The best way to build a winning tradition is by making smart choices in the draft, here are five teams who can make a huge leap with a great 2017 NFL Draft
With the 2017 NFL Draft quickly approaching fan bases are anxious to see who it is their favorite teams will select. It’s a time of anticipation and hope. Fans of poor NFL teams are hopeful that they can finally see that game-changer get drafted. Fans of successful franchises are hoping to see that one missing piece get selected that can put them over the top.
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Whatever end of the spectrum your rooting interest lies on, the reality is the NFL draft is the best place for team building. Of course free agency is always an option, but historically the teams that spend like crazy aren’t the ones who win. Teams that draft well do.
Now we will focus on teams that are right on the cusp of greatness. Several NFL franchises put together solid 2016 campaigns and will be returning their core players. These franchises can make a huge jump from being a good team to being a great team by hitting on their selection in the 2017 NFL Draft. Here are the top five teams who could make that leap if they play their cards right.
Oct 27, 2016; Nashville, TN, USA; Tennessee Titans running back DeMarco Murray (29) runs for a short gain against the Jacksonville Jaguars in the first half at Nissan Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports
5. Tennessee Titans
The Tennessee Titans have so many good things going for them. They were third in the NFL in rushing last season with 136.7 yards per game. It’s easy to see why they were so good there as they combined former league leading rusher DeMarco Murray with 2015 Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry at the running back spot. As good as they were on the ground, they were even better stopping opposing runners. The Titans were second in the NFL in yards surrendered on the ground allowing just 88.3 yards per game.
Although they were great on both sides in the run game, they struggled with the passing game on both offense and defense. Offensively they have the quarterback in place with Marcus Mariota. The former second overall pick out of Oregon had a solid season in his sophomore year, but despite finishing with a rating of 95.6, he had some inconsistent outings. The biggest reason has to be their lack of a true No. 1 wide receiver.
On the defensive side they need to find some help in their secondary. After giving up 269 yards per game through the air in 2016, this needs to be a priority. Neither of their safeties are considered great and they could stand to upgrade the cornerback spot as well.
While the 2017 NFL Draft doesn’t seem particularly stacked with receivers, there are a number of good corners out there, some who may last until the second or even third day, who could find themselves becoming productive starters. If Tennessee is able to land a good receiver, which they most likely can do in the first round of the, and a starting caliber safety or corner they could make some huge leaps this season. They are so close to being a really good team, and this may be their year.
Jan 1, 2017; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz (11) runs with the ball against the Dallas Cowboys during the third quarter at Lincoln Financial Field. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports
4. Philadelphia Eagles
They mortgaged their future to obtain the second overall pick in last year’s draft, or so we all thought. The Philadelphia Eagles made a lot of moves to get up to the second overall pick in the draft and they selected North Dakota State quarterback Carson Wentz. Part of the deal to move up included surrendering their first round selection in the 2017 NFL Draft.
Then the Minnesota Vikings came in and bailed them out of that mortgage. The desperate franchise lost their starting quarterback, Teddy Bridgewater, for the season and gave up a first-round pick for Sam Bradford, who the Eagles didn’t even want anymore as evidenced by their desperation to move up and get a real quarterback.
So now the Eagles have their guy and a full-bevy of picks to get him some weapons. Their biggest needs are running back and wide receiver. While backs can be found all over, the wide receiver position isn’t as easy. The Eagles have tried in recent seasons with Nelson Agholor in the first round in 2015 and Jordan Mathews in the second in 2014. Should they finally get a stud wide out, it would make all the difference in the world for Wentz and his development as a pro. Players like Western Michigan’s Corey Davis and Clemson’s Mike Williams would be excellent options if available.
Outside of those positions, the Eagles could use some secondary help. Overall their defense is fairly strong, but that can be exposed at times on the back end. If they are wise with their picks this season, they can make a huge leap from team on the brink of the post season, to a team making some noise.
