NFL Draft 2013: Non-Playoff Teams Who Will Become Contenders on Draft Day

Timothy Rapp@@TRappaRTFeatured ColumnistFebruary 3, 2013

DETROIT, MI - DECEMBER 30: Calvin Johnson #81 of the Detroit Lions warms up prior to the start of the game against the Chicago Bears at Ford Field on December 30, 2012 in Detroit, Michigan.  (Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images)
Leon Halip/Getty Images

Generally speaking, it's hard to turn a good draft into an immediate playoff appearance. That is, unless you are the Indianapolis Colts, Washington Redskins and Seattle Seahawks and you select Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III and Russell Wilson.

In this year's draft, there doesn't appear to be many quarterbacks available to propel struggling teams to the postseason. But that doesn't mean a few teams lacking just a few pieces won't be able to use a solid draft to catapult themselves into playoff contention.

Two teams have talented rosters and just need a little extra push. One team is developing a squad full of young players and has three picks in the first two rounds. All three are worthy of keeping an eye on this April.


St. Louis Rams

On one hand, you have to wonder if the Rams are regretting the decision to trade last year's No. 2 pick to the Washington Redskins, who took Robert Griffin III and promptly made the playoffs.

On the other hand, St. Louis is a young, up-and-coming team that has two picks in the first round this year because of that trade, No. 16 and No. 22.

In my latest mock draft, I have the Rams selecting Texas safety Kenny Vaccaro and Cal wide receiver Keenan Allen with their first-round picks. In the second round, I would guess the team will address the offensive line. 

This will be a roster with a lot of young, talented players next year. Yes, making the playoffs will be tough in the NFC West, where the Rams have to play the San Francisco 49ers and Seattle Seahawks twice apiece. 

Then again, the Rams were 2-1-1 against them this season. Watch out for the Rams, folks—all of the draft picks they've accumulated over the past two years are going to start paying off, perhaps as soon as this upcoming season.


Detroit Lions

In 2011, the Lions finished 10-6 and made the playoffs. In 2012, they finished 4-12.

Did they really regress that far, or is this a team with some talent that will rebound in 2013?

I say it's the latter. The Lions went 3-9 in games decided by one possession or less this season, lost three games by a field goal or less and lost two games in overtime. If the Lions could win a few close games, they could easily be a 10-6 team again next season.

Plus, you have to think Matthew Stafford will be better in 2013. He threw for 4,967 yards, yes, but he also finished with just 20 touchdowns to 17 interceptions and had a dismal 59.8 completion percentage.

Oh, and the Lions have the No. 5 pick in the first round and the fourth pick in the second round. Desperately needing an upgrade at corner, I have them selecting Alabama's Dee Milliner. While the Lions are known for simply snatching the best player on the board, I think the value lines up close enough to the need in this case.

The team could also go with a defensive end with the No. 5 pick, but with far more depth at that spot than corner in this draft, I'd project the Lions to wait until the second round to add a pass-rusher.

Any way you slice it, the Lions are going to get an impact player with the first pick. If the Lions nail this draft, I could easily see them re-entering the playoff discussion next season.


New Orleans Saints

It was odd to see the Saints miss the playoffs this season. I don't doubt the distractions from the bounty scandal and Sean Payton's season-long suspension were major factors. The Saints simply were unable to recover from an 0-4 start.

But we know this team is still scary on offense, and if the Saints can improve on the other side of the ball they could easily be a Super Bowl contender next season. I have them drafting Oregon's Dion Jordan to play defensive end, a top-notch athlete that may have been a top-10 pick were it not for a torn labrum and the type of player Steve Spagnuolo will find plenty of creative ways to use.

Jordan is the sort of playmaker that could make an instant impact next season, and one would hope the Saints would use the majority of their picks on the defensive side of the ball. If the team can land a starter or two from the draft, they'll once again be a team to be reckoned with.

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