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A thorough assessment of a team’s draft can’t truly be reached for another three years or so. That said, with tighter rosters and larger rookie contracts, a successful draft must yield at least some immediate help. With that in mind, here’s a look at how AFC West teams fared over the weekend—both from a big-picture NFL standpoint as well as a fantasy perspective—taking into account how key needs were (or weren’t) addressed and the impact potential of the players acquired.
This draft was not only viewed as the springboard to rebuilding the Denver defense in a 3-4 mold, it also included the picks received from trading away franchise quarterback Jay Cutler. So you’ll have to excuse Bronco fans if they’re a little puzzled by just what this class netted. There’s little question RB Knowshon Moreno is a talent, but it was an odd selection because a) the Broncos signed two running backs in free agency and still had multiple contributors on their roster from 2008, and b) Josh McDaniels employed a committee-heavy approach to the backfield in New England. Denver’s second pick, Robert Ayers, might find a more immediate path to the starting lineup as an end, though ultimately the Broncos project him as a rush linebacker. Second-round CB Alphonso Smith and CB/S Darcel McBath bring youth and depth to the secondary, as does fourth-round S David Bruton. TE Richard Quinn is a definite fit for the Patriots West offensive scheme, a blocking tight end who can also catch when need be. Late-round offensive linemen Seth Olsen and Blake Schlueter both have the speed Denver’s zone-blocking style covets, and WR Kenny McKinley has plenty of speed himself and could contend for a spot in the receiver rotation. Alas, the Broncos failed to address the need for a 3-4 nose tackle—unless you count undrafted free agent signee Chris Baker—and the selection of QB Tom Brandstater in the sixth round isn’t quite the Sanchez-like replacement for Cutler Denver fans may have been hoping for.
Fantasy nugget: While the backfield is crowded in Denver, there is little question Moreno is the most talented. But there is also little to suggest he’ll get the bulk of the workload; in McDaniels’ three years as New England’s offensive coordinator no back reached the 200-carry mark or topped 835 yards, and aside from Corey Dillon’s 13 scores in 2006 no back found the end zone more than seven times. In fact, over the three year span eight different backs scored at least two touchdowns.
Kansas City Chiefs
When you consider the Chiefs got Matt Cassel and Mike Vrabel in the second round, this isn’t a bad first draft for Scott Pioli. Sure, the value of taking DE Tyson Jackson third overall can be questioned, but with so many teams switching to the 3-4 and looking for that elusive five-technique end it’s unknown just how far they could have traded down and still landed their guy. Third-round DE Alex Magee offers a similar skill set, providing depth and flexibility as KC rebuilds their defense. Same goes for CB Donald Washington, who in a perfect world will play his way into the nickel role behind last year’s draft finds, Brandons Carr and Flowers. The glaring defensive need the Chiefs failed to address is an edge rusher, though if Tamba Hali can both make the transition from DE to OLB and recapture the success he had in 2007 that need may be at least somewhat filled internally. The Chiefs’ offensive draftees—OT Colin Brown, WR Quinten Lawrence, RB Javarris Williams, and TE Jake O’Connell—project primarily as special teams contributors and developmental projects.
Fantasy nugget: Pioli made South Carolina kicker Ryan Succop this draft’s Mr. Irrelevant. While the job description for KC’s kicker holds a similar title fantasy-wise, Succop will battle Connor Barth for the right to kick field goals and tack on PATs for an offense that you would think improves with the addition of Cassel. Of the remaining rookies, the speedy Lawrence has the best chance to make an immediate impact—but he’ll have to leapfrog quite a few warm bodies and hope Cassel has time to throw the deep ball to do so.
If the NFL plans on entering a 4x100 relay team in the upcoming Olympics, they should put Al Davis in charge. The Raiders acquired speed, speed, and more speed on draft day, oftentimes at the expense of leaving more talented football players on the board. The first-round pick of speedy WR Darrius Heyward-Bey over Michael Crabtree wasn’t all that surprising, based on DHB’s 4.30 40 time at the Combine. Oakland’s second pick, S Mike Mitchell, sent even the most knowledgeable draft analysts scurrying for information. The bullet: Mitchell is fast and best-case projects as the kind of Jack Tatum-esque heat-seeking missile Oakland had in its 1970s glory days. He also wasn’t as big a reach as initially thought, as at least two other teams had him in their sights as well. On Day Two the Raiders added another speedy wide receiver, Louis Murphy, and three defensive ends: Matt Schaughnessy is the slowest of the bunch and will likely remain on the line, while Slade Norris and Stryker Sulak both have enough speed to project as OLBs. Blocking tight end Brandon Murphy capped the Raiders’ draft day, meaning they failed to address key needs along the offensive line and interior of the defensive front.
Fantasy nugget: Heyward-Bey will challenge Johnnie Lee Higgins for the anchor role on the Raiders’ relay team, with Javon Walker leading off and Murphy quite possibly moving into the rotation as well. Al’s need for speed isn’t that hard to understand, but someone should remind him how a possession receiver like Fred Biletnikoff made Cliff Branch that much more effective. Right now the Raiders have four or five wideouts running the fly—which may be why TE Zach Miller sees so many balls thrown his way underneath.
San Diego Chargers
The Chargers’ draft was, to say the least, interesting. With their need at linebacker seemingly on the inside, San Diego opted for another edge rusher in Larry English. If Shawne Merriman can’t make it all the way back from his injury it’s a brilliant move, and worst case the Bolts have an embarrassment of riches at pass rusher. As an added bonus, the Chargers signed ILB Darry Beckwith, a projected third-rounder who surprisingly went undrafted, following the draft. The offensive line needs were addressed with third-round OG Louis Vasquez and fourth-rounder Tyronne Greene, but both project inside when the Chargers were expected to be looking at tackles. CB Brandon Hughes could move quickly into San Diego’s nickel package, while Kevin Ellison is either a slow safety or a fast, undersized linebacker; either way, he has the football smarts and work ethic to find a way to contribute. Seventh-round WR Demetrius Byrd was injured in a car accident prior to the draft and may find his way onto the PUP list or practice squad, but given that he was a projected third-rounder before the accident he may be a find for both the Chargers and dynasty leaguers.
Fantasy nugget: With LaDainian Tomlinson nearing the end of his impressive run and Darren Sproles on a one-year deal—and with plenty of questions about his ability to withstand the workload of a feature back—the Chargers waited until the fourth round to add a running back to the mix. Gartrell Johnson played both fullback and feature back in college, and in a best-case scenario will provide the thunder to Sproles’ lightning after LT has kicked off the countdown to Canton. Just how much he’ll contribute this year—not to mention whether Sproles gets a long-term deal and just how much Tomlinson has left in the tank—remains to be seen.