By trading away their top offensive player (Brandon Marshall) a year after trading away their top offensive player (Jay Cutler), the Denver Broncos have put themselves squarely in the crosshairs of the April 22-24 NFL draft. The Broncos need to show that these trades were worth moving such valuable -- and temperamental -- pieces by picking the right players to get back in the playoff discussion.
Seattle is in a similar situation but for different reasons. The Seahawks' talent is older and attrition seems to be striking every day. New Coach Pete Carroll has two first-round picks and he needs to hit the mark with both in order to kick-start a rebuilding process that could be painful if he whiffs.
No team, though, might be more under the spotlight in terms of the caliber and character of the players they select than the Pittsburgh Steelers. The offseason negativity, brought on by incidents involving Super Bowl heroes Ben Roethlisberger and Santonio Holmes, have made getting quality players and upstanding people even more a priority for this storied franchise.
Let's look at some teams that need to hit it big in the draft -- and why.
Pittsburgh (No. 18 overall, 11 selections total)
Besides trying to rebuild its image, Pittsburgh must radically upgrade its talent. If an injury to one player (S Troy Polamalu) could lead to so much inconsistent play last season, then there were some inadequate players on the roster. The Steelers will need to bolster the secondary and offensive line and likely will add to every offensive skill position -- with wide receiver possibly being the first one addressed in the draft.
Though cornerback is also a pressing issue, if a high character, dynamic talent like Georgia Tech wide receiver Demaryius Thomas is available at No. 18, the Steelers might find Holmes' replacement with someone potentially a lot better. At some point, another receiver could be selected since Hines Ward is nearing the finish line.
While it seems unlikely Pittsburgh would trade Roethlisberger -- it might if the right deal comes its way -- the Steelers seemingly have to draft a quarterback at some point. Dennis Dixon is next in line but adding depth might be prudent. With character being such an emphasis, a potential perfect fit at running back to complement Rashard Mendenhall, Oregon's LeGarrette Blount, could be eliminated from consideration. However, there is tremendous running back depth in this draft class, and a nice pickup can be had in the middle rounds.
If the Steelers don't make the playoffs after the tumultuous offseason, it could be very ugly. The Rooney family typically doesn't make major changes with its franchise but what's gone on this offseason combined with a poor season could prompt them to make an exception.
Seattle (No. 6 and 14 in the first round, nine overall picks)
The Seahawks have too much ammo not to make a splash. While it might not translate into a lot of wins, new coach Pete Carroll can start building an exciting foundation for the next era. The first draft for Carroll and first-time GM John Schneider will say a lot about their ability to judge talent, as is the case for new regimes that tend to make it and those that don't.
Seattle must be sure, because picks No. 6 and No. 14 have proven to be a mixed bag the past few seasons, with just one Pro Bowl player from the past three years. Last season, OT Andre Smith and CB Malcolm Jenkins went at those positions, respectively. In 2008, LB Vernon Gholston and OT Chris Williams; In 2007, S LaRon Landry and CB Darrelle Revis.
Carroll has to address a weak offensive line that looks set to lose future Hall of Fame tackle Walter Jones. A dynamic playmaker seems set for arrival and the team's flirtation with WR Brandon Marshall could tip things in the direction of WR Dez Bryant. Though it parted with its high second-round pick to acquire QB Charlie Whitehurst in a trade, Seattle has a valuable late pick in the second (60th overall).
Denver (No. 11 overall, seven picks total):
Point Blank: The Broncos have to hit big. It might not be with star power but they better get some immediate impact players to help erase doubts that coach Josh McDaniels and the front office knew what they were doing when they dealt Cutler and Marshall and had defensive coordinator Mike Nolan bolt to Miami. McDaniels and crew seem bright and as football savvy as it comes, but they have to make progress. That comes with talent, which this team needs.
Three-year draft review
By getting the 43rd overall pick from Miami in the Marshall trade to go with the 45th selection and the 11th overall, the Broncos could be a draft day powerhouse. Either of those second-round picks could get them back into the first round or leave them in prime position to pluck from the wealth of draft talent in the secondary, at wide receiver, running back and outside linebacker that will be there early in the second round.
With Marshall's departure, filling the void in the passing offense could come via Bryant. However, with McDaniels hoping to sidestep any player-coach character issues, cerebral linebacker Rolando McClain could be a perfect fit with the No. 11 pick. The Broncos could parlay one of those second-round selections to get into the first round and get Thomas, who is a physical clone of Marshall.
Washington (No. 4 overall, four picks total)
How can a team with only four picks be included in a must-draft well situation? Because they only have four picks -- for now (more on that soon).
Coach Mike Shanahan did not come to Washington to bust and owner Dan Snyder didn't bounce his longtime confidant Vinny Cerrato to have someone not do better with personnel.
With an abundance of upgrades needed on offense, the Redskins can't flop. I also expect the Redskins to make at least one trade -- DT Albert Haynesworth, QB Jason Campbell and maybe LB Rocky McIntosh and Landry are bartering pieces -- to have at least five draft choices. Regardless of how many they end up with, the margin for error is slight.
With one of the shakiest offensive lines in the NFL and a potential Hall of Fame quarterback in Donovan McNabb now playing behind it, the selection of Oklahoma State tackle Russell Okung -- the top-rated player at his position -- seems like a no-brainer. Somehow, Washington must accrue additional talent along the line. Shanahan and his staff in Denver built some highly effective offensive lines by getting solid players with low-round picks and using the zone-blocking technique. Will it work here? It better.
San Francisco (No. 13 and No. 17, nine total picks)
With Trent Baalke and coach Mike Singletary running the draft after GM Scot McCloughan's post-combine parting, the 49ers are on watch. Not just because the point man for prior drafts is gone, but because this is an ascending team with three picks in the top 49, and two in the top 17. This could be a watershed draft. If the Niners hit, they could be this season's Saints (if quarterback Alex Smith plays like a playoff-type quarterback).
San Francisco is in position to be a team targeted for trades. Singletary wants to get at least one lineman who can simply mash in the running game and the 49ers could go that route with one of their first-round picks. They need to fortify their secondary and Florida CB Joe Haden seems like an ideal fit for Singletary, especially with the effort he puts into every play. The 49ers wouldn't mind adding another offensive playmaker, and running back C.J. Spiller could be in play.
Predict the pick
No team seems more poised to challenge Arizona for the NFC West crown than San Francisco. If it drafts well, this could be its time.
St. Louis (No. 1 overall, 10 total picks)
There are three reasons teams don't want the first pick in the draft. 1) It means you stunk the year before. 2) The financial commitment is ghastly. 3) If you make a mistake, it could set the franchise back for years -- especially if that mistake is a quarterback. With the Rams, you could add a fourth reason in 2010: There is a pending ownership change and a bad draft to go with a new person writing the checks could cost a whole lot of jobs.
Pressure is on the Rams from all directions and with high picks in every round, they have to be exact. Mind you, the roster is so bereft of talent, even finding two or three players will be an improvement. But if the wins don't start coming in volume and the players continue to be misfits, the fans will stay away and a relocation to say, Los Angeles, can't be ruled out.
With all that, GM Billy Devaney and coach Steve Spagnuolo can't play it safe. Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford is The Guy. They've cleared the throne for him by cutting Marc Bulger. You need a quarterback to win and Bradford is the best of the group. It's always a risk, but if he turns out to be as good as so many of the recent first-round quarterbacks, the Rams will be on their way. If he busts, well….
St. Louis is not being handicapped by finances despite the looming ownership change, so Devaney can do what he needs to do to build a roster that needs help everywhere but tailback and middle linebacker.