As coaches and general managers prepare to make potentially franchise-altering decisions in the 2015 NFL Draft, now is the perfect time to look back and see how the choices made last year played out on the field. Bucky Brooks is reviewing and grading each team's rookie class from 2014, as well as highlighting what organizations should hone in on at this month's NFL Scouting Combine -- continuing with the AFC West below. CLICK HERE FOR THE OTHER DIVISIONAL BREAKDOWNS.
After heavily dipping into the free-agent pool to land veterans DeMarcus Ware, Aqib Talib, T.J. Ward and Emmanuel Sanders, John Elway had the Broncos in "ready to win" mode even before the 2014 NFL Draft took place. Thus, the team didn't hold high expectations for the relatively small 2014 rookie class heading into the regular season. Bradley Roby made the biggest contribution of anyone in the group, playing in all 16 games -- mostly as the nickel corner in Denver's sub-packages -- and logging two starts. He displayed solid cover skills on the perimeter and impressed coaches with his improved toughness and physicality. Although a pair of Pro Bowlers (Chris Harris Jr. and Talib) likely will keep Roby at CB3 next season, he certainly has the tools to be a quality starter down the road. Cody Latimer couldn't crack the receiver rotation as a rookie, but the big-bodied pass catcher should be a key contributor in his second season. Grade: C
Combine focus: The Broncos will investigate the top offensive tackles in the 2015 draft class to determine if there is an ultra-athletic edge blocker ideally suited for new coach Gary Kubiak's zone-based scheme. The emphasis on athleticism should put Pittsburgh's T.J. Clemmings, Stanford's Andrus Peat and Texas A&M's Cedric Ogbuehi under the microscope. The potential departure of Julius Thomas will prompt Elway and his colleagues to study the tight end group for another athletic pass catcher to add to the mix. Miami's Clive Walford could be the focal point of the Broncos' attention after his solid performance at the Senior Bowl.
Kansas City Chiefs
The Chiefs didn't get immediate returns from top pick Dee Ford, but the pass rusher was selected as an insurance policy for the possible departure of Justin Houston (and/or potential cap casualty Tamba Hali) following the 2014 season. Although the rookie pass rusher didn't crack the rotation, he is poised to make an impact when called upon. De'Anthony Thomas gave the Chiefs a dynamic multipurpose weapon on offense and provided a few explosive plays in the return game. Defensive back Phillip Gaines earned significant snaps down the stretch; he should be in the mix for a prime role as a second-year pro. Lastly, John Dorsey and Andy Reid also plucked a starting kicker from the undrafted free agent market (Cairo Santos). Grade: C+
Combine focus: The Chiefs desperately need a standout receiver to take their offense to the next level. With Dwayne Bowe failing to post big numbers as the WR1 in Reid's offense, Kansas City could take extended looks at Louisville's DeVante Parker, West Virginia's Kevin White, Michigan's Devin Funchess and Missouri/Oklahoma product Dorial Green-Beckham. The team also could look to add some complementary playmakers on the outside, possibly leading to extensive conversations with Auburn's Sammie Coates, USC's Nelson Agholor and Arizona State's Jaelen Strong.
Despite a disappointing record, the Raiders' front office deserves a pat on the back for nailing it with the 2014 rookie class. Linebacker Khalil Mack is a future Pro Bowler with a rugged game and a knack for playmaking off the edge. Derek Carr stepped in and performed admirably as the team's starting quarterback. He sparked the offense with his athleticism and gunslinger's mentality, while also displaying leadership and poise beyond his years. The Raiders received solid contributions from OL Gabe Jackson, DT Justin Ellis and DB T.J. Carrie -- a huge bonus, considering their respective draft slots. Given the overall impact delivered by Oakland's first-year players, it appears the foundation is in place to help the team emerge as an eventual playoff contender under Jack Del Rio. Grade: A
Combine focus: The Raiders must upgrade the speed, athleticism and playmaking on the perimeter for Carr to develop into the franchise quarterback that team officials envision. Oakland lacks a proven WR1 -- snagging one in the 2015 draft must be a top priority. Alabama's Amari Cooper and West Virginia's Kevin White certainly will receive a lot of attention, but expect the team to take hard looks at USC's Nelson Agholor, Ohio State's Devin Smith and Miami's Phillip Dorsett as possible targets on Day 2. The Raiders also will spend time studying pass rushers like Missouri's Shane Ray and Nebraska's Randy Gregory, as the team could stand to upgrade the defensive front.
San Diego Chargers
The Chargers didn't have a bunch of pressing needs entering last year's draft, but they added one of the top cover corners in the 2014 class in Jason Verrett. Although he logged just six games due to injury, Verrett flashed tremendous talent, savvy and instincts during his limited action. When he returns to the field in 2015, Verrett should be an impact player on the Chargers' defense. Linebacker Jeremiah Attaochu and defensive tackle Ryan Carrethers didn't contribute much as rookies and will need to show substantial development during the offseason to become key role players next season. Running back Branden Oliver was definitely a nice find as an undrafted free agent. Grade: C
Combine on NFL Network
In advance of the draft, Marcus Mariota and others will look to showcase their skills at the combine (Feb. 17-23), only on NFL Network. SCHEDULE
Combine focus: The Chargers have a number of free agents set to hit the open market. Thus, the team will have its hands full at the NFL Scouting Combine attempting to identify possible replacements. From investigating a number of offensive tackles (guys like Stanford's Andrus Peat, Miami's Ereck Flowers and Pittsburgh's T.J. Clemmings) to scouring an intriguing running back class (Indiana's Tevin Coleman, Miami's Duke Johnson, Alabama's T.J. Yeldon and Boise State's Jay Ajayi come to mind), the Chargers have a lot of work to do in Indianapolis to keep the team in contention in the AFC West.