AFC West: B.J. Raji

ST. JOSEPH, Mo. -- This isn’t a training camp for the leisurely.

Armed with the best roster the franchise has seen in years, the Kansas City Chiefs are moving quickly under new coach Romeo Crennel. For those who visited the Chiefs camp last year, this pace is foreign.

“There are no wasted moments,” said quarterback Matt Cassel.

The final training camp under former coach Todd Haley will live in infamy in the Heartland. Last season's camp was essentially a three-week walk-through exercise. Haley chose to go that route because he wanted to ease the players back into the program after a lost offseason due the lockout. The plan didn’t work, because the Chiefs were physically and mentally behind the rest of the league. They suffered several major injuries early in the season, were drubbed in early games, and it set the tone for a disappointing season.

However, speed is back in vogue as Crennel tries for success in his second go-round as a head coach. The tempo change has paid off so far. The Chiefs have looked crisp in practices and they were dominant on both sides of the ball against Arizona in the preseason opener last week.

The idea is to keep the forward