AFC West: Aldon Smith

This has always been a critical year in the relationship between Pro Bowl linebacker Von Miller and the Denver Broncos.

With Miller still recovering from ACL surgery and slated to be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the 2014 season, team officials face their first major decision about Miller's contract. The team has until May 3 to exercise an option year in Miller's rookie deal that would put him under contract for 2015. With 15 days before the deadline, the Broncos had not yet reached a decision as Friday's business day drew to a close.

[+] EnlargeVon Miller
Justin Edmonds/Getty ImagesDenver has two weeks to decide whether it will exercise an option on Von Miller's rookie contract.
In 2011, the first year of the current collective bargaining agreement, teams were given the option of a fifth year for first-round draft picks as part of the transition to the new rookie wage scale.

The "fifth-year option" must be engaged by May 3 and the option-year salary doesn't become guaranteed until March of 2015. So, it is possible for teams to engage the option year and potentially release the player at a later date before the base salary is guaranteed.

ESPN's Adam Schefter reported Friday that the San Francisco 49ers did not plan to engage the fifth-year option on defensive end Aldon Smith, who was the No. 7 pick of that draft, but several players have been informed their teams would pick up the option. This includes Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt (the No. 11 pick), Arizona Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson (No. 5) and San Diego Chargers defensive end Corey Liuget (No. 18).

The Broncos made Miller the No. 2 pick of that draft, behind Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton. With 30 sacks over his first two seasons, including 18.5 in 2012, Miller looked to be on the fast track to elite status in the league.

Miller then opened the 2013 season with a six-game suspension for violating the league's substance-abuse policy -- a violation that now subjects him to testing up to 10 times a month for the rest of his career. Several off-the-field issues, including an arrest last summer on a failure-to-appear warrant and several traffic violations, also dogged him last year.

He then tore his ACL against the Texans' in December and again raised some eyebrows with the team when he tried to attend a Seattle Seahawks victory party following the Broncos' 35-point loss in Super Bowl XLVIII.

For the first 10 picks of the 2011 draft, the salary for the option is this year's transition tag salary in free agency at their respective positions. The figure is calculated as an average of the top 10 salaries at those spots. For Miller that would mean a $9.754 million salary if he's on the roster when the new league year begins next March.

If the Broncos decline the option and Miller returns from his injury and shows his former speed and explosiveness and more maturity off the field, the team could still use the franchise tag to keep him.

That scenario would cost slightly more since the franchise tag salary for linebackers was $11.455 million this year and could be higher next season. A franchise player's salary is guaranteed the moment the player signs the tender. Some players sign them as soon as they receive them to guarantee the money, and some wait until training camp, hoping a long-term deal is worked out instead.

The Broncos and Miller could, if both sides found some common ground, still negotiate a long-term extension.

Miller said at an appearance for his foundation Monday that he continues to work hard to return from his knee injury, and that he wants to return "a better player" than he was. The Broncos open their offseason conditioning program Monday, but Miller will not participate. He will continue with his knee rehab with the team's trainers and strength and conditioning staff.


On a don't-blink-or-you'll-miss-them kind of night, the Denver Broncos rode an opportunistic defense to a 10-6 victory over the San Francisco 49ers at Candlestick Park in the preseason opener.

