2011 NFL Draft: Which Players Can Push Top Teams Closer To the Super Bowl?
Winning the Super Bowl is the goal of every NFL team every season. Only one team can achieve that goal, and drafting well is a major step toward achieving it.
This year's draft is filled with a new crop of potential superstars. There will be busts, there always are.
The teams who make the Super Bowl do so by drafting well and developing the picks they take.
For playoff teams, the difference between a Super Bowl and an early postseason exit can be one player. Sometimes that hole is filled through free agency, but sometimes it is done through the draft.
Here are 16 potential playoff teams in 2011 who will get a much-needed boost from this year's draft.
Chicago Bears: Gabe Carimi
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images
The Bears had offensive line problems in 2010. The defense was elite, the special teams solid. Even the offense was potent enough some of the time.
The problem was the offensive line was a sieve that kept breaking down. Jay Cutler got the crap kicked out of him all year, and then suffered the MCL injury in the NFC Championship Game.
Would Cutler have suffered the injury and fallen under the controversy he will have to deal with for the rest of this offseason and the beginning of next season if he would have had a better offensive line?
Probably not, which is why the Bears get an offensive lineman in the first round.
Gabe Carimi is a Mountain Giant who is athletic enough and talented enough to step in his rookie year and take over.
Atlanta Falcons: Aaron Williams
Joe Robbins/Getty Images
The Falcons secondary got exposed at the end of the year and they went from being the most complete team in the NFL, to a fellow Super Bowl spectator.
Aaron Williams is a top cornerback prospect who still should be on the board when the Falcons pick and will be an instant upgrade to the unit.
Baltimore Ravens: Jonathan Baldwin
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images
The Baltimore Ravens need a downfield threat, and everyone knows it. Joe Flacco seemed limited with his options in 2010, and even when he went downfield, there were no guarantees.
Jonathan Baldwin is everything the Ravens need. If they do not try and trade up to get a Julio Jones or A.J. Green, then Baldwin is their best bet.
Green Bay Packers: Justin Houston
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
The Green Bay Packers won the Super Bowl, so the question is: What do they need to win another one?
The Packers will have a target on their backs for the entire 2011 season and will have to be even better. The Packers had enough depth in 2010 to overcome all the injuries they suffered, but there is no guarantee they can do so again.
Clay Matthews really emerged in 2010 as one of the league's dominant linebackers. Now, teams will prepare for him, so the Packers need to get another rush linebacker to work opposite the rising star.
Justin Houston appears to have everything the Packers need to repeat as Super Bowl Champions.
New York Jets: Phil Taylor
Jamie Squire/Getty Images
The New York Jets have to solidify the middle of their line. Phil Taylor will be one of the best options on the board when the Jets pick.
Rex Ryan will be tempted to address other areas, but the defensive line needs some youth and speed on it, and Taylor is that guy.
New England Patriots: J.J. Watt
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images
J.J. Watt is the answer to Bill Belichick's pass-rushing prayers.
The Patriots actually were in a rebuilding year during 2010, so finishing the season 14-2 is something they will have to improve on in 2011.
Sarcasm aside, the Patriots do need to improve their pass-rushing unit and Watt is a key player for them to try and get in this year's draft.
Pittsburgh Steelers: Mike Pouncey
Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images
The Steelers, like the Bears, had offensive line problems in 2010. Partly due to injury and partly due to neglect, the Steelers were forced to use their tight ends to block for Ben Roethlisberger.
With the two Pouncey brothers on the line, the Steelers should have one of the best offensive lines in the league and be better able to not only get back to the Super Bowl, but win it.
Indianapolis Colts: Torrey Smith
Peyton Manning ran out of quality wide receiver to throw to in 2010. Most of that was due to injury, but more depth is needed at the position.
Torrey Smith should help give Manning another target to throw to and take pressure off of Reggie Wayne.
New Orleans Saints: Muhammad Wilkerson
The Saints got bounced out of the playoffs for a few reasons, but one of the main reasons was their inability to stop Marshawn Lynch.
The Saints run defense needs serious help, and Muhammad Wilkerson is rocketing up the draft boards. Wilkerson can help shut down the run and get the Saints back into the Super Bowl.
Kansas City Chiefs: Aldon Smith
Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images
The Chiefs defense needs some work going into 2011, and Aldon Smith should be the guy they target with their pick.
Smith needs more development, but he is considered an elite talent.
Pass-rushing is a need for the Chiefs and Smith can help them out.
Philadelphia Eagles: Tyron Smith
Jeff Golden/Getty Images
The Eagles need to protect Michael Vick. Enter Tyron Smith.
Smith is very smart and very athletic and projects to make a quick transition to the pros. Protecting Michael Vick is the Eagles No. 1 priority in 2011, and drafting a good offensive lineman will be their primary goal for the first round.
Seattle Seahawks: Anthony Castonzo
The Seattle Seahawks also need to target an offensive lineman with their first pick. The Seahawks have a lot of needs, but stabilizing the line and giving their quarterback a chance to set himself and make throws is their top need.
Whether it is Matt Hasselbeck, Charlie Whitehurst or a draft pick, the Seahawks lost too many games last year because of line issues.
Russell Okung was step one in addressing that problem, Anthony Castonzo will be step two.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Adrian Clayborn
Christian Petersen/Getty Images
Adrian Clayborn had an underwhelming senior year, which means he still should be on the board when the Buccaneers come on the clock.
The Bucs just missed the playoffs in 2010, but with Clayborn, who still projects to be an elite pass rusher in the NFL, the Bucs can get the drop on the Saints or the Falcons and make it into the postseason in 2011.
New York Giants: Ben Ijalana
The Giants also are looking for offensive line help. Eli Manning spent too much time scrambling last year and the Giants offense was not as effective as it should have been.
The Giants need to be effective in a division that features the Eagles and Cowboys, so drafting an offensive lineman makes sense.
They have enough tools at wide receiver and running back that those aren't top needs. The defense needs work, but no one position screams out for a first-round pick.
That leaves the offensive line, and Benjamin Ijalana.
San Diego Chargers:
Sean Gardner/Getty Images
The Chargers defense was one of the best in the NFL, but they did not make the playoffs. If the Chargers add Cameron Jordan and his speed to their team, that could be the difference between just missing the playoffs and dominating the AFC West.
San Francisco 49ers: Blaine Gabbert
Joe Robbins/Getty Images
The 49ers need a quarterback. Jim Harbaugh may be trying to keep Alex and Troy Smith for reasons of his own, but Blaine Gabbert is the quarterback of the future. If the 49ers take Gabbert, they can use his talents to dominate a very weak NFC West and make it into the postseason in 2011.