With the 2011 NFL Draft upon us, let's look at five non playoff teams from last season that can't afford to swing and miss with their first round draft picks—their playoff hopes may hinge on them making the right decision.
Just look at the Rams last year with Sam Bradford, and on the flip side, look at the Raiders and how some of their decisions have kept them from moving forward.
Last year, the Panthers did not have a first round pick, which makes this one all the more important. With so many needs, Carolina needs to figure out how they are going to build their team.
Are they going to use the Kansas City model and stock pile draft picks, or should they go for a franchise player if there is one in this year's draft?
If they don't think that there is a franchise-changing player out there, they need to find a partner and trade down for more picks, if they are satisfied with their quarterback position.
If they feel they still don't have a trigger man that can take them to the next level, then they have to roll the dice with Cam Newton. Newton dominated the toughest conference in college football, and he is arguably a better quarterback right now than Tim Tebow.
Everyone comes up with things they think he can't do, and tries to compare him to Vince Young, but that is not a fair comparison. He is an under-rated passer, with great football instincts, and he just wins.
If Carolina is serious about the quarterback position, Cam Newton is their man. If not, then trade down and get more picks. I think they go with Cam.
The Redskins took a tackle to solidify their offensive line in first round last year, but they still have a lot of holes to fill to get back into the playoff mix.
First and foremost, they need a quarterback. Rex Grossman and John Beck are not the answer. McNabb won't be back. Is there a quarterback worth taking a gamble on at number 10? Is it Jake Locker? Is it Blaine Gabbert?
They also need a corner and wide receiver help, but if Da'Quan Bowers is available they shouldn't pass him up. They need a good defensive end and Bowers will be the best player on the board if he is still there at 10.
He is NFL ready as well. They can get one or two wide receivers in the later rounds. If Cam Newton is still on the board that changes everything, but I don't think he will be. I am not convinced that Locker is not worthy of the 10th pick.
If he gets past Jacksonville at 16 he will slide right into the second round. The Redskins better be sure that he is their Sam Bradford if they take him at 10, or else they may not be able to recover. With a lot of good defensive ends and offensive lineman in the first round they can't mess this up.
Carson Palmer will not be back for the Bengals—that's just how it is. With the fourth pick, Gabbert and Locker don't give you a lot of value. If A.J. Green or Von Miller is available, you can't go wrong with either of those guys.
They can also trade down a little and take Julio Jones, and pick up a quarterback in the second round. Cam Newton can throw a monkey wrench into all of that. He is the only quarterback that is perceived as a franchise quarterback and a solid value in the top 10 of the first round.
I like Gabbert and Locker in the second or third round. I just think there are too many good linemen on the board to pass up in round one.
The Bengals are trying to shed the loser syndrome that they have had for a long time. Keeping Marvin Lewis as coach didn't make the fans happy and they need to make a splash with their first couple of picks.
They don't need to reach, just be solid.
Yes, the Fins will lose at least one of their best backs to free agency. Does that justify taking Mark Ingram with the 15th pick in the draft? I say no.
They should be thinking about offensive line and secondary, namely safety. Anthony Castonzo (OT) would be a great value pick at 15. I like Mike Pouncey in this spot as well. Ingram is a great player, but you can get running backs in later rounds.
The may not be as good as Ingram, but when you have as many needs as they do— including quarterback—you can afford to wait to draft a back.
They can't be satisfied with Thigpen or Henne as their quarterback. They should try to get a veteran quarterback that can groom a Christian Ponder or a Ryan Mallet and get them ready to take over in a couple of years.
In the division they are in, they have no chance at the playoffs if they screw up this first pick. They drafted Jared Odrick (DT) last year with their first pick and he was lost to injury for the year so the jury is out on him.
Without a quarterback, they have to win with defense and a running game and to do that they have to have a good offensive line. That is where their focus should be.
The biggest needs for the Cardinals? Quarterback and offensive line. They could use a cornerback as well and that is why they have to take Patrick Peterson if he is available.
He is the closest thing to a shutdown corner there is in this draft. They should not force this pick just because they need a lineman. If Von Miller, Da'Quan Bowers or Robert Quinn (DE) is available, they have to give them a look.
Trading down is an option for them as well, but if I can get Peterson then I don't trade down. If you trade down and get more picks, then you have to get a quarterback out of it.
Arizona has under-achieved with the level of talent they have. There is no reason they should not make the playoffs (their division is horrible), other than the fact that they need a quarterback. Everything else is in place.
A good job here could put them over the top.