Draft Needs: AFC West

Contributed by: Billy E and Bill Enright
Last Updated: Apr 06, 2011 4:54 PM

Heading into the 2010 season everyone figured the Chargers were a shoe in for the AFC West Title. Surprisingly the Chargers didn't even make the playoffs let alone win their Division. Instead the Kansas City Chiefs claimed the AFC West Championship with a 10-6 record. But the Chiefs were 2-4 against their Division rivals, which is sub-par at best. Meanwhile, the Oakland Raiders had an impressive streak against their Division foe, winning all 6 of their match-ups for a perfect Division record.  It was an interesting season for the San Diego Chargers  their Offense and Defense ranked among the best in the league but they finished with a disappointing 9-7 record. The Denver finished in the basement of the AFC West and had the 2nd worst record in the NFL, which earned them the Number 2 overall selection in this year's Draft.  Given the surprising success the Chiefs had in 2010, the Raiders' ability to go undefeated in the AFC West, the Broncos hiring John Fox as their Head Coach and John Elway as their VP of Player Personnel, and the Chargers' super talented roster, the AFC West Title could be captured by any of these four franchises in 2011. Whichever team has the best Draft in April will help set themselves up to finish on top of the AFC West next season.


Kansas City Chiefs

Draft Picks: R1 Pick 21, R2 Pick 23, R3 Pick 22, R4 Pick 21, R5 Pick 4, R5 Pick 9, R6 Pick 34, R7 Pick 21.


Inside Linebacker: Kansas City was better defensively last season, but they were still vulnerable inside, even though Derrick Johnson finally tapped into his keg of potential with a career-best 121 tackles. His breakout would've been even more dazzling if the club had another linebacker who could effectively take on blockers, as Jovan Belcher was not up to the task and suffered through long bouts of inconsistency overall. Look for the Chiefs to address the need at some point in the Draft.

Outside Linebacker: Tamba Hali wreaked havoc on the opposition last season with 14.5 sacks, which is even more impressive when you consider the fact that the Chiefs lacked another capable linebacker to bring the heat on the outside to prevent teams from focusing on him. Andy Studebaker is viewed as a future starter and successor to Mike Vrabel, but he lacks good pass-rushing skills. Look for the club to target a rush linebacker, such as Chris Carter, who notched 11 sacks as a senior at Fresno State and is projected to go in the 3-4 round.

Nose Tackle: 31-year-old vet Ron Edwards is not well suited for the position, which is without question the most important job in a 3-4 defense. The nose tackle needs to be able to devour opposing rushers and force double-teams for blitzing linebackers to be effective. A good nose tackle is not easy to find in the Draft, namely since it is a specialty position -- but Jurrell Casey (USC), Phil Taylor (Baylor) and Jarvis Jenkins (Clemson) are all promising prospects who look like they could handle the demands of the role on the next level. It would not be surprising if one of them is playing his home games at Arrowhead Stadium next season.  


Wide Receiver:The Chiefs boasted the NFL's most dominant rushing attack in 2010 but their passing game ranked 30th. Running Backs Jamaal Charles and Thomas Jones combined for an average of 164 rushing yards per game but Quarterback Matt Cassel averaged just 185 yards through the air. Dwayne Bowe wasn't just the team's most productive Wide Receiver, he was one of the NFL's best.  Bowe's 15 TDs led the league and his 1,162 yards were the 7th most. Problem is, none of the other Chiefs' Wide Receiver had much of an impact. Rookie Tight End Tony Moeaki was the team's 2nd leading receiver and Running Back Jamaal Charles was 3rd. Old Timer Chris Chambers finished the year with 213 yards and that was 2nd highest among KC's Wide Receivers. Rookie Dexter McCluster was drafted as a Wide Receiver but took on a hybrid role and lined up in the backfield in addition to the slot.  McCluster could evolve into a solid slot receiver because of his explosiveness, versatility, and ability to make defenders miss. But he isn't the threat the Chiefs need if they want to prevent Defenses from rolling extra coverage toward Bowe.

Maryland's Torrey Smith, ran a 4.43 40-yard dash at the Combine, can really stretch the field and is a terrific home-run threat. His route running needs polishing, but the same can be said for the majority of the WRs heading into the Draft. Smith isn't exeedingly tall, he stands at 6'0, but his 41 inch vertical jump makes up for what he lacks in height. Another prospect is Pittsburgh's Jonathan Baldwin.  He's not as fast as Smith , but at 6'4, 230 pounds, Baldwin is big and has a solid frame. Miami's Leonard Hankersonis more of a combination of Smith and Baldwin. Like Smith he ran a 4.43 40 yard dash at the Combine and like Baldwin, he also possesses good NFL size. If KC decides to wait until the 3rd or 4th round to grab a receiver, the team will surely consider Edmund Gates. He's a converted basketball player with some raw skills, but Gates ran the fastest 40 yard dash for WRs at the combine with a time of 4.37 seconds. The Chiefs recently scouted Gates at one of their private workouts.

Offensive Lineman:When your Offense's success is built on a dynamic running game, a dominant Offensive Line is just as important as an electrifying rusher like Charles or a bruising back like Thomas Jones. The team's Left Guard, Brian Waters, made his 5th Pro Bowl appearance in 2011 but he's entering his 12th season in the league. It doesn't take a football genius to realize that's a lot of wear and tear for an interior lineman especially one who turns 35 this year. In 2008 the Chiefs selected Branden Albert in the 1st Round but he hasn't developed into the All-Pro Left Tackle the team had hoped.  Coach Todd Haley hasn't confirmed Albert will be protecting Matt Cassel's blindside in 2011. Which raises speculation that KC may move Albert to Guard and use their 1st Round pick on one of the many highly touted O-Line prospects. Gabe Carimi out of Wisconsin is a fierce blocker and possesses the size and athleticism to succeed in the NFL. Boston College's Anthony Castonzois a heavily scouted O-Line prospect who is equipped to start as a Rookie. Team officials met with Castonzo during the Senior Bowl. Another option for KC is to draft a Center that will eventually take over for 15 year veteran Casey Wiegmann, who hasn't missed a game in nine seasons. But Wiegmann is one of the oldest O-Lineman in the league and turns 38 this season. Plus his contract expired after the 2010 season. If still on the board, Florida's Mike Pounceywill certainly be considered by those inside the Chiefs' war-room. Kris O'Dowd played Center at USC and is projected as a mid round selection. If the Chiefs want to address the Center position, O'Dowd would be a solid 4th-5th Round selection.


San Diego Chargers

Draft Picks: R1 Pick 18, R2 Pick 18, R2 Pick 29, R3 Pick 18, R3 Pick 25, R6 Pick 36, R7 Pick 33.


Defensive End: Luis Castillo performs very well occasionally, but never developed into an impact starter at left end and the Chargers lack a good option on the opposite side. San Diego ranked fourth in run defense last season, but none of their defensive ends had more than three sacks and they would be prudent to scoop up an explosive prospect that could bring heat on the quarterback. Cameron Jordan (Cal), Adrian Clayborn (Iowa) and Cameron Heyward (Ohio State) will be among the defensive ends likely on their radar if they ultimately decide to use pick No. 18 on the position.

Inside Linebacker: Stephen Cooper and Keith Burnett are uncertain to return as free agents and 2010 second-round pick Donald Butler is coming off a torn Achilles suffered as a rookie. Even if Cooper does come back, he will turn 32 in June, and San Diego should still have a need to get younger at the position. Akeem Dent (Georgia) may lack ideal speed, but is strong and reliable as a tackler and would be worth a look if the club waits until the third or fourth round to address the position.

Outside Linebacker: Shaun Phillips still gets the job done, evidenced by his team-leading 11 sacks last season, but 2009 first-round pick Larry English is yet to make an impact and may lack the size or speed to ever perform up to lofty expectations. Shawne Merriman hasn't been an intimidator since 2007 and the club finally parted ways with him in 2010. They need a worthy pass rusher to pair with Phillips, and it would not be surprising if they address the position early in the Draft. Sam Acho (Texas) and Jeremy Beal (Oklahoma) would both be good fits as rush linebackers in a 3-4 scheme, and San Diego could acquire either in the second round. Ryan Kerrigan should be on their radar as well, who tallied 25.5 sacks over his final two seasons at Purdue.


Wide Receiver:Quarterback Philip Rivers led the NFL with 4,710 passing yards, but he practically did it with a different group of Wide Receivers each week. Malcom Floyd, Legedu Naanee, Patrick Crayton, Buster Davis, and Seyi Ajirotutu all had their moments to shine while Vinvent Jackson was holding out for a new contract. Problem was, none of the above-mentioned players managed to stay healthy all season. The team placed their Franchise Tag on Jackson, but that doesn't guarantee he'll take the field in a Chargers uniform in 2011. The same can be said for Free Agents Floyd and Naanee. Floyd did a decent job of taking over the #1 role, but he needs an equal or better receiver who lines up opposite him if San Diego really wants to spread the field and take the attention off  Tight End Antonio Gates. The Chargers won't use a 1st Round pick on a WR but since the team has five picks in the 1st three Rounds, a Wide Receiver is certainly a strong possibility early on. Boise State's Titus Younghas explosive speed and quickness. In College he was a great deep ball threat and would be a perfect target for Rivers' big arm. Young could also help with the Chargers' Return game and since Darren Sproles is a Free Agent, Young could fill that void. But if the Chargers want draft Vincent Jackson's eventual replacement, they may try to grab a similar sized player. Like Jackson, Pittsburgh's Jonathan Baldwin is tall and long. Baldwin is 6'4, which is an ideal size for Wide Receiver according to the team's Head Coach Norv Turner. But the Chargers may not get a chance to draft Baldwin if they don't want to use their 18th overall selection. Instead, North Carolina's Greg Little may be a more suitable option. He's not quite as tall as Jackson, but at 6'3, 220 pounds he has the size Turner likes. Little was suspended in 2010 by the NCAA, which could factor in to other teams passing him up, making him a steal in the mid-to-late rounds.

Quarterback:The Chargers aren't looking to replace Philip Rivers anytime soon. Afterall he led the league in passing yards in 2010 and is coming off his 3rd straight season of 4,000 yards. But the team did trade backup Charlie Whitehurst to the Seahawks last summer. Currently, 12-year veteran, Billy Volek, is the team's only QB on the roster other than Rivers. It may not seem like QB is a pressing need for the squad, but they are just one injury away from having no backups. So while the team won't use any of their first five or six picks on a QB, don't be shocked if later on in the Draft Iowa's Ricky Stanzi or Idaho's Nathan Enderle pops up when the Chargers are on the clock.


Oakland Raiders

Draft Picks: R2 Pick 16, R3 Pick 17, R4 Pick 16, R5 Pick 17, R6 Pick 16, R7 Pick 17, R7 Pick 40


Cornerback: Nnamdi Asomugha, who is Oakland's best defensive player, is unlikely to return next season and the club currently lacks a worthy replacement to fill his elite shoes. Their other starter, Stanford Routt, is also a free agent so this is clearly the top area of need for the ‘Silver & Black'. Even if Routt stays, he is still not an asset and opposing gunslingers had no trouble shooting him down last season. Oakland doesn't pick until slot 48 in the second round, but the Draft is deep enough at cornerback to find a high-quality prospect at that point who can step in and help right away. Ras-I Dowling (Virginia) is appealing if he slips to that spot, and the Raiders should like his skills of being able to pressure the quarterback on blitzes and tenacity in run support. Projected third-rounders Rashad Carmichael (Virginia Tech), Ryan Hill (Miami) and Kendrick Burney (North Carolina) should be among the names on their radar during the early portion of the Draft as well.

Strong-Side Linebacker: 2010 first-round pick Rolando McClain looked great at times as a rookie and is a future star at middle linebacker. Travis Goethel turned heads during training camp and was slated to start on the weak-side before being hindered by a back injury. He will get first crack at the No. 1 role for next season and the main area of need is on the strong-side with Kamerion Wimbley uncertain to return as a free agent. It is worth noting that Wimbley paced the team with nine sacks and his impending replacement will need to have pass-rushing ability. Dontay Moch has exceptional speed and notched 8.5 sacks as a senior at Nevada. He is considered a raw talent, but will be worth a look for Oakland if they don't want to address the position with a high pick.

Safety: Strong safety Tyvon Branch is fierce defending the run, but is not quite as savvy against the pass and is more of a liability in that regard. The Raiders are also yet to find stability at free safety and it will become a more pressing need if Michael Huff and/or Hiram Eugene exit through the door of free agency. 2010 seventh-round pick Stevie Brown proved to be a gem as he fared well at times as a rookie, and Mike Mitchell has promise –- but again, the club needs to find consistency in both safety spots. Oakland's secondary was torched for 29 touchdowns through the air last season, and the safety's were to blame on many of those scores.   


Quarterback:Last year's starter, Jason Campbell, is entering the final year of his contract which gives the Raiders a great opportunity to draft a QB and let him learn Hue Jackson's Offense from the sidelines, instead of rushing him into action his Rookie season. Since the Raiders don't have a 1st Round pick (unless of course they trade for one on Draft Day), they won't get the chance to draft Cam Newton, Blaine Gabbert, or any of the other 1st Round QB prospects. Luckily for them, there will be plenty of talented QBs available in the later rounds. A year ago, ESPN's Draft Expert, Mel Kiper, predicted Washington's Jake Locker would be selected in the First Round. But now Kiper believes Locker's stock is slipping after his mediocre 2010 season. Recently, Kiper said Locker is likely going a 2nd or 3rd Round pick. Locker is a good athlete and made plays with his arm and feet in College. But he needs to work on his accuracy before taking the field in the NFL. Which is why getting drafted by the Raiders is an ideal fit. Oakland has shown interest in Colin Kaepernick (Nevada), who is scheduled to work out and meet with team officials before the Draft. Andy Dalton (TCU) is another possibility since he'll be available in the later rounds. Perhaps waiting until the 3rd, 4th, or even 5th round to take a QB is in the team's best interest, because not that long ago they selected JaMarcus Russell with the 1st Overall pick and we all know how his career transpired.

Offensive Lineman:Oakland used two of their first four picks on O-Lineman in last year's draft but since three of Oakland's starting O-Lineman from 2010 are Free Agents (Guard Robert Gallery, Center Samson Satele, and Tackle Langston Walker), the team is likely to address the position again. Steve Wisniewski played  Guard for 13 seasons in a Raiders uniform and was selected to 8 Pro Bowls. He retired in 2001 and is now Oakland's Assistant Offensive Line Coach. Wisniewski's nephew, Stefen, played Center at Penn State and is considered a 2nd Round prospect. More importantly, Stefen Wisniewski has the skills and talent to start during his Rookie season. Could Stefen follow his Uncle's footsteps from Penn State to Oakland? Given the team's need up front and Stefen's ability to start right away, I'd say it's a likely scenario. 


Denver Broncos

Draft Picks: R1 Pick 2, R2 Pick 4, R2 Pick 14, R3 Pick 3, R6 Pick 24, R7 Pick 2.


Defensive Tackle: Improving the defensive line should clearly be the top priority for Denver after ranking dead last in the NFL in sacks last season with 23, and they were also pounded for an average of 154 rushing yards per battle. Jamal Williams is aging and will turn 35 on Draft weekend, and there is a consensus among NFL experts that the Broncos will spend their first-round pick on one of the elite prospects at the position, such as Marcell Dareus (Alabama).

Defensive End: Only three of those aforementioned 23 sacks came from the defensive end position, and we repeat that investing in strengthening the line would go a long way in turning their franchise back in the right direction following a dismal 4-12 campaign in 2010. Da'Quan Bowers (Clemson) would be the ideal choice if his knee checks out fine next month. 

Inside Linebacker: D.J. Williams may be a stud among the IDP community, but he is not quite fierce enough at handling the run in the real world (failed to reach double digits in tackles in each of the final 10 games of last season), and Denver should look for a tough prospect to pair him with inside. Joe Mays and Wesley Woodyard were merely serviceable filling in last season, and we expect the Broncos to add depth here, potentially early in the Draft. Greg Jones (Michigan State) comes to mind as an option for the 2-3 round, as he is a strong defender against the inside run and has a knack for shedding blockers. He also has the ability to get to the quarterback on blitzes (collected nine sacks in 2009), which could help improve Denver's sack production a notch.


Running Back:Just two years ago the Broncos used their 1st Round Draft pick on Knowshon Moreno. Though Moreno has been productive when on the field, he's had some run ins with injuries that have keep him off it. The Broncos brought in a flurry of Free Agents before and during the season last year, but none panned out as planned. As a group, the Broncos RBs averaged just 96 rushing yards per game, which was 26th in the NFL. The team's new Head Coach, John Fox, was a big fan of the Running Back By Committee approach (much to the dismay of Fantasy Football Managers) during his tenure with the Carolina Panthers. Ideally, the Broncos could use a big and powerful back that would compliment Moreno's quickness and ability to catch passes out of the backfield. There's been rumors that the Broncos are interested in signing DeAngelo Williams, who played under Fox in Carolina and is a Free Agent this season. Problem is, due to the lockout, no team is allowed to make any trades or sign Free Agents to contracts. Which is why the Broncos may need to draft a ball carrier at the end of the month.  This Draft isn't stacked with RB studs like the 2010 draft, but there are some talented players Denver may be able to scoop up in the later rounds. DeMarco Murray out of Oklahoma is a bigger back that also has some speed. He's 6'0, 213 pounds and ran a 4.41 forty-yard dash at the Combine. Like Moreno, Murray can catch passes out of the backfield, but can also plunge his way into the end-zone on Goal-Line scenarios. Clemson's Jamie Harper is one of the biggest backs in the class. He's 5'11 but weighs in at a forceful 233 pounds. Harper is tough to tackle given his strength and size and may be a late round steal if the Broncos can help develop his skills over the summer.

Tight End:The Broncos had the 7th best passing attack in the NFL, averaging 252 passing yards per game. Most of their production came via the arm of Kyle Orton and the hands of Brandon Lloyd. Some of their other WRs chipped in with some quality single-game performances (Jabar Gaffney, Eddie Royal), but the team's Tight Ends made virtually no contributions. Daniel Graham finished the season with 18 receptions for 148 yards and Zero TDs. Graham turns 33 years old in November so Elway and Fox may search for a younger replacement after they address more pertinent needs.  A player like Lance Kendricks (Wisconsin) is a suitable fit. He's accustomed to run blocking since the Badgers are a power running team, plus he has the speed to get past Linebackers.  Tennessee's Luke Stocker is another Tight End option with solid blocking skills and decent hands. Standing at 6'5, Stocker would be a great Red Zone option.

Click here for the NFC East Draft Preview

Follow Bill Enright on Twitter: @BillEnright

Follow @FFChamps on Twitter