Here is what we learned about the Broncos:
  • With some injury issues in the offensive line, the Broncos practiced some risk management as quarterback Peyton Manning played just seven snaps, finishing his night 2-for-4 passing for 13 yards. With left tackle Ryan Clady still out as he continues to work his way back from offseason shoulder surgery, the Broncos got a vivid snapshot as to why they didn't want to leave Manning in too long. On the last of Manning's four drop-backs the 49ers' Aldon Smith overwhelmed Clady's replacement, Chris Clark, to jostle Manning.
  • Manny Ramirez started his first NFL game at center Thursday night and Orlando Franklin, who missed most of Monday's practice and all of Tuesday's with a hip injury, made the start at right tackle. Had the Broncos been a little more settled along the offensive front, Franklin might not have started a preseason game just two days after being held out of practice. It is clear, after seven snaps, that when the Broncos are in a three-wide receiver look, the offensive line is still a work in progress.
  • Those protection issues -- second-team quarterback Brock Osweiler was routinely chased from the pocket behind a line of backups -- will impact how much the Broncos can work out of their preferred three-wide look. If they can't hold up with just five blockers up front, the Broncos will have to work out of two-tight end and two-back looks offensively. The Broncos did work considerably more out of those bulkier formations when Osweiler was in the game.
  • The fact the Broncos' first touchdown of the preseason came on defense was a nice start -- especially for a team that dropped its share of interceptions and saw many forced fumbles recovered by the offense. Linebacker Nate Irving knocked the ball free from 49ers rookie running back D.J. Harper and Shaun Phillips scooped up the loose ball and ran nine yards for the score. That's exactly the kind of play defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio has preached to this unit. They simply didn't find themselves with enough of the fumbles they caused -- finishing third in forced fumbles but tied for just 19th in recoveries. "Those kinds of things are momentum changers. We want those," Del Rio has said. The Broncos forced three turnovers in the first half and had a fourth to start the third quarter.
  • The Broncos wanted to see how Duke Ihenacho would handle starting at strong safety, and they got their answer. Ihenacho has made a long climb from being an undrafted rookie who spent most of 2012 on the team's practice squad to the starting lineup to start this training camp. He had seven tackles in the first half -- three tackles on the Broncos' first defensive series -- forced a fumble and nearly had an interception. It means a veteran like Mike Adams is going to have to find a way to carve out a role on special teams, because Ihenacho showed he's ready for the job.
  • Defensive linemen Malik Jackson, a fifth-round pick by the Broncos in the 2012 draft, showed his versatility by taking snaps at both defensive end and defensive tackle. Despite the fact that the Broncos used their first-round pick on Sylvester Williams and signed Phillips during the draft weekend, Jackson should still carve out a situational role in the defense because he creates pressure from both an edge spot as well as on the interior.
  • Stewart Bradley, a 29-year-old who signed a one-year deal in free agency, got the start at middle linebacker. This definitively showed he has created far more competition for the job than some had thought. Irving had been the starter throughout offseason workouts and into the early days of camp, but Bradley has played good assignment football and played his run fits with discipline. Bradley started to appear with the starters earlier this week and opened in the middle Thursday night. Irving was active in a backup role, however, so don't chisel Bradley's name on the depth chart just yet.
  • Ryan Lilja might have come out of retirement just a week ago, after having knee and toe surgeries earlier in the offseason, but the Broncos gave him plenty of work Thursday night as the No. 2 center. While Lilja worked with the starters this past week at both left and right guard, the Broncos are hopeful he can quickly move into the No. 2 role at center and push Ramirez for the starting job. Ramirez is bigger and more powerful, but Lilja has more experience with Manning -- having played 2004-2009 in Indianapolis -- and moves better. With the number of zone-run plays the Broncos showed against the 49ers, movement will be a must. Ramirez had a holding penalty on a zone run early in the game when he didn't beat the defensive lineman to the spot.
  • With Joel Dreessen expected to miss the remainder of the preseason after arthroscopic knee surgery, his second on his left knee since late May, and Jacob Tamme still working past a thigh injury, Julius Thomas will have a chance to be the go-to tight end in the passing game. He showed his athleticism with four catches against the 49ers. His size (6-foot-5, 250 pounds), speed and reach will make him a tough matchup if he can keep the momentum he's had in camp thus far. Thomas ran away from linebackers Thursday night and towered over the safeties who tried to check him.
  • Of the Broncos' undrafted rookies, running back C.J. Anderson made the most of his opportunities, finishing with a team-leading 69 yards on his 15 carries. Anderson has flashed plenty so far in this training camp but has occasionally made assignment errors that will impact his ability to make the roster. If he cleans up the mistakes and avoids concentration lapses, he showed he has something to offer in the run game.
  • The Broncos have spent some time in the offseason adding the pistol formation into the offense, which they ran sporadically Thursday with mixed results. They'll have to control the middle of the formation better than they did against the 49ers to make it work.

The Broncos, after a late return to Denver scheduled for the wee hours of Friday morning, will give the players Friday off. Those who need treatment for injuries will make an appearance at the team's Dove Valley complex, but they won't all hit the field again until Saturday morning's practice.
It has been a special season in Denver. Could it also be historic?

The Broncos, which clinched the AFC West on Dec. 2, are 11-3, have won nine consecutive games and are on pace for a first-round bye in the playoffs. They are widely considered a legitimate Super Bowl contender.

Denver has been dominant on both sides of the ball. Although its season has been a team effort, the work of two players stands out: quarterback Peyton Manning and linebacker Von Miller.

Manning and Miller have arguably been the best offensive and best defensive players in the NFL this season. Both are leading candidates for major hardware; Manning is in the mix for the NFL MVP award, and Miller is a top candidate for the league's Defensive Player of the Year award.

