Bucky Brooks is performing a division-by-division assessment of the 2014 NFL Draft, spotlighting notable picks and handing out grades for each team. You'll find the AFC West evaluation below; click here for other divisional breakdowns.
John Elway has cleverly constructed a Denver Broncos roster that has produced three straight division titles. While it certainly hasn't hurt having Peyton Manning under center for the past two (yes, but don't forget about Tebowmania in 2011), the fact that the Broncos' offense has improved each season is a testament to the talent Elway and Co. have accumulated on the perimeter. In free agency, Denver upgraded the defense with a series of savvy moves that brought a number of talented veterans to the squad. Long story short: The Kansas City Chiefs, San Diego Chargers and Oakland Raiders face a tall task in attempting to overthrow the divisional ruler. Of course, the draft always carries the potential to shake things up ...
AFC West notables
GM Reggie McKenzie desperately wanted to infuse the Raiders' roster with blue-chip players boasting toughness, talent and tenacity. Mack certainly fits the bill as a dynamic edge defender with a rugged game. This is a disruptive force capable of delivering game-changing turnovers. Given the Raiders' lack of playmakers on the defensive side of the ball, Mack is a perfect fit in Oakland.
Most people expected the Chiefs to add a pass-catcher with their first-round pick, but Andy Reid threw the league a curveball with the selection of a pass rusher. Ford is an exceptional pass rusher with an explosive first step and remarkable closing quickness. Still, even though Ford flashes some Derrick Thomas-like qualities coming off the ball, the presence of Tamba Hali and Justin Houston could restrict his playing time as a designated pass rusher. Thus, snagging an instant-impact receiver to upgrade that position group might've been a better play for the Chiefs.
The Chargers needed a young edge rusher to complement Melvin Ingram going forward. This Georgia Tech product is an explosive player with the quickness and burst to become a double-digit sack artist. Although Attaochu needs to add another move or two to his arsenal, the combination of his athleticism and San Diego's aggressive scheme could produce fireworks for the Bolts.
Note: Click on team names to see complete draft classes.
DENVER BRONCOS: Elway certainly has proven himself an astute talent evaluator by routinely landing quality contributors in the draft. This year, he seemingly has put together another solid class, with a number of enticing prospects coming aboard as potential value picks. No. 31 overall pick Bradley Roby is a gifted cover corner with the tools to be a great playmaker on the perimeter, but inconsistent focus prevented him from coming off the board earlier on Day 1. Cody Latimer is an intriguing size/speed athlete with the potential to develop into a quality starter under Manning's watchful eye. Michael Schofield adds depth to an offensive line that was pushed around in Super Bowl XLVIII. GRADE: B
KANSAS CITY CHIEFS: The Chiefs were one of the league's biggest surprises in Reid's first season. The team ran out to a 9-0 start before unraveling down the stretch due to injuries and inexperience. Thus, K.C. entered this draft needing to add more blue-chip prospects to fill some of the glaring holes that were exposed in the second half of the season. With that in mind, Reid raised eyebrows around the league when he opted for Ford at No. 23. While Ford eventually could become a key contributor, right now, he is pegged to play as a designated pass rusher behind two Pro Bowlers (Hali and Houston). Phillip Gaines is a long, rangy corner with the potential to develop into a starter down the road. De'Anthony Thomas slides into free-agent departee Dexter McCluster's role as a versatile offensive weapon/return specialist. Pay close attention to Aaron Murray over the next few seasons. Reid seemingly has the Midas touch with quarterbacks, which is why Murray could be Alex Smith's replacement in 2015. GRADE: C+
OAKLAND RAIDERS: After years of draft-day ineptitude in Oakland, it appears the Raiders finally got it right. McKenzie and coach Dennis Allen added a number of instant-impact prospects on both sides of the ball. Mack is a special talent with the speed, strength and power to create chaos off the edge. He will team with Sio Moore to give the Raiders an intriguing, young combo on the second level. Derek Carr is not only the Raiders' quarterback of the future, but he could become a Pro Bowl-caliber playmaker in the team's West Coast offense. Arguably the most talented passer in this draft class, Carr also displays the athleticism and movement skills evaluators covet in a quarterback directing a quick-rhythm scheme. Gabe Jackson is a plug-and-play starter at offensive guard, which made him a tremendous value pick in the middle of the third round. Keep an eye on Keith McGill as a press-man corner in Allen's defensive scheme. GRADE: A
SAN DIEGO CHARGERS: Every team enters the draft hoping to hit home runs, but the top teams in the league routinely hit singles and doubles to build a competitive roster. Chargers GM Tom Telesco looks like a future batting title champion, with his ability to land solid players at every stage of the draft. Jason Verrett was the most complete cover corner in college football last fall, but size concerns prevented some teams from falling in love with his talent at the top of the board. Regardless, Verrett will be a standout defensive playmaker as a starter or nickel corner in the Bolts' scheme. Attaochu is an athletic pass rusher with the speed, quickness and burst to wreak havoc off the edges. In fact, if he continues to refine his game, Attaochu could end up being the crown jewel of the team's draft class. Marion Grice is a change-of-pace back with the versatility to impact the game as a runner/receiver out of the backfield. If healthy, Grice can become a game changer as a situational back in passing situations. GRADE: B
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