The Oakland Raiders, who hold the No. 5 overall pick, are in full draft mode with less than three weeks to go until the first round goes down on May 8. But with free agency still open for business, we’ve updated our Raiders tracker to include reported visits to the team compound by college players as well as updates with their six tendered exclusive-rights free agents:

Raiders free agents

LT Jared Veldheer -- signed a five-year, $37.5 million deal with the Arizona Cardinals on March 11.

DE Lamarr Houston -- signed a five-year, $35 million deal with the Chicago Bears on March 11.

RB Rashad Jennings -- signed a four-year, $14 million deal with the New York Giants on March 12.

CB Tracy Porter -- signed a two-year, $6 million deal with Washington on March 13.

RB Darren McFadden -- signed a one-year, $4 million deal to return to the Raiders, with $100,000 guaranteed and $2.25 million in incentives on March 15.

FS Charles Woodson -- signed a one-year, $2.5 million contract to return to Raiders on March 21.

DT Vance Walker -- signed a three-year contract with Kansas City Chiefs worth a maximum of $13.75 million, guaranteed at least $3.75 million on March 14.

DT Pat Sims -- signed a one-year, $1.45 million contract to return to Raiders on March 28.

CB Mike Jenkins -- signed a one-year contract worth up to $2 million with Tampa Bay Buccaneers on March 20.

CB Phillip Adams -- reportedly agreed to one-year contract with Seattle Seahawks on March 27.

S Usama Young -- signed a two-year, $2.5 million contract to return to Raiders on March 19.

WR Jacoby Ford -- signed a one-year, $750,000 contract with the New York Jets on April 1.

DT Daniel Muir

OT Tony Pashos

DE Jason Hunter

C/G Andre Gurode

TE Jeron Mastrud

Exclusive rights free agents

FB Jamize Olawale -- team announced he signed tender on March 25.

RB Jeremy Stewart -- team announced he signed tender on April 2.

LB Kaelin Burnett -- team announced he signed tender on April 17.

SS Brandian Ross -- reportedly he signed tender on March 8 (team hasn't announced).

CB Chimdi Chekwa -- reportedly he signed tender on March 5 (team not announced).

OT Matt McCants

Who else is gone?

RG Mike Brisiel cut by Oakland on April 1, saving the Raiders $1.38 million in salary-cap space, though he'll still carry a cap number of $3.93 million.

Who's new?

OL Rodger Saffold (St. Louis Rams) -- agreed to a five-year, $42.5 million deal ($21 million guaranteed) with the Raiders on March 11. Deal voided with Oakland's concerns over Saffold's shoulder the next day. He re-signed with the Rams immediately.

OL Austin Howard (New York Jets) -- signed a five-year, $30 million deal ($15 million guaranteed) with Raiders on March 12.

DE Justin Tuck (New York Giants) -- signed a two-year, $11 million deal with Raiders on March 13.

LB/DE LaMarr Woodley (Pittsburgh Steelers) -- signed a two-year contract worth up to $12 million with Raiders on March 13.

CB Tarell Brown (San Francisco 49ers) -- signed a one-year, $3.5 million deal with Raiders on March 14.

DL Antonio Smith (Houston Texans) –- signed a two-year, $9 million deal with Raiders on March 14.

WR James Jones (Green Bay Packers) -- signed a three-year, $11.3 million deal with Raiders on March 17.

OL Kevin Boothe (New York Giants) -- signed a two-year, $2.625 million contract with Raiders on March 17.

LT Donald Penn (Tampa Bay Buccaneers) -- signed a two-year, $9.6 million deal, with $4.2 million guaranteed, with Raiders on March 19.

QB Matt Schaub (Houston Texans) -- acquired in a trade for a sixth-round selection in the 2014 NFL draft on March 21.

RB Maurice Jones-Drew (Jacksonville Jaguars) -- signed a three-year, $7.5 million deal with the Raiders on March 28.

DL C.J. Wilson (Green Bay Packers) -- signed a one-year, $795,000 contract with Raiders on March 28.

CB Carlos Rogers (San Francisco 49ers) -- signed a one-year, $2.5 million contract with Raiders on March 31.

P Daniel Zychlinski (Stanford) -- camp leg signed on April 4.

Who’s visited or will be visiting ... reportedly

DT Jason Hatcher (Dallas Cowboys) -- signed a four-year, $27.5 million contract with Washington on March 13.

DE Henry Melton (Chicago Bears) -- signed a four-year, $29 million contract with Dallas Cowboys on March 19.

RB Andre Brown (New York Giants) -- signed a one-year, $645,000 contract with Houston Texans on April 7.