Jan 15, 2017; Arlington, TX, USA; Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott (4) throws as running back Ezekiel Elliott (21) blocks during the game against the Green Bay Packers in the NFC Divisional playoff game at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports
3. Dallas Cowboys
Okay, so maybe a team that went 13-3 doesn’t need to make a “great” leap. However, the Dallas Cowboys are facing a pivotal offseason. Lots of change is on the horizon in Big D after absolutely destroying the 2016 draft, getting the explosive league leading rusher Ezekiel Elliott and new franchise quarterback and NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year Dak Prescott.
Now they have gone from a veteran franchise to a group of youngsters who have to deal with success in the NFL. Dak and Zeke won’t be surprising anyone this season. The whole league knows how good they are and in order to keep them on top of the NFC East, they need to keep stockpiling talent. Especially on the defensive side of the ball.
While Dallas was a phenomenal offensive team a season ago, their defense was successful thanks to a lot pf “smoke and mirrors.” Defensive coordinator Ron Marinelli made a lot work with subpar talent, but they were eventually exposed in the post season. This year the Cowboys can start trying to fill in that weakness.
The 2017 NFL Draft is loaded with what Dallas needs most, pass rushers. The Cowboys could do themselves a huge favor by selecting a player to rush the opposing quarterback early on. It would also be wise in such a stacked draft to find some potential gems in the late rounds as well. Outside of pass rush there could be holes at safety and cornerback as well.
As mentioned earlier there is a solid amount of corners in this draft as well, and the Boys found a potential starter in Anthony Brown last season in the sixth round. Should they have even half as good a draft this season as last, they could make a huge leap by becoming a force in the playoffs rather than just a participant. Especially if they focus on fixing that defense.
Dec 3, 2016; Bowling Green, KY, USA; Western Kentucky Hilltoppers offensive lineman Forrest Lamp (76) celebrates his teams victory following the CUSA championship game against the Louisiana Tech Bulldogs at Houchens Industries-L.T. Smith Stadium. Western Kentucky won 58-44. Mandatory Credit: Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports
2. Miami Dolphins
After starting the season 1-4, the Miami Dolphins found their stride and wound up a 10-6 team. Unfortunately they lost their starting quarterback Ryan Tannehill to injury, and they were unable to win their one playoff game against the Pittsburgh Steelers. With him returning to health for the upcoming season, they have a chance to build on their momentum. They can do that and become a post season threat by making some smart picks in the 2017 NFL Draft.
The strength of the Dolphins turnaround last year was their running game. Second-year back Jay Ajayi took over in Week 6 and rushed for over 200-yards and did the same the following week. He finished the season with a third 200-plus yard performance and landed fourth overall in rushing yardage.
Ajayi was impressive, but he could do even more damage if the team is able to shore up the interior of their line. They could also use some help at defensive end, especially after the Mario Williams experiment didn’t work out.
One player who could help their run game improve, while also allowing more time for Tannehill to operate is West Kentucky offensive lineman Forrest Lamp. Pairing him with 2016 top pick Laremy Tunsil would give Miami one of the more talented lines in their division. They could then find someone as un upgrade over Williams with their second round pick. Players like DeMarcus Walker or Devonte Fields could be options during day two.
An exciting young team, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers had a shot to make the playoffs following the 2016 season, but they just couldn’t handle a tough stretch run to close out the year. Now they enter the third year of the Jameis Winston era as the young quarterback tries to prove he belongs to be talked about with some of the best in the game today.
One guy on their team who already is considered one of the tops at what he does is wide receiver Mike Evans. The 6-5 wideout has been a beast since joining the Bucs as a rookie in 2014. He was the seventh overall selection that season and in three years has hauled in 27 touchdowns passes and has gone over a thousand yards in each season.
Defensively they have a ton of youthful talent as well. Cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III is a young superstar in the making and linebacker Kwon Alexander is able to make plays all over the field. There could also be a big jump for 2016 second-round pick Noah Spence, who had 5.5 sacks as a rookie.
Tampa Bay could stand to improve their offensive line as well as getting a running back to push, and/or replace Doug Martin who was ineffective last season. Picking 19th in the 2017 NFL Draft, they should be able to find someone who can be an immediate contributor. If they can do that while also adding a few more quality picks along the way Tampa Bay could be a team on the rise.