AFC West: 2012 NFL combine

INDIANAPOLIS -- There has been a lot of speculation that the San Diego Chargers could potentially be in play for Indianapolis Colts’ pass-rusher Robert Mathis in free agency.

I can see it, but I can also see the Chargers looking at another Colts’ star in free agency.

If Vincent Jackson leaves in free agency, I could see the Colts considering Colts’ receiver Reggie Wayne as a short-term solution. Jackson likely will not be given the franchise tag. I expect him to go to free agency. I think the Chargers have a solid chance of keeping him, but if he leaves, the team will have to look at another option.

I think Wayne is the type of player that would be right up the Chargers’ alley. He could be fairly inexpensive compared to other receivers and I think he still has something left in the tank.

Wayne, 33, had 75 catches for 960 yards last season playing without the injured Peyton Manning. Going to a team with a franchise quarterback in Philip Rivers and going to a team with playoff hopes, could energize Wayne.

I don’t think he’d be an answer for the long-term, but for a couple of years, I could see a Wayne-Chargers’ combination work if the Chargers have to suddenly replace Jackson.
Bob Glauber of Newsday tweeted that the Colts are not inclined to pursue tampering charges against Kansas City coach Romeo Crennel for comments he made about Indianapolis quarterback Peyton Manning on Saturday at the NFL combine.

From what I hear, I don’t expect the NFL to pursue charges, either. I expressed my thoughts on the silly saga Monday.

In other AFC West news:

The word at the combine was Cincinnati free-agent Jonathan Fanene could fit in with the Broncos. He is a versatile 4-3 player who can play both defensive end and tackle.

Another tidbit uncovered at the combine is that Oakland will be looking for linebackers aggressively in free agency and in the draft. Kamerion Wimbley and Aaron Curry are potential candidates for release in Oakland as the Raiders work to get under the salary cap.

It was a good day at the combine for potential AFC West prospects. Defensive tackles Dontari Poe of Memphis and Fletcher Cox of Mississippi State, and middle linebacker Luke Kuechly of Boston College all performed well at the combine Monday. The Broncos might be interested in Poe and Cox, and the Chiefs might look at Kuechly.

There is a report that the Jets will allow linebacker Bart Scott to seek a trade. He’s a 3-4 linebacker. I don’t see the two teams in the AFC West that run a 3-4, Kansas City and San Diego, making a run at Scott through a trade.

He is getting older and is on the decline. Perhaps if he becomes a free agent and is inexpensive, there could be interest. The Raiders will run some 3-4 looks, and it is possible it becomes a 3-4 defense based on its personnel heading to training camp, according to coach Dennis Allen, and it will need linebackers. I’m not sure if Scott would be the type of player the Raiders would pursue.

One team to keep an eye on in the Brandon Carr pursuit is Dallas. Word at the combine was the Cowboys could make an aggressive run at the Chiefs’ cornerback.
Combine meetings really don’t mean much. Every team meets with several players. It’s just an example of teams doing their due diligence. That’s why the Chiefs talked to quarterbacks Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III. They are expected to be the first two players off the board. The Chiefs have little chance of getting either player, but they are still doing their homework.

Yet, it is fairly interesting that Alabama cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick said two of the five teams that interviewed him at the NFL combine were San Diego and Oakland. He is expected to go in the 15-20 range. The Chargers, who pick at No. 18, have other needs and the Raiders don’t have a pick until the fifth round, although they are expected to get a compensatory pick at the end of the third round.

Cornerback is the Raiders’ greatest need. However, it is unlikely the Raiders will be able to find away to get a first-round pick. Still, Oakland’s new brass is doing its due diligence and talking to first-round talent, anyway. It’s a smart move because you never know what can happen.

Actually, I think Denver is the team in the division that is most likely to draft Kirkpatrick. Cornerback is a big need and if he slips to No. 25, I can see Denver taking him.

In other AFC West news:

San Diego general manager A.J. Smith ended any speculation that the Chargers will part ways with linebacker Takeo Spikes. Smith said the 2011 free-agent acquisition will be a Charger in 2012. Spikes is a leader and he has value to this team.
INDIANAPOLIS – One of the players the San Diego Chargers will surely consider with the No. 18 pick is Illinois pass-rusher Whitney Mercilus.

After a dominant 2011 season, Mercilus is one of the most intriguing defensive players on the board. He is considered one of the most dangerous players on the board for the very same reason.