LB Dane Fletcher (New England Patriots) -- signed a one-year, $2 million contract with Tampa Bay Buccaneers on March 16.

LB Rob Jackson (Washington) -- re-signed with Washington to a one-year, $795,000 contract on April 4.

DB Terrell Thomas (New York Giants)

Reported college player visits to Alameda

QB Johnny Manziel (Texas A&M)

QB Tom Savage (Pittsburgh)

QB Blake Bortles (Central Florida)

WR Jordan Matthews (Vanderbilt)

CB Dexter McDougle (Maryland)

CB Kyle Fuller (Virginia Tech)

WR Cody Latimer (Indiana)

* Contract figures culled from numerous reports.
St. Louis Rams head coach Jeff Fisher often tells veteran players they will have to expend 10 percent more effort in an upcoming offseason than they did the one before it if they are going to maintain their ability to compete for the same playing time they've had before.

Essentially the message is that the status quo can't be on the agenda, that every time you roll over and hit the snooze button, the guy who wants your job already got out of bed and put the proverbial nose on the grindstone.

[+] EnlargePeyton Manning
Hyoung Chang//The Denver Post/Getty Images"Just because you were there last year in the [Super Bowl], it doesn't guarantee you anything," Peyton Manning said.
And this week, sprinkled through Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning's first real public comments in his team's home state since the 35-point loss in Super Bowl XLVIII, it was fairly easy to discern Manning's theme for the coming weeks and months.

Manning has been known to rattle the cage of a teammate a time or two about what needs to be done or surprised someone with a pop quiz in the hallway about their responsibilities on a third-and-long. He dropped the word “work" 10 times into his comments in the span of just a few minutes. It was a total that included a couple of references to both “hard work" and “good work."

It was a preview of sorts since the Broncos will open their offseason conditioning program Monday and the vast majority, if not all, of their healthy players are expected to take part. These are technically “voluntary" gatherings; the Broncos can only declare offseason workouts mandatory for a three-day minicamp in June. But that's "voluntary" as in you "voluntarily waive your right to play any significant snaps when training camp rolls around."

Last season the Broncos worked off the premise the double-overtime loss to the Baltimore Ravens in the divisional round would be the fuel for the offseason in 2013. That worked, at least until the season's last game when the Broncos arrived to the Super Bowl seemingly without their mojo in their luggage.

They're hoping disappointment can once again help them power through spring and into summer.

“Just because you were there last year in the game, it doesn't guarantee you anything," Manning said. “It does take a lot of hard work and sacrifice."

Manning, certainly the analytical type when it comes to the game, is also still a big believer in the elusive power of football chemistry. He is still a big believer in the notion that somehow teammates who have invested time together will eventually also play better alongside each, particularly if the ride gets bumpy.

“I think forming that chemistry takes time," Manning said. “Certainly working together in the weight room is part of it. [Aqib] Talib getting to know Chris Harris; DeMarcus [Ware] getting to know [Kevin] Vickerson and [Derek] Wolfe and Von [Miller] -- the guys he's going to be rushing with; for me, getting to know [Emmanuel] Sanders. It's not an overnight process. That's something that we have done in the past. I think that's been a big part of some of the wins we've had -- is our offseason work and how guys have spent time together and put the time in together. I think you have to keep doing it every single offseason. I think we will do that and I'm looking forward to having a good season next year."

In the post-spinal-fusion portion of his career, Manning has always said he would keep playing if he felt he could still compete at the level he wants to and as long as he still enjoyed the preparation as well as the effort it takes physically to get ready to play.

So while the regular season is still a long way off, Manning, having already worked with the team's pass-catchers down at Duke, has made it pretty clear he's ready to get back to business and that the expectation is everyone else will be too.
The Kansas City Chiefs drafted last year for the first time with John Dorsey as their general manager and Andy Reid as their head coach. This will be a much different draft for the Chiefs, who had four of the top 99 picks last year. They have just one of the top 86 this year.

But a look back can provide some idea of what the Chiefs can expect from this year’s draft.

