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2014 NFL Draft Preview: AFC West
By Matt Horkman

Denver Broncos

Recent Selections: RB Montee Ball, OT Orlando Franklin, OLB Von Miller, S Rahim Moore, TE Julius Thomas, DT Sylvester Williams, & DE Derek Wolfe

Recap: Many contribute Denver’s recent success to their utilization of free agency. Denver signed quarterback Peyton Manning in 2012 and wide receiver Wes Welker in 2013. This year, they signed cornerback Aqib Talib, defensive end DeMarcus Ware, and safety T.J. Ward. It has been a win now approach for the Broncos, yet they’ve also done a fine job of utilizing the draft, especially in 2011 when they drafted Franklin, Miller, Moore, and Thomas. Injuries plagued Miller in 2013, but he’s one of the league’s premiere pass rushers and just entering his fourth season. Thomas had a breakout campaign last year. Expect his production to rise with receiver Eric Decker now out of the fold. Denver wasn’t interested in retaining running back Knowshon Moreno this off-season. He accounted for 1,586 yards and 13 touchdowns in 2013, so the Broncos are going to have to replace his production. That responsibility lies with Ball, who could be among the breakout players of the 2014 campaign.

Best Scenario: CB Darqueze Dennard, OG David Yankey, & WR Davante Adams

Draft Preview: Despite signing Talib in free agency, the Broncos remain in a hunt for a cornerback, as they parted ways with long-time starter Champ Bailey in March. Based on tape, Dennard is the best corner in this draft. He is physical, shows up in run support, and has good straight-line speed. He doesn’t have elite measurables, though, so he hasn’t generated as much pre-draft buzz as Oklahoma State’s Justin Gilbert and Ohio State’s Bradley Roby. As a result, he could slide to the backend of round one, where the Broncos would be an ideal landing spot. In round two, Denver could target an offensive lineman. Yankey and UCLA’s Xavier Su’a-Filo are the top two guards in the draft, with Yankey receiving a slight edge on my board, though Su’a-Filo can also play right tackle, making him unlikely to get out of the first 50 picks. Finally, Denver needs to consider adding a receiver. Adams could put up major numbers with Manning throwing him the ball. In fact, if Denver drafts a receiver in the first two days, that player will immediately becomes a sleeper for offensive rookie of the year.

San Diego Chargers

Recent Selections: WR Keenan Allen, OT D.J. Fluker, S Marcus Gilchrist, OLB Melvin Ingram, DE Corey Liuget, DE Kendall Reyes, ILB Manti Te’o, & CB Shareece Wright

Recap: After too many mediocre to poor seasons under former general manager A.J. Smith, the Chargers hired Tom Telesco in 2013. The early returns look good, as his first three draft picks each contributed to San Diego’s postseason run a year ago. Fluker started every game for the Chargers, grading out as a high-level right tackle. Te’o ended up starting 15 games (including playoffs) and Allen emerged as a legitimate rookie of the year candidate, catching 71 passes for 1,046 yards and eight touchdowns.

Best Scenario: DT Timmy Jernigan, CB Kyle Fuller, & CB Marcus Robinson

Draft Preview: The Chargers will probably draft a cornerback or nose tackle in the first round, as the team desperately needs to fill those voids. When you think of nose tackles, you think of big bodies such as Notre Dame’s Louis Nix III. However, Jernigan could also play the position. The Florida State defensive tackle is a phenomenal run defender with incredible strength. As a nose tackle in a 3-4 defense, he’d be a bit unconventional ala Jay Ratliff with the Cowboys in the late 2000s, but he‘d get the job done. Selecting Jernigan or Nix III on the first day allows Telesco to focus on replenishing his secondary on day two. You are not going to beat Denver without quality corners. Getting Fuller and Robinson in rounds two or three wouldn’t solve each of San Diego‘s secondary problems, as they (especially Robinson) need time to develop, but it’s a step in the right direction.

Kansas City Chiefs

Recent Selections: OT Eric Fisher, OLB Justin Houston, C Rodney Hudson, DT Dontari Poe, & OT Donald Stephenson

Recap: Despite finishing with the worst record in football in 2012, Andy Reid did not inherit a roster lacking in talent. Hudson is a viable holdover from the previous regime. In addition, the Chiefs expect Stephenson to compete for the right tackle opening, as they slide Fisher over to the left side to replace Branden Albert, who signed with Miami in free agency. It wasn’t a particularly great year for Fisher. He did play in 14 games, but his performance was below average. The team expects him to make a significant leap in 2014, though. Much of Kamas City’s resurgence in 2013 had to do with the success of their defense. Both Houston and Poe emerged as all-pro caliber players last season, with Poe finally living up to the potential that made him one of 2012’s most intriguing draft picks.

Best Scenario: DE Ra'Shede Hageman & WR Jared Abbrederis

Draft Preview: Reid values defensive and offensive lineman in round one, as he has drafted one in the first round in eight out of his nine attempts. Hageman, who resembles former New England Patriots and Oakland Raiders defensive lineman Richard Seymour, could play alongside Poe, giving the Chiefs a foundation on the defensive line to build upon. The Chiefs are without a second-round pick, as they traded it to San Francisco for quarterback Alex Smith last off-season, so they won’t pick until late into day two. Abbrederis would be a good target, as he can play inside or outside, and is an excellent route runner. He is a name to watch as day two unfolds.

Oakland Raiders

Recent Selections: CB D.J. Hayden, WR Denarius Moore, OT Menelik Watson, & C Stefen Wisniewski

Recap: With just one first-round pick (Hayden) in the last three seasons, Oakland has been unable to build a roster that is ready to compete. As a result, general manager Reggie McKenzie had to dive into free agency this off-season. McKenzie inherited a mess. There’s no question about that, yet his two drafts have yet to produce a single starter. Hayden finished his rookie season on injured reserve with several injuries. The Raiders expect him to lockdown a starting role in 2014. Watson, a second-round pick in 2013, could compete for a starting job at right tackle, though injuries have kept him off the field. The lone bright spot among Oakland’s last three drafts is Wisniewski. A second-round pick in 2011, he has started 45 games in his three seasons, emerging as a rock solid center. Sammy Watkins

Best Scenario: WR Sammy Watkins & QB Teddy Bridgewater

Draft Preview: It is time Oakland does something about their woeful offense. With their first pick, it’s likely they’ll select Sammy Watkins, Khalil Mack, Jake Matthews, or Greg Robinson with it. I believe Watkins is their preference. They could also trade down to accumulate draft choices, which they did a season ago. Nevertheless, their best scenario is to take the best player on the board at No. 5 and then trade back into the first round to select a quarterback. Bridgewater and Fresno State’s Derek Carr are both excellent options. By putting together a package of their second and third-round picks, Oakland could probably get as high as the early 20s, which gets them in front of Cleveland, who holds the No. 26 selection. Odds seem good the Raiders would land Carr or Bridgewater if they were able to jump the Browns.

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