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Four NFL teams to follow closely during draft: Detroit Lions, New England Patriots, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Denver Broncos

Reputations will be made and tarnished all in the same weekend.

That's the nature of the draft, where one poor decision can solidify the perception a team's decision-making is inept. Conversely, if it makes the right call, a team will be proclaimed genius.

Who has the most riding on the draft? Which clubs are positioned to benefit the most?

Check out a few teams that will be heavily scrutinized.

Broncos: From owner Pat Bowlen to coach Josh McDaniels, this group is identified as the one that traded QB Jay Cutler. To justify the move, Denver needs a banner draft. It already owned the 12th pick, and it picked up the 18th and a third-rounder in the Cutler deal.

Now it needs to make the picks count to get the fan base on board with the Cutler trade. There already are rumblings the Broncos are trying to use their first-round picks to position themselves to select Southern Cal QB Mark Sanchez. That might be enough to smooth things over, provided Sanchez isn't a bust.

Patriots: Let's just say New England's draft room telephones are already ringing. If a team needs a couple of extra picks, the Patriots have plenty to spare. As if they weren't already loaded because of QB Tom Brady's return this fall, the Patriots own six of the first 97 picks, including Nos. 23, 34 and 47. You might not recognize this team by the end of the weekend if it uses all of them.

Chances are New England will make a couple of deals, given the amount of flexibility it has. The Patriots already have looked into the possibility of trading up in the first round. And because they have more buying power than just about any team, there's no reason they can't make a trade happen if they have a particular fondness for a veteran on the trading block.

The Patriots have one of the most skilled scouting departments in the league. Arm it with this many picks and there's no telling what the team will come away with. Then again, can New England do it without the brains of former personnel man Scott Pioli, now with the Chiefs?

Bucs: This draft is crucial for them, if for no other reason than the Bucs have numerous holes.

But Tampa Bay has decided to overhaul its defense, and doing so requires getting production from this draft. It needs to bulk up at defensive tackle, and after releasing Derrick Brooks and Cato June, it must make sure the plan at linebacker includes more than plugging in a former safety (Jermaine Phillips).

We've learned cornerback is a position the Bucs are contemplating addressing in the first round, and that is good considering how important the position is in the new scheme.

Lions: QB Matthew Stafford is their man. Quarterbacks picked No. 1 overall have a pretty high threshold when it comes to being considered a success. Heck, Eli Manning had to win a Super Bowl for the Giants to quiet murmurs that he was a bust. No matter who else the Lions get in this draft, their No. 1 choice will make or break them.

If Stafford turns into Ryan Leaf but Wake Forest's Aaron Curry is the next Shawne Merriman, that'll be a problem.

NEW MONEY: Could this be the final draft class without a rookie salary cap? It's not likely but surely not impossible. The expectation here is the next collective bargaining agreement will include limits on the money paid to top picks. With guaranteed money being devoted to top picks (see No. 1 Jake Long's $30 million-plus last season), any talks are sure to include the subject of a rookie cap.

The union rejects any reduction in pay on principle, but if veterans are willing to concede anything, it would be less money for their younger counterparts.

Stephen F. Holder can be reached at sholder@sptimes.com.

Four NFL teams to follow closely during draft: Detroit Lions, New England Patriots, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Denver Broncos 04/24/09 [Last modified: Saturday, April 25, 2009 6:39am]
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