville, but it's the right call.
Projected pick: Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina
Oakland Raiders (No. 5 overall)
With so many holes on the roster, the pickings may be slim for the Raiders to add a true immediate-impact prospect even at the tail end of the top five.
Both McGloin and Terrelle Pryor showed signs of promise under center in Oakland this past season, despite a decimated offensive line and yet another injury-plagued campaign for talented running back Darren McFadden.
Thus, it's hard to evaluate what the Raiders have in either potential QB of the future, and McFadden is going to be a free agent as it is.
Trading down might be a good idea in an effort to gain more assets, but GM Reggie McKenzie and head coach Dennis Allen are under the microscope in 2014. If they don't improve on a 4-12 record from the past two seasons, both are liable to be fired.
A difference-maker is necessary for the Raiders to compete in an AFC West division in which all three other teams are coming off playoff appearances.
With injured star safety Tyvon Branch returning this coming season, 2013 first-round cornerback D.J. Hayden hopefully being more consistent and the linebacker corps remaining intact, there is room for the Raiders to reach for offense.
Unless the Rams abandon their need for an offensive tackle or don't trade down far enough, Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins makes a lot of sense to join the Silver and Black.
Watkins would join a receiver corps with Denarius Moore and Rod Streater, and giving the Tigers product the ball in the open field on quick hits would alleviate some of the blocking burden up front.
There's at least one concern that could allow Watkins to fall just far enough to be selected here, per ESPN's Adam Caplan:
Some draft notes: 1 exec said that only potential issue for WR Sammy Watkins is height. Some may have issue for #1 WR being less than 6-1.— Adam Caplan (@caplannfl) January 8, 2014
With how electric the rest of the AFC West's offenses can be, Oakland needs to get some bang for its buck in terms of touchdowns. It seems as though Watkins—with just one possible franchise QB on the board—makes the most sense.
Projected pick: Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson
Minnesota Vikings (No. 8 overall)
It's realistic that both Jacksonville and Oakland could find the quarterbacks they've fallen in love with landing right in their laps.
Such isn't the case for Minnesota, whose situation involving 2011 first-round pick Christian Ponder and Matt Cassel holds little promise for a long-term solution.
Which top prospect will have the best rookie season?
As the beneficiaries of three first-round choices last year, the Vikings would have to gamble at least one future No. 1 to get high enough and grab their ultimate field general to complement superstar running back Adrian Peterson.
Mike Zimmer has taken the reins as head coach and should instill more of a defensive identity than his less authoritative predecessor in Leslie Frazier was able to.
There are enough pieces on that side of the ball for Zimmer to work some magic. What this team needs is a quarterback, and at No. 8 overall, Minnesota should strike gold.
First of all, Zimmer hired the exceptional Norv Turner as his offensive coordinator. Turner's offense is known to be QB-friendly, but even in his days with the Dallas Cowboys' Emmitt Smith and San Diego Chargers' LaDainian Tomlinson, he's never had a back with quite the size-speed dynamic as Peterson.
Say the Jags jump on Clowney and the Raiders claim Watkins. That means the Texans and Browns likely chose quarterbacks, with the position not being a need for St. Louis—which also has a pick at No. 13 overall—the Tampa Bay Buccaneers or Atlanta Falcons.
The Vikings have a loaded lot of pass-catchers in Greg Jennings, Cordarrelle Patterson, Kyle Rudolph, Jerome Simpson and Jarius Wright.
When the three quarterbacks are evaluated in the predraft process, look for Bortles to be doubted and fall to Minnesota. With his 6'4", 230-pound frame, live arm and mobility, he is the best candidate to succeed with the Vikings playing outdoors in the next two seasons.
Under Turner's tutelage, with Peterson in the backfield and Zimmer making his mark on the defense, the pieces are in place for Bortles to thrive.
Projected pick: Blake Bortles, QB, UCF