- Kevin Weidl, Scouts Inc.
Today, we make an early breakdown of the team needs for AFC West in our division-by-division series. Denver continued to have a stranglehold on the division, securing their third straight division title. After having the first overall pick in last year's draft, the Chiefs made huge strides to close the gap with the Broncos as they operated under new management. San Diego was able to sneak into the playoffs (and advance to the divisional round) while the Raiders continue to search for answers in trying to end a streak of 11 straight losing seasons.
Here is a quick look at what positions and prospects each team could target in the 2014 draft. As always, draft-eligible non-seniors are denoted with an asterisk.
DENVER BRONCOS (13-3)
Draft position: To be determined by playoff results, from Nos. 25-32
Needs: Offensive line, defensive line, wide receiver
QB Peyton Manning is coming off a record-breaking year, but he turns 38 this offseason and continuing to make sure their franchise quarterback is protected would be a wise decision. Even with the return of franchise left tackle Ryan Clady next season, who suffered a season ending Lisfranc injury in Week 2 -- the Broncos have a need along the front line. Guard Zane Beadles is a free agent after this year and 31-year-old veteran interior reserve Chris Kuper has not been the same since a gruesome dislocated ankle in 2011. Kuper is also set to be a free agent in 2014.
If Denver parts ways with Beadles there have been discussions in the past about bumping right tackle Orlando Franklin, who is better suited as a run-blocker than in pass protection, inside to guard where he was most comfortable when he came out of Miami in 2011. Either way, Franklin has one year remaining on his contract and planning ahead to infuse youth makes sense.
A few right tackle prospects in the back half of the first round who could be in the mix including Notre Dame's Zack Martin or Virginia's Morgan Moses, who may be better suited as a left tackle, where he played his first three collegiate seasons. If the Broncos wait they could elect to take Miami's Seantrel Henderson, who is a massive and talented player but comes with character issues.
The Broncos also could look to address the front line on the defensive side of the ball. They could use to add another pass-rusher to take some attention from Von Miller, who will return next season from a season-ending knee injury. DE Shaun Phillips and reserve Robert Ayers, who combined for 15 sacks this year, will both be free agents. In addition, there is uncertainty with 2012 second-round pick Derek Wolfe's future as he has yet to be cleared after being hospitalized with seizure-like symptoms early this past December.
Missouri's Kony Ealy, Oregon State's Scott Crichton and South Florida's Aaron Lynch could all be options in the bottom half of the first round. If the Broncos wait to address the position, USC's Devon Kennard or Missouri's Michael Sam could fit the bill in the middle rounds.
Finally, the Broncos may need to plan for the future and find themselves another receiver at some point. Looking at the depth chart, the first four receivers are set to hit the free-agent market within the next two years. Eric Decker and Andre Caldwell will be free agents this offseason while Wes Welker and Demaryius Thomas will in 2015. The Broncos will likely look to secure Thomas to a long-term deal and will have a tough decision on Welker, who will be turning 34 at that time his contract expires.
KANSAS CITY CHIEFS (11-5)
Draft Position: No. 23 overall
Needs: Wide receiver, defensive end, safety
After 2011 first-round receiver Jonathan Baldwin proved to be a miss, first-year general manager John Dorsey sent Baldwin to San Francisco for 2012 first-round receiver A.J. Jenkins, who also has been disappointing through two seasons. That said, the need to add a vertical threat opposite of Dwayne Bowe is there. Florida State's Kelvin Benjamin, LSU's Odell Beckham Jr. and Oregon State's Brandin Cooks could all be options early on. Beckham Jr. is intriguing as he not only has the speed to take the top off defenses but also is dangerous after the catch. This ability to turn a short throw into a long gain would fit well in Reid's West Coast-based system, one that gets the ball out quickly in an effort to give receivers the ability to create after the catch.
On the defensive side of the ball the Chiefs could use to add some youth along the front line. They ranked 22nd in run defense this season and are maybe in the market to find a 5-technique who eats up space against the run and provides some pass rush. In addition, DE Tyson Jackson is set to hit the free-agent market this offseason.
Notre Dame DE Stephon Tuitt is a prospect that the Chiefs could look at late in the first round. Tuitt lacks ideal athleticism, but at 6-foot-6 and 300 pounds, he anchors well against the run and flashes quick hands as a pass-rusher. If the Dorsey elects to wait to address the position, Virginia's Brent Urban and Oregon's Taylor Hart would bring solid return in the fringe Day 3 range.
Finally the Chiefs may also look to target a safety at some point in the draft. Free safety Kendrick Lewis will be a free agent this year and reserve Quintin Demps, who has brought strong return this year, was signed to a one-year deal this past offseason from Houston. If the Chiefs elect to part way with Kendricks and/or Demps, Alabama's Ha Ha Clinton-Dix could be an option in the late first round. Later on, Florida State's Terrence Brooks and Stanford's Ed Reynolds could be few other prospects Kansas City could target in the mid-rounds.