After not making much of an impact as a freshman and as a sophomore, Mercilus was star in 2011. In his first season as a starter, Mercilus recorded 16 sacks and forced a whopping nine fumbles — leading the NCAA in both categories.

The 6-foot-4, 265-pound Mercilus knows there are questions about whether he can sustain his 2011 success in the NFL — and is aware of the one-year-wonder talk.

“I think it’s a negative label because once you have it, you have it,” he said. “Once you’re able to produce like that and you put it all together, in your mind, you know you’re able to repeat that success.”

Don’t be shocked if the Chargers are the team to give Mercilus that chance. He would fill one of their greatest needs. And indeed, Mercilus said the Chargers are among the the teams showing the most interest in him.

Talking with Todd McShay

February, 26, 2012
INDIANAPOLIS – I was able to catch up with ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay on one key draft question on each AFC West team. Let’s take a look at his thoughts:

Denver Broncos

Should Denver draft a quarterback at No. 25?

In his Insider most recent mock draft, McShay had Denver taking Texas A&M quarterback Ryan Tannehill. However, McShay said Saturday that he now thinks Tannehill will be taken within the first 20 picks, and that Denver won't take a quarterback at No. 25. Denver could take a quarterback in the second round, though by the time the Broncos' pick rolls around, McShay thinks several other signal-calling options will be gone. Michigan State quarterback Kirk Cousins could be the best available quarterback — and McShay would advise the Broncos to pull the trigger, because Cousins has a brighter future than current Denver starter Tim Tebow.

Kansas City Chiefs

Is Boston College middle linebacker Luke Kuechly a good fit at No. 11?

“I love him,” McShay said, noting that if the Chiefs see a greater need at middle linebacker than at any other position, Kuechly will be a good value pick at No. 11 — a perfect fit for Romeo Crennel’s 3-4 defense. McShay can see Kuechly fitting in well with Tamba Hali, Derrick Johnson and Justin Houston, with Kuechly playing weakside middle linebacker in the Chiefs’ system. McShay called Kuechly an instinctive tackling machine who could flourish under Crennel.

Oakland Raiders

Can the Raiders get any impact players with a small draft class?

The Raiders currently have just their fifth- and sixth-round picks. They will get some compensatory picks next month, but No. 97 (near the end of the third round) will be the highest possible comp pick. McShay said the draft is fairly strong in the middle rounds and the Raiders will get a chance to add a decent player or two. He is unsure if Oakland can get an immediate impact player, but thinks there are some good cornerbacks (the position is Oakland’s biggest need) in the middle of the draft. Among the cornerbacks who could be available in the middle rounds are South Carolina’s Stephon Gilmore, Virginia Tech’s Jayron Hosley, West Virginia’s Keith Tandy and Maryland’s Cameron Chism.

San Diego Chargers

Can the Chargers get a pass-rusher at No. 18?

McShay thinks South Carolina’s Melvin Ingram will be gone when the Chargers pick, but that Alabama’s Courtney Upshaw may be available. McShay is not sure Upshaw will be an instant, dynamic pass-rusher. But because Upshaw is such a strong power rusher, McShay said, he would help the Chargers immediately — an NFL-ready linebacker who has a big upside.

Talking with Romeo Crennel

February, 25, 2012
INDIANAPOLIS -- While much of Romeo Crennel’s media session Saturday focused on quarterbacks, the Kansas City Chiefs coach did address some other areas.

Like Kansas City general manager Scott Pioli did Friday, Crennel said the team wants to keep free-agent receiver Dwayne Bowe. Crennel wouldn’t say if the Chiefs will use the franchise tag on Bowe by the March 5 deadline.

Crennel also kept the company line going, saying that the Chiefs want cornerback Brandon Carr back even though they just signed Stanford Routt and they have No. 1 CB Brandon Flowers. I’m sure the Chiefs do want Carr back, but it is unlikely he’ll return in unrestricted free agency.

Crennel said safety Kendrick Lewis is recovering from a torn labrum he suffered at the end of the season. Crennel said Lewis will be managed by the team during the OTA’s.

When asked about Routt’s penalty issues in Oakland in 2011, Crennel said that is an area he will need to “coach” Routt in.
INDIANAPOLIS -- On Friday, Kansas City Chiefs general manager Scott Pioli said that the team’s quarterback job is not open and Matt Cassel is the starter.

