Five Teams who can Help Their Championship Aspirations with a Great 2014 Draft
A Quarterback driven league
In the NFL today it is necessary to have great quarterback play in order to have a chance to win a championship. Some teams have quarterbacks who are capable of playing at a great level, but do not have enough around them to win a championship. Other teams lack a franchise quarterback, but have a championship roster around an incumbent quarterback who is probably not capable of leading his team on a championship run. For this article, the focus will be on teams that have a quarterback who can play at a franchise level, but their team is missing that key component or the depth needed to win a championship. A look at five teams in the NFL that fit this mold in 2014, will give sports fans a better idea of what these teams can do in the draft to increase their chances if the opportunity is presented.
The Philadelphia Eagles
While the Philadelphia Eagles made the playoffs following the 2013 season, they were not a team that had title hopes. They did however find their franchise quarterback during the 16 regular season games that they played in 2013. With Nick Foles at the helm, expectations for the Philadelphia Eagles have changed going into the upcoming season. The loss of DeSean Jackson this offseason, creates some need at wide receiver for the Eagles, along with some depth at defensive back. To go along with quarterback Nick Foles, the Eagles have a lot of great skill players, a solid offensive line and a strong front seven on the defensive side of the ball. With their first two picks in the upcoming draft, expect the Eagles to draft a wide receiver and a defensive back. Key production at these positions could lead the Eagles to contending for a championship in 2014 and beyond.
Fortunately for the Eagles, the wide receiver position is very deep in the 2014 draft. If they decided to draft safety Calvin Pryor with their first round draft pick, they would have a good chance at landing an impact talent at wide receiver in the second or third round. If the Eagles were to pick a wide receiver in the first round, it would likely be one of Marquise Lee, Brandon Cooks, Odell Beckham, Allen Robinson or Jordan Matthews. Jordan Matthews might possibly be available to them in the second round, and if not they could take Martavis Bryant, Kelvin Benjamin or Cody Latimer in the second round of the draft. The Eagles top targets among the defensive backs should be Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Calvin Pryor. They could also draft a cornerback to add depth to that position after the first two rounds. Players to target at that position would be Lamarcus Joyner from Florida State and Jaylen Watkins from University of Florida.
The Indianapolis Colts
Andrew Luck's first two seasons in the league may not have met the expectations put on him as a super prospect at quarterback, but he has been good enough to lead his team to the playoffs in two straight seasons. The Colts were able to rally from a large deficit against the Chiefs to get a win in their second trip to the postseason with Andrew Luck as their quarterback, but their performance against the Patriots, suggested that they need to improve in order to be a title contender. So far the Colts have had a really solid offseason by retaining their own key free agents and signing quality players on the defensive side of the ball as starters, as well as depth players like Arthur Jones. However they do not have a first round draft pick in the upcoming draft, after trading their first round pick to Cleveland for Trent Richardson. This makes their second round pick even more important, and if they could get a quality cornerback in the second round, their title hopes would be very much alive.
The best case scenario for the Colts would be for Bradley Roby to fall to them in the second round. This is not a likely scenario however, because this talented cornerback from Ohio State, is projected to be drafted in the latter part of the first round. Cornerbacks Kyle Fuller, Phillip Gaines and Keith McGill, would all be fits with the Colts in the second round as bigger defensive backs. The Colts top cornerback Vontae Davis has some size, but pairing him with another bigger corner would only make the Colts secondary stronger. The Colts could also target a free safety in the draft, because they lack experience opposite their star safety in LaRon Landry. A player like free safety Terrence Brooks from Florida State, would be a great fit for the Colts as a second or third round draft pick. Ultimately the Colts have a strong roster, but they will need to have something go their way in the later rounds of the draft to really add to their roster this season without having a first round pick.
The New York Giants
The Giants are another team that has a franchise quarterback in place, but they are the first team on this list so far that has had championship success with their current quarterback. Eli Manning is respected league wide as a franchise quarterback who has the ability to lead his team to a title. Manning had a forgettable season in 2013, but the expectation is that he will bounce back this coming season, like most good players usually do. The Giants lost Hakeem Nicks on the offensive side of things this offseason, but they added to their defense. Eli Manning still has weapons with Ruben Randle, Mario Manningham and Victor Cruz as his top three wide receivers, and the Giants expect to be healthier along the offensive line this season. A couple key areas of need being addressed in the draft, could get the Giants right back on track to the start of a championship season.