If both players win, it will, according to ESPN Stats & Information, be just the second time in league history that teammates have won the MVP and Defensive Player of the Year awards in the same season. San Francisco’s Steve Young won the NFL MVP and cornerback Deion Sanders won the Defensive Player of the Year award in 1994. The 49ers went 13-3 and won the Super Bowl.

Let’s look at Manning’s and Miller’s candidacies:

Manning: This is shaping up as a close, intriguing race. There is no runaway MVP choice. Minnesota running back Adrian Peterson and New England quarterback Tom Brady are competing hard with Manning. Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers could make a case.

Still, there is reason to think Manning -- in his first season with the Broncos -- has a chance to win his fifth MVP award.

Brady is having a strong season, but the Broncos are 11-3 and the Patriots are 10-4. If the Broncos finish with a better record, Manning could have the edge. Coming back at age 36 from a neck injury that kept him out last season, he has had an immense impact on his new team.

Like Manning, Peterson is coming off a major injury, so the two will fight it out for the NFL Comeback Player of the Year award as well. Peterson needs 294 yards to break Eric Dickerson’s single-season rushing record of 2,105 yards, set in 1984.

[+] EnlargeTom Brady, Peyton Manning
Stew Milne/USA TODAY SportsTom Brady, left, and Peyton Manning are in another tight competition for MVP honors.
Dickerson was not the MVP that year. Miami quarterback Dan Marino won the award. Marino had a monster year, breaking six NFL season pass records, including most touchdowns and most passing yards.

Manning is not having quite that type of season, but his team is having a much better season than Peterson's and Manning’s stats are strong.

Consider these numbers supplied by ESPN Stats & Information: This is Manning's 12th season with 4,000 yards; he leads NFL in Total QBR, which measures the all-around impact of quarterback play; and his 11 wins are the most by a player after missing an entire season. Denver hasn’t won this many games since 2005. If the season ended today, Manning would be the fifth player ever with at least 4,000 passing yards, 30 passing touchdowns and a 67 percent completion rate while throwing 10 or fewer interceptions. Three of the four previous players won the MVP award.

The vote will be close, but there is no doubt Manning will be in the MVP conversation. If history is any indication, it could come down to Manning and Brady. The last time a nonquarterback won the award was in 2006, when San Diego’s LaDainian Tomlinson won. A quarterback has been shut out just four times in the past 20 years.

Miller: Denver took Miller with the No. 2 overall draft pick in 2011. Last season, he was named the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year. He could easily win the Defensive Player of the Year award in his second season.

Miller was considered a top-flight pass-rusher as a rookie, but he has worked to improve his overall game. He is now strong in coverage and against the run in addition to being a complete terror as a pass-rusher.

“To me, Miller is the best defensive player in football,” said Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc.

Still, the chase for top defensive honors this season is as close as the MVP race. Miller is competing with a pair of fellow 2011 first-round picks -- Aldon Smith of San Francisco and J.J. Watt of Houston -- and Cincinnati defensive tackle Geno Atkins.

When asked about his chances of winning the award, Miller said he wants it, but his plan is this: “I’m just going to keep on playing with a fanatical effort and a relentless pursuit to the ball.”

It’s working.

Miller has 16 sacks, 3.5 off the pace set by Smith and Watt.

Watt leads the league with a combined 37 sacks and tackles for losses. Miller is second with 29; Smith is third at 21.5.

Watt has made several big plays and is the best player on a strong defense for a winning team, so he is probably the leading candidate for the award. But Miller has his supporters.

I think Manning’s chances of winning may be higher than Miller’s, but both have had major impacts on Denver’s success in 2012.

NFL honors Broncos LB Von Miller

November, 21, 2012
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Von Miller is on a roll and the NFL is noticing.

The Denver second-year linebacker was named the AFC Defensive Player of the Week. Miller dominated in a 30-23 win over San Diego on Sunday.

He had three sacks and he forced two fumbles in the game. His three sacks in one game tied a career high for the No. 2 overall pick in the 2011 draft. His two forced fumbles were a career high. Miller has 13 sacks this season, which is second in the NFL behind San Francisco’s Aldon Smith. He has 15 sacks.

Miller debuts on Mike Sando’s MVP Watch this week. He is No. 9. Denver quarterback Peyton Manning remains No. 1 on the list.
In the end, Von Miller's status as a complete player won him the NFL Defensive of Rookie of the Year award.

The Associated Press announced the Denver Broncos rookie linebacker had been chosen. He and San Francisco linebacker Aldon Smith were considered close competitors for the award. Miller was the No. 2 overall pick in the April draft, while Smith was the No. 7 pick.

Miller had 11.5 sacks and Smith had 14, which was a half sack shy of the NFL rookie sack record.