 

The season behind: The Chiefs didn’t get much from this group when they were rookies. In fact, their rookie of the year was a seventh-round draft pick of the San Francisco 49ers, cornerback Marcus Cooper. Fisher started 13 games at right tackle but his season wasn’t what could reasonably be expected from the first overall pick in the draft. His play was uneven at best, particularly earlier in the season. He struggled as a pass-blocker against stronger opponents and their power moves. He proved unreliable, missing three regular-season starts plus the playoff game with injuries ranging from shoulder to concussion to groin. The Chiefs were counting on productive playing time from Kelce and Commings before injuries cost them all of their rookie seasons. Kelce in the preseason developed a knee ailment that eventually required surgery. Commings broke his collarbone during the first practice of training camp. The Chiefs were hopeful Johnson could be a starter at inside linebacker, but a preseason injury set him back and he never made a serious challenge. Kush and Catapano were drafted as developmental players and that’s the role both settled into, though injuries forced the Chiefs to use Catapano at times and he showed some pass-rush ability. Wilson was a huge disappointment, even as a sixth-round pick. He was cut during the preseason and the Chiefs didn’t think enough of him to bring him back to their practice squad.

The seasons ahead: Fisher may be the only full-time player from this group again in 2014, but it’s reasonable to believe the Chiefs could still get some production from the others -- Wilson being the exception. The Chiefs are confident that despite his rocky debut season, Fisher will eventually become the player they envisioned when they drafted him. He will move over to left tackle after playing on the right side and should benefit greatly from an offseason in the Chiefs’ weight program. Commings could wind up as the starter at free safety if the Chiefs don’t draft a player to fill that position. Otherwise, the Chiefs will look for ways to get him on the field. He was going to challenge for playing time in their nickel defense last year before his injury. The Chiefs are eager to get Kelce involved in their passing game. He was very involved before his injury. The Chiefs lined him up in a variety of spots to best use his ability to get down the field and beat coverage to make catches. Davis became more involved as last season went on and should get more playing time this year, assuming the leg he broke in the playoff game allows him to and his fumbling habit doesn’t reappear. Eventually, Davis could be the replacement for Jamaal Charles. At 227 pounds, he’s bigger and more powerful than Charles and he’s fast for a player his size. He probably won’t ever give the Chiefs what Charles delivered as a pass receiver last season. It speaks to what the Chiefs think of Johnson that one of their first moves in free agency was to sign veteran Joe Mays to be a starter at inside linebacker. Johnson may be a special-teamer for whatever remains of his Chiefs career. Catapano may never develop into a full-time player but his ability as a pass-rusher gives him a shot at a lesser role. Similarly, Kush may continue to be a backup, but watch what the Chiefs do with starting center Rodney Hudson, who is scheduled to become a free agent next year. If he doesn’t re-sign with the Chiefs, Kush could inherit the spot if he develops as the Chiefs hope.

Best pick: As expected for the first overall pick, Fisher should become this draft’s best player. Despite his struggles last season, he frequently showed the athletic ability a great offensive tackle needs. But Kelce should eventually become the best pick from a value standpoint. He could become the Chiefs’ best pass receiver at tight end since the traded Tony Gonzalez.

Worst pick: Since Wilson couldn’t hang around until the end of his rookie preseason, he has to qualify, for now. The others still have a chance to be productive players. But the situation doesn’t look good for Johnson, either. As an inside linebacker, he would be a part-time player, coming out of the game on passing downs. But the Chiefs evidently believe he’s not advanced enough to handle it yet.
Speed and playmaking ability on both sides of the ball -- major areas of need for the San Diego Chargers -- are addressed in ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper's fourth 2014 mock draft, available today on ESPN Insider.

With the Chargers selecting No. 25 overall and No. 57 in the second round, Kiper pegs two playmakers with speed to burn for San Diego in his two-round mock draft 4.0.

 

To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

When it comes to where the Denver Broncos are pointing in next month's draft, ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. has consistently said the team will keep working to upgrade its defense.

To that end Kiper has pointed the team to that side of the ball much of the time in his mock drafts thus far, and stays with that theme in his latest as well.


To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

In all but his first mock draft of the year, ESPN analyst Mel Kiper Jr. has been consistent in giving a wide receiver to the Kansas City Chiefs with their first-round pick.

Kiper hasn't changed that in his latest mock draft Insider. But he has switched receivers for the Chiefs.


To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

In Mel Kiper’s first three mock drafts -- not counting his "Grade A" mock, in which he played the part of general manager for all 32 teams and made his best thought-out selections -- he stayed on the offensive side of the ball for the Oakland Raiders, who hold the No. 5 overall pick.

Kiper predicted the Raiders would go with Clemson receiver Sammy Watkins in each of his first two mocks, then had Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater going to Oakland in his third mock. (Kiper selected Auburn left tackle Greg Robinson for the Raiders in his Grade A mock.)

So where does Kiper see Oakland going in his Mock 4.0?