DEs: Tuitt, Urban, Hart, Connecticut's Shamar Stephen
Safeties: Clinton-Dix*, Brooks, Reynolds, Michigan State's Isaiah Lewis
OAKLAND RAIDERS (4-12)
Draft Position: No. 5 overall
Needs: Quarterback, defensive end, wide receiver
The Raiders are unsettled at the quarterback position and still searching for a viable starter. Terrelle Pryor has ideal size and athleticism but still is a project in terms as a passer. Undrafted free-agent rookie Matt McGloin, who beat out last year's fourth-round selection Tyler Wilson in surprising fashion, flashed early on but inconsistencies plagued him down the stretch and McGloin isn't the long-term answer.
Holding the fifth overall pick and with three of the four teams ahead of Oakland having a strong need for quarterback, general manager Reggie McKenzie will have to show great patience and weigh his options on the quarterback prospects still on the board. Louisville's Teddy Bridgewater will likely be off the board by this point, however Central Florida's Blake Bortles and Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel could all be in play here. Bortles has declared for the draft.
If there isn't a quarterback still on the board that McKenzie feels is worth it at No. 5, he has a few options. He could either look to trade back later in the round and address the position while acquiring picks, or he could use their early second-round pick on a quarterback. Fresno State's Derek Carr, Alabama's AJ McCarron and LSU's Zach Mettenberger are all QBs who could be in the mix in the late-first to early-second round conversation.
The Raiders also could bolster their pass rush and they also have a need to find a playmaking receiver on the perimeter. Fortunately, there is a chance that South Carolina DE Jadeveon Clowney, not only the No. 1 defensive end but No. 1 overall prospect on our board, could still be available when the Raiders are on the clock. Clowney comes with some minor character and motor concerns, but he is an elite talent who would make an immediate impact along the front line.
Clemson WR Sammy Watkins would be the only receiver worth taking a look at where the Raiders are selecting in the first round. Wide receiver isn't high on the positional value chart, but Watkins is a special talent and worth a top-10 selection. He is an explosive playmaker who has exceptional ball skills and has the look of a No. 1 receiver at the next level.
It's also worth noting the Raiders could elect to target a tackle at some point. While they selected Menelik Watson in the second round last year, LT Jared Veldheer and RT Tony Pashos are both slated to hit the free-agent market this offseason.
QBs: Bridgewater*, Bortles*, Manziel*, Carr, McCarron, Mettenberger
SAN DIEGO CHARGERS (9-7)
Draft Position: To be determined with playoff results, Nos. 25-32
Needs: Cornerback, guard, outside linebacker
There is a glaring need to add youth and playmaking talent at the cornerback position. The Chargers held the 29th-ranked pass defense, allowing nearly 260 yards per game while also ranking near the bottom of the league in interceptions with 11 (T-26). CBs Richard Marshall and Shareece Wright combined for just one interception in the regular season, and Marshall is set to be a free agent after the season.
General manager Tom Telesco will have a few options in the back half of the first round. Oklahoma State's Justin Gilbert would bring solid return but may not be on the board by the time San Diego is slated to pick. Michigan State's Darqueze Dennard could be another prospect San Diego could target at this point. If the Chargers wait until Day 2 to address this position, Florida's Marcus Roberson and Ohio State's Bradley Roby may be in the mix.
After allowing 49 sacks and having the 27th-ranked rushing attack in 2012, Telesco addressed the offensive line by taking RT D.J. Fluker with the 11th overall pick last year. The Chargers have vastly improved up front this year, surrendering just 30 sacks (fifth fewest) while also taking a big step with their rushing attack, which ranked 13th overall.
When protected, QB Philip Rivers is still a high-level quarterback and is surrounded by a slew of emerging young talents to spread the ball around to. That said, the Chargers' continuing to address the offensive line makes sense here especially on the interior where there's need. Left guard Chad Rinehart will be a free agent this offseason while right guard Jeromey Clary is set to hit the market in 2015.
There is still a long way to go in the process, but at this point there does not appear to be a guard worth selecting in the late first round. However, there will be viable options on Day 2, which include Baylor's Cyril Richardson, Mississippi State's Jackson and Stanford's David Yankey. In addition, Penn State's John Urschel could work his way into the fringe Day 2 range. Urschel flashes a nice combination of inline power, awareness and brings appealing versatility with experience at both guard and center.
OLB Melvin Ingram returned from a knee injury late in the year and in beginning to show promise. However, there still is a need for find an impact edge rusher at OLB within their base 3-4 front. Options in the range where the Chargers will select could include Ealy and Clemson's Vic Beasley, who both bring strong upside as pass-rushers. If they Chargers wait until Day 2, prospects such as Jeffcoat and Georgia Tech's Jeremiah Attaochu would be appealing and strong fits.
OGs: Richardson, Jackson, Yankey, Urschel, Alabama's Anthony Steen
449dTodd McShay, Steve Muench and Kevin Weidl