2014 NFL Draft: Which Teams Will Be Tempted to Reach for Positional Needs?
When it comes to the annual NFL draft, there are typically two schools of thought when it comes to approaching draft strategy.
Some teams tend to wait for the draft to come to them. These are the teams who make few moves and select the perceived best player available with nearly every single draft pick, regardless of position. This is a strategy typically used with a long-term picture in mind. Think of the Green Bay Packers' drafting of quarterback Aaron Rodgers in 2005 when Brett Favre was still on the roster.
Other teams use the draft as a way to fill key roster needs. They target specific positions with draft picks, even if value and draft slotting do not match. Think of the Minnesota Vikings drafting Christian Ponder 12th overall in 2011, even though he was widely considered a late first-round or second-round talent.
Jumping to fill a specific need when the draft value isn't there is commonly known as "reaching," and the teams inclined to do it can vary from year to year. Over the next few pages, we will examine those teams that will be tempted to reach in this year's draft.
Reaching in an incredibly deep draft probably isn't the wisest strategy. Of course, we are talking about the NFL, and not every team is going to get things right.
Team Needs: QB, OT, LB
The Houston Texans find themselves in a very interesting position. A disappointing campaign has landed the team the first overall pick in May's draft, just a year after back-to-back playoff seasons.
It may not take much for the Texans to return to playoff contention, and adding the right pieces during the draft may be enough to get them there. As far as pieces go, quarterback seems to be at the top of the list.
Longtime starter Matt Schaub (since 2007) was recently traded to the Oakland Raiders, and there is a strong chance that new head coach Bill O'Brien would have looked for a new quarterback even if Schaub had remained on the roster. According to Pro football Focus (subscription required), Schaub was just the 38th-best quarterback to take the field in 2013. His in-season replacement, Case Keenum, was rated 33rd.
The problem for Houston is that no quarterback in this year's draft appears even close to worthy of the first overall pick. According to NFL.com, only two quarterbacks—Central Florida’s Blake Bortles and Louisville’s Teddy Bridgewater—are good enough to become immediate starters, and the top end of the quarterback pool is much less impressive than that of other positions.
The Texans would likely get more value out of drafting a playmaker like South Carolina pass-rusher Jadeveon Clowney or Clemson receiver Sammy Watkins with the first overall pick. However, due to their need at the game's most important position, Houston will at least be tempted to reach for a quarterback in Round 1.
Team Needs: QB, CB, OG
Like the Texans, the Cleveland Browns approach the draft in need of a quarterback—at least one who can push Brian Hoyer for the starting job. Also like the Texans, the Browns find themselves drafting too high with their initial pick to get proper value out of a signal-caller.
Cleveland currently holds the fourth and 26th overall picks in May's draft. While taking a quarterback at 26 seems about right, there is at least a chance that the Browns jump on one at No. 4. During a recent ESPN appearance, Browns wideout Josh Gordon even said that he was "pretty sure" Cleveland would do exactly that.
Quarterbacks the Browns could reach for at No. 4 include Bridgewater, Bortles and Texas A&M star Johnny Manziel.
Peter King says the Browns might want to grab Johnny Manziel at #4. "He will win big in The NFL"— Sam Bourquin (@sammmyb16) April 2, 2014
Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com even has the Browns reaching for Fresno State quarterback Derek Carr with the fourth overall pick in his newest mock draft. The problem for Cleveland is that the team would likely benefit more from adding a high-impact player and immediate starter with their first pick than a quarterback with questions.
That doesn't, however, mean that they will.
Team Needs: QB, WR, OT
You may be noticing a trend here. The Jacksonville Jaguars, who actually pick one spot before Cleveland, are another team that could reach for quarterback help.
Grabbing Manziel, if available, at No. 3 seems to be a very real possibility for Jacksonville, even though he isn't as valuable in that slot as a guy like Clowney, Watkins or offensive tackles Greg Robinson of Auburn or Jake Matthews of Texas A&M.
As sports radio host Dan Patrick has long maintained, the Jaguars have to at least consider bringing Manziel to Jacksonville. Adding such a polarizing talent would bring excitement and relevance to a team that, outside of the immediate fanbase, has little of either. Patrick is far from the only analyst that sees a fit here.
