The Five Most Intriguing Teams to Watch During the 2014 NFL Draft

By Nick Paulenich

Special to Pro Football Guru

It can be argued that no other major team sport relies as much on its draft to improve teams’ fortunes from year to year than the NFL.  For some teams, one player can be the difference between making the playoffs or not. The wrong choice can send a franchise spiraling for years to come.

This year, there are five franchises placing high importance on having a successful draft in 2014. These franchises may rebounding from a lost season (Houston Texans), looking  to make the jump to the next level (St. Louis Rams), resolving a long-time hole (Cleveland Browns), looking to retool  on the fly (San Francisco 49ers), or filling holes from offseason losses (Carolina Panthers).

Houston Texans

After winning the AFC South in 2011 and 2012, the Texans unraveled in 2013, finishing on a 14-game losing streak.  Despite last year’s freefall, the Texans still have a roster that can compete for a playoff spot.  With the first pick, will the Texans choose to trade down and feast on the depth of the draft? Or will they choose South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney and pair him with J.J. Watt to terrorize AFC South quarterbacks? Head coach Bill O’Brien has also publicly stated that the team would select a quarterback in this draft. The only question is when.

Picks (11): 1, 33, 65, 101, 135, 141, 177, 181, 211, 216, 256

Positions of Need:  QB, RT, OLB, TE, G

St. Louis Rams

The Rams will be looking to make a splash early with two of the first 13 selections. Tied with the Jets for the most picks (12) in this year’s draft, the Rams will have plenty of options. Will head coach Jeff Fisher draft an offensive lineman in the first round? He has never done so in the past. Will the Rams get quarterback Sam Bradford more help? Or are the Rams looking for a possible replacement to Bradford in the later rounds? Regardless, the Rams should be one of the more fun teams to watch at the draft.

Picks (12): 2, 13, 44, 75, 110, 153, 188, 214, 226, 241, 249, 250

Positions of Need: OT, S, CB, WR, LB

Cleveland Browns

The Browns own five of the first 83 picks. With one of those picks, the Browns will try to end their carousal of quarterbacks (20 different starters since 1999) and find their man. The question is, will the Browns select their quarterback with the fourth or 26th pick overall? The draft is especially deep in two of the Browns’ other areas of need: wide receiver and cornerback.  In the ideal draft, the Browns find their franchise quarterback, a receiver to pair with Josh Gordon and the cornerback to start opposite of Joe Haden. 

Picks (10): 4, 26, 35, 71, 83, 106, 127, 145, 180, 213

Positions of Need:  QB, WR, OL, ILB, CB, FS

Carolina Panthers

After finishing 12-4 and winning the NFC South last season, the Panthers may have the most holes to fill of any 2013 playoff team. The Panthers lost their top four wide receivers from last season (Ted Ginn Jr., Domenik Hixon, Brandon LaFell and Steve Smith).  Then there was the surprising retirement of three-time Pro Bowl left tackle Jordan Gross.  To make matters worse, the secondary saw safety Mike Mitchell and cornerback Captain Munnerlyn leave. With only seven picks, Panther management will be challenged to get quarterback Cam Newton some help, while not forgetting about the needs of the secondary.

Picks (7): 28, 60, 92, 128, 168, 204, 225

Positions of Need: OT, WR, CB, S

San Francisco 49ers

With four of the first 77 picks, the 49ers will focus on defense and finding a wide receiver. On defense, the 49ers released cornerback Carlos Rogers and fellow corner Tarell Brown left via free agency. Inside linebacker NaVorro Bowman is still recovering from a knee injury while defensive tackle Justin Smith will be 35 in September. These spots will need to be addressed if the 49ers want to continue to be one of the NFL’s top defensive units. On the offensive side of the ball, the 49ers could use a receiver who could stretch the field.

Picks (11):  30, 56, 61, 77, 94, 100, 129, 170, 242, 243, 245

Positions of Need: CB, ILB, WR, DL

Nick Paulenich is an experienced NFL writer and researcher and the founder of The Sports Savant. You can find Nick on Twitter at @npaulenich.