Miller broke his thumb in late November and played the rest of the season and in Denver’s two playoff games with a cast on his right hand. The injury greatly affected his game as he was essentially playing with one hand. Miller’s play did improve in the playoffs.

Voters probably went with Miller because he was considered a much more complete player than Smith, who just played in pass-rushing situations. Miller was on the field for 79 percent of Denver’s defensive snaps and Smith played on 48 percent of the 49ers’ snaps.

Miller was the centerpiece of an improved Denver defense that helped spur an unlikely playoff run. The Broncos believe Miller will be a star for years to come. He does need to become a better run stopper and that should come with time. He was replaced on running downs at different parts of the season.

But Miller showed the work ethic and desire to improve that area of his game. Coaches and teammates lauded Miller for his approach and he is likely becoming a leader on the team.

Denver selected Miller in last April's draft after considering several other prospects, including Marcell Dareus, Patrick Peterson and Nick Fairley. The Broncos took Miller because they thought he had the most explosion and he had the highest ceiling. So far, it looks like the right call.

Poll results: Von Miller for DROY

February, 1, 2012
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According to our poll, sack totals should not hurt Von Miller's odds at winning the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year award.

The Denver linebacker and San Francisco linebacker Aldon Smith are considered the top candidates for the award, which will be given Saturday night. In our poll, 64 percent of the votes tallied were in favor of Miller, while Smith received 36 percent of the vote as of 5:15 p.m. ET Wednesday. More than 7,000 votes were tallied.

Both pass-rushers had tremendous rookie campaigns and were major parts of surprising seasons for their teams. Miller was the No. 2 overall pick and Smith was the No. 7 pick.

Miller was considered the leading candidate until late in the season. His tremendous season was slowed by a broken thumb he suffered in late November. He missed just one game, but wasn’t the same until the playoffs. Miller ended up with 11.5 sacks. Smith finished with 14 sacks, which was a half sack short of the NFL rookie sack record.

Still, Miller had a greater impact on his defense. He played 79 percent of the snaps, while Smith played 48 percent of the snaps. I can see why Miller did so well in this poll. It will be interesting to see if he actually wins the award Saturday.

Poll: Miller or Smith for DROY?

January, 31, 2012
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It should be an interesting vote for the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year award.

The leading contenders are Denver’s Von Miller and San Francisco’s Aldon Smith. Both pass-rushers had tremendous rookie campaigns and were major part of a surprising season for their teams. Miller was the No. 2 overall pick and Smith was the No. 7 pick.

Miller was considered the leading candidate until late in the season. Miller’s tremendous season was slowed by a broken thumb he suffered in late November. He missed just one game, but wasn’t the same until the playoffs. Miller ended up with 11.5 sacks. Smith ended up with 14 sacks, which was a half sack short of the NFL rookie sack record.

The Miller supporters will argue that he had a bigger impact on Denver’s overall defense than Smith had on the 49ers’ defense. He played 79 percent of Denver’s defensive snaps, while Smith played 48 percent. Smith’s supporters will argue that his impact as a pass-rusher was greater.

What do you think? Please take our poll and explain your reason for your vote in the comment section below. We will review the poll results Wednesday.

By the way, the vote was conducted before Smith was arrested under suspicion of drunk driving last weekend, so it will not play any role in the vote.
After 11 games, Denver rookie linebacker Von Miller was on pace to break the NFL rookie sack record.

Then, he suffered a serious thumb injury. Miller’s production has slowed since. Miller was injured Nov. 27 at San Diego. He had his best game of the season that day. He had added a sack to increase his total to 10.5 sacks. He had 10 tackles in the game.

He missed the following week’s game at Minnesota, but he had played the past three games with a cast on his right hand. Miller has one sack and seven tackles in the past three games.

“It’s that big cast on his thumb,” said Denver coach John Fox on Monday when asked in Denver about Miller’s slip in production. “It’s hard to play this game with both hands let alone just one. It’s definitely a factor. A different type of cast isn’t going to let him use his hand any differently because we still have to immobilize the thumb. We’ll make due. He’ll get better, and so will we.”

Miller, the No. 2 overall draft pick, needs three sacks Sunday at Kansas City to tie Jevon Kearse’s rookie record of 14.5 sacks, set in 1998. San Francisco’s Aldon Smith, the No. 7 overall draft pick, has 14 sacks. He has 6.5 sacks since Miller’s injury.

It will be interesting to see who wins the NFL defensive rookie of the year award. Miller has been on the field more than Smith and has he had a bigger impact throughout the year, but Smith’s sacks numbers may be difficult to deny even though Miller has 29 more tackles than Smith.

