Hunt for the 2011 No. 1 overall pick: An early breakdown

Now that Week 6 is in the books, it’s time to start taking a look at the top of the draft for 2011.

The Dallas Cowboys are working on ways to convince themselves their season isn’t over at 1-4, and granted there is precedence for teams with such a poor start rebounding to reach the postseason. But the odds are stacked against the Cowboys, and right now they’re among a small group of teams with less than two wins.

Yes, parity (or in some cases mediocrity) is alive and well in the NFL. The Cowboys are one of only four one-win teams in the league with two teams – Buffalo and Carolina – yet to crack the win column. So, we might as well assess where this group is right now in the chase for the No. 1 overall draft pick in 2011.

While Sam Bradford and Ndamukong Suh looked like solid bets to be at the top of the draft board at this time a year ago, it’s probably fair to say the Class of 2011 isn’t as well defined in mid-October. So what prize will be waiting for the No. 1 pick come the next draft, we’ll just have to wait and see. Here’s how we stack the bottom six teams in the NFL right now in the race for No.1:

1. Buffalo (0-5). The Bills might have a better chance of running the table Motown-style and finishing 0-16 than they do of not having the No. 1 pick when this season is over. They’re coming off a needed bye and will travel to Baltimore this Sunday where it won’t be pretty. Tell me where this team finds a win on its schedule? The Bills host the Detroit Lions in Week 10 and the Cleveland Browns in Week 14. Those look like their best opportunities as they’re stuck in a loaded AFC East this season.

At least Buffalo did something with the No. 1 pick the last time it owned it. The Bills selected defensive end Bruce Smith at the top of the 1985 draft. The last time they were near the top, they swung and missed with offensive tackle Mike Williams fourth overall in 2002. Yes, recent drafts have proven to be disasters for this franchise which one longtime league observer noted suffers from “organizational incompetence.”

2. Cleveland (1-5). Colt McCoy certainly didn’t embarrass himself with his first career start at Pittsburgh but the Browns went halfway toward a full-fledged rebuilding progress when Mike Holmgren was brought in to lead the organization. It’s hard to say if everyone is on the same page here and with the Browns drawing the AFC East on the schedule this season, things don’t set up nicely moving forward. It’s going to be another long season along the banks of Lake Erie.

The good news is the last time the Browns were near the top of the draft they got it right by selecting left tackle Joe Thomas third overall in 2007. Problem is most of their other picks near the top since nabbing Tim Couch No. 1 in 1999 have stunk.

3. Carolina (0-5). Like the Bills, the Panthers are in a pretty solid division and they’re getting zero from the quarterback position. Jimmy Clausen proved he’s far from ready for the NFL and they’ll turn back to Matt Moore this week coming off their own bye.

The Panthers have a decent defense, solid offensive line and two quality running backs so they should be able to get some wins. It’s been a while since the Panthers have been forced to pick near the top of the draft. They got offensive tackle Jordan Gross eighth overall in 2003 and Julius Peppers at No. 2 in 2002.

4. Detroit (1-5). We were tempted to list the Lions third, if for no other reason than they’re the Lions. Quarterback Matthew Stafford could return from a shoulder injury on Oct. 31 after the team’s bye week, but there can’t be any guarantees with him as it’s his third significant injury in a year-and-a-half. The Lions have actually outscored their opponents by six points this season, but that is what will happen when you run it up on the Rams at home. Yippee!

The Lions are bad at Ford Field and losers away from it. They’re now dropped 24 straight away from home – three straight years of demoralization. That’s why they’ve got to be using extra thick markers to circle that Nov. 14 date at Buffalo. But who says the Lions are a sure bet to win that one? They’ve had two seconds and one No. 1 overall pick in the last four seasons and right now they have a very good chance of being back in the top four in 2011. The offensive line and defense could use upgrades.

5. San Francisco (1-5). The general manager left under bizarre circumstances six weeks before the draft so there’s really no reason for the coach to finish the season. Picked by many to be the team to beat in the NFC West, the 49ers have proven to be as dysfunctional as ever under the control of the York family. A win over Oakland this past Sunday couple with a cross-country trip to Carolina this week gives them a chance to build a little momentum.

But we’re convinced that the players have tuned out Mike Singletary, and it’s going to be difficult for them to pull out of this rut completely. It wasn’t too long ago the Niners selected Alex Smith with the No. 1 pick in the 2005 draft. That’s been a wasted selection for the most part, but that was a rough draft.

6. Dallas (1-4). Sure, they probably have a better chance of reaching the postseason than they do of owning the No. 1 overall pick, but until they do something to turn it around, the horrendous start is impossible to ignore. The Cowboys are going to have to put some wins together pretty soon because owner Jerry Jones will soon run out of votes of confidence for his man Wade Phillips.

It's early and a lot of things can change. Buffalo's fortunes might not be one of them, unfortunately.

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Brad Biggs covers the Bears for the Chicago Tribune

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