A year after sending three teams to the playoffs, the AFC West was somewhat of a disappointment this past season. The lone team to make it to the second season, Peyton Manning’s Denver Broncos, lost in their first attempt to repeat as conference champions. Meanwhile, down seasons in San Diego and Kansas City left a lot of question marks for those teams. Then you have the Oakland Raiders. What can we say about this downtrodden organization that hasn’t already been said? At least, there’s a potential franchise quarterback in the works.
There wasn’t a whole lot of moving and shaking in this division during free agency. Flush with cap room, Oakland opted to maintain its long-term cap flexibility by adding veterans on front-loaded deals.
Kansas City swapped out one veteran receiver in the form of Dwayne Bowe for another, Jeremy Maclin.
In Denver, the entire focus was on whether Peyton Manning would return and what the team was going to do with the Thomas “brothers.” And in San Diego, it was about adding some veterans at positions of need.
Now that we are in draft season, all four of these teams know full well what they need to do to take that next step from where they were last season.
Let’s check in on the dream draft scenario for each AFC West team.
Denver Broncos: Top-End Pass Rusher Falls
For a team that’s banking on contending for a conference title in 2015, the Broncos have a decent amount of holes to fill between now and September. Unfortunately for the team, these needs will have to be addressed mostly through the draft moving forward.
Right tackle, defensive end, inside linebacker and safety are all needs for the three-time defending AFC West champions. The issue here is that three of these positions—right tackle, inside linebacker and safety— are the weakest they have been in the recent history of the draft. This leads us to believe that if the Broncos are going to get value at a need position, defensive end will be the way to go.
That’s where someone like Kentucky’s Bud Dupree comes into play. Considering the edge pass-rush position is absolutely stacked this year, there’s a chance that one of the top-tier talents will fall to the bottom half of the first round. If so, John Elway and company might be smart to engage in trade-up talks from the 28th position.
Even with the presence of DeMarcus Ware, defensive end is a major position of need. The Broncos recorded a total of 17.5 sacks from the line in 2014. With Ware on his last legs, this would also be a good long-term investment. Someone like Dupree could come in and be a situational pass-rush option until he adds the necessary bulk and technique to be a three-down player.
Kansas City Chiefs: Elite Wide Receiver Prospect Lands at 18
Acquiring Jeremy Maclin was a start, but the Chiefs desperately need to get a young, starter-caliber receiver to play opposite him. After all, the team’s receiving group failed to record a single touchdown last season.
The good news here is that Andy Reid and company will have an opportunity add a quality receiver in the middle of the first round. With as many as 10 starter-caliber pass catchers available, it will be hard for the team to miss.
While it’s highly unlikely that Amari Cooper, Kevin White or DeVante Parker fall to 18, there are other options for the Chiefs here. Embattled former Missouri and Oklahoma wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham would be a huge asset in this offense, especially given his ridiculous 6’5″ frame. Just imagine Green-Beckham and Travis Kelce as red-zone targets for Alex Smith.[mks_pullquote align=”right” width=”300″ size=”24″ bg_color=”#dd3333″ txt_color=”#eeee22″]Just imagine Green-Beckham and Travis Kelce as red-zone targets for Alex Smith.[/mks_pullquote]
If the Chiefs aren’t sold on one of the second-tier options, a trade-up scenario could be in the cards here. Would anyone in Kansas City really be opposed to the Chiefs yielding a second rounder and a mid-round pick to trade up for one of the three top-end guys mentioned above? I didn’t think so.
Oakland Raiders: Amari Cooper and Melvin Gordon
Reggie McKenzie finds himself in yet another glorious position heading into the draft. Selecting at fourth overall, the Raiders will have the pick of the litter when it comes to the wide receiver position. And while the team did sign Michael Crabtree, this is still an area of utmost need.
What’s more, Oakland could potentially engage in trade-down talks should Marcus Mariota be available at four. That would afford the team the ability to pick up additional picks and still get one of the top two receivers in the draft—Amari Cooper or Kevin White. For the purposes of scheme fit and immediate impact, the Raiders’ target should be Cooper. With White getting more and more play as the potential top receiver off the board, Cooper also becomes a more realistic option in a trade down.
Then you have the ultra-valuable 35th pick at the top of the second round. No running back has gone in the first round over the past two years.[mks_pullquote align=”right” width=”300″ size=”24″ bg_color=”#d3d3d3″ txt_color=”#000000″]No running back has gone in the first round over the past two years.[/mks_pullquote] While that might very well change with Melvin Gordon and Todd Gurley showing they are more than capable of being franchise ball carriers, one could end up falling to the second round. If so, the Raiders would need to jump on that immediately.
Despite some talk about Derek Carr not being the team’s franchise quarterback, the Fresno State product has proven himself worthy of being given that opportunity. The only way he’s going to succeed is if McKenzie gives him the necessary weapons in a talent-stricken offense. Oakland has to hit the skill positions early and often later this month.
McKenzie did a great job during the 2014 draft. He added as many as five starter-caliber players. If he could follow that up with a draft class chock-full of talent at the skill positions, the Raiders could very well turn the corner here soon.
San Diego Chargers: Marcus Mariota
Is there a reasonable expectation that San Diego will be able to compete in the AFC in the immediate future, even with Philip Rivers under center? That’s the question we have to focus on when determining whether trading the veteran signal caller is realistic. If the Chargers’ internal view is that they are not serious contenders, Rivers should be on the block.
At 33 and entering a contract year, there’s no telling what type of future Rivers has in Southern California. This is only magnified by his unwillingness to sign an extension before his deal expires.
Why not go out there and acquire the second overall pick—and likely Mariota—if the opportunity presents itself? A trade of this magnitude would be met with skepticism from the team’s fan base. You simply don’t deal a franchise quarterback who is seemingly in the prime of his career. You definitely don’t do this when you’re set up to contend for a playoff spot. It would be a bitter pill for fans to swallow.
However, it’s something the Chargers may have to seriously consider. The idea of acquiring a potential franchise quarterback without having to exhaust multiple draft picks as collateral is something most teams would give their right arm for.
Photo: USA Today Images.