To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

SteelersAP Photo/David RichardDenver hopes Emmanuel Sanders can not only replace, but also exceed Eric Decker's production.
When the Denver Broncos prepared themselves for free agency, they did what any team in the supply and demand business of roster spots would do: The decision-makers looked at their free agents and assigned each a value.

Then executive vice president of football operations/general manager John Elway said those free agents would be allowed to test the market. And what that often really means is the team believes those players will get more in the open market than it would be willing to pay to keep them.

That turned out to be true for guard Zane Beadles as well as running back Knowshon Moreno and it really turned out to be true for wide receiver Eric Decker. Decker got a five-year, $36.25 million deal from the New York Jets that includes $15 million guaranteed.

The Broncos then signed Emmanuel Sanders, the player who at the moment is Decker's replacement, to a three-year, $15 million deal. The Broncos see Sanders as a more versatile, more athletic player overall than Decker, one who can play both outside and in the slot.

Decker did play in the slot at times in his tenure with the Broncos, but the current regime saw him as an outside receiver only. Sanders has quick-twitch ability with the ball and creates missed tackles with the hope of more catch-and-run yardage.

Both he and Decker have had difficulties at times with drops. But the coming season may, or may not, show how much of Decker's emergence as a receiver with back-to-back 1,000-yard, double-digit touchdown seasons had to do with playing in an offense with Manning.

And for his part Sanders will have the chance to show if he can go from a guy whose top two seasons have been 626 yards in 2012 and 740 yards in 2013 to something more.

Manning got his first up-close look at Sanders in recent workouts at Duke University -- where Manning's long-time friend and former offensive coordinator at Tennessee, David Cutcliffe, is head coach. By all accounts Manning came away feeling good about Sanders' potential in the offense.

Or as Manning put it Wednesday morning, before he spoke at a fundraising breakfast for the Boy Scouts at the Pepsi Center in downtown Denver: "I had a chance to throw with Sanders down there in North Carolina and I'm excited about playing with him."

At first blush unless the Broncos add a bigger receiver in next month's draft, they are smaller, as a group, with the Sanders-for-Decker swap. Decker is 6-foot-3, 214 pounds as compared to Sanders' 5-11, 180 pounds.

Since Manning's arrival two years ago, defensive coordinators routinely talked about the difficulty in matching up with Decker, Demaryius Thomas (6-3, 229) and tight end Julius Thomas (6-5, 250) in the red zone where Manning can put the ball up for his guys to go get it. That was particularly true from the doorstep with five of Decker's 11 touchdown catches this past season were for three or fewer yards.

The Broncos hope, however, Sanders can win some of those battles with quickness to give Manning the room/opportunity to throw to him in the more confined spaces once the Broncos' offense is inside the opponents' 15-yard line.

Whether he was running across the formation or worked to the side where he lined up, Decker's catches were fairly well dispersed all over the field this past season. He made 34.5 percent of his catches to the offensive right, 41.4 percent to the offensive left and 20.7 percent in the middle of the field.

Sanders, too, would project a similar dispersal given his ability to line up anywhere the Broncos want him to in their three-wide look. The Broncos, though, believe Sanders can do even more after the catch even as the Broncos receivers led the NFL in that category overall last season.

Decker had 47 percent of his catches go for 10 or fewer yards last season, 69 percent for 15 or fewer yards. The Broncos hope Sanders can push a higher percentage of his catch-and-runs toward bigger yardage totals, but for Sanders' part he will have to be ready to play more snaps than he has in the past.

Decker was in the 1,000-snap club last season -- 1,050, or 87 percent of the Broncos plays -- and had 15 games when he played at least 50 snaps. Only Thomas played more than Decker (1,106 snaps) among the Broncos' pass-catchers.

Wes Welker played 770 snaps, or 63.8 percent of the plays, before missing games down the stretch with a concussion and Julius Thomas checked in at 901 snaps (74.6 percent).

The Broncos threw more than the Steelers did in '13, 675 pass attempts as compared to the Steelers' 586, and Sanders played at least 50 snaps in nine of 16 games last season. When the Steelers still had Mike Wallace in 2012, Sanders played at least 50 snaps in five games.

Sanders has played in 16 games in each of the last two seasons, but has never started more than 10 games in any season of his career.

But if things go as the Broncos want, and need them to go, he'll certainly have the chance to change that this time around.
When Denver Broncos running back Montee Ball arrives Monday morning for the start of the team’s offseason conditioning program, he can expect to carry the expectations of being a starter as he goes about his business.