In other AFC West news:
Let’s look at who the readers believe each AFC West team should take with their first pick. We took polls for each team Tuesday.

Denver, No. 2

There’s no doubt, Denver fans want the team to take Alabama defensive tackle Marcell Dareus in a landslide over Auburn defensive tackle Nick Fairley, LSU cornerback Patrick Peterson and Texas A&M linebacker Von Miller. I think Dareus will be the call, but Denver has also been considering the other three players.

San Diego, No. 18

In a battle of four pass-rushers, fans slightly want Wisconsin’s J.J. Watt over Cal’s Cam Jordan, Missouri’s Aldon Smith and Purdue’s Ryan Kerrigan. This is how real-life may go, too. Teams picking above the Chargers may covet Watt and Jordan, too.

Kansas City, No. 21

UCLA pass-rusher Akeem Ayers was a fairly easy winner over Temple defensive lineman Muhammad Wilkerson and offensive tackles Gabe Carimi and Anthony Castonzo. I’m a bit surprised by this result because Ayers may be the last of these four players off the board. Still, he does fit in Kansas City.

Oakland, No. 58

In a runaway, Oakland fans want the Raiders to take Penn State guard/center Stefen Wisniewski over cornerbacks Ras-I Dowling, Brandon Harris and quarterback Colin Kaepernick. I think Wisniewski was the easy choice for a couple of reasons. The offensive line needs an upgrade and Wisniewski is already part of the Raider family. His uncle, Steve Wisniewski, was a star offensive lineman for the Raiders and is now the team’s assistant offensive line coach.

Poll: San Diego's top pick

April, 26, 2011
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Here are your options for the San Diego Chargers with the No. 18 pick.

Please give your reason why you are making the pick in the comment section below.

AFC West draft primer

April, 22, 2011
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Aldon Smith, JJ Watt, Cameron JordanAP PhotosCould pass-rushers Aldon Smith, J.J. Watt or Cameron Jordan end up in the AFC West?
With the NFL draft starting in six days, there are many interesting storylines involving the AFC West. Let’s take a look:

Will any AFC West teams draft a quarterback? Denver, Kansas City and Oakland have all been studying several of the top quarterbacks. There is a chance Denver and Oakland could use a second-round pick on a quarterback. Kansas City will probably wait until the mid-rounds before it addresses the position. I wouldn’t be shocked if we see a quarterback enter the division Friday. San Diego could take a quarterback in the late rounds because backup Billy Volek is a free agent.

Will a top pass-rusher land in the division? Denver, San Diego and Kansas City have all looked at pass-rushers very closely. I could see San Diego, which has the No. 18 pick, and Kansas City, which has the No. 21 pick, drafting a pass-rusher in the first round. The run on pass-rushers will probably start at No. 15. Guys like Wisconsin’s J.J. Watt, Cal’s Cameron Jordan, Missouri’s Aldon Smith Purdue’s Ryan Kerrigan, UCLA’s Akeem Ayers and Temple’s Muhammad Wilkerson could all be in play for these two teams.

Will Denver trade out of the No. 2 pick? I know Denver is open to trading out of the No. 2 pick. It would ideally like to go down to the No. 5-to-8 range and still grab a top-flight defensive player while adding picks. Denver’s best bets may be Arizona (No. 5) and Tennessee (No. 8). One of those two teams may believe it is necessary to move up to take a quarterback. Still, it won’t be easy. The No. 2 pick hasn’t been traded since 2000.

Will the Chiefs take a receiver high? The Chiefs need a No. 2 receiver and may take one early rather than waiting for free agency. They could pounce on a receiver like Leonard Hankerson of Miami, although it might be risky waiting for him to drop to No. 51.

[+] EnlargeDa'Quan Bowers
Joe Robbins/Getty ImagesInitially Clemson's Da'Quan Bowers looked like a candidate for Denver at No. 2. But he may still be heading to the AFC West.
Will Da'Quan Bowers end up in the AFC West? Before all the alarm about his surgically repaired knee, the Clemson pass-rusher was considered a possibility for Denver at No. 2. His injury will probably cause him to fall. It wouldn’t be a total shock if Bowers fell all the way to San Diego. There has been speculation that Bowers won’t fall past Minnesota at No. 12, but if he did slide to San Diego, he’d be a great value at No. 18.

Will the Chiefs’ infatuation with the SEC continue? The Chiefs have drafted a player from the SEC in the past four years, and Kansas City general manager Scott Pioli has a long history of taking players from that conference. I’ve been told the Chiefs have been scouting the entire South hard this spring. It will be interesting to see how that affects their draft class.

