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Thursday, March 24, 2011
Draft Watch: AFC West

By Bill Williamson

NFC Draft Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Each Thursday leading up to the NFL draft (April 28-30), the ESPN.com NFL blog network will take a division-by-division look at key aspects of the draft. Today's topic: schemes and themes.

Denver Broncos

Expect the Broncos to spend much of the draft addressing its defense. Denver was last in the NFL in total defense and points allowed in 2010. New head coach John Fox was selected to be the Broncos’ coach partly because of his experience in turning around defenses.

The first order of business for Fox and new defensive coordinator Dennis Allen was to change the defense from a 3-4 to a 4-3 front. The Broncos ran a 3-4 defense the past two years. So, Denver will likely concentrate on its draft for traditional 4-3 defensive linemen at both end and tackle. It will also likely look for traditional 4-3 linebackers, likely middle and strongside linebackers.

Offensively, Fox believes in a power attack that’s based on running the ball and controlling the clock. Expect Denver to look at big running backs and more help on the offensive line. A blocking tight end could also be part of the mix to replace the aging Daniel Graham, who was released earlier in the offseason.

Kansas City Chiefs

This is the third year of the Scott Pioli draft plan. Defensively, the Chiefs look for 3-4 front-seven players.

This is a good year for a 3-4 team in the draft. The Chiefs will likely look for pass-rushers and big defensive tackles early in the draft. It is an excellent draft for pass-rushers (both at defensive end and at linebacker) and stout defensive tackles.

The Chiefs believe bright, athletic players will flourish in Romeo Crennel’s defense. Last year’s draft was a good indication of that approach. The Chiefs had success by playing rookies on a defense that helped key an unexpected AFC West title. Offensively, the Chiefs will likely look for a backup for quarterback Matt Cassel. Coach Todd Haley is a quarterback specialist. He likes intelligent, tough quarterbacks. The Chiefs are working out quarterbacks this spring. The quarterback they are looking at, including TCU’s Andy Dalton, fit that mold.

Oakland Raiders

Now that Hue Jackson has been promoted from offensive coordinator to head coach, expect him to use the offense he fully wants. That will start on the offensive line.

Gone is former head coach Tom Cable, who was a proponent of the zone-blocking scheme. Jackson is a believer in the power-blocking scheme. Jackson said at the NFL combine in February that he wants to incorporate the power-scheme more into the offense.

The offensive line is one of Oakland’s greatest needs. Oakland will be looking at bigger, stronger offensive lineman. The zone-blocking scheme utilizes smaller, faster more athletic lineman. Jackson wants 300-pound tough guys.

Also, of course, expect the Raiders to look for speed. The Raiders value speed as much as any team in the NFL. They recently drafted the fastest man at the combine in the form of cornerback Stanford Routt and receiver Jacoby Ford. With cornerback a potential draft need, expect the Raiders to scour 40 times as part of their draft evaluation process.

San Diego Chargers

The Chargers’ defensive needs are based on their 3-4 system. That will come into play this year. The Chargers will look for pass-rushers at defensive end and at linebacker. The team will also look for 3-4 inside linebackers.

Drafting athletic players who can help right away on the special teams has been an emphasis for general manager A.J. Smith’s teams. Because of an exodus of talent and injuries, San Diego had perhaps the worst special teams in the NFL last season. Expect the Chargers to look at linebackers and defensive backs who have a chance to start down the line, but who can help on special teams immediately.

Expect San Diego to try to add to its stable of tall, fast receivers. That’s the basis of Norv Turner’s passing game. The Chargers don’t add many little guys to this crew.