A task the guy who will hand him the ball in the coming season -- quarterback Peyton Manning -- says Ball is ready to handle. Manning said Wednesday morning, before he made an appearance as the keynote speaker at a fundraising breakfast for the Boy Scouts in Denver, he believes Ball has prepared himself for the job.

[+] EnlargeMontee Ball
AP Photo/Jack Dempsey"I thought Montee had a great year, I thought he learned a lot in his first year," Peyton Manning said of Montee Ball.
"There is no question with the loss of Knowshon [Moreno] -- who was just nothing short of awesome for us this past year and was a great teammate -- that Montee is going to have more responsibilities, and I think he will answer that challenge," Manning said. "I think he has the work ethic, I think he has the mental capabilities to handle the workload and I look forward to having a full offseason with him."

Ball, who finished his rookie season with 559 yards rushing and 20 receptions, will be asked to fill the significant role Moreno played in the offense last season. Moreno led the team with 1,038 rushing yards and 10 rushing touchdowns, to go with 60 receptions.

Moreno, who signed a one-year deal in Miami, was also the most consistent player in pass protection the Broncos had and that was ultimately why Moreno moved into the starting role last season. The Broncos had used Ronnie Hillman (a third-round pick in 2012) as the No. 1 back through their offseason work last spring and summer, and had begun to take a look at Ball (a second-round pick last April) during training camp for that role as well.

But then Ball missed a blitz pickup in the Broncos’ preseason loss in Seattle, and Bobby Wagner blasted Manning in what was one of the biggest hits Manning has taken in his tenure in Denver. Moreno’s snap count kept increasing following that game and neither Ball nor Hillman could unseat Moreno once the regular season began.

Ball also lost three fumbles in the first 11 games, but showed steady improvement. He didn’t fumble the rest of the way, and the Broncos had slotted him in as the potential starter since season’s end.

"I thought Montee had a great year, I thought he learned a lot in his first year," Manning said. "In my past, I’ve seen a lot of development in guys from their first year to their second year … I look forward to getting even closer with him as far as being on the same page."
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DENVER -- Standing behind a podium perched atop what will be playoff ice for the Colorado Avalanche in the coming days and surrounded by a crowd of Eagle Scouts and those hoping to be, Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning offered his thoughts Wednesday on leadership, work ethic and community service.

He told a football story or two, including one about his first trip into a game-day huddle as the University of Tennessee quarterback. And within all those words was also a clear-eyed glimpse into Manning as a professional quarterback, into what the Broncos face in 2014.

When, in making a point about wrestling with, and ultimately overcoming, adversity, Manning told those assembled we must all "learn to thrive on discomfort."

Ah, discomfort. Maybe something on the order of a 35-point loss in Super Bowl XLVIII, perhaps, or a double-overtime loss in the divisional round a season before. Maybe two playoff trips with home-field advantage, two 13-3 finishes, a pile of team and league passing and scoring records, and no Super Bowl ring to show for them.

Yeah, that’s some professional football discomfort, all right.

The Broncos thrived in the discomfort left from the shocking playoff loss to the Baltimore Ravens in January 2013. They went on to win the division again and, this time, played their way into Super Bowl XLVIII after a season during which Manning hit career marks in almost every offensive statistical category, including NFL records for touchdowns (55) and passing yards (5,477). The Broncos also became the first team in league history to top 600 points in a season.

That was before the Super Sunday cave-in, a football sinkhole in which the Broncos watched all their title hopes and dreams cascade into the abyss. Most troubling to those in and around the team was the fact after a bad snap on their first offensive play of the game, the Broncos didn’t respond, and one bad play became another and another until they were on the short list of most lopsided Super Bowl losses.

That they didn't rise up and put up a good scrap, make a game of it. The Seattle Seahawks simply looked more prepared, more talented, more motivated -- just more of everything.

Two Januarys ago, when the Broncos lost to the Ravens, John Elway, the team’s chief football decision-maker, said the Broncos should remember 2012 was a good season, but that those with the team couldn’t be "afraid to be honest with ourselves."

Manning even said last season Elway had tried to create "an uncomfortable atmosphere" as the team moved into the 2013 season to make sure all involved remembered the sting of the loss. An atmosphere that seemed to suit the Broncos last season as they piled up the wins and touchdowns.

[+] EnlargePeyton Manning
AP Photo/John MinchilloThe Broncos stayed busy this offseason, adding key players in free agency to help Peyton Manning and Denver push for another postseason run.
It wasn’t always easy for those in the locker room -- expectations can be heavy when your boss is a Hall of Fame quarterback whom friends describe as the most competitive person to walk the planet, and the starting quarterback isn't far behind, if at all, in that department -- but, as Broncos coach John Fox routinely says, "if it were easy, everybody would be doing it." Winning is hard, an item Elway and Manning always want on the front burner. The burden of expectations gets a little heavier if opportunities to win the season's final game are lost, squandered or both.

