Peyton Manning's arrival was the story in the AFC West last season. The four-time league MVP immediately made his mark on the Denver Broncos with his leadership, work ethic and performance. As a result, the Broncos claimed the division title and were poised to make a run at the Super Bowl until a suspect secondary let them down. The Kansas City Chiefs, Oakland Raiders and San Diego Chargers have closed the gap with a series of personnel moves designed to upgrade their respective rosters. While it certainly looks like the AFC West will be a competitive division in the fall, the immediate impact of a handful of first-year players will determine if the Broncos are seriously challenged in 2013.
AFC West notables
Schein: Post-draft pressure points
In the wake of the 2013 NFL Draft, Adam Schein identifies players, coaches and general managers in the crosshairs. More ...
The Broncos add a blue-collar worker to the lineup with the selection of Williams. The former Tar Heel came from a humble background -- Williams worked at a factory for a while after high school before walking on at Coffeyville Community College -- but developed into one of the most dominant defenders in college football by outworking the competition. Based on his previous drive and determination, Williams could become an unstoppable force in the middle for the Broncos. If so, Denver's defense could go from good to great quickly in 2013.
The Raiders shocked the football world by selecting Hayden with the 12th overall pick. The Houston standout was deemed a medical risk by several teams due to his significant heart injury. Those teams either removed Hayden from the board or placed him in a lower round to lessen the financial risk. From a talent standpoint, Hayden was graded by most teams as a Day 2 pick. But as we inched closer to draft day, consensus built that he could enter the first round based on his combination of size, speed and athleticism. While those physical traits made Hayden an intriguing option, the fact that Oakland ignored the medical concerns to select him makes the pick a risky one, in my opinion.
Allen was regarded as the top receiver in the draft by several teams prior to his disappointing pro day. His speed deficiency in the workout (4.71 time in the 40-yard dash) led to a dramatic slide down the charts, despite the fact that evaluators knew Allen was still recovering from a season-ending knee injury. However, a poor performance in shorts shouldn't overshadow Allen's refined game and immense ball skills. Given an opportunity to play with a Pro Bowl-caliber quarterback in Philip Rivers, Allen has a chance to show the football world he deserved to be the first receiver selected in the draft, regardless of his suspect workout times.
DENVER BRONCOS: John Elway has helped the Broncos rejoin the ranks of the elite by stringing together solid draft classes. He continued down that path with solid selections in 2013. Williams gives the Broncos a big, hard-working body in the middle with the capacity to wreak havoc on the run and pass. He should command double-team attention from opponents, which will create some one-on-one opportunities for Von Miller. Montee Ball is an effective one-cut runner with vision, quickness and burst. He is ideally suited for the Broncos' zone-based system, and could become a 1,300-yard runner early in his career. Quanterus Smith might sit out part of his rookie season with a knee injury, but he could develop into a legitimate pass-rushing threat down the road. GRADE: B
KANSAS CITY CHIEFS:Eric Fisher was the surprise choice at No. 1, but evaluators certainly understand the decision to opt for the Central Michigan product's athleticism over Luke Joeckel's technical skills. Tight end Travis Kelce and running back Knile Davis are intriguing Round 3 selections with the size, speed and athleticism to emerge as significant offensive contributors. Nico Johnson is an instinctive linebacker with size and toughness. He could serve as an effective complement to Derrick Johnson in the middle. Sanders Commings is an underrated corner with the potential to step in immediately as a nickel or dime defender. He is such a solid prospect that the team deemed Javier Arenas expendable, and traded him to the Arizona Cardinals following the draft. GRADE: B
OAKLAND RAIDERS: The Raiders traded down from No. 3 to 12 to land Hayden and an extra pick, but the compensation fell well short of par, according to the standard trade chart. Additionally, Hayden was considered a bit of a reach as a top-15 pick, which leads to more questions about the overall transaction. Sio Moore is an impressive hybrid defender with the skills to affect the run and pass. He specialized in creating disruption at UConn, and could develop into a force quickly with the Raiders. Menelik Watson addresses the team's need at offensive tackle, but the lack of football experience could lead to a slow transition to the pro game. Tyler Wilson joins a competitive situation at quarterback. He is an intriguing talent capable of winning the starting job in training camp. GRADE: C
SAN DIEGO CHARGERS: The Chargers walked away with three first-round-caliber players in D.J. Fluker, Manti Te'o and Allen. These three should step into starting roles as first-year players and make immediate contributions. Allen and Te'o, in particular, could become standouts as rookie starters and garner serious consideration for rookie honors at season's end. Steve Williams didn't receive a lot of fanfare before the draft, but the Chargers might have landed an exceptional nickel defender in the Cal standout. In a division with Peyton Manning, this move could pay off in a major way. GRADE: B+