Sports Corner: The NFL Draft
The Bills, The Browns, and The Steelers all missed the playoffs. Now it's time to rebuild.
As the 2013 NFL Regular Season comes to a close, front offices have a lot of evaluating to do. While 12 teams are poised for the postseason, 20 others are already looking ahead to the 2014 NFL Draft, which is loaded with talented seniors and underclassmen capable of changing a franchise for the next 10 years.
The Cleveland Browns hold the fourth overall pick in this year's draft, and after the franchise's downfall of epic proportions (1-10 after a 3-2 start) following quarterback Brian Hoyer's ACL tear, general manager Michael Lombardi is looking for a new coach and a franchise quarterback – which has been lacking in Cleveland since the Browns' return to the NFL in 1999.
With the fourth overall pick and the 25th overall pick, Lombardi could attempt to package the two and trade up in the draft for University of Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater. The junior was a three-year starter at Louisville and threw for 3,970 yards and 31 touchdowns this season.
If the Browns can't trade up, Bridgewater will, in all likelihood, go to the Jacksonville Jaguars or the Houston Texans. Should Bridgewater be gone, the Browns could be looking at a decision between Fresno State's Derek Carr, UCF's Blake Bortles, and Texas A&M's Jonny Manziel. Although his numbers are not as gaudy as Carr's, Bridgewater has the most starting experience of all of the Browns' options and has played in a conference with strong BCS Bowl ties for his entire career.
Additionally, despite his 4.6 second 40-yard dash time, he has demonstrated strong pocket presence in Louisville head coach Charlie Strong's pass-happy system. Manziel has a questionable work ethic and is surrounded by NFL-caliber talent. And Bortles did not receive much attention from scouts until UCF joined the American Athletic Conference.
The Pittsburgh Steelers' story is opposite of the Browns. A sloppy 0-4 start led to fair weather fans putting their Terrible Towels away early this season. But by season's end, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was able to lead the team into a – albeit virtually statistically impossible – position to clinch a playoff berth. And somehow everything fell their way – save for a San Diego Chargers loss, leaving the Steelers out of the playoffs and with the 15th overall pick.
The Steelers front office tends to take the best player available as opposed to drafting to their needs. If they do so again this year, a potential candidate would be Alabama's inside linebacker, CJ Mosley. However, drafting a defensive back would be a much smarter move. Cornerback Ike Taylor is 33. Free safety Ryan Clark is 34. Pro Bowl-bound strong safety Troy Polamalu is 32. The offensive line could also use an upgrade, as 31-year-old Ben Roethlisberger's ability to evade the rush will continue to decline as he gets older.
Two offensive tackles could fall into the Steelers' lap: Taylor Lewan of Michigan and Cedric Ogbuehi of Texas A&M are both options with the 15th pick. Oregon cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu is smaller than most scouts would like, but he has the speed to run with deep threats. If Michigan State cornerback Darqueze Dennard falls all the way to the middle of the first round, it ought to be a shoe-in, but Dennard could go to the Detroit Lions with the 10th pick. The Lions dealt with an injury-riddled secondary that allowed 246.9 pass yards per game, which ranked 23rd in the NFL.
The 6-10 Buffalo Bills, like the Browns, suffered at the hand of quarterback injuries. It's safe to say that no one expected a playoff-caliber season out of Buffalo, but rookie quarterback EJ Manuel went down with an LCL sprain and was replaced by the somewhat capable journeyman Thad Lewis. The subpar season was saved by head coach Doug Marrone's first draft class as the Bills head coach.
In addition to Manuel, Marrone found a diamond in the rough: inside linebacker Kiko Alonso is a strong candidate for defensive rookie of the year, placing third in the NFL in tackles and recording four interceptions. Furthermore, former USC Trojan Robert Woods and U.S. Olympian Sprinter Marquise Goodwin provided solid reliable targets for Manuel, but Marrone is looking for even more in this year's draft.
Protecting Manuel should be the Bills' top concern. Texas A&M offensive tackle Jake Matthews should be off the board by the 9th pick, but Auburn's Greg Robinson, a sophomore offensive tackle, possesses monstrous size and strength at 6'5" and 320 pounds. Until he adjusts to the speed of the NFL game, he can be played on the right side. A popular local product for the Bills would be Buffalo outside linebacker Khalil Allen, who turned heads of scouts around the country after recording 2.5 sacks in an early-season game against Ohio State.
It has been made evident that the Browns have the biggest hole of any of the three teams; they are in desperate need of a franchise quarterback. However, all three local favorites have a lot to address this offseason to make an impact next season. The 2014 NFL Draft will take place at Radio City Music Hall in New York City May 8-10, 2014.
Adam Unger can be contacted at aUnger@ErieReader.com, and you can follow him on Twitter @AdamUnger28.