Wednesday, in what was his first significant public appearance in Denver since the Super Bowl loss, Manning was in statesman mode, trying to help raise funds for the Boy Scouts in Colorado. His appearance filled the seats on the arena floor of the Pepsi Center.

Before he addressed the gathering, he lauded the Broncos' additions made in free agency -- players like Aqib Talib, DeMarcus Ware and T.J. Ward -- and lamented the departures of Champ Bailey, Eric Decker and Knowshon Moreno as he tried to leave at least some of the Super Bowl aftermath in the rearview mirror.

"First off, we lost many players and some great friends," Manning said. "It’s been a real pleasure to play the last two years with Champ, Knowshon, Eric, [linebacker] Wesley Woodyard, Chris Kuper retiring … I’m probably leaving a name or two out. That's the worst part about football. When you form some friendships with these guys and really put a lot of hard work in -- the business side comes into play.

"You have to move forward," Manning later added. "You have to kind of re-establish your identity of the 2014 team. The 2013 team -- it was a good season in a lot of ways. There is no question it did not end the way we wanted it to, but we have to find a way to build off that and take a step further -- try to finish."

This is where the Broncos will begin their trek into 2014: as a team trying to finish what it started, in many ways, when Elway, Broncos owner Pat Bowlen and Fox enticed Manning to sign in Denver.

They are a talented team with a future Hall of Famer at quarterback. They were one of the most active and successful teams in filling needs in free agency. They have worked the draft well in the past three years and once again will carry the label as one of the Super Bowl favorites.

But they are also a team that let two rare title opportunities get away and are now trying to beat the odds to position themselves for another. They will have to deal, again, with the idea that many folks won’t much care what they do in the regular season if they aren’t the team catching the confetti next February.

They will be asked about the Super Bowl, about the window to win a championship closing and about what happened inside MetLife Stadium until they are sick of answering for it all. Truth be told, they might have been sick of it already, even as they dispersed into the offseason, and the wheel hasn't even really started to spin on all of that yet.

Manning himself might be asked to throw less so the offense can be more. To face the realities of age and four neck surgeries and use his remember-when mind to help diversify the team’s attack, not only to help give it a plan B but endorse it in what he calls at the line scrimmage if things don’t go right on another important football afternoon.

To, well, thrive in the discomfort.
In this series we take a look at 12 players for the San Diego Chargers who are 25 or younger and who could be considered foundational or impact players.

Player: ILB Donald Butler
Age: 25

Butler
The skinny: A third-round selection by the Chargers in the 2010 draft, Butler signed a seven-year, $51.8 million deal as the team's top priority this offseason. San Diego's defensive co-captain finished second on the team with 84 tackles, four pass breakups, an interception and half a sack during the regular season. Butler missed time for a second straight season, sitting out four games with a groin injury.

Reason for optimism: At 6-1 and 242 pounds, Butler is fast (4.62-second, 40-yard time at his pro day) and strong (35 reps on the bench press at 225 pounds). The University of Washington product also has a nose for the football and has the potential to develop into the long-term leader for defensive coordinator John Pagano's unit. But Butler has to perform in 2014 and beyond as he did in the postseason, when he led the Chargers in tackles with 18 and also forced a fumble.

Reason for concern: Can Butler finally stay healthy and develop into a playmaker on defense? After he signed the long-term deal, Butler said as much, stating that improving his durability was a priority during the offseason. Butler missed 24 of a possible 64 games in his four-year career with the Chargers, including four games each in the 2012 and 2013 seasons because of a similar groin injury. Butler has not always played at a high level week in, week out. He needs to perform as he did during the 2013 playoffs on a more consistent basis.

NFL Nation TV debuts

April, 15, 2014
Apr 15
1:30
PM ET
Join us today at 2 p.m. ET/11 a.m. PT as ESPN’s NFL Nation TV debuts on Spreecast with host Paul Gutierrez (Oakland Raiders reporter), co-host Coley Harvey (Cincinnati Bengals reporter) and guest Jeff Legwold (Denver Broncos reporter). Topics will include free agency, the upcoming draft and other current events in the NFL in particular and the world of sports in general. Users are encouraged to log in and ask the panelists questions as well in the chat feature.

