For some teams, it’s always about next year and it’s never too early to think about the next draft. It’s not a position they particularly want to be in. It’s just the reality of where they are.
And for a handful of NFL teams, that’s the reality as the league steamrolls toward Week 12. The playoff chase is over. The race for the first overall draft pick is now all that matters to them.
So with that in mind, here’s a look at the bottom five teams in the NFL standings – the teams with the best chance at the golden ticket in the 2015 draft. It’s going to be hard to beat out the winless Oakland Raiders. But hey, you never know …
1. Oakland Raiders (0-10)
Owners of the worst offense in the NFL and scoring at a paltry clip of 15.2 points per game, they’re not a threat to beat anybody. Worse for them, five of their last six games are against playoff contenders, and the sixth is against the rapidly improving St. Louis Rams. It’s always hard to project an 0-16 record, but 1-15 certainly seems to be well within their sights.
Needs: Well, they don’t need a quarterback since they just drafted Derek Carr in the first round, which puts them in great position to trade the pick to whomever wants Oregon QB Marcus Mariota. They could use a pass rusher (USC DE Leonard Williams would be a possible pick). It might be a reach in the Top 5 to get the receiver help they need, though.
2. Jacksonville Jaguars (1-9)
The last few years they’ve seemed to live within range of the No. 1 pick. They are starting to assemble some talent, though. QB Blake Bortles looks like their future and they have talent at receiver (Allen Robinson) and (Denard Robinson). The schedule isn’t terrible down the stretch and if they come together quickly they have a shot to win a game or two, but will not likely fall out of the Top 5.
Needs: If they end up at the top they’re another team that could trade down and benefit from other teams’ desire for Mariota or Florida State QB Jameis Winston. What they need more than anything is help along the offensive line. Maybe Texas A&M’s Cedric Ogbuehi or Iowa’s Brandon Scherff. If they drop down far enough a CB could be in play.
3. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-8)
If the return of QB Josh McCown to a starting role gives them the lift they’re expecting, they might find themselves with a couple of unwanted wins, too. But if they can somehow sit right around 3, they could be in prime position either for the top pick or for a reasonably priced trade-up. Their best chances for wins are on the road, at Chicago and at Carolina, and neither one will be easy for this battered team.
Needs: They may be desperate to be in the Mariota/Winston range because McCown is nothing more than a stop-gap and it’s clear that new coach Lovie Smith doesn’t view Mike Glennon as his quarterback of the future. Yes, they could use help on both lines too, but without a quarterback they’ve got nothing. So they need to get to the 1 or 2 pick or be prepared to move up.
4. Tennessee Titans (2-8)
The Titans hang in a lot of games, which always makes them a threat to win. Worse for them – if getting a top pick is the goal – they have games remaining against the Giants, Jets and Jaguars. Those three alone might be enough to get them out of the race, and maybe out of the Top 5. And if QB Zach Mettenberger becomes more than they expected, they could fall even farther than that.
Needs: Well, if Mettenberger isn’t their long-term answer – and there’s no indication that the end of this season is anything more than a big audition for him – then quarterback becomes their biggest need and Mariota certainly could be in play. Maybe Winston, too. If they slip, though, they certainly need some help on defense, which puts the pass rushers in play – either an end or an LB like Clemson’s Vic Beasley. Florida State CB P.J. Williams would figure to be in play if they fall closer to pick No. 10.
5. New York Jets (2-8)
They got a surprising boost last week when they beat the Steelers and they have a few winnable games down the stretch (two vs. Miami, at Buffalo, at Minnesota, at Tennessee). Plus, there’s always the possibility this team will fight for coach Rex Ryan, who is probably on his way out regardless. The point is, for all the Jets fans counting on a Top 5 draft pick, don’t rule out an unwanted late-season run.
Needs: They benched Geno Smith, so it’s safe to assume they’re not sold on him as their future, which means that if they land in the Top 5 then Mariota has to be in play. Winston is a complicated case, though, because of all his off-field baggage. That won’t play well in New York for a team that really needs to find a way to be distraction free. If they don’t go quarterback they’d be crazy if they don’t draft an offensive lineman or a cornerback, which besides quarterback might be the two biggest of their many glaring needs.
—By Ralph Vacchiano