The AFC West was the least competitive division in 2012, outside of Denver, of course. The other three teams in this division are all picking in the top 11 overall; Kansas City and Oakland are both in the top three. Kansas City has already improved their squad through free agency and a big trade with San Francisco for a certain quarterback named Smith, but they still have a lot of work to do in this draft. Oakland and San Diego are in similar positions and cannot afford to be lazy if they want to be relevant next year. Denver is looking much better than their divisional opponents, but thanks to the Elvis Dumervil mishap, they have some ends to tie up as well, so to speak.
Denver Broncos (Last Season: 13-3; First Pick: 28th Overall; Number of Picks: 6)
Denver was clearly one of the teams “winning” free agency after signing WR Wes Welker away from their main AFC competitors, New England, one move that helped make this possibly the most potent offensive attack in the conference. Then, they had to focus on some new issues thanks to the Elvis Dumervil fax machine snafu, one of the worst free agency foul-ups in the history of the league. The Broncos still have star LB Von Miller, but losing the defensive end who made 11 sacks last season and 17 sacks in 2009 is going to sting. Florida State DE Tank Carradine will likely be available for the Broncos at 28; DE Datone Jones of UCLA is another possibility. The Broncos could also look for a cornerback early in the draft; if not in the first round, I expect them to go for one in Round Two. CB Champ Bailey is turning 35 in June, and the Ravens exposed how porous the rest of the secondary can be in their epic AFC Divisional Round playoff game. NC State CB David Amerson would be a smart pick.
Kansas City Chiefs (Last Season: 2-14; First Pick: 1st Overall; Number of Picks: 6)
With the way Kansas City is talking about their franchise tackle Branden Albert and their desire to trade him for a second-round pick, it is pretty clear the Chiefs are targeting the best player on their board with their first overall pick. Whether that is Texas A&M’s Luke Joeckel or Central Michigan’s Eric Fisher – whoever they value more highly – the Chiefs are drafting the left tackle of their future. This will be the case even if they do not or cannot trade Albert, because Albert can easily be moved to left guard for the year. Other than that, their offense is set, thanks to the acquisition of QB Alex Smith, the locking up of WR Dwayne Bowe to a five-year deal, and the maintaining of a rushing attack that was surprisingly fifth-best in the NFL last year, featuring both Jamaal Charles and Peyton Hillis at running back. So where do the Chiefs go from here? Defense. Kansas City traded away their second-rounder to San Francisco in the Alex Smith trade (which is very good use of a second-round pick), but they can find some steals on defense in the middle rounds. Oregon LB Kiko Alonso is somebody they have shown interest in.
Oakland Raiders (Last Season: 4-12; First Pick: 3rd Overall; Number of Picks: 7)
The struggles continue for the Oakland Raiders, who should just be thankful they weren’t even last in their own division last year, despite going 4-12 and owning the third overall pick. Oakland traded for QB Matt Flynn from Seattle, so it doesn’t look like they would draft Geno Smith or another quarterback in the first round to compete with him. (Whether the Radiers draft a quarterback in the third round to compete with Flynn, only for Flynn to be overshadowed by the rookie’s greatness, a la Russell Wilson in Seattle, remains to be seen.) Clearly, the Raiders need to draft a defensive player. DT Sharrif Floyd from Florida will most likely be the best available player on Oakland’s board, though Utah DT Star Lotulelei is another option. They could even get away with drafting a linebacker like BYU’s Ezekiel Ansah or Georgia’s Jarvis Jones here. Any of them would instantly upgrade the Raiders’ D. Like the Chiefs, the Raiders don’t have a second-rounder anymore (it was traded to Cincinnati as part of the Carson Palmer deal before last season), so come the third round Oakland should start looking for other defensive players – a pass rusher, if they didn’t draft one in round one, and some secondary depth – as well as offensive line help.
San Diego Chargers (Last Season: 7-9; First Pick: 11th Overall; Number of Picks: 6)
After yet another disappointing season in San Diego, head coach Norv Turner was fired and replaced by former Denver offensive coordinator Mike McCoy. San Diego now hopes to return to competitiveness in the AFC West with the new regime, but rebuilding at many key positions through the draft is a must before that happens. Some mock drafts have the Chargers trading up to number six overall to snag Oklahoma OT Lane Johnson, but I think they can find a potential starter in Round Two as well. Taking Utah DT Star Lotulelei or Alabama OG Chance Warmack, if either is available, would be great value at number 11. In addition to looking for an offensive tackle in the second round, the Chargers could also benefit from a cornerback (Quentin Jammer is still unsigned and Antoine Cason went to Arizona).