Will the Chiefs draft some beef? The Chiefs could add a nose tackle and an offensive tackle early. Don’t be surprised if the Chiefs try to make a trade and take Baylor’s massive nose tackle Phil Taylor if he drops some in the second round.

Will Casey Matthews be AFC West-bound? Denver, Kansas City and San Diego all have been connected to the Oregon linebacker, the younger brother of Green Bay star Clay Matthews. A lot of teams are excited about Matthews, and it would be interesting to see him end up in the division.

Will A.J. Smith be a mad trader? San Diego general manager A.J. Smith is known as an active draft trader. He has five of the first 89 picks, and he has tremendous trading power. Smith could trade up or down. I wouldn’t be shocked if the Chargers ended up with two first-round picks.

Will Denver take a running back high? Despite Denver’s greatest needs on defense, there has been speculation it could take a running back to pair with 2009 No. 12 overall pick Knowshon Moreno. New Denver coach John Fox believes in running the ball first, so help is needed. One player Denver has been targeting is Illinois’ Mikel Leshoure. He could be a target with one of Denver’s two second-round picks.

Will Oakland trade up into the first round? The Raiders are the only team in the league without a first-round pick. They don’t pick until No. 48. Oakland probably can pair that pick with the No. 81 pick to get into the end of the first round if it focuses on a particular player.

Will Wiz II come to the AFC West? Penn State center/guard Stefen Wisniewski has been connected to Denver, Kansas City and Oakland. The Raiders are obviously being connected to Wisniewski because he is the nephew of former Raiders’ offensive lineman and current assistant offensive line coach Steve Wisniewski. Wisniewski would fill a big need in Oakland. He might be a second or third-round pick.

Will Jimmy Smith fall to Oakland? Colorado cornerback Jimmy Smith is considered a top-15 talent, but he could fall because of character questions. Oakland probably would jump on him if he fell to No. 48 as a potential replacement for free-agent Nnamdi Asomugha. Still, Philadelphia or Baltimore could take him in the first round.

Will Oakland combat defensive moves by adding to the offensive line? The offensive line is Oakland’s greatest need. The other three teams in the division could add front-seven help on defense. Thus, Oakland may feel more pressure to add to the offensive line.

Will the Chargers add to the secondary? The Chargers have been looking hard at safeties because Eric Weddle is a potential free agent. This isn’t a strong class for safeties, but expect the Chargers to look for a gem in the late rounds.

Will AFC West move to Taiwan? One of the hottest names in recent weeks is Eastern Washington running back Taiwan Jones. Denver, Kansas City and Oakland have been connected to Jones. He also could fill a need in San Diego if the Chargers move away from free agent Darren Sproles. Jones runs a blazing 4.3 40-yard dash. ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay has said Jones could potentially be a third-round pick.

Draft Watch: AFC West

April, 21, 2011
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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: Dream scenario/Plan B.

Denver Broncos

Dream scenario: The Broncos’ dream scenario begins with the Carolina Panthers taking a quarterback with the No. 1 pick. That would mean the entire defensive draft board is available. The Broncos' primary needs are on defense. Denver would likely choose between Alabama defensive tackle Marcell Dareus, Texas A&M linebacker Von Miller and LSU cornerback Patrick Peterson. The general consensus is Denver will most likely take Dareus.

Plan B: If Carolina takes Dareus, Denver could take Miller or Peterson or trade down to the No. 5-8 range and compile other high-round picks. I could see Miller and Peterson being available at No. 5. If Denver goes down to No. 8, it could look at Auburn defensive tackle Nick Fairley, North Carolina defensive end Robert Quinn or Clemson defensive end Da'Quan Bowers.

Kansas City Chiefs

Dream scenario: The Chiefs are in a great position. They pick No. 21 and need pass-rushers and an offense tackle. Several of those prospects should be available at No. 21. But if the Chiefs had a dream, I’d think it would be to see Alabama receiver Julio Jones tumble to them. But that is a pipedream. He likely won’t fall past St. Louis at No. 14. I think the Chiefs would like to see a pass-rusher like Missouri’s Aldon Smith, Cal’s Cameron Jordan, Purdue’s’ Ryan Kerrigan or Temple’s Muhammad Wilkerson available at No. 21. If not, the Chiefs could go for a pass-rusher like UCLA’s Akeem Ayers or Georgia’s Justin Houston.