Here's the link for the NFL Nation TV.
John Elway's pictures -- including the jumbo shot of him celebrating with the Vince Lombardi Trophy after one of his Super Bowl wins -- hang outside the Denver Broncos' locker room and here and there in the team's suburban complex, but he doesn't often tell when-I-played-football stories unless asked.

He'll discuss the importance of team chemistry or the importance of a starting quarterback's ability to manage the role. He will talk about how he wishes he would have run less in his career and thrown more from the pocket. But he does not look for opportunities to say how things were done and how they should always be done.

His experience as a Hall of Fame quarterback and a former No. 1 pick are clear in the way he evaluates players for the draft. It doesn't always make him right. It doesn't even make him more right than those who never played a down in the NFL. But his experience does give him more of an understanding of the process.

Elway was the first pick of what was a gold-star draft. Perhaps the gold-star pick in a draft that had six Hall of Famers selected in the first round and another seven Hall of Famers selected overall in the 12-round affair.

In the weeks and months before the Colts picked him and then traded him to the Broncos, he listened to people break down his game -- the good, the bad and the stuff he never could quite figure out where it came from. He saw the anonymous quotes about his potential as a professional, the threat of a baseball career as some pre-draft leverage and the desire to not play for the Colts at that time in the franchise's history.

Granted, talk radio was not in the same galaxy as it is today and the publicly traveled Internet was still a decade or so away, but you can see Elway's experiences when asked about players in his current role as a talent evaluator.

Ask him if a quarterback should throw at the scouting combine and he routinely says, "I always want to see a guy throw, see him work with some really good receivers, but I understand. Why would you want to look bad? I understand if a guy makes a choice. Again, I always want to see a guy throw, but I do understand their thinking when they don't sometimes."

That's because Elway has a history with being on the other side of the equation. And as far as a relevant Elway draft stat, there is this: 4. That's the number of scouting combines available for players to participate in the year Elway came into the draft.

Scouting combines Elway actually attended: 0.

His reasoning? "I had bad knee, and I just didn't want everybody to see it."

That's right. He didn't go. He didn't throw. He didn't let teams poke, prod and X-ray him. He didn't attend interviews or take a Wonderlic. No one said he slouched, that he didn't make eye contact or that he was lazy.

But the draft interests people. The league's decision to move it down the calendar, to Mother's Day weekend no less, has provided more time for speculation. It's a different media environment than when Elway entered the draft. Quotes from anonymous sources this time of year can range from fib to outright lie as a means of misdirection.

Some teams want guys to fall so they can take them later; some teams want guys to rise so other people will pick them and leave them with the guys they really want. Whether any of it really works -- and plenty of folks who say it doesn't do it anyway -- is up for debate.

And maybe some guys really are lazy, or aren't really certain they want to play football, or are a little too short, a little too slow or can't keep themselves out of trouble. Those factors will all get tossed into the decisions that are made when the picks finally come off the board next month. All of those things -- especially character and chemistry -- matter, and they should matter just as much as talent.

But in the end, it isn't really a player's job to tell, or show, a team why it should, or shouldn't, take him. Because, well, that would be the lazy way out.

Broncos draft rewind: 2013

April, 14, 2014
Apr 14
7:30
AM ET
As the guy at the top of the football flow chart for the Denver Broncos for the last three seasons, John Elway has now overseen three drafts for the team.

The Broncos have made 23 picks in those three drafts and found seven full-time starters. Denver hopes to be add to that total this season if things go as planned in May.

But let’s go inside each of those three drafts to see how things have gone and where they are headed.

Today: 2013.

First pick: Sylvester Williams, 28th overall. When the Broncos selected him last April they saw an every-down option, a potentially disruptive interior pass rusher and a player also strong enough to play with power in run defense as well.

Given Williams’ personal history -- a stint working on an assembly line in a factory before deciding to walk on to play football in junior college -- the Broncos also saw a player with plenty of room to grow on the developmental curve to go with the work ethic that put him in the a position to be a first-round pick.

With Derek Wolfe and Kevin Vickerson both having ended up on injured reserve last season, Williams went from being inactive on game day three times in the season’s first nine games to starting the team’s last four games of the regular season and three playoff games.

Starters: 1.

[+] EnlargeMontee Ball
AP Photo/Jack DempseyBroncos running back Montee Ball wasn't technically a starter last season, but that should change in 2014.
With those seven starts in 2013, Williams was the only Broncos player from last April’s draft class to open that many games. He is the only "starter" in the group by the letter of the law at the moment.

But running back Montee Ball (second round) will be the second starter as soon as the Broncos open their offseason workouts. Ball, with 312 snaps this past season, actually played more overall than Williams (296 snaps) and finished as the team’s second-leading rusher with 559 yards.