The best fit for Manziel (of teams that need a QB) is the @jaguars. That said, I'd still prefer Bridgewater if I'm them.— Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) March 27, 2014
While I do tend to agree that adding someone like Manziel does make some sense for Jacksonville, the fact remains that the move would be a reach when you consider the amount of other talent that will be available with the pick.
A better bet for the Jaguars may be to try to trade away the pick to a team looking to move up and make a reach of its own.
Team Needs: OT, OLB, TE
Talk of trading up in the draft takes us to the Atlanta Falcons, who appear to be one of the only teams openly considering the move in the first round of the draft.
Atlanta Falcons are open to trading up in draft, per league sources. Falcons are first team known to be willing to go up.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) March 25, 2014
The questions revolve around who, exactly, the Falcons would trade up to get. An premier offensive tackle prospect like Matthews or Robinson seems possible, as the Falcons had one of the worst pass-blocking units (ranked 30th by Pro Football Focus) last season.
However, moving up to secure either player might be a bit of a reach, considering there is a strong possibility the other will be available at the Falcons' current slot of sixth overall. That, of course, may depend on how many teams reach for quarterbacks ahead of the Falcons.
Another potential reach for the Falcons is at tight end, where the team will be eager to replace retired Hall of Fame-worthy star Tony Gonzalez.
Grabbing a guy like North Carolina's Eric Ebron would certainly bring immediate talent to the position and excitement to the team, but doing so at No. 6 would be a reach.
Team Needs: QB, OG, S
Perhaps the Minnesota Vikings learned from passing on the likes of Nate Solder and Robert Quinn for a quarterback in the 2011 draft. Perhaps not.
Either way, general manager Rick Spielman and new head coach Mike Zimmer find themselves lacking a long-term solution at the quarterback position once again, which brings up the possibility of reaching for one with the eighth overall pick.
If one of the top quarterbacks—Bortles, Bridgewater or Manziel—falls to No. 8, there has to be at least some consideration on the part of Spielman and Zimmer to pounce on him. There is also the possibility that Minnesota makes a big reach for Carr with the pick if the other three are off the board.
The good news is that the Vikings re-signed journeyman quarterback Matt Cassel during the offseason. Cassel is at least competent enough (27th among quarterbacks, according to Pro football Focus) to hold down the starting job on a short-term basis.
The flip side is that his presence puts the Vikings in prime position to grab a developmental quarterback in a later round and focus on an immediate starter with their first pick. Ignoring that option for a first-round quarterback would be a reach.
New England Patriots
Team Needs: DL, C, WR
While the most consistently successful franchises often draft for talent and not need, sometimes it makes sense to reach for a particular position.
This may be the case for the 2014 New England Patriots, who currently hold the 29th overall selection. Yes, the venerable Patriots may be inclined to reach to fill a need early on draft day.
Unlike teams with gaping needs at important positions, however, New England may be tempted to reach for an entirely different reason. The harsh reality is that star quarterback Tom Brady is nearing the twilight of his career, and building a complete team while his window is still open deserves to be a priority.
Adding an elite defensive lineman, a true No. 1 receiver or a center to replace Dan Koppen would make New England better, possibly enough so to give the Patriots a different postseason outcome than last year.
Doug Kyed of NESN.com even believes the Patriots could trade up for a receiver like USC product Marquise Lee, even though there should still be talented wideouts available at No. 29.
Don't be too surprised if the Patriots decide to reach next month, though it wouldn't necessarily be a mistake.
San Francisco 49ers
Team Needs: WR, CB, DL
Much like the Patriots, the San Francisco 49ers are a deep and talented team (three straight NFC Championship appearances) that could still reach in the upcoming draft.
However, the window for quarterback Colin Kaepernick isn't nearly as narrow as it is for Brady. Instead, the motivation to reach for need may come from the franchise's desire to overtake the bitter division rival and defending champion Seattle Seahawks.
San Francisco might reach to grab a dominating wide receiver or defensive back. Adding another dynamic defensive lineman or pass-rusher is another possibility (Seattle had a lot of success with a rotational defensive front last season).
NFL Media analyst Daniel Jeremiah even believes the 49ers could trade all the way up from No. 30 to grab Watkins, the top-rated receiver, early in Round 1. Such a maneuver would be bold, surprising and a reach when you consider the type of talent that could still be there at 30.
It also might be a move that pays dividends. The Atlanta Falcons traded away five picks—including two first-rounders—to move from 27th to sixth to grab Julio Jones in 2011. The Falcons likely do not regret the decision.