Why A Successful Draft Can Turn Your NFL Team Into A Contender

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- The 2014 NFL Draft wrapped up this weekend at Radio City Music Hall in New York City. The crown jewel of the NFL's offseason, the draft features NFL teams looking to bolster their rosters with the top college prospects in the country.

This year's first round concluded on Thursday with Defensive End Jadeveon Clowney out of South Carolina being picked by the Houston Texans with the number one overall selection. Potential difference makers Sammy Watkins (WR Clemson, drafted by the Buffalo Bills), Teddy Bridgewater (QB Louisville, drafted by the Minnesota Vikings) and Johnny Manziel aka Johnny Football (QB Texas A&M, drafted by the Cleveland Browns) were all picked on the first day of the three day 7-round event.

The 2014 draft also featured a touch of history as LB Michael Sam became the first openly gay football player to be drafted into the league when he was picked in the final round by the St. Louis Rams.

A single draft can make or break a franchise for years to come. Waste a top pick on a bust, and it could set your franchise back immensely. However, score on a pick and the returns could set your franchise up for success for a decade.

Current and Future Hall of Famers Peyton Manning, Jerry Rice, Deion Sanders, John Elway and Dan Marino were all selected in the first round, and while there have certainly been gems taken in later rounds -- three time Super Bowl winner Tom Brady was chosen in the sixth round -- the first round represents the best opportunity for franchises to turn their fortunes around, or continue with the success they have already built.

That being said it often takes four or five seasons to fully evaluate a draft pick's impact on a team. These are the top 10 first round draft picks of the past 5 years.

10. 
Percy Harvin

Percy Harvin

Drafted By: Minnesota Vikings

Year/Selection: 2009/22nd pick

Team Win % Since Draft (Vikings): .484

College: Florida

Position: Wide Receiver

Percy Harvin is one of the few players from this draft class to not be with the team that originally drafted him -- he was traded to the Seattle Seahawks last offseason -- but he is one of the most dangerous players in the league with the ball in his hands. The Wide Reciever and kick return specialist won a Super Bowl this past season with the Seahawks, and despite missing much of the year with various injuries, made an impact on the big game by returning a kick off for a touchdown.

9. 
Julio Jones

Julio Jones

Drafted By: Atlanta Hawks

Year/Selection: 2011/6th pick

Team Win % Since Draft: .562 

College: Alabama

Position: Wide Receiver 

At 6 foot 3 inches and 222 lbs, Julio Jones is the prototype for the new dominant NFL Wide Receiver. His match of size, strength and quickness makes him nearly unguardable. He had his best season in 2012, starting 14 games and catching 79 passes for 1,198 yards (an extremely productive rate of 15.2 yards per catch) on his way to a Pro Bowl selection. The Falcons were one play away from going to the Super Bowl that year, but instead lost to the San Francisco 49ers.

Jones had a down year in 2013, playing in only 5 games before injuring his foot. However reports are that he is fully healthy heading into his fourth NFL season, and teamed with fellow receiver Roddy White and Quarterback Matt Ryan, Jones is looking to have a bounce back campaign this year.

8. 
Ndamukong Suh

Ndamukong Suh

Drafted By: Detroit Lions

Year/Selection: 2010/2nd pick 

Team Win % Since Draft: .422

College: Nebraska

Ndamukong Suh is a man-child, 6 foot 4 inches 307 lbs of mean. There were a lot of expectations placed on Suh being the second overall pick in the 2010 draft, and he met all of them coming out the gate posting 10 sacks and 66 combined tackles in his rookie season.

Deserved or not, Suh has a reputation as a dirty player around the league. He has been fined a total of $216,875 over the last four seasons for violations including stomping on an opposing player and a $100,000 fine for an illegal block last season. Suh is one of the most feared and aggressive pass rushers in the league and has a definite impact on the Detroit Lions franchise.

7.
Cam Newton

Cam Newton

Drafted By: Carolina Panthers

Year/Selection: 2011/1st selection

Team Win % Since Draft: .521

College: Auburn

Position:
Quarterback

Cam Newton came into the league with much fanfare after leading the Auburn Tigers to the BCS Championship trophy in 2011. Cam Newton is a large man with quickness. 6 feet 5 inches and 248 lbs with 4.56 s 40 yard dash speed doesnt come along every day, and the Panthers jumped at the chance to draft him with the number one overall pick in 2011.

Their reward was realized this past season as Newton led Carolina to the playoffs as the NFC South division champion for the first time since 2008. Newton was a pro bowl selection putting up 3,379 yards and 24 touchdowns through the air combined with 585 yards and 6 touchdowns on the ground. Newton mastered the dual threat nature of the quarterback position in his third year in the league, and the sky is the limit for the budding superstar.

6. 
Clay Matthews

Clay Matthews

Drafted By: Green Bay Packers

Year/Selection: 2009/26th pick

Team Winning % Since Draft: .688

College: USC

Position: Outside Linebacker

Clay Matthews made an impact right out of the gate and established himself as one of the best outside linebackers in the league. Matthews has recorded 50 sacks over the past five seasons including a career high of 13.5 in his second season and 13 in 2012, despite only playing in 12 games that year. He comes from good stock, his father, Clay Jr., was a four time pro bowl selection playing for the Cleveland Browns and Atlanta Falcons, and his uncle, Bruce Matthews, was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2007 following a 19 season career in the league.

Clay is four time pro bowler in his own right and helped lead the Packers to a Super Bowl victory in 2010. Matthews is significantly richer after signing a 5 year $66 million extension with the Packers last year.

