Posted by ESPN.com's Bill Williamson
If the AFC West edition of the 2009 NFL draft was a reality television show, a working title could be "Reaching for the Stars."
The AFC West, arguably the worst division in football in 2008, clearly felt the pressure in the draft as each team's first pick was used on a player who was generally expected to be taken with a lower choice.
The AFC West outreach program began early as Kansas City bypassed Wake Forest linebacker Aaron Curry in favor of 3-4 defensive end Tyson Jackson of LSU. Four picks later, the Raiders took pressure off Kansas City by taking arguably the biggest reach of the day in the form of Maryland receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey. He was taken about 15 picks higher than expected. The inconsistent speed burner was taken ahead of top receiver prospect Michael Crabtree.
At No. 12, Denver shocked the league by taking running back Knowshon Moreno despite the fact that it has desperate defensive needs and that it signed three running backs in free agency. At No. 16, San Diego took Northern Illinois pass-rusher Larry English. A fast riser, English was still pegged for the latter part of the first round.
The reaching continued into the second round. Oakland was roundly criticized for taking Ohio University safety Mike Mitchell. The hard-hitting and fast Mitchell wasn't invited to the NFL scouting combine. He wasn't even on the draft board of at least two teams.
While Moreno was a surprise pick and he joins a crowded Denver backfield, he has a chance to be a great player.
In the end, it may not matter that Denver has a slew of running backs and major defensive holes. Moreno could be the next star running back in the NFL.
Moreno was a tough, hard runner at Georgia and he should fit the Broncos' system well. Denver will use a hybrid of the old Mike Shanahan zone-blocking scheme and New England's gap-running scheme under new coach Josh McDaniels.
With the selection of Moreno, who the Broncos believe can be a three-down back, Denver may be making a statement that this is going to be a running offense. With Kyle Orton set to be the starting quarterback in Denver after the Jay Cutler trade, this is a good idea. Moreno will make Orton's life easier by moving the chains and he should help extend drives, keeping pressure off Denver's building defense.
Moreno may not have been the most logical choice for Denver, but he can be a special player. You can't argue with that.
It has to be Heyward-Bey. The Raiders have to make this pick work after taking several questionable first-round picks in recent years. Oakland badly needs a go-to receiver who can help right away.
Quarterback JaMarcus Russell needs to develop quickly and he needs a reliable receiver to take pressure off of him. There are questions about whether Heyward-Bey can be that type of receiver in the early portion of his career.
There is no questioning Heyward-Bey's potential. But at a position where there have been many busts in recent years, Heyward-Bey has some troubling characteristics. He has disappeared in several games and has shown poor hands at times.
Oakland is banking on Heyward-Bey's fantastic speed and athleticism. Heyward-Bey could end up as a star but he could be a bust, adding to Oakland's recent poor draft history.
Most surprising pick
There was a lot of late steam for Jackson to be the choice in Kansas City. Still, it was a tad surprising Jackson was the No. 3 overall pick.
He was expected to be taken in the 12-16 range. Jackson was productive at LSU, but many scouts expect him to be a solid, not spectacular, player.
The Chiefs need an instant impact on defense. Jackson probably will play right away as he will work in the 3-4 defense along with Glenn Dorsey, the No. 5 overall pick last season. But don't expect Jackson to be a huge sackmaster. He is more of a steady run stopper.
He will be good, but will he be worthy of the No. 3 overall choice?
File it away
English could be the heir apparent to Shawne Merriman as San Diego's top pass-rusher.
English impressed scouts because of his great pass-rushing ability, versatility, motor and work ethic. While he may have been taken higher than many expected, he surely is a first-round talent and he fits what the Chargers do.
He can be a perfect complement to Merriman, a superstar pass-rusher who led the NFL with 39.5 sacks in his first three seasons in the league.
But he could also be the replacement for Merriman. Merriman could soon be on his way out through free agency. English could step into a primary pass-rushing role if Merriman were to take off. English is also good insurance for San Diego.
Merriman is coming off a major knee surgery which kept him out of all but one game last season. All signs out of San Diego are that Merriman will recover fully, but if something unforeseen occurs, English is now in the mix to give the team a pass-rush burst that was clearly missing without Merriman.