ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- While the four AFC West teams all made some sound choices on the second night of the NFL draft, no one in the division made a big splash Friday.
But it almost started with one.
In the minutes before the start of the second round, there was buzz that the Oakland Raiders were in talks with New England about the No. 33 pick with the hope of landing Nevada quarterback Colin Kaepernick. The Raiders (along with the Broncos and the Chiefs) worked out Kaepernick and the strong-armed Californian seemed like a perfect future Raider. But in the end, the Patriots kept the pick.
Three picks later, Oakland’s Bay Area rival, San Francisco, traded up with Denver to take Kaepernick. There went the AFC West’s interest in adding a high-profile quarterback in the 2011 draft.
We in the AFC West have kept a keen eye on the quarterback position. Denver looked at each of the top seven prospects and there was a school of thought that it would take one in the second round. Oakland was connected to both Kaepernick and Arkansas quarterback Ryan Mallett.
Yet, both Oakland and Denver skipped the falling Mallett before he was taken by New England at No. 74. Taking Mallett had to be tempting for both teams. New Broncos leader John Elway was said to be intrigued by Mallett’s raw ability. The cannon-armed player is a prototypical Al Davis quarterback. Perhaps Davis would have taken Mallett at No. 81 if he was still there. But after failing to land Kaepernick, the Raiders were more than content to use the No. 48 pick on Penn State offensive lineman Stefen Wisniewski, the nephew of current Oakland assistant offensive line coach and former Raiders lineman Steve Wisniewski. Oakland coach Hue Jackson said Friday night Wisniewski is the team’s new center. That’s a nice score at No. 48.
With the seven top quarterbacks off the board, there are no more quarterbacks who appear capable of making an impact in 2011. Iowa’s Ricky Stanzi could be a prospect in the fourth or fifth rounds. Both Denver and Kansas City like him. But he is strictly a developmental prospect.
So, it’s status quo at quarterback in the AFC West.
In Denver, that means Tebow has taken another step to the field in 2011. Earlier this week, Elway stood behind the second-year quarterback by saying he was his biggest fan. Elway said he believes Tebow will develop into a standout, but he does need to make improvements as a pocket passer.
Denver still has veteran Kyle Orton, but I’d expect the Broncos to try to trade him once the lockout is resolved. I think the fact that Denver didn’t take a quarterback early means it believes in Tebow for the short term.
I’ve long agreed with this tack. Denver, which took three defensive players and a starting right tackle prospect in Miami’s Orlando Franklin in the first three rounds, was better served by adding to a depleted roster and giving Tebow a chance at the beginning of the John Fox era. If Tebow fails in 2011, Elway can then turn to the 2012 draft, perhaps even uniting with fellow Stanford stud quarterback Andrew Luck.
Had Oakland grabbed Kaepernick, he probably would have sat behind Campbell in 2011. Davis is a fan of Campbell, who was acquired from Washington during the draft last year. Oakland then gave him an extension for the 2011 season and Jackson has often sung his praises this offseason. Campbell was up-and-down in 2010, but he did make some big plays in key moments.
In a lot of ways, I think not trading for Kaepernick was a strong move by Oakland. Had he fallen to No. 48 that would have been another story, but Oakland did well to add Wisniewski and speedster cornerback DeMarcus Van Dyke, who was the No. 81 pick. Oakland probably would have had to trade that pick and more for Kaepernick.
Quarterback is a luxury pick for a team that needed reinforcements on the offensive line and in the secondary. Plus, the presence of Kaepernick could have adversely affected Campbell, who was replaced by backup Bruce Gradkowski three times last season. Once Gradkowski was put on injured reserve, Campbell was much more relaxed in the final month of the season and he seemed to respond to not having to look over his shoulder.
If Campbell excels in 2011, the need for Kaepernick will be moot. If Campbell lacks consistency again, there will be another Kaepernick-type to pursue in 2012.