Plan B: If all the pass-rushers are gone, that’d probably mean some tackles would fall. Among those players who could interest the Chiefs are Boston College’s Anthony Castonzo, Wisconsin’s Gabe Carimi or Colorado’s Nate Solder. Kansas City will have options and it could prompt it to trade down a few spots to gain another quality pick and grab a player high on its list.

Oakland Raiders

Dream scenario: The Raiders are the only team currently without a first-round pick. Their first pick is at No. 48. Oakland’s dream scenario would to see a first-round talent slide to them without having to trade up. If a quarterback such as Arkansas’ Ryan Mallett or Washington’s Jake Locker is there, Oakland could easily grab them. The Raiders like veteran Jason Campbell, but getting an eventual replacement at the bargain price of No. 48 is worth it. Colorado cornerback Jimmy Smith would also be a dream scenario for Oakland if he was available at No. 48. The team may lose Nnamdi Asomugha in free agency. Smith is considered a top-15 talent; he may fall because of character issues. He’d be a steal at No. 48.

Plan B: If these players don’t fall, Oakland will likely look at offensive linemen (its biggest need), cornerbacks and quarterbacks in the second round. If the Raiders could get a player like Penn State guard Stefen Wisniewski and Nevada quarterback Colin Kaepernick on the second day of the draft, they would be thrilled.

San Diego Chargers

Dream scenario: The Chargers are in an even better position than the Chiefs. San Diego, which has the No. 18 pick, could use a pass-rusher or an offensive lineman. Plenty should be available when they choose. Plus, San Diego has extra picks in both the second and third rounds. The Chargers can do basically whatever they want to do. Thus, the Chargers can make up their own dream scenario. If they want to move up to No. 5 and take Miller, they probably can. If they want to move up to No. 11-12 and take Wisconsin defensive end J.J. Watt or Jones to help at receiver, they can.

Plan B: If they stay put, the Chargers can wait for players like Jordan, Smith or Kerrigan at No. 18. They could also move down to take a pass-rusher like Houston or Ayers or an offensive lineman in the No. 20-25 range. The Chargers are truly in charge of their own draft destiny.

More McShay mock madness

April, 13, 2011
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ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay has compiled a mock draft Insider with the help of two NFL scouts. Let’s take a look at what they came up with for the AFC West:

No. 2, Denver

Marcell Dareus, defensive tackle, Alabama

My take: It’s starting to look unanimous that Denver will take Dareus if he doesn’t go No. 1 to Carolina. He looks like the safest pick and he’d be an immediate contributor in Denver.

No. 18, San Diego

Aldon Smith, DE/LB, Missouri

My take: He’s going to be in the conversation. He’s the fourth-straight pass-rusher to go off the board in this mock. I think the Chargers would be pleased to take Smith.

No. 21, Kansas City

Nate Solder, OT, Colorado

My take: This may be the first mock I’ve seen that has Kansas City taking Solder. I think the Chiefs will look for pass-rushers first. Temple pass-rusher Muhammad Wilkerson is still available on this mock. I think the Chiefs would take him before Solder. Also, if the Chiefs take a tackle, they could look at Wisconsin tackle Gabe Carimi or Boston College’s Anthony Castonzo before Solder. This mock has Solder going before Carimi and Castonzo. I think the tackle run may begin earlier.

Oakland doesn’t have a first-round pick. It sent its 2011 first-round pick to New England in Sept. 2009 for defensive lineman Richard Seymour. The Raiders’ first pick is No. 48.

What do you think of this mock? Fill up the comment section below with your thoughts.

AFC West mailbag

April, 10, 2011
4/10/11
9:00
AM ET
Weekend mail call:

Humble Gorilla from Antioch, Calif., wants to know if I think Oakland needs to trade into the first round and grab an offensive lineman to counter all of the top defensive players that the other three teams in the AFC West are expected to take early.

Bill Williamson: It’s a heck of a point, Humble. Offensive line is Oakland’s biggest area of need. The fact that Denver, San Diego and Kansas City could all take front-seven defensive players makes it even more important for Oakland to get help on the line. There are some strong offensive linemen available in the first round, but I think the Raiders could wait to No. 48 and pick up a guard or a center.

Steve from Woodside, N.Y., wants me to list the following players in order of how I think they’d fit with the Chiefs : J.J. Watt, Cameron Jordan, Aldon Smith, Muhammad Wilkerson, Akeem Ayers, Ryan Kerrigan, Justin Houston, Phil Taylor and Stephen Paea.

BW: Steve, I think pass-rusher and then offensive tackle are the Chiefs’ biggest areas of need. But as far as your list goes, here is how I think these players will go off the board: Watt, Jordan, Smith, Wilkerson, Ayers, Kerrigan, Houston, Taylor and Paea. I expect these players all to go in the 12-35 range. I think Wilkerson, Ayers, Kerrigan, Houston, Taylor and Paea may all be available when the Chiefs pick at No. 21.

