Thursday, March 31, 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: decision-makers.
This is the only place in the AFC West where there is major change in the decision-making process this year. Denver will be closely watched during this draft for reasons that extend beyond the fact that it owns the No. 2 pick. This will be the first draft since legendary former Broncos quarterback John Elway took over as the team’s vice president of football operations. He was hired in January.
The Broncos have a three-way leadership format, with Elway, general manager Brian Xanders and coach John Fox. Elway has the final say on all decisions. However, Elway will rely on Xanders and Fox. Fox is the key. This is his 10th straight draft as a head coach. But this is an opportunity for Xanders to spread his wings too. He was the general manager the past two years with former coach Josh McDaniels. But McDaniels had final say and he used it. The Broncos had several questionable draft decisions the past two years and have privately made it clear it was McDaniels who was driving the draft ship. This new crew has been busy this offseason preparing for the draft. The Broncos’ brass has been at several pro days and the team has scheduled many workouts and visits with players at many positions. Elway has preached the importance of preparation as the Broncos try to rebuild.
This is Scott Pioli’s show. Pioli is in his third season as Kansas City's general manager. He has final say in all draft decisions. Pioli was part of many successful drafts in New England prior to joining the Chiefs in 2009. Pioli has fit this role well in Kansas City. He is a strong, confident leader. After a so-so first draft in Kansas City, Pioli struck gold in 2010. Several rookies made instant impacts and the class was a big reason the Chiefs went from four wins to a 10-6 team that won the AFC West. Pioli works well with coach Todd Haley, whom Pioli hired. They seem to have the same draft vision and it seems to be working well.
There is no doubt here -- this is Al Davis’ show. No owner in the NFL is as involved in his team’s day-to-day operations as Davis. That includes the draft. Davis, 81, enters this draft with a hot hand. Oakland had one of the best drafts in the NFL last year and if the Raiders become a playoff team soon, the success of the 2010 class will play a major role. Davis bragged about the class in January and he deserves to boast. Suddenly, the calls from fans for Davis to hire a general manager have quieted. One of the biggest reasons Oakland floundered from 2003-09 was poor drafting, especially in the first round. But Davis proved he can still be effective in the draft room. He still watches countless hours of film and keeps in close contact with the team’s scouts.
As in Kansas City, this is a classic leadership arrangement. A.J. Smith is the general manger in San Diego. He has been responsible for making all football-related decisions since he took over in San Diego in 2003. He prides himself in his film study and has been immersed in draft preparation for months. Smith is a strong leader who is known around the league for his willingness to strike a draft-day deal. He’ll move up or down. There’s no insecurity here. He’s in charge and he’s not afraid to use his power.