While predicting which players will go in the top ten of the 2014 NFL draft is nearly impossible this early, it’s not so when thinking about which teams could end up there next May. Based on results from week two, which franchises bear watching?
#1 – Jacksonville Jaguars – Blaine Gabbert gaffe must come to an end
There really is no debating this one. While head coach Gus Bradley seems to have made improvements to the Jacksonville Jaguars defense, the problems on the offense seem worse than ever. Blaine Gabbert is a lost cause, Maurice Jones-Drew is hurt (again) and Chad Henne will simply prove he isn’t a front line starter with another Florida franchise. On top of that they still have to play the NFC West as part of a brutal schedule. Not a great combination. The fact of the matter is nothing will change for this team until they fix the quarterback position. The best way to do that is in the top of the draft.
#2 – Cleveland Browns – Brandon Weeden not on the same page with Rob Chudzinski
Ray Horton has done some good things with the Cleveland Browns defense but the real headache is finding out what in the world happened to Brandon Weeden and the offense. Through two weeks they have scored just 16 total points while the second-year quarterback has been sacked 11 times. Head coach Rob Chudzinski and offensive coordinator Norv Turner have no answers for the slow start, and worst of all can’t seem to get running back Trent Richardson going on the ground. Part of the problem is the absence of wide receiver Josh Gordon, who is out due to a suspension. Still, unless some radical changes happen the Browns seem destined for another rough year.
#3 – Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Greg Schiano faces a possible mutiny
Perhaps Darrelle Revis carried the soap opera plague from the Jets to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Just two games into the season the team already seems on the verge of a breakdown. This due to two heartbreaking but narrow losses. Quarterback Josh Freeman wants out via a trade. Safety Dashon Goldson faces a one-game suspension for safety violations and even Revis has begun to speak out against the militaristic coaching style of Greg Schiano. Worst of all they head into week three against the New England Patriots. Another loss could topple this house of cards and send TampaBay into a freefall. If that happens, expect major changes from the top down.
#4 – Carolina Panthers – Cam Newton has been robbed of weapons by Ron Rivera
Ron Rivera is beginning to see the error of his ways. Improving the interior of his defensive line was a priority last season and he made the right call selecting Star Lotulelei in the first round. After that though he had one glaring weakness left to fix, which was wide receiver. Not only did the head coach and his front office not address it in the second round, they didn’t address it at all. The feeling was longtime disappointment Brandon LaFell would finally turn the corner to help the aging Steve Smith carry the passing offense for Cam Newton. They were wrong. LaFell has been a non-factor while tight end Greg Olsen and converted return man Ted Ginn Jr. have done what they can to pick up the slack. Still, the Carolina Panthers are 0-2 with a murderous schedule left to play. Rivera won’t stick around long to regret his mistake.
#5 – Oakland Raiders – Terrelle Pryor may be the future but his team is stuck in the past
Terrelle Pryor deserves credit for keeping the Oakland Raiders competitive through the first two weeks, him and a surprisingly game defense. Still, it’s only a matter of time before the true weakness of the overall roster begins to show. Their win over Jacksonville proves only that they won’t go 0-16. The team needs more talent, especially in the trenches. Whether Pryor is the long-term answer at quarterback is another question to ponder. Regardless, this team needs at least one more productive NFL draft before they’re ready to compete.
#6 – Tennessee Titans – Jake Locker is not a reason his team wins
Count one writer who isn’t fooled by the Tennessee Titans. They’ve certainly looked competitive through two weeks, beating the Steelers and pushing the Houston Texans to overtime. That’s not enough to overcome one glaring issue. Jake Locker still isn’t pulling his weight. Through two games he has yet to top 200 yards passing, has completed just 56% of his passes and has only two touchdowns. The one positive note is he hasn’t turned the ball over so far. He’s still holding the ball too long at time, resulting in sacks. The running game still isn’t picking up and the defense can’t do all the work alone. This team has talent but no leaders, and it begins and ends with the quarterback.
#7 – New York Jets – Geno Smith is too slow for the pros
Geno Smith is maddeningly frustrating. It’s easy to see he has talent but his inability to get the ball out of his hand quickly is going to become the death of the New York Jets. Rex Ryan has another solid defense as the safety valve but Thursday night in New England proved the Jets offense lives and dies on the right arm of Smith, which is a bad thing. Not only is he a rookie, he has very bad tendencies that is hard for quarterbacks to shake. Among the most telling is a bad internal clock. He can’t throw timing passes to save his life, and it’s resulting in frequent sacks or worse, turnovers. Perhaps the defense can keep the team afloat long enough for him to figure it out or for Mark Sanchez to return but in reality this team suffers from way too much inconsistency.
#8 – Philadelphia Eagles – Chip Kelly can score but hasn’t learned the value of pace
Chip Kelly is learning that the pros are considerably different from college. Putting up points as quickly as possible is a nice idea, but the problem is the roster size of his team isn’t meant to keep up such a frenetic pace. In other words the faster he scores, the more gassed his defense becomes. The Philadelphia Eagles have scored 63 points in two games and given up 60. Their latest lost to the San Diego Chargers proved that the Kelly fast break offense has its limits, especially when the defense is almost completely new and not all that deep in terms of talent. Whether a good middle ground can be found in time to keep the winning going is a big question mark. At the present time, it’s doubtful.
#9 – San Diego Chargers – Philip Rivers is back but his defense is not
Philip Rivers seems like he’s getting back to his Pro Bowl form, which is a relieving sign for the San Diego Chargers and its fans. However, the quarterback has few answers for the problems on his defense. After surrendering 17 of the 24 points in the second half to Houston after leading 28-7, the defense allowed Michael Vick to throw for 428 yards while the Eagles put up 30 points. This trend can’t continue if the Chargers want to compete at all with Kansas City and Denver in the AFC West. Maybe the return of rookie Manti Te’o will help, but it’s hard to see that happening. San Diego still has a lot of holes to plug.
#10 – Pittsburgh Steelers – Ben Roethlisberger can’t rescue the sinking ship
By far the biggest surprise on this NFL draft projection and of the 2013 season. People thought the week one loss to Tennessee was merely a fluke for the Pittsburgh Steelers due to some key injuries. So when they lost again on Monday Night Football to the Cincinnati Bengals, it raised some serious red flags. Ben Roethlisberger has serious protection problems, no running game and the defense has lost most of the bite in its pass rush. Yes, the Steelers have been a winning team for almost a decade. Yes, they won two Super Bowls in that time span but the fact is they are old and banged up in too many places. They need to reload and it’s going to take one or two tough years with high NFL draft picks for that to happen.