Handicapping the race for top pick in NFL draft

December 6, 2012

This is a bad season to be bad.

The usual reason a team finishes with the NFL's worst record is the lack of a franchise quarterback. Obtaining the top choice in the subsequent draft allows that downtrodden club to address the position with a college standout who, ideally, will do what Eli Manning and Peyton Manning have done by leading their respective squads to Super Bowl titles.

There isn't a player at that level in the Class of 2013.

USC quarterback Matt Barkley was considered the leading candidate after announcing a return for his senior season. Barkley's draft stock, though, has taken the same type of plunge the Trojans have in their 7-5 season.

Overall, there is no passer generating the same kind of pro buzz as Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III did at this time last year. While Barkley's value will likely rise again -- the position is traditionally over-drafted because of scarcity -- a non-quarterback is likely to go No. 1 for the first time since the Dolphins took left tackle Jake Long in 2008.

SiriusXM NFL radio host and scouting guru Gil Brandt says there is no clear-cut consensus No. 1 pick at this point. With the Chiefs (2-10) winning last weekend, there also is no frontrunner to secure that slot entering the final four games of the season, as was the case with the Colts in 2011.

Ten teams have marks ranging from 2-10 to 4-8. In the event two or more finish tied for the worst record, draft positioning will be determined by overall strength of schedule. The poorer the opponents' winning percentage, the higher the pick.

Here is my FOXSports.com projection as to which franchises are in the best position of having their draft card read first by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell on April 25 in New York City.

1. Kansas City (2-10)

Remaining opponents' winning percentage: .500 (24-24 combined record)

Best chance to win: At Oakland (3-9) on Dec. 16.

Outlook: The Chiefs responded in the face of tragedy last Sunday with their best performance of the season — a 27-21 victory over Carolina. If they keep that momentum going, there actually is an outside chance Kansas City could win out. The next two games are winnable at Cleveland (4-8) and Oakland. Indianapolis (8-4), which has struggled on the road, comes to Arrowhead Stadium on Dec. 23. And it’s uncertain whether AFC West champion Denver (9-3) will still be jostling for playoff seeding in the Week 17 finale or in a position where key starters like quarterback Peyton Manning can be given a rest.

Biggest position of need: Quarterback. Current starter Brady Quinn is a stopgap fill-in for Matt Cassel, whose days with the Chiefs are numbered after a turnover-plagued 2012 campaign.

2. Philadelphia (3-9)

Remaining opponents' winning percentage: .560 (28-22 combined record)

Best chance to win: Two .500 teams — Tampa Bay (Sunday) and Washington (Dec. 23) — are the only remaining opponents that don't have winning records.

Outlook: The Eagles are certain to secure their first top-10 pick since 2000, when they selected defensive tackle Corey Simon at No. 6. After losing eight straight games with an injury-riddled offense and papier mache defense, the Eagles have a legitimate shot at drafting No. 1 for the first time since they picked Hall of Fame linebacker Chuck Bednarik in 1949.

Biggest position of need: This depends on who's running the show once head coach Andy Reid gets fired. A defensive overhaul is coming after the Wide-Nine scheme that Philadelphia deploys failed miserably this season. Third-round 2012 pick Nick Foles has four games left to show he can be a franchise quarterback. If he fails, Philadelphia could address the position early in the first round for the first time since choosing Donovan McNabb at No. 2 in 1999.

3. Oakland (3-9)

Remaining opponents' winning percentage: .375 (18-30 combined record)

Best chance to win: Against visiting Kansas City (2-10) on Dec. 16, at Carolina (3-9) on Dec. 23.

Outlook: Having dropped five straight contests, the Raiders now have the NFL’s third-longest losing streak following the eight-game skids of Arizona and Philadelphia. But after hosting Denver on Thursday night, Oakland has a chance to salvage the end of its season against the Chiefs, Panthers and slumping San Diego (4-8).

 Biggest position of need: The defensive line. There are plenty of holes in Oakland but this is the biggest one. Defensive tackle Tommy Kelly has never lived up to the seven-year, $50 million contract he signed in 2008. The Raiders can create some much-needed salary cap space by releasing Kelly rather than paying him a $6.5 million base salary in 2013. Oakland also never replaced the pass rush provided by end Kamerion Wimbley after cutting him last March because of cap issues. The Raiders are ranked No. 31 in sacks with 14, led by end Matt Shaughnessy with a mere 3.5.

4. Jacksonville (2-10)

Remaining opponents' winning percentage: .479 (23-25 combined record)

Best chance to win: At Tennessee (4-8) in Week 17.

Outlook: The only team with a larger negative-point differential than Jacksonville (negative-136) is Oakland (negative-141). The problems stem from a defense that has allowed 28 touchdowns — the NFL's second-highest total behind Buffalo (29) — and an offense that sputtered under second-year quarterback Blaine Gabbert. Now that the more experienced Chad Henne has taken over the starting position, Jacksonville has a chance to win at least one more game with a schedule that features only one remaining opponent (New England) with a winning record.

Biggest position of need: A toss-up between defensive line and cornerback. The Jaguars have an NFL-low 13 sacks despite trying to address the problems at end through the years in free agency (Aaron Kampman and Matt Roth) and the draft (Derrick Harvey and Quentin Groves). Jason Babin, who was recently claimed off waivers from Philadelphia, isn’t a long-term answer. The Jaguars also lack a shut-down cornerback, a problem compounded by the lack of pass rush.

5. Carolina (3-9)

Remaining opponents' winning percentage: .479 (23-25 combined record)

Best chance to win: At home Dec. 23 against Oakland (3-9).