Reg from Portland, Maine, thinks the Raiders should look for a quarterback in the draft. He wants to know if I agree.

BW: I’ve said all offseason that Oakland should, at least, consider taking a quarterback. If the Raiders fall in love with a quarterback at No. 48 and it’s a good value, they should think about it. Oakland could need a starter as soon as 2012, so a good developmental quarterback may be needed. Yes, Oakland needs offensive line help, but good quarterbacks are hard to pass up. The Raiders are clearly considering it. They are among the teams working out Nevada quarterback Colin Kaepernick.
The latest mock drafts of ESPN draft gurus Mel Kiper and Todd McShay have been released in Insider pieces. Both Kiper and McShay go three rounds deep.

Let’s review the choices:

Denver, No. 2

Kiper’s pick: Marcell Dareus, DT, Alabama

McShay’s Pick: Dareus

My thoughts: That’s what I’m thinking, too. Dareus is too special and he’d help this defense too much for Denver to bypass him.

San Diego, No. 18

Kiper’s pick: Muhammad Wilkerson, DL, Temple

My thoughts: Pass-rushers seem to last longer on Kiper’s board longer than they do on McShay’s board. San Diego would be very satisfied to get a player of Wilkerson’s ability at No. 18.

McShay’s Pick: Aldon Smith, DE, Missouri

My thoughts: Smith would also be a solid pick and he may be even of a better fit than Wilkerson in San Diego.

Kansas City, No. 21

Kiper’s pick: Akeem Ayers, LB, UCLA

My thoughts: McShay has Ayers going in the second round, long after the top pass-rushers. I think he will go in the first round. Perhaps Kansas City could trade down a few spots and grab him.

McShay’s Pick: Gabe Carimi, OT, Wisconsin

My thoughts: I think the Chiefs would rather get a top pass-rusher, but they would be pleased to get a tackle of Carimi’s ability. But I think it would be a Plan-B scenario.

Oakland does not have a first-round pick. It traded its pick (No. 17) to New England for defensive tackle Richard Seymour in September 2009.

Second round

Kiper:

36. Denver Rahim Moore S UCLA

46. Denver (from Miami) Kyle Rudolph TE Notre Dame

48. Oakland Clint Boling OL Georgia

50. San Diego Randall Cobb WR Kentucky

55. Kansas City Orlando Franklin OL Miami (Fla)

61. San Diego (from NY Jets) Ras-I Dowling CB Virginia

My thoughts: This would be a solid round for each team. Denver’s defense would continue to get better with the best safety in the draft. The Chiefs would add yet another offensive lineman. The Raiders would address their top need and the Chargers would add two interesting skill players. Dowling could be a star.

McShay:

36. Denver Rudolph

46. Denver (from Miami) Moore

48. Oakland Jimmy Smith CB Colorado

50. San Diego Allen Bailey DE Miami (FL)

55. Kansas City Kelvin Sheppard ILB LSU

61. San Diego (from NY Jets) Jonathan Baldwin WR Pittsburgh

My thoughts: It’s interesting that McShay and Kiper have the same two players going to Denver in the round at different spots. What sticks out in this group, though, is Colorado cornerback Jimmy Smith going to Oakland. That would be a major score. Yes, Smith has big character questions, but he’d be worth the risk at No. 48 and be good insurance if Nnamdi Asomugha leaves in free agency. Kiper has Smith going much earlier than McShay. I like the choice of Bailey for San Diego, but Baldwin may be risky.

Third round

Kiper:

67. Denver Christian Ballard DL Iowa

81. Oakland Chimdi Chekwa CB Ohio St.

82. San Diego Marcus Cannon OT TCU

86. Kansas City Greg Salas WR Hawaii

89. San Diego (from Seattle) Akeem Dent LB Georgia

My thoughts: San Diego’s two picks here stick out. Cannon is massive and would be a good project. Dent could soon be a solid contributor.

McShay:

67. Denver Quan Sturdivant LB North Carolina

81. Oakland Virgil Green TE Nevada

82. San Diego Lee Ziemba OT Auburn

86. Kansas City Tandon Doss WR Indiana

89. San Diego (from Seattle) Colin McCarthy LB Miami (FL)

My thoughts: Green is a great talent, but if Zach Miller stays, he won’t be needed. I also like Ziemba and Doss.

What’s your thoughts on all these projected picks? Fill up the comment section below with your thoughts.

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