NFL Draft Preview: AFC West
The AFC West, one of the NFL’s weakest divisions will set the tone early for the rest of the draft. With the Chiefs picking first, Reggie McKenzie getting his first chance to select in the first round as he seeks to revamp the storied Raiders, the Chargers seeking to return to relevance, and the Broncos trying to find the pieces needed to go from contender to champion, the AFC West could be among the most interesting divisions to follow this weekend. Here is a team-by-team draft outlook for the four AFC West franchises, listed in order of draft appearance.
Kansas City Chiefs (2-14 in 2012)
Picks: #1 (1), #63 (3), #96 (3), #99 (4), #134 (5), #170 (6), #204 (6), #207 (7)
Needs: OT, MLB, DT, DE, WR
Outlook: Kansas City has had a busy offseason, adding Andy Reid as their new head coach and addressing their needs at the cornerback and quarterback position. With the number one pick in the draft, the Chiefs are likely zeroing in on Luke Joeckel of Texas A&M and Eric Fisher of Central Michigan. While defensive end Dion Jordan of Oregon or defensive tackles Sharrif Floyd of Florida or Star Lotulelei of Utah could be intriguing options, it seems all but certain that it will be Fisher or Joeckel with the latter holding the slight edge. Addressing the offensive tackle position is not the biggest need for Kansas City unless they do move Brandon Albert. Trading Albert could give the Chiefs a second round pick, in essence recovering what they gave up for Alex Smith. Also look for the Chiefs to target an inside linebacker in Round 3 with Jonathan Bostic of Florida, Nico Johnson of Alabama, and Kevin Reddick of North Carolina likely being in the mix there. Additionally, Kansas City needs to utilize picks to improve its defensive line and at the wide receiver position. The Chiefs have more pieces than a typical #1 team and could use this draft to add some key contributors that could lead to a vastly improved on the field product in 2013.
Oakland Raiders (4-12 in 2012)
Picks: #3 (1), #66 (3), #100 (4), #172 (6), #176 (6), #205 (6), #209 (7)
Needs: RB, WR, TE, RT, OG, DT, DE, CB, S
Outlook: If you look up at the line above you would get the feeling that the Oakland Raiders have a lot of needs heading into the NFL Draft… and you would be right. Reggie McKenzie has systematically dismantled the last vestiges of professional sports’ most dysfunctional organization, and, unfortunately for him, he does not have a whole lot of picks to revamp the team during the draft. At #3, the Raiders would love to trade down and maybe pick up a 2nd Round pick (they do not have one since they gave it up for Carson Palmer), however, it is unlikely that they will find any takers. Sharrif Floyd and Star Lotulelei are the two most likely targets in the first round at the defensive tackle position, which sorely needs to be addressed. The Raiders could also look for pass rushers (they currently are completely lacking in that area) or they could even take an offensive tackle (Fisher or Joeckel) or Dee Milliner at cornerback. If they go the DT route, I would expect the Raiders to look for a defensive back or offensive line in Round 3. Shamarko Thomas of Syracuse and Baccari Rambo of Georgia are two safeties that could help Oakland fill a major void there and both of the Raiders’ projected starting corners are on one-year contracts and the team could find solid value addressing the need in Round 3. If Kentucky’s Larry Warford is available, he could be a solution there as well. At running back, the Raiders would be foolish to pass up on adding some depth behind the oft-injured Darren McFadden, and the wide receiver and tight end positions could use an infusion of talent. The Raiders could go a variety of directions and there really is no lack of needs for the team to address. The good news for Reggie McKenzie? He should have a LOT of money for free agency and another high draft pick in 2014 so he can begin to build this team back towards competitiveness.
San Diego Chargers (7-9 in 2012)
Picks: #11 (1), #45 (2), #76 (3), #110 (4), #145 (5), #179 (6), #221 (7)
Needs: OL, DT, CB, OLB
Outlook: It seems like only a short time ago that the Chargers were a Super Bowl contender. Instead, they have been mired in mediocrity for the last three years. The team desperately needs help along the offensive line but is unlikely to find an elite tackle at the #11 spot. If the team wants to land a tackle with its Round 1 selection, they will need to trade up to get a shot at Lane Johnson who will not slide past #7. They could, however, potentially land either Chance Warmack or Jonathan Cooper to fill a need at offensive guard. If they choose to upgrade their defensive backfield, they could hold pat for a shot at D.J. Hayden, Xavier Rhodes, or Desmond Trufant or they could even look at Sharrif Floyd or Star Lotulelei if they fell into their lap. Look out for defensive tackles Kawann Short or Jonathan Hankins in Round 2 if the Chargers go in a different direction. There could be great depth for the team in Rounds 3 or 4 at the cornerback position for the team if all goes to plan with OL in Round 1, DL Round 2, and DB in Round 3.
Denver Broncos (13-3 in 2012)
Picks: #28 (1), #58 (2), #90 (3), #125 (4), #161 (5), #234 (7)
Needs: DL, MLB, CB, RB
Outlook: The Broncos are perhaps closer to being a Super-Bowl-caliber franchise than any team not named the Ravens or 49ers and have enjoyed a solid offseason, particularly with the notable acquisition of Wes Welker. With the loss of Elvis Dumervil, however, Denver could use a defensive end, and Florida State pass rushers Tank Carradine or Bjoern Werner would be great options if available with Datone Jones of UCLA, Sam Montgomery of LSU, or Damontre Moore of Texas A&M being just a step below. Sylvester Williams of UNC could be an option if the Broncos decide to invest in the interior of their DL. If one of the draft’s four elite corners are available at #28, they could go in that direction as well. In the second round, Denver could look to add a running back with Montee Ball from Wisconsin potentially available. The third round could be a spot to address the middle of the defense with a proven winner like Jonathan Bostic of Florida or Alabama’s Nico Johnson. With a strong draft, the Broncos could emerge as the heavy favorite to win the AFC.