Williams and Ball will continue to lead this draft class. With the Broncos expected to add some wrinkles -- and attention -- to the run game, Ball will have the potential for a breakout season.

Best value pick: At the moment it’s Ball. As the 58th player selected in the 2013 draft, Ball was the classic example of production over measurables in the pre-draft process.

He didn’t run as well as many of the other running backs on the board, but he plays faster, and showed good instincts with the ball. A lot of players talk about what needs to be done. Ball actually put in the time and effort to do those things. Ball improved in pass protection, boding well for the future. Despite few opportunities as a receiver in the run-first Wisconsin offense, he will function just fine catching the ball in the league.

Now’s the time: The Broncos expect and need Williams to take a significant jump this season. There are few positions -- other than quarterback -- where it is more difficult to move quickly into the lineup and have an impact as an NFL rookie.

NFL offensive guards are far stronger, move better and play smarter so the transition for the defensive tackle can be tough because there isn’t much room to work in the middle of the field. So once a defensive tackle is shut out of the play it is difficult for him to win the advantage back.

Williams flashed the ability to consistently win position off the snap down the stretch. If he takes the usual step between a rookie and second season, he should be one of the starters on the interior.

Gone: WR Tavarres King. The Broncos believed King, who had played in a school-record 56 games at Georgia, had the physical skills to go with some on-field maturity to get into their rotation as a rookie.

And King flashed those skills in camp, but he also showed a little too much ego and attitude for the Broncos’ liking at times, so they put him on the practice squad. But after a one-week move to the active roster last October, the Broncos tried to get him through waivers and back on the practice squad to bring Von Miller back from his six-game suspension.

King was signed by the Carolina Panthers, but did not play in any games last season. That hole in the draft class means the Broncos will be inclined to take a receiver out of this draft's exceptionally deep class.

More to come? Though the Broncos will give a long look to the cornerbacks in this year’s draft, cornerback Kayvon Webster (third round) will have the opportunity to earn plenty of playing time in the nickel and dime packages moving into the season.

With Champ Bailey's departure and Chris Harris Jr. still coming back from ACL surgery, Webster will have to be in the mix.

Also, defensive end Quanterus Smith (fifth round) did not play as a rookie after the Broncos placed him on injured reserve as training camp drew to a close. Smith, who had a three-sack game against an Alabama offensive line loaded with NFL draft picks in his senior season at Western Kentucky, had torn his ACL in his last collegiate season.

The Broncos tried him in the rotation in camp, but decided to move him to the IR in an attempt to bring him back at full speed this year. With Miller still working through his return from December ACL surgery, the Broncos could use Smith to come out of the gate strong.

Smith, at 255 pounds, is slightly undersized to play the power left end spot, but could have some opportunities to play there as Miller works his way back.
For those with ESPN Insider access, Steve Muench has some suggestions Insider
for the Kansas City Chiefs and their three top picks in this year's draft.

Muench suggests Indiana wide receiver Cody Latimer for the Chiefs in the first round. They have no more pressing positional need and ideally they could find someone capable of eventually replacing Dwayne Bowe as their No. 1 receiver. Latimer is big (6-2 1/2, 215 pounds) and fast (4.44 40-yard dash) and could eventually develop into that player. Even if not, he's another capable body to throw into their receiving mix. Muench's thought that the Chiefs could trade back a few spots, pick up an extra draft pick or two and still get Latimer is a solid one. The Chiefs have only six picks this year, having sent their second-rounder to San Francisco in last year's trade that brought quarterback Alex Smith.

Moving on to the third round, Muench gives the Chiefs Stanford guard David Yankey. He is advanced enough that he should be able as a rookie to step into the starting right guard spot vacated by the free-agent departures of Geoff Schwartz and Jon Asamoah. The Chiefs have some candidates on their roster to step in and start at right guard but none has the potential or skills of Yankey. Depth on the offensive line is also a concern for the Chiefs after the lost Schwartz, Asamoah and tackle Branden Albert.

Muench assigns to the Chiefs in the fourth round Minnesota defensive back Brock Vereen. He can cover slot receivers but also has safety skills. The Chiefs lost two of their top three safeties from last season, Kendrick Lewis and Quintin Demps. At this point, the unproven Sanders Commings looks to be first in line as the starting free safety. The Chiefs added veteran Chris Owens to their mix at cornerback, but having another player with versatile skills in their secondary couldn't hurt.

Muench's top three picks address three of the Chiefs' biggest needs. The Chiefs would be happy if they could pull this off. Would you?

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