However, Pioli said, there will be competition at the position.

Saturday, Kansas City coach Romeo Crennel also said that Cassel is the starter. But he made it clear that the team will explore all options.

Most interestingly, Crennel made it clear that if a certain future first-ballot Hall of Famer who resides in this city becomes available, the Chiefs coach will then become interested in him. Crennel acknowledged the league’s tampering rules, but he did say this when asked if he’d have interest in Peyton Manning if he is cut by the Colts as expected: “With a talent like that, I would be crazy not to consider it if he’s available. I’ll leave it at that.”

There was a report out of Kansas City that said the Chiefs have already talked to Manning’s agent. That is against league rules. The Chiefs do, though, have the financial means to sign Manning. Friday, Pioli did not address the subject because of the tampering rules.

Friday night, Crennel said the Chiefs talked to the three top quarterback prospects, Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III and Ryan Tannehill. The interviews with Luck and Griffin were likely due diligence efforts because the Chiefs won't be in position to draft either man. Tannehill will likely be available in the second half of the first round, so Kansas City, which has the No. 11 pick, could potentially trade down and get him. Arizona State quarterback Brock Osweiler said he met with the Chiefs. He is likely to be taken in the second or third round.

Crennel raved about Griffin and said the time with the Baylor player was “special.”

Like Pioli, Crennel said the team would like to have Kyle Orton back. Crennel made Orton the starter when he took over as interim coach in Week 15. The Chiefs finished 2-1 under Crennel. Once again, the coach credited Orton for helping him get the permanent job.

I get the feeling -- and it is just a feeling -- that Crennel would like to re-sign Orton and give him every opportunity to beat out Cassel.

Crennel did acknowledge that the relationship between new Kansas City offensive coordinator Brian Daboll and Miami free agent Chad Henne could make Henne a potential target if he hits free agency. Daboll was the Dolphins’ offensive coordinator last year.

Don’t discount the possibility of Brady Quinn being a backup option in Kansas City. The free agent played for Crennel in Cleveland.

There are a lot of moving parts in Kansas City at this position and it will be fascinating to see how it all plays out.
INDIANAPOLIS — If Devon Still ends up in the AFC West, his new team will not be getting a player looking for an easy ride.

Still’s college career has been anything but smooth.

The athletic Penn State defensive tackle suffered two major injuries in college and then he had to deal with the Jerry Sandusky scandal last fall and the recent death of his former coach Joe Paterno.

Still said the experiences toughened him and dealing with them was easier because of the life lesson Paterno taught him.

“I’ve dealt with a lot of adversity in college,” Still said. “But I’ll tell teams it made me tougher.”

Still is expected to be a first-round pick. Both Kansas City (No. 11) and the Denver Broncos (No. 25) will consider defensive tackles. If Still has a strong combine and pro day, he could be a possibility at a pick as high as No. 11. If he is available at No. 25, Denver will surely consider him.
INDIANAPOLIS -- Melvin Ingram said he is trying to follow in Von Miller’s footsteps.

Perhaps it will lead him to the same division.

The South Carolina pass-rusher will likely be one of the players the San Diego Chargers seriously consider taking with the No. 18 pick in the NFL draft. The All-American appears to be a perfect fit for the Chargers.

Even though Ingram said he is comfortable as a 4-3 defensive end or a 3-4 outside linebacker, all indications are that he may be best geared for the 3-4. He has been concentrating on linebacker and he has shed 12 pounds since the Senior Bowl. Ingram is 6-foot-2, 264 pounds. There shouldn’t be any athleticism questions about Ingram. He was a 225-pound point guard on his high school basketball team.

Ingram has been working out with Miller, the No. 2 overall pick by Denver last year and the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year. Like Ingram, Miller was a player who made the transition to a 3-4 outside linebacker in the NFL.

Ingram said Miller has been helping him make the transition and has been a strong mentor to him.

Like Miller, Ingram appears to have solid character off the field. He answered each question with “yes, sir” and even though he is expected to be going in the first round, Ingram said he feels like he must earn his way onto an NFL roster.
INDIANAPOLIS — While the focus is on Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III during the NFL combine, another quarterback who is expected to be taken in the first round of the draft must wait his turn.

