The 2014 NFL Draft represents a prime opportunity for teams to shore up positions of need with an injection of fresh, young talent. As Day 1 in Radio City Music Hall draws closer, Elliot Harrison will be taking a division-by-division look at the draft priorities of all 32 teams in the league, continuing with the AFC West below.
Top priority: Cornerback
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How quickly John Elway has shoved the memory of a Super Bowl disaster in the rearview mirror. Having a highly productive free agency period will do that. Elway -- who knows a thing or two about moving past Super Sunday failures -- has built something the franchise lacked when it was getting pasted in the big game in 1986, 1987 and 1989: a stacked roster. The Broncos have an explosive offense and, thanks to free agency, an actual defense. The mix of young and old is outstanding. That said, there's still a void. Future Hall of Fame corner Champ Bailey is gone. Of course, at age 35, Bailey isn't the player he once was, but his absence still will be felt. While acquiring Aqib Talib was smart, he's just one player, and the Broncos -- like most teams -- could really use three quality corners. Can Tony Carter handle an increase in responsibility? That remains to be seen. With all of the quality CB prospects in the draft, look for Denver to give Talib some more help.
Possible fit:Bradley Roby, Jason Verrett or Kyle Fuller could all potentially provide an upgrade for the Broncos, who have the second-to-last pick in the first round (No. 31). The key question here is this: Which of these guys will make it past the Bengals at No. 24, the Chargers at No. 25 and the 49ers at No. 30?
Other areas of interest: Offensive guard, middle linebacker, running back.
Kansas City Chiefs
Top priority: Wide receiver
Oh, how the Chiefs could use some talent outside. Donnie Avery is not the answer. Dwayne Bowe has had his moments, but he's far too inconsistent to carry a passing game. This need is further amplified by a lack of big-time talent at tight end. All things considered, quarterback Alex Smith played more than admirably during his first season with K.C., particularly in the playoff loss to Indianapolis. Smith, who has been in the league for nine years, is processing the action unfolding before him on the field at a high level. He also -- having just turned 30 on Wednesday -- has not yet begun to break down physically. Put another way, Smith is not at the point in his career where his football mind is writing checks his body can't cash. Guess what? He probably has another three to five years before that happens. So take a WR1 now, Andy Reid; let him develop for a year, then have him hit the ground running in 2015. And if said rookie starts to perform sooner than the standard learning curve would suggest, Reid will have himself a Terry Glenn, Randy Moss, Anquan Boldin, Marques Colston or A.J. Green -- all guys who had outstanding freshman seasons in the NFL. With the talent available in the first round, this pick should be a slam dunk.
Possible fit: I like Marqise Lee at No. 23, which is, at least in this draft, the right spot in which to snag a wide receiver. Lee has a little of everything -- enough size, good speed and he can go get the ball -- and suits the Chiefs' current needs. Brandin Cooks certainly has speed, but there are two issues here: 1) getting an ultra-fast slot guy for the Arrowhead grass doesn't sound as cool when the Chiefs need a reliable target outside, and 2) he might already be gone.
Other areas of interest: Defensive back, offensive guard, defensive end.
Top priority: Quarterback
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Oakland's top priority in this draft is tough to pin down, as the organization has several needs (to say the least). But for the sake of this piece, we'll go with quarterback. Even if the Raiders don't take a signal-caller with the fifth overall pick -- and there is indeed a strong possibility they won't -- the team will still need to find one eventually. Given recent acquisition Matt Schaub's dire 2013, it's tough to decipher how much better he'll fare than departed former "starter" Terrelle Pryor, who was shipped to the Seahawks for a highly valued seventh-round pick. While the Pryor deal was hardly a shocker, many league observers and draftniks would consider it a surprise of epic proportions if the Raiders were to skip over Sammy Watkins (if available). Call me crazy, but the wild card in all this just might be Matt McGloin, who showed some poise in his rookie campaign and should be given a chance to compete. He's a smart kid who went through a lot at Penn State.
Possible fit: Would McKenzie, who watched a young, athletic Brett Favre make plays at quarterback during his days working for the Packers, take another gunslinger in Johnny Manziel? I don't think so; this team doesn't need another wild one. Blake Bortles would seem to be a more pro-ready option for the Raiders. That said, Manziel would create some fun PR for the entire organization.
Other areas of interest: Wide receiver, defensive line, tight end.
San Diego Chargers
Top priority: Cornerback
There are many possibilities for the upstart San Diego Chargers, who shocked just about everyone by making the playoffs last season (well, save for this particular guy). Right now, though, I like the Chargers to take a cornerback in the first round. Call it that one spot in the draft universe where need meets opportunity. Defensive backs are in abundance this year, which, of course, is wonderful news for Mike McCoy's Bolts, who had their share of struggles in the secondary last season. Now, this is not to say that if one of the talented wide receivers, like Cooks or Lee, is still there at No. 25, San Diego won't pounce. (Don't forget that McCoy earned his stripes as an offensive assistant and coordinator.) Of course, much depends on what Philadelphia (picking 22nd) and Kansas City (23rd) do, as each organization theoretically could draft a wideout in the first round. If that happens, I would fully anticipate the Chargers to take a corner ...
Other areas of interest: Wide receiver, nose tackle, tight end.