By Chad Underwood
As the National Football League and its fans wait through another offseason, one of the league’s premier events is only a couple weeks away: The NFL Draft. It is a spectacle in every way, from the non-stop coverage provided by ESPN and the NFL Network to the fans who pay to watch it all unfold from their seats in Radio City Music Hall. The draft can be a blessing or a curse for the bottom feeders of the league. In 2012, the Indianapolis Colts drafted Andrew Luck, who went on to have a remarkable first two seasons in the NFL. That pick set up the Colts to be successful for the foreseeable future. Much harsher realities face teams like the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Cleveland Browns, who cannot find the right formula when it comes to the draft. Both teams will once again pick in the top ten in this year.
In this preview, I would like to look at some of the teams with top picks, and how they could improve their chances of winning dramatically this offseason.
1. HOUSTON TEXANS
The Texans are coming off a 2-14 record last year and have a huge decision ahead of them regarding the number one overall pick. The team desperately needs a quarterback, but that would mean passing on South Carolina’s stud defensive end Jadeveon Clowney. The Texans were a playoff team two seasons ago and lost six games last year by five points or less. The case could be made that Houston is not as bad as last year’s record indicates. If the Texans go with a quarterback like Central Florida’s Blake Bortles, it puts them in a high-risk, high reward scenario. Drafting Clowney would be a much safer pick, and with the combination of him and current Texans defensive end J.J. Watt would certainly give Houston one of the most feared pass rushes in the entire league.
FINAL VERDICT: Take Clowney and find a quarterback in another round of the draft. Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson was a third round draft pick in 2012 and won the Super Bowl last year. It can be done.
2. ST. LOUIS RAMS
The St. Louis Rams had a 7-9 record last season, and they have this pick because of a trade that occurred with Washington in 2012. The Rams found a possession receiver in Tavon Austin in the first round of last year’s draft and could be looking at that same position this year. Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins could make an immediate impact on a young corps who needs another playmaker desperately. Of course, if Jadeveon Clowney is available, this would make perfect sense for the Rams, adding to an already strong pass rush that ranked third in sacks last season. If Clowney is not available, other viable options include trading the pick for a veteran wide receiver or taking Buffalo DE Khalil Mack, who is widely considered the second best DE in the draft.
FINAL VERDICT: I love the idea of trading the pick for a veteran receiver if that option is available. Lots of teams will be chasing Clowney, so if he slips to that second pick it will take on a whole new level of value. If the Rams can get a team to overpay for the second overall pick in the form of a wide receiver with professional experience, I would trade the pick.
3. JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS
The Jaguars obtained a 4-12 record last season and maintained their reputation as the laughing stock of the league. Wide receiver Justin Blackmon is suspended indefinitely and requesting reinstatement in 2014 after some trouble with the law and a trip to rehab. So it might make the most sense for the Jags to cut ties with Blackmon and draft an available receiver like Sammy Watkins or Mike Evans from Texas A&M. Jacksonville also needs help at quarterback and another Texas A&M player could help there: Johnny Manziel. Manziel is by far the most exciting player in the draft, and one the Jags could benefit from by drafting. The franchise has been rumored to be moving to Los Angeles and has the worst attendance in the league. If Manziel was selected, that could quickly change.
FINAL VERDICT: This franchise needs a “shot in the arm” more than anyone, and the current front office might only have one more chance to make it work. Manziel is a dynamic player who will immediately sell jerseys and get people in the stadium for games. That, above all, is what the Jaguars need right now: a game-changer.
The NFL Draft is full of twists and turns, and nothing is guaranteed. Just because I think this would be a smart way for the first three picks to be used does not mean there are not bigger and better ways for these teams to use their assets. No matter what, the event will be entertaining and stressful for anyone who has a rooting interest in any club.