Still, expect the spotlight to shine on Ryan Tannehill soon enough. The big, strong Texas A&M quarterback has impressed NFL teams with his intelligence and leadership skills. Tannehill will have to wait until later next month to show scouts his field abilities.

Tannehill suffered a foot injury in January. The injury is not expected to create long-term issues for Tannehill and he will likely be drafted in the second half of the first round. ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay had Tannehill pegged to go to Denver at No. 25 in his latest mock draft.

I’d be surprised if Denver took a quarterback in the first round, but there’s no doubt Tannehill has the skill set and demeanor that would attract top Broncos decision maker John Elway.

Tannehill made it clear he has big NFL plans.

“I’m excited to go in to a team, compete and I want to be a starter,” Tannehill said. “It’s a goal of mine. I don’t just want to go make a team. I want to go play. I want to make an impact and lead a team to a Super Bowl.”

Nick Foles not afraid of Tebow-mania

February, 25, 2012
INDIANAPOLIS -- There has been a lot of talk around the league that Denver may not be an enticing destination for quarterbacks, via either free agency or the draft, because of the Tim Tebow factor.

The thought is that being a competitor to Tebow is a no-win situation because of Tebow-mania and the wild fan support that Tebow has. However, count Arizona quarterback Nick Foles as a quarterback who would not mind being thrown into the Tebow fishbowl.

“Tim Tebow is a great player. He’s a guy I enjoyed watching throughout his career, and I have a lot of respect for him. The guy is a stud,” Foles said.

If Foles was drafted by Denver, he said, "I’d go in and do what I always do -- be me. [I’d] work hard, demand the most from myself. I’ve never liked sitting on the bench, ever. I hate it. So I’d work my butt off until I got an opportunity.”

Foles' expected draft slot is from Rounds 2-4. Denver could be looking at quarterbacks in that range. His attitude about stepping into Tebow Land could be attractive to the Broncos.
INDIANAPOLIS – Alabama star running back Trent Richardson is the premier player at the NFL combine at his position.

However, Richardson is unable to show NFL teams he is ready to be the league’s next great back. Richardson had minor knee surgery after suffering an injury in January. He is not participating in drills at the combine. He will have his pro day late in March where he is expected to be fully healed.

While many top prospects don’t do much at the combine, Richardson is upset he is not getting the chance to showcase his skills in Indy.

“I’m very disappointed I can’t do the stuff here that everybody else can do,” Richardson said. “In college, it irked my nerves when I heard guys say they don’t want to this and that at the combine. That’s something that you dream of and want to do your whole life and being a college football player and a competitor, I always wanted to come to this and show all my skills. That’s what the top guys do.”

If you listen to several league observers, expect the Kansas City Chiefs to have keen interest in Richardson’s workout. Many mock drafts have the Chiefs taking Richardson at No. 11.

In my mind, there are a lot of obstacles in the way of that intriguing pairing. The biggest issue is Richardson’s availability. There is a chance Richardson could go as high as No. 5 to Tampa Bay. If Richardson does drop to No. 11, the Chiefs would have to decide if they want to bypass needs at tackle and linebacker to take Richardson.

Kansas City general manager Scott Pioli said Friday that the Chiefs will look at running backs in the draft and in free agency. Starter Jamaal Charles is expected to be ready for training camp after suffering a torn ACL in his knee in September. Kansas City running backs Jackie Battle and Thomas Jones are free agents, so the position is a need area.

If the Chiefs don’t pursue a running back — New England’s BenJarvus Green-Ellis and San Diego’s Mike Tolbert could be possibilities — in free agency, Richardson could be a target.

The blunt Richardson said he is ready to make an impact in the NFL.

“When it comes down to it, I’ll be the dude that’s on the field and getting the ball on third-and-3 or fourth-and-1,” Richardson said. “Not to be cocky or anything, but I work on my game every day, and even if it’s not physical stuff, I work in the classroom learning plays and learning the defensive line and what the linebackers and safeties are doing so I can pick up my blitzes. I love to block. Everybody knows I can run the ball. I’ve never been caught from behind, so if anyone wants to question my speed, just look at the tape. When it comes to playing football, any game you want to, just look at it and try to find a negative.”

That could turn out to be a positive in Kansas City.

DeSean Jackson in the AFC West?

