The 2014 NFL draft is rapidly approaching, and it's time to start thinking about some of the potential picks that are about to take place.
Each year, a number of teams “win” the draft by making smart moves and nabbing talent that not only fits a need but also represents great value at the time of the selection. Other organizations “lose” by reaching for questionable prospects, making senseless trades and appearing to have no cohesive game plan with which to attack the event.
I’m going to focus on the former group in this article, so keep reading for some predictions on a few franchises that are likely going to hit a home run in this year’s draft.
San Francisco 49ers
The San Francisco 49ers underwent one of the quickest turnarounds in league history under head coach Jim Harbaugh, moving from a middle-of-the-pack squad to a perennial Super Bowl contender in short order.
While Harbaugh’s skills as a motivator, tactician and talent evaluator should not be discounted, general manager Trent Baalke and the rest of the front office also deserve plenty of credit for the team’s successes over the years.
It shouldn’t be surprising, as this club is one that traditionally drafts well. Since the 2002 draft, the 49ers have cultivated 10 Pro Bowl players from their picks in the first four rounds of the draft. They also have six All-Pro selections from those same rounds since 2005.
Perhaps Harbaugh’s propensity to play catch with some of the prospects on his squad’s big board is a reason for these successes. The head coach spoke with Kevin Clark of The Wall Street Journal about why he throws the ball around with potential draftees:
"I'm not trying to look in their eyes. Just trying to see how they catch."
The jury is still out on many of the picks that San Fran made in the 2013 draft, but it appears that safety Eric Reid is well on his way to stardom. The LSU product should soon represent another Pro Bowl talent on this roster and is a testament to the Niners' ability to find top-flight players outside the top half of the draft.
While the 49ers aren’t in possession of a great pick in this coming draft, fans of the storied franchise shouldn’t worry. It has a strong history of bringing star talent into the fold during May’s marquee event and could very well do it again this year.
New England Patriots
The New England Patriots are known for their ability to draft players, as head coach and general manager Bill Belichick has seen his fair share of stars develop since he took over the team at the turn of the millennium.
No team in the entire league has drafted more All-Pro players than New England has since 2005, as the club selected 10 of them in that span. Nine of them came within the first four rounds, showing just how adept Belichick is at scoring premier talent.
Will the Pats find a Pro Bowler in this year's draft?
The Patriots are also loaded with Pro Bowlers and have brought in 12 Pro Bowl standouts since 2002. Three of those came in the latter three rounds of the draft, a testament to New England’s ability to pour over film from lesser-known players and extract a diamond in the rough.
Quarterback Tom Brady is the best example of the Patriots' longstanding draft excellence, as the Michigan product was selected No. 199 overall in 2000. He went on to win three Super Bowls, two MVPs, make nine Pro Bowls and earn many more accolades as a consistent winner and top talent at his position.
Phil Savage, a former Cleveland Browns GM who worked under Belichick in the 1990s, explained how Belichick’s scouting system and talent evaluation used to work and possibly still does:
Under Bill Belichick in early 90's, he did not feel an area scout could know the entire country enough to say, "he's a 2nd rounder". #guess— Phil Savage (@SeniorBowlPhil) March 6, 2014
In the simplest terms, BB wanted to categorize the prospect as a "starter", "potential starter", "backup" or "camp body", no Round grades.— Phil Savage (@SeniorBowlPhil) March 6, 2014
The hooded guru is clearly doing something right, and it would be a surprise if the Pats didn’t bring at least one star aboard in this upcoming draft. The team has eight selections to make in May and appears to be poised as ever to make shrewd selections.