There are a variety of directions that the Giants could go with their first round pick after a strong offseason. They could add depth to their defensive line by drafting Aaron Donald the defensive tackle out of Pittsburgh, or they could give their quarterback another great weapon by drafting Eric Ebron the spectacular tight end from North Carolina. Tight end would probably be the Giants biggest need after they addressed the running back position this offseason by signing free agent Rashad Jennings. If the Giants address the tight end position in the first round, they will be able to use the rest of the draft to take the best player available by adding depth along the offensive and defensive lines. This leaves the New York Giants in a very good situation, and could allow them to challenge for a title again in 2014.
The San Diego Chargers
The Chargers made the playoffs in 2013, and pushed the Denver Broncos to the limit in the second round after defeating the Bengals in the first round on the road. With a franchise quarterback like Phillip Rivers, the Chargers are a group that needs to stick with it and develop the team chemistry among some of the great young players on their roster. Star running back Ryan Matthews and budding star receiver Keenan Allen, give the Chargers a very nice offensive group to build around. Malcolm Jenkins is the big target for Phillip Rivers, and Eddie Royal is the perfect option in the slot for the Chargers. The Chargers once again appear to be strong defensively, especially at linebacker with the addition of pass-rusher Dwight Freeney on the outside. A key player or two added in the draft, could get the Chargers right where they want to be in terms of their roster construction.
While the Chargers return solid starting cornerbacks at both right and left corner, they do not have playmaking corners on the outside. Adding a cornerback in the draft, like Jason Verrett, Bradley Roby or Kyle Fuller, would be a huge addition to the Chargers defensive backfield. One of those three players would likely start almost right away for the Chargers, and give them playmaking ability in coverage against opposing wide receivers. The Chargers also could look to add a nose tackle after losing Cam Thomas in free agency this offseason. Louis Nix from Notre Dame could be there when the Chargers draft in the first round, and he is the best available player at that position. Like the other teams on this list, the Chargers are in a very good spot on draft day. Without having many needs, the Chargers can account for their needs with their first round pick and address depth by taking the best available player throughout the rest of the draft.
The Pittsburgh Steelers
The Steelers have Ben Roethlisberger in place as their franchise quarterback, and he has already led his team to two titles in his career as the Steelers quarterback. The Steelers have missed the playoffs in back to back seasons, and have experienced somewhat of a rebuilding period over the past two off seasons. After addressing some key needs this offseason, the Steelers are once again in great position to add the finishing touches to their roster with their early draft picks this year. The Steelers go into the draft with two definitive needs and lack of depth at the running back position. The Steelers need a starting cornerback after their defensive backfield gave up a lot of big plays last season. They also need a wide receiver to replace Mike Wallace and Emmanuel Sanders, who have left the Steelers each of the past two off seasons.
The player that would help the Steelers the most in this draft, is Darqueze Dennard, a cornerback from Michigan State University. The Steelers are also a team that could draft Odell Beckham in the first round if Dennard and cornerback Justin Gilbert are off the board by then. The Steelers best case scenario would be to draft Dennard in the first round, and draft one of Allen Robinson, Jordan Matthews or Devin Street in the second or fourth round. The Steelers could also use depth at linebacker and defensive line in this draft, but after addressing their two key areas of need, they will be in very good shape going into the 2014 season. After a down year defensively, the Steelers could make that draft pick that helps them return to the top of the defensive rankings.
While there is a chance that none of these five teams win a title in 2014 or the next few seasons, they all have the franchise quarterbacks to get it done. Teams like the Kansas City Chiefs and Carolina Panthers usually do not get consistent enough quarterback play to make a deep run in the postseason. These five teams are outside the five most obvious contenders in Seattle, Denver, New England, San Francisco and New Orleans, but they have a chance to really push those teams if they have a great draft. Next Thursday when the opening round of the draft happens, there will be some very compelling storylines surrounding the talent on these five teams.