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Early 2014 draft fixes for 0-3 teams

9/26/2013
AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack

Six NFL teams have started the season 0-3. Each still has 13 games left to play, and by no means do I believe these will be the teams selecting with the top six picks in next May’s draft.

But history tells us that there’s a 97 percent chance that each of these six 0-3 teams will miss the playoffs, which would earn them a spot in the top 20 picks.

And during these rough starts for each of these teams, some roster weaknesses have become apparent.

Let’s take a look at the early needs for each team, as well as some prospects who look like potential fits in next year’s draft. There is still so much left to be determined in terms of these teams’ final records and prospects’ draft stocks, but consider this a prospect viewing guide of sorts for fans of struggling teams.

Jacksonville Jaguars

The needs: Make no mistake, the Jags have more than just a QB problem. The interior of the offensive line is an issue that jumps off the tape, and the TE, OLB and CB positions could use upgrades, as well. But Blaine Gabbert is 5-20 as the Jacksonville starter and Chad Henne is 1-7, so unless Gabbert turns things around and proves he’s the long-term answer this season, GM David Caldwell and head coach Gus Bradley will likely be looking to take one of the top quarterback prospects in the 2014 draft.

 

The prospects: Assuming the Jaguars are picking at or near the top of the draft (not a bad bet, given their start to the season), Louisville’s Teddy Bridgewater and UCLA’s Brett Hundley, to me, are the top two options right now. I know from talking with Bradley how much importance he and Caldwell place on a quarterback’s character and mental and physical toughness. They want a guy who has a tireless work ethic and natural leadership abilities -- someone who can step right in and lead by example the way Bradley saw Russell Wilson do as a rookie last season in Seattle.

So that’ll be an interesting element to monitor in this process. Both Bridgewater and Hundley have plenty of physical tools, with Bridgewater excelling because of his strong, accurate arm and impressive command of his offense, while Hundley has good mobility and running ability to go along with his passing ability. In terms of intangibles, both score well, with Bridgewater probably needing to add a little more vocal leadership (something he's been working on) to his excellent toughness and work ethic. Hundley is a very poised, natural leader, but he’s not nearly as mature as a football player as Bridgewater.

Something else worth noting: I don’t think either guy is on Andrew Luck's level as a surefire prospect. I consider both of them to be more comparable to Ryan Tannehill, which is still meant as a compliment; I was really high on Tannehill coming out of Texas A&M and he’s starting to emerge for the Dolphins. But as much as I liked Tannehill, he was clearly a tier below Luck as a pro prospect.

Minnesota Vikings

The needs: I’m curious to see what the organization decides to do about Christian Ponder. He has undoubtedly struggled this year, but I know that after going through a detailed and extensive evaluation process during the 2011 draft, the Vikings strongly believed in Ponder's ability to succeed in the NFL. They also were understandably encouraged by his progress last season when the Vikings made the playoffs. So I'm guessing that it will be much more difficult than people seem to think for the Vikings to give up on Ponder. With that said, if he continues to struggle and/or battle durability issues, the Vikings will be forced to consider using a high pick in 2014 on another QB.

The prospects: If they look for a QB and are selecting near the top of the draft, both Bridgewater and Hundley will be strong candidates. Guys such as Oregon's Marcus Mariota, Miami's Stephen Morris and Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel would be late first-round or early second-round options, which could make sense if the Vikes decide to get someone to develop and push Ponder, rather than replace Ponder altogether.

The secondary is in tough shape right now, but that’s in part because of injuries, so I could see them addressing their needs on the D-line first. Obviously, South Carolina's Jadeveon Clowney would be the real prize, but if Minnesota is drafting a little further down in the order, a guy such as South Florida’s Aaron Lynch could make some sense, or maybe even UCLA’s Anthony Barr if they think he can fit as a 4-3 defensive end. Notre Dame’s Louis Nix III is probably a better fit as a 3-4 nose tackle, but he could also be an asset in a 4-3 defense.

New York Giants

The needs: The offensive line needs work, and the pass protection is particularly a mess. Eli Manning was sacked seven times against the Panthers, and the constant pressure on Manning is what’s leading to most of the Giants’ league-worst 13 giveaways through three weeks. The defensive front seven is another concern. The Giants have just three sacks in three games, and you have to wonder if starting DEs Justin Tuck and Mathias Kiwanuka are still impact players. Jason Pierre-Paul should return to form when healthy, but they need to draft more pass rushers.

