NFL Draft 2014: Teams That Need to Hit Big with First-Round Picks

Adam WellsFeatured ColumnistApril 12, 2014

St. Louis Rams head coach Jeff Fisher, center, stands on the sideline in the second half of an NFL football game against the Seattle Seahawks, Sunday, Dec. 29, 2013, in Seattle. (AP Photo/John Froschauer)
John Froschauer

Building a championship roster in the NFL starts with the draft. The easiest way to add talent comes during those three days when all 32 teams enter Radio City Music Hall, write down a player's name on a card and look toward their future. 

It's an easy cliche to say that teams have to hit on their first-round picks, but some franchises have proven to be more adept at this than others, which is why there's such a disparity between the haves and have-nots in the NFL. 

Some of the teams that struggle to draft well will try to make up for it in free agency, which often just leaves them with bloated contracts of aging players that hamstring the salary cap for years. That's not a good strategy to use if you want to get where the Seattle Seahawks are right now. 

Here are the teams that desperately need to find success with their first-round picks in May's draft. 


St. Louis Rams (First-round picks: No. 2 and 13)

GLENDALE, AZ - DECEMBER 08:  Head coach Jeff Fisher of the St. Louis Rams reacts on the sidelines during the NFL game against the Arizona Cardinals at the University of Phoenix Stadium on December 8, 2013 in Glendale, Arizona.  (Photo by Christian Peterse
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Unlike the other teams that will appear on this list, St. Louis isn't in dire straits. The Rams are actually in fantastic shape heading into this draft, finding quality talent in recent years like Robert Quinn and Michael Brockers. 

Even last year's draft class with Tavon Austin and Alec Ogletree has a lot of promise for the future. 

But the Rams are in an ideal position this year to go from a solid team in the NFL's best division to a playoff contender. They have a huge need to address on the offensive line and are almost assured their choice of Auburn's Greg Robinson or Texas A&M's Jake Matthews with the No. 2 pick.  

Jeff Fisher also has the flexibility to trade down and still get an excellent tackle, like Matthews or Michigan's Taylor Lewan, while adding more picks later on. 

Rams general manager Les Snead told Greg Bedard of that they have had talks with teams about moving down, either from the No. 2 or 13 spot. 

We have had some conversations with multiple teams. They’re more flirtatious calls than anything. We have numbers 2 and 13, but Houston has number one. Nobody can really seriously chat with us until they are happy with at least two players.

The No. 13 pick can be a safe pick, like Alabama's Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, to give the back of St. Louis' secondary an enforcer or possibly to add the draft's No. 2 receiver, Texas A&M's Mike Evans, allowing Austin to move into his natural slot position and spread the field. 

Whatever direction the Rams decide to go on May 8, all the pieces are in place for them to take a huge leap forward. 


Oakland Raiders (First-round pick: No. 5)

Ben Margot

With that Raiders swagger long gone, this franchise is desperate to do something noteworthy. They had more money than anyone to spend in free agency yet wound up making one of the biggest blunders by agreeing to a five-year, $42.5 million deal with offensive tackle Roger Saffold only to void the deal due to concerns with his shoulder. 

The screw-up came when the Raiders allowed their own homegrown player in Jared Veldheer, who is just one year older than Saffold and doesn't have the extensive injury history despite playing just five games in 2013, to sign with Arizona for less money than they were going to pay Saffold (five years, $35 million). 

Quarterback is the obvious need for the Raiders (sorry, I'm not buying into a Matt Schaub resurrection). ESPN's Todd McShay noted in his most recent mock draft (Insider subscription required) that Blake Bortles would be the pick if he's still available. 

Even if Bortles is off the board—a likely scenario given how evenly matched the top three quarterbacks appear to be—there's no reason the Raiders can't find a franchise player at No. 5. 

This draft class has depth all over the place, with plenty of star power at the top. It's possible a player like Sammy Watkins, Khalil Mack or Jake Matthews falls to them. 

Watkins and Mack are game-changers at their respective positions. Matthews isn't sexy, but we have seen what the Raiders had to do this offseason just to find a left tackle. Why not draft a younger player with more upside than Saffold or Veldheer to fill the void?


Cleveland Browns (First-round picks: No. 4 and 26)

BEREA, OH - JANUARY 23:  Cleveland Browns new head coach Mike Pettine fields questions from the media during a press conference to announce his hiring at the Browns training facility on January 23, 2014 in Berea, Ohio. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
Jason Miller/Getty Images

With the emergence of Josh Gordon last season, along with cornerstone players like Joe Haden, Joe Thomas, and notable free-agent additions Donte Whitner and Karlos Dansby, the Browns are more interesting now than they have been at any point since coming back to the NFL in 1999. 

There are still massive holes on the roster that have to be addressed—like quarterback—but it's not crazy to be optimistic about where Cleveland is headed in 2014. 

NFL Media analyst Charley Casserly said the Browns have the best chance of any team to have an "A+" draft based on the sheer volume of picks they own. 

I think it's Cleveland because they have seven draft picks in the first four rounds. If I were running the team, I would do something to trade one or two of those picks to next year so you get a surplus there.

A lot of that optimism will rise or fall based on what happens with these two first-round picks. It's plausible to think the Browns will have their choice of Bortles, Teddy Bridgewater or Johnny Manziel when they make their first pick. 

Of course, if the Browns don't love any of those three quarterbacks, they might also have a chance to add the draft's best wide receiver (Watkins) or linebacker (Mack). Imagine opposing defenses trying to stop Gordon and Watkins. 

Then there is the No. 26 pick, which the Browns got by fleecing the Colts in a trade for Trent Richardson. It's easy to rag on Cleveland's front office and ownership, but give credit where it's due for turning one of the least valuable positions in the NFL into a first-round pick. 

Adding another cornerback to pair with Haden would go a long way toward shoring up this defense, though another offensive lineman who can open up holes for the running game wouldn't be a bad idea, either. 

Regardless of what's speculated right now, the Browns have a chance to go from obscure to legitimate playoff contender with the right moves in this draft. This is a franchise that needs to give its fans something to root for, so make this moment count. 


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