February, 25, 2012
INDIANAPOLIS -- Friday, ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported that the Philadelphia Eagles are willing to trade star receiver/returner DeSean Jackson. Let’s see if he fits in the AFC West:

Denver: Former Broncos coach Mike Shanahan nearly drafted Jackson in 2008, but opted for Eddie Royal instead at No. 42. I don’t think Jackson will be coming to Denver in the John Fox era, either. The Broncos have other needs, and until the Broncos have complete clarity at quarterback, spending big at receiver might not be prudent.

Kansas City: If Dwayne Bowe leaves in free agency (I don’t think he will), I could see the Chiefs considering Jackson. He’d be a nice fit, but I’m not sure the Chiefs would give the Eagles what they would want in return for Jackson.

Oakland: The Raiders have plenty of young, fast receivers. The Raiders are going to work on getting better on defense. This pairing won’t happen.

San Diego: Like in Kansas City, a need could develop in free agency. If No. 1 receiver Vincent Jackson leaves in free agency (the Chargers likely won’t give him the franchise tag, but they would like to sign him on the open market), they could be interested in DeSean Jackson. There will be several receivers on the open market, so the Chargers might opt not to give up a premium pick for a receiver. But if Vincent Jackson leaves, there’s no doubt the game-breaking DeSean Jackson would fit in with the Chargers on offense and on special teams.

Talking with Scott Pioli

February, 24, 2012
INDIANAPOLIS -- Kansas City Chiefs general manager Scott Pioli met with the media on Friday afternoon. In addition to talking about the team’s quarterback situation, here are some other highlights:

Pioli said the Chiefs’ three injured stars -- running back Jamaal Charles, safety Eric Berry and tight end Tony Moeaki -- are on schedule to be ready for training camp. All three suffered torn ACLs in their knees in September. Pioli said there aren’t any guarantees that all three will be ready for camp, but the team feels good about each player’s progress.

Pioli said that he thinks this is a strong draft overall, and he really likes the running backs. I expect the Chiefs to look at a running back fairly early in the draft or in free agency. With Charles coming back from injury and Jackie Battle and Thomas Jones being free agents, the Chiefs will need help there. One possibility, I think, is to sign New England’s Benjarvus Green-Ellis in free agency. Pioli signed him as an undrafted free agent in New England.

Pioli said he believes second-year player Rodney Hudson is ready to start at center or guard. His best bet might be at center. Casey Wiegmann is considering retirement, and the team might be ready to move to Hudson, anyway.

Pioli said 2011 first-round pick Jonathan Baldwin has made progress, and is expected to be a contributor in 2012.

Pioli reiterated that he wants to keep receiver Dwayne Bowe and cornerback Brandon Carr, who are headed for free agency. With the Chiefs signing cornerback Stanford Routt this week, the odds of Carr coming back have lessened considerably.

Pioli said he was “heartbroken” to see college scouting director Phil Emery leave to become the Bears’ general manager. Pioli praised Emery extensively and said he will make the city of Chicago proud.
INDIANAPOLIS -- RG3 let the cat out of the bag.

He is meeting with the Kansas City Chiefs.

During his press briefing, Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III acknowledged that the Kansas City Chiefs are among the teams that he will meet with at the NFL combine this weekend.

Commence the speculation.

The Chiefs have the No.11 pick in the draft and they would likely have to trade up to either No. 2 or No. 3 to get the Heisman Trophy winner. When asked about the meeting with Griffin on Friday afternoon, Kansas City general manager Scott Pioli laughed and feigned frustration. Pioli said not to make too much of the meeting with Griffin, that the team is just doing its due diligence and that the Chiefs will talk to several players at the combine.

I don’t think too much should be made of the meeting. Pioli is right. Many teams talk to many players. I’m sure the Chiefs would love to draft Griffin, but the odds are strongly against it happening.

Meanwhile, Pioli clarified the notion that there is open competition at quarterback. He said, “Matt Cassel is our starter.” Yet, he did say there will be come competition at the position like every other position. Translation: Yes, Cassel can be beat out, but the team isn’t expecting it.

Pioli did say the Chiefs have talked to Kyle Orton’s agent and there is mutual interest in Orton coming back. I think Orton may see what is out on the open market as far as starting jobs go before he considers returning to the Chiefs.

Asked about Colts’ quarterback Peyton Manning, Pioli declined to comment because of the league’s tampering rules. Thursday, a Kansas City radio personality reported that he heard the Chiefs and Manning’s agent have already had discussions. That is against league rules because Manning is still property of the Colts.