The prospects: I’ll be very surprised if, when all is said and done, this team is picking in the top 10, so we’re likely looking at a mid-first round pick for them. But if they are toward the top of the draft, offensive tackles Jake Matthews (Texas A&M), Cyrus Kouandjio (Alabama) and Antonio Richardson (Tennessee) would be good fits, as would Alabama’s C.J. Mosley, a playmaking linebacker who works best as a weak side LB in a 4-3 system such as the Giants’.

The interesting thing, however, is that New York doesn't tend to draft offensive linemen and linebackers in the first round. In fact, they have only taken two O-lineman in the first round since 1988 (Justin Pugh in 2013 and Luke Petitgout in 1999) and haven’t drafted a linebacker in the first round since Carl Banks out of Michigan in 1984. So it wouldn't surprise me to see them go for an impact D-lineman again. They've struggled with drafting D-tackles lately, so guys such as Anthony Barr or Aaron Lynch could make since.

Pittsburgh Steelers

The needs: Turnovers and injuries continue to plague Mike Tomlin’s team. The biggest personnel issues that have emerged so far are on the offensive line, at tight end, wide receiver and nose tackle. And with Ike Taylor, Ryan Clark and Troy Polamalu all getting up there in age, the Steelers could afford to get younger in the secondary.

The prospects: The frustrating thing about the O-line issues for Steelers fans has to be the fact they've spent a lot of high picks there in recent years and haven’t seen the results, in large part, because of injuries. Antonio Richardson and Michigan's Taylor Lewan would be worth a look at tackle, but given the Steelers’ youth at that position and the fact that a return to health could solve some of the issues, it wouldn't be surprising to see them address other areas. UNC’s Eric Ebron and Washington’s Austin Seferian-Jenkins are big-time receiving threats at tight end and either would provide a nice infusion of youth at the position alongside veteran Heath Miller.

At receiver, possibly in the second- or third-round range (this could be a very deep crop of WRs), Ole Miss’ Donte Moncrief and Texas A&M’s Mike Evans are the type of big targets Pittsburgh has been lacking. Moncrief is an Anquan Boldin-type, and at 6-foot-5, 225 pounds, Evans has proved to be a matchup nightmare for opponents (7 catches for 279 yards and a TD in A&M’s loss to Alabama). Vanderbilt’s Jordan Matthews and Rutgers’ Brandon Coleman are two more big targets who could be worth a look.

In the secondary, safety HaHa Clinton-Dix (Alabama) and cornerbacks Marcus Roberson (Florida) and Bradley Roby (Ohio State) could all be good options for Pittsburgh in the late first- to early second-round range.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The needs: It was clear before Greg Schiano's decision this week to start rookie Mike Glennon over Josh Freeman that the coaching staff was not enamored with Freeman, and it’s time for Freeman to move on. Glennon will get his chance to prove himself, but if he’s not the answer, chances are this team is drafting in the top five next May and looking for a QB. On the defensive side of the ball, Tampa Bay’s pass rush has been really good, but they need a little more strength and size versus the run.

The prospects: Of all the possible first-round QB prospects, Teddy Bridgewater seems like he’d be the best fit for what the Bucs want to do (this is assuming Schiano is there for the long haul). They want a QB who can take care of the ball so that they can be a run-first, tough, defensive-minded football team. Guys such as Hundley, Mariota and Manziel, who provide more of a rushing threat, don’t seem to me like they would be what Tampa Bay is looking for.

Louis Nix III could be a really good fit here at nose tackle, adding size and strength next to Gerald McCoy. If they draft high and go the QB route, either of LSU's defensive tackles (Anthony Johnson and Ego Ferguson) could be a good early second-round option.

Washington Redskins

The needs: The biggest concern for the Redskins is Robert Griffin III’s health and the confidence he has in his knee. But in the meantime, the team needs to address its lack of difference-makers on defense. ILB London Fletcher can’t play forever, and it’s unclear as to whether Brian Orakpo will return to form. On offense, the line is not opening up holes in the running game while doing a below-average job in pass protection. The right tackle spot is the biggest concern there.

The prospects: Barring a trade, the Redskins will be without a first-round pick in 2014 (the Rams have it as part of the trade that netted Washington RG III), but if a tackle such as Taylor Lewan dropped, he would make a lot of sense for Washington. He’s not exceptionally gifted but is an experienced, reliable guy who is NFL-ready. That’s what they’re going to need a year from now, and as a bonus, he’s had experience blocking for mobile QBs. On defense, Buffalo’s Khalil Mack is a potential playmaker as a pass rusher, and he's someone who currently projects to land closer to the early second-round range.