5.
Dez Bryant

Dez Bryant

Drafted By: Dallas Cowboys

Year/Selection: 2010/24th pick

Team Winning % Since Draft: .468

College: Oklahoma State

Position: Wide Receiver 

Dez Bryant is one of the most talented players in the league. At 6 feet 2 inches, 222 lbs with 4.52 s 40 yard dash speed and a vertical of 38 inches, he is one of the most physically gifted players at the wide receiver position. Though his draft stock fell due to unflattering character perceptions, Bryant was highly touted as a blue chip player coming out of college and he has rewarded the Cowboys for selecting him by earning a trip to his Pro Bowl last season. Dez put up 93 receptions, 1233 yards and 13 touchdowns with a yards per catch average of 13.3. 

4.
Jason Pierre-Paul

Jason Pierre-Paul

Drafted By: New York Giants

Year/Selection: 2010/15th pick

Team Winning % Since Draft: .546

College: South Florida

Position: Defensive End

Jason Pierre-Paul has had a whirlwind rise to the top of the football world. Having only started playing football his junior year of high school, Pierre-Paul bounced from College of the Canyons to Fort Scott Community College where he played football completely off the radar, before transferring to the University of South Florida in 2009.

Despite his late acclimation to the game, Pierre-Paul uses uncanny instincts and impressive athletic ability to dominate offensive tackles at the line of scrimmage. At 6 feet 5 inches, 270 lbs with a 4.71 s 40 yard dash time and a vertical of 30.5 inches, Pierre-Paul is one of the most athletic players in the game regardless of position. He recorded 16.5 sacks in 2011 on the way to helping the Giants win their second Super Bowl in five years.

3.
Demaryius Thomas

Demaryius Thomas

Drafted By: Denver Broncos

Year/Selection: 2010/22nd pick

Team Winning % Since Draft: .593

College: Georgia Tech

Position: Wide Receiver


Size? 6 feet 3 inches and 235 lbs, check. Speed? 4.38 s 40 yard dash time, check. Hands? "He has a Shannon Sharpe body with Calvin Johnson speed. Great hands too," said teamate Rahim Moore. What more could you ask for from one of the league's top wide outs. Thomas recorded 8 receptions for 97 yards in his rookie debut in 2010 and hasnt slowed down since.

On his way to helping the Broncos to go to the Super Bowl last season, Thomas caught 92 passes for 1430 yards (4th in the NFL), with 15.5 yards per catch and 14 touchdowns (second in the league). During the Broncos Super Bowl run, Thomas averaged 9.3 receptions and 102 yards per game in the playoffs. Teams knew where the ball was going but simply could not stop the talented Georgia product from getting his. At just 26 years old Thomas is projecting to be a star in this league for years to come.

2.
A.J. Green

A.J. Green

Drafted By: Cincinatti Bengals

Year/Selection: 2011/ 4th pick

Team Winning % Since Draft: .688

College: Georgia

Position: Wide Receiver

A.J. Green has established himself as the best wide out in the league not named Calvin Johnson. At 6 feet 4 inches with a 4.48 40 yard dash time and a vertical of 34.5 inches, Green uses a combination of speed, size and leaping ability to embarrass defensive back around the league. Green has some of the best hands in the league, snatching the ball out of the air before most DBs can even turn their head around to locate it.

Green has increased his production every year since he entered the NFL, capping off last season with career high's of 98 receptions for 1,426 yards and tying his career high with 11 touchdown receptions. Green is the type of franchise player you lock up long term and once his rookie contract expires, look for him to be paid like one of the top players at his position within the next couple of seasons.

1.
JJ Watt

JJ Watt

Drafted By: Houston Texans

Year/Pick: 2011/1th pick

College: Wisconsin

Position: Defensive End

J.J. Watt gets the top spot on this list because he has become the best and most feared player at the defensive end position in the league. You simply have to double team him at the line of scrimmage. If you dont, he is sacking your quarterback no questions asked. If somehow you are able to fend him off, he has the incredible instincts to stick his big paw up into the throwing lanes and bat down pass attempts. He's got the speed to chase quarterbacks down from behind and the power to collapse the pocket. He's got the total package. 6 feet 5 inches, 290 lbs, a 37 inch vertical and 11.3 inch hands is almost an unfair physical combination to have.

Watt racked up 80 combined tackles, including 65 solo, 10.5 sacks, 4 forced fumbles and 7 passes defended last season, and that was in a down year! With the Texans selecting fellow physical freak of nature Jadeveon Clowney with the number 1 pick in the 2014 draft, the Texans defensive front line should be the scariest in the league for a while.

More from Markets

Apple Suppliers Slide After European, Asian Chipmakers Echo Smartphone Concerns

Apple Suppliers Slide After European, Asian Chipmakers Echo Smartphone Concerns

Tuesday's Market Movers: CAT, UTX, KO, MMM

Tuesday's Market Movers: CAT, UTX, KO, MMM

Wall Street Is Totally Forgetting Apple Will Be Giving Away Tons of Cash in 2018

Wall Street Is Totally Forgetting Apple Will Be Giving Away Tons of Cash in 2018

Vivendi Slides After Reports Vincent Bollore Questioned in Corruption Probe

Vivendi Slides After Reports Vincent Bollore Questioned in Corruption Probe

Alphabet, Caterpillar, Coca-Cola and Amazon - 5 Things You Must Know

Alphabet, Caterpillar, Coca-Cola and Amazon - 5 Things You Must Know