Outlook: Cloudy. The Panthers beat New Orleans – their season-ending opponent – in Week 2 and were set to best Atlanta before a late collapse in Week 4. But plenty has changed since both those matchups. Carolina fired general manager Marty Hurney and head coach Ron Rivera looks like he’ll be the next guy given a pink slip. Will the Panthers respond knowing Rivera is a lame duck?

 Biggest position of need: Wide receiver. The Panthers have no playmakers at the position for Cam Newton to target besides Steve Smith. Hurney’s history of striking out on wideouts – Dwayne Jarrett, Ryne Robinson, Brandon LaFell and Armanti Edwards were all drafted in the second and fourth rounds between 2007 and 2011 -- is one of the reasons Carolina’s passing offense ranks No. 16 in the NFL.

6. Arizona (4-8)

Remaining opponents' winning percentage: .573 (27-20-1 combined record)

Best chance to win: Detroit (4-8) comes to town on December 16.

Outlook: Every team talks about making history at the beginning of the season. This isn't what the Cardinals had in mind. No team has ever finished 4-12 after a 4-0 start, according to STATS LLC. Arizona has a legitimate chance at such an ignominious mark because of the NFL's worst offense. The low point came in last Sunday's 7-6 loss to the New York Jets when the Cardinals were 0 for 15 on third downs. Wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald's talents are being wasted in his prime because the Cardinals have failed to field a quality quarterback since Kurt Warner's retirement following the 2009 season.

Biggest position of need: The holes are all on offense. The Cardinals need personnel upgrades at quarterback, along the offensive line and potentially at running back with Beanie Wells and Ryan Williams being unable to stay healthy. Tight end has remained an afterthought even as more teams are using them to create mismatches in the passing game.

7. Detroit (4-8)

Remaining opponents' winning percentage: .646 (31-17 combined record)

Best chance to win: Arizona (4-8) is the last team left on the schedule with a losing record. Detroit plays there in Week 15.

Outlook: Detroit's faint playoff hopes were dashed last Sunday following a 35-33 loss to Indianapolis. That marked the Lions' third straight defeat by four points or less. Overall, only one of Detroit's losses came by more than one score. Detroit has the talent to upset Green Bay, Atlanta and Chicago in December provided the Lions stay motivated. That's not a given considering the on-going maturity issues on Detroit's roster. Calvin Johnson has a personal incentive that can inspire him -- a legitimate shot at becoming the first wide receiver to post a 2,000-yard season.

 Biggest position of need: Cornerback. This problem is nothing new in Detroit, but Lions general manager Martin Mayhew has refused to address the position in recent offseasons with an early draft pick or high-end signing in free agency. Such stubbornness, along with a rash of injuries at the position, cost the Lions severely in 2012.

8. Cleveland (4-8)

Remaining opponents' winning percentage: .500 (24-24 combined record)

Best chance to win: The Browns play at home Sunday against Kansas City (2-10).

Outlook: A win over the Chiefs would give Cleveland its first three-game winning streak since the end of 2009. But just how far the Browns are from becoming a playoff contender in 2013 can be better judged in the final three matchups against quality opposition. After hosting the Redskins in Week 15, the Browns finish the season on the road in Denver and Pittsburgh. Can the Browns beat the Steelers again with a healthy Ben Roethlisberger under center this time instead of Charlie Batch?

Biggest position of need: A defensive difference-maker on the outside at either end or linebacker. Juqua Parker, 34, leads the Browns in sacks with four. That's not going to cut it in a division that features Roethlisberger, Baltimore's Joe Flacco and Cincinnati's Andy Dalton.

9. Tennessee (4-8)

Remaining opponents' winning percentage: .479 (23-25 combined record)

Best chance to win: The New York Jets (5-7) and Jacksonville (2-10) are coming to Nashville in Weeks 15 and 17 respectively.

Outlook: After a slow start to the season, the Titans had some momentum going by improving to 3-4. The bottom then fell out with losses in four of the next five contests. Amidst that slump, the Titans fired offensive coordinator Chris Palmer. Unless the Titans get their act together, that's just the start of staff changes to come in the offseason. The best thing Tennessee can do now is continue the development of second-year quarterback Jake Locker, although injuries along the offensive line are making that increasingly challenging.

Biggest position of need: Albert Haynesworth and Tony Brown were a quality duo at defensive tackle that the Titans never replaced. Tennessee ranks 27th in the NFL in run defense with a 129.4-yard average.

10. San Diego (4-8)

Remaining opponents' winning percentage: .375 (18-30 combined record)

Best chance to win: After Sunday's game at Pittsburgh, the next three opponents (Carolina, the New York Jets and Oakland) are a combined 11-25.

Outlook: If football games were only three quarters long, the Chargers would be in the mix for the AFC's top playoff seed. Alas, they're not. San Diego's penchant for fourth-quarter collapses continued in last Sunday's 20-13 loss to Cincinnati. Even a winning streak to close the season won't be enough to save the jobs of head coach Norv Turner and general manager A.J. Smith after a third straight year out of the playoffs.

Biggest position of need: Left tackle. Quarterback Philip Rivers hasn't had a quality blind-side protector since Marcus McNeill suffered a career-ending neck injury in 2011 and replacement Jared Gaither failed to stay healthy in 2012. An argument also can be made at wide receiver. It's now obvious Smith made a huge mistake letting Vincent Jackson leave to Tampa Bay in free agency, then compounded the error by trying to replace him with a stiff like Robert Meachem. The ex-New Orleans Saints wideout has 14 catches and barely plays after signing a four-year, $25.9 million contract with $14 million guaranteed last March.