The Chiefs and Raiders are a franchise-changing player or two away from possibly winning the Super Bowl. What positions should they target in this week's NFL Draft to help them get there? We have an idea.
NFL front offices view the draft as a building block to construct potential Super Bowl champions. Few teams are successful at selecting the perfect core of players to compliment and grow rosters year-after-year. Why? It often boils down to the dilemma taking talent vs. team needs. There are some franchises consistently drafting the same type of player or positions due to market pressures. If a draftee offers value because they slipped down the board unexpectedly, the compulsion to claim him is intense. Other general managers lean heavily on a best-player-available approach, looking for long-term quality over immediate roster holes. Then there are the circumstances outside of a general manager’s immediate control: injuries, bad scouting, etc.
Whatever the draft-day model, first-year players rarely make an impact during their first year. A few can be immediate franchise-changers, particularly with teams drafting well over the last few seasons; case in point: the 2016 Cowboys. Rookies QB Dak Prescott, who earned Offensive Rookie of the Year honors, and RB Ezekiel Elliott helped Dallas to the best record (13-3) in the NFC. The franchise, however, has been drafting well for several years, most noticeably on the offensive line (Zack Martin, Travis Frederick). All-Pro prospects at play-making positions pushed the team over the hump. Expect Dallas to push for the playoffs for years to come.
What franchises are set to be the 2016 Cowboys this season? Which AFC teams are a pick or two away from potentially winning the Super Bowl? Here are the two best candidates:
Kansas City Chiefs (12-4 SU, 9-7 ATS In 2016)
The Chiefs will likely take a quarterback early in the draft to supplant the aging Alex Smith at some point in the near future. Defense, however, is what makes Andy Reid’s team a perennial contender. The unit allowed a sixth-best 19.4 points per game in 2016 and topped the league in takeaways with 2.0 per game. Two cornerstone picks could put this group over the edge.
Speaking of edge, Reid needs a outside pass rusher badly. The QB pressure is there, but lacking in final product. Kansas City’s 4.4 sack percentage ranked next to last in 2016, in part because Justin Houston missed the first nine games of the season. Since defensive coordinator Bob Sutton and Reid took over in 2013, the Chiefs are 32-9 SU and 29-12 ATS when their unit records two sacks or more in a game. With fewer than two takedowns, the team slumps to a 12-15 SU and 9-17-1 ATS mark.
A proper shutdown cornerback is the team’s most pressing need and could help in the sack department as well. The position was a revolving door in 2016 until free agent Terrance Mitchell nailed down starting duties in Week 13; the secondary as a whole fell flat of Reid’s expectations as a result. It allowed 245.6 passing yards per game in 2016, well above the previous two seasons (203.2, 228.4). Two years ago, Denver won the Super Bowl out of the AFC West thanks to a nasty pass-rushing defense, and the Chiefs may be a couple of picks away from doing the same.
Oakland Raiders (12-4 SU, 10-6 ATS)
Who knows how far this team could have gone in the playoffs if it were not for the late-season injury to quarterback Derek Carr. GM Reggie McKenzie has drafted a strong nucleus of talent the last couple of seasons with few roster holes. A cornerstone pick or two, particularly complimenting Carr, could turn the squad into a Super Bowl winner.
The most pressing need is at running back with starter Latavius Murray departing to the Vikings via free agency. This draft is loaded with backs, so a mid-round pick is a possibility, but Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey has to be near the top of McKenzie’s list. His ability to catch, block and run could get the best out of the most promising young QB in the league. McCaffery’s big-play ability is eye-catching, too. With Carr under center, the Raiders were 9-1 SU and ATS when breaking for a 20-yard gain or more on the ground.
Beefing up the defense is an area for improvement as well, particularly any player capable at slowing down opposing passing efficiency. Oakland ranked 31st last season in yards per pass allowed with 7.6. A pass-rushing linebacker and/or lineman could ease the pressure on the secondary.Bet On NFL Futures At SBR's Top Sportsbooks