A year ago at this time being the worst team in the NFL didn’t seem like such a horrible thing. Waiting for the ultimate loser (and the runner up) were two potential franchise quarterbacks for the ages.
In other words, how could you cry about a terrible season if the net result was a decade or more with Robert Griffin III or Andrew Luck?
There is not the same excitement over West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith or even USC quarterback Matt Barkley, the two franchise-types sitting at the top of—or near the top of—most projections for the 2013 draft. But that doesn’t mean they couldn’t help transform a downtrodden franchise, or that there aren’t other prizes awaiting the top losers in the NFL.
So there are reasons for hope for these five terrible NFL teams who are jockeying for that No. 1 position. Here’s a look at their chances to land the top spot, and an extremely early look at who they might take.
KANSAS CITY CHIEFS (1-10)
They have to be the odds-on favorite, especially since they haven’t topped 20 points in a game since Week 4 and they’ve scored 10 points or fewer in four of their last seven games. Their remaining schedule isn’t that bad (vs. Carolina, at Cleveland, at Oakland, vs. Indianapolis and at Denver in a game that might not mean much to the Broncos). But at this point, the Chiefs look like everyone’s bye week. It’s hard to see how they’ll get more than one win.
They are averaging 14.6 points per game and have the NFL’s 29th-ranked passing attack despite a strong rushing game (145.6 yards per game) and the presence of receiver Dwayne Bowe. If that doesn’t signal a strong need for a quarterback, I don’t know what does. So if they get the No. 1 pick, you can lock in Geno Smith or Matt Barkley to replace the much-maligned Matt Cassel in 2013.
JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS (2-9)
The switch to Chad Henne at quarterback won’t be enough to save the Jags’ season, but it should be enough to drop them farther than they deserve in the NFL draft. Two weeks ago he threw for 354 yards and four touchdowns in a near upset of the mighty Houston Texans, and last week he guided them passed the Tennessee Titans for their first win.
Oddly they next play four straight games against AFC East opponents, but the only seemingly unwinnable one is the one at home against the Patriots on Dec. 23. It’s not unreasonable, behind Henne, to see the Jags picking up another two to three wins.
That’s too bad, because unless you’re a believer in Blaine Gabbert, it seems clear they need a quarterback like Barkley or Smith. Instead, they might be forced to go defense with a player like Georgia LB/DE Jarvis Jones or something more local, like Florida State DE Bjoern Werner.
CLEVELAND BROWNS (3-8)
The Browns have actually shown some spunk this season. They’ve won two of their last four and been in every game this season, including a 41-27 loss to the Giants that wasn’t nearly as lopsided as it looked. Brandon Weeden has been decent at quarterback and running back Trent Richardson looks like a future star.
While they are facing an offseason overhaul, including possibly a coaching change, the future looks somewhat bright and it’s hard to imagine them losing enough to get the No. 1 pick. If it wasn’t for the fact that they finish with three teams in contention – the Redskins, Broncos and Steelers – they might even get out of the Top 5.
If they’re in it, though, they may get pressure to take Notre Dame LB Manti Te’o. But a dominant pass rusher, like Jones or Werner, would make more sense for a team that has no one with more than three sacks.
OAKLAND RAIDERS (3-8)
So much for the Raiders’ latest big breakthrough season. They seem to have at least a short-term quarterback in Carson Palmer, but they can’t run anymore, their offensive line is struggling and they definitely can’t stop anybody on defense. They catch a break with three straight home games coming up, including one each against the Browns and Chiefs, but they still seem headed for a Top 5 pick in yet another draft.
Thanks to their schedule they won’t have to make the decision on drafting yet another franchise quarterback. They would be wise, instead, to look to the trenches. They can draft an anchor tackle in Texas A&M’s Luke Joeckel or they could draft Utah NT Star Lotulelei to be an anchor in the middle of their defensive line.
PHILADELPHIA EAGLES (3-8)
It is intriguing for many, many reasons that the Eagles are sitting within striking distance of one of the top picks in the NFL draft. For one thing, they are not without talent. It’s just that their “Dream Team” never meshed and Michael Vick quickly went from a near-MVP to a turnover machine.
Now they are an injury plagued mess that can’t score, can’t hold onto the ball, and are starting to feel like a Dead Team Walking with Andy Reid making cuts (see Jason Babin) before he possibly eventually takes the ultimate cut himself. Add in a remaining schedule that includes the Bengals, Bucs and all three NFC East opponents and it’s possible the Eagles could go from 3-8 to 3-13 pretty fast.
If so, a new regime might be making their pick for them in the Top 5, but they’d have to strongly consider Barkley if his shoulder is OK and if he’s there when the Eagles select. The NFC East is loaded with marquee quarterbacks – Eli Manning, Robert Griffin III, Tony Romo – and as of right now Nick Foles doesn’t look like a candidate to ever join that group.
Scouts are split on how good Barkley can be, but the Eagles might have to roll the dice and hope he really is a franchise quarterback. They have a lot of needs, but in their division if you don’t have a quarterback, you don’t have a chance.
—By RALPH VACCHIANO