Tuesday, April 26, 2011

NFL Draft Preview: AFC West

Welcome to part four of our eight-part NFL Draft preview. In this installment, we will wrap up our AFC previews by taking a look at the AFC West.

The AFC West had a surprise champion last year in the Kansas City Chiefs, who took a huge step forward under young coach Todd Haley. The Chargers, who had been in control of the division for the past five years, were probably the best team in the division, at least statistically, but finished a disappointing 9-7 thanks to atrocious special teams and some untimely mistakes. Oakland was a pleasant surprise, and is looking to build off a strong 8-8 2010 campaign. In the cellar, Denver is in complete rebuilding mode, and faces questions at the quarterback position as well as the adjustments necessary that come along with hiring a new head coach. With this in mind, how will the AFC West approach the draft? Hit the jump to find out.

Denver Broncos
2010 Record: 4-12 (Missed playoffs)
Early Picks: 2nd, 36th, 46th, 67th
Team Needs: Defensive End, Defensive Tackle, Cornerback, Tight End, Guard

The Broncos were one of the worst teams in the league last year, thanks to poor coaching and a simple lack of talent on the roster. After last year’s disaster, new coach John Fox has been brought in to right the ship in Denver. Fox faces questions about the quarterback position (is Tim Tebow the answer long-term?), but the Broncos can’t afford to ignore the rest of its roster problems, especially considering that they have three picks in the first two rounds.

Luckily for Denver, the second-best overall player in this year’s draft happens to fit a position of need. Denver was dead last in the league in both yards and points allowed (390.8 ypg, 29.4 ppg) last season , so upgrading the defense is an absolute must. Therefore, it should be a no-brainer for the Broncos to select Alabama defensive tackle Marcell Dareus with the second overall pick. Dareus will command double teams immediately in the NFL, and would be a great cornerstone to begin any defense around. As we have seen recently with Ndamukong Suh in Detroit, dominating defensive tackles are becoming more and more valuable, and Denver would be wise to join the trend by taking Dareus.

Kansas City Chiefs
2010 Record: 10-6 (Lost in Wild Card Round)
Early Picks: 21st, 55th, 86th
Team Needs: Tight End, Tackle, Center, Defensive Tackle, Linebacker, Safety

The Chiefs were one of the surprise teams of the league last season, unexpected taking the AFC West crown. Led by an improved defense and consistent (if not stellar) play from quarterback Matt Cassell and running back Jamaal Charles, Kansas City won using a methodical approach, winning the turnover battle and playing defense in a grind-it-out style. Even though the team won ten games, however, it was never a serious Super Bowl contender; the team simply didn’t have the pieces necessary to make a deep postseason run. With that in mind, Kansas City could go in a couple directions with the 21st overall pick.

Looking at their needs and how they match up with the prospects available, the Chiefs should be looking for a lineman with their first pick. Look for Kansas City to take Wisconsin tackle Gabe Carimi or Colorado tackle Nate Solder with the 21st overall selection if they choose to take a lineman on the offensive side of the ball. If the Chiefs decide to go the other way, defensive tackle Corey Liuget from Illinois would be a great selection if he is still available. If Liuget is off the board early, Iowa defensive end Adrian Clayborn could be another good option to shore up the Chief’s defensive line.

Oakland Raiders
2010 Record: 8-8 (Missed playoffs)
Early Picks: 48th, 81st
Team Needs: Quarterback, Offensive Line, Cornerback, Defensive Tackle

With minimal talent, little experience, and inconsistent quarterback play, Oakland had a surprisingly good year in 2010. The defense was greatly improved, and running back Darren McFadden (1664 total yards, 11 TDs) finally broke out, leading to some good wins for a young Raiders team that many picked to be in the AFC West cellar once again. The defense was led by All-Pro cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha; unfortunately for Oakland, he is now a free agent and is unlikely to return. And without a first round pick (it was included in a trade with New England), Oakland has no way to replace him through the draft. This puts the team in a difficult situation.

Oakland is almost forced to take the best cornerback available when their pick finally rolls around midway through the second round. At this point, it is a crapshoot to project which cornerbacks will still be on the board that far into the draft, but the Raiders should target Miami’s Brandon Harris or Virginia speedster Ras-I Dowling (4.39 in the 40). Taking one of these two might require a small trade up, but for Oakland, it’s worth it. And, since Al Davis loves speed, Dowling is a definite target with that pick.

San Diego Chargers
2010 Record: 9-7 (Missed playoffs)
Early Picks: 18th, 50th, 61st, 82nd
Team Needs: Wide Receiver, Defensive End, Linebacker

For a team that missed the playoffs last season, San Diego has surprisingly few holes. Statistically, the Chargers were one of the league’s best teams, ranking first in both total defense (271 yards allowed per game) and total offense (395.6 ypg). Thanks to a -6 turnover ratio and a league high 4 blocked punts (along with the worst net yard punting average in the league), San Diego continuously found ways to lose games the hard way.

The good news for the Chargers is that they have a roster full of talent, a boatload of early picks, and very few team needs. Consequently, look for San Diego to take the best player available as opposed to filling a specific need with their first four picks. The strength of the draft is along the defensive line, so the best value can probably be found in either the defensive end or defensive tackle positions with the 18th pick. In the second and third rounds, look for San Diego to take at least one receiver, and possibly even a linebacker as well to fill their most pressing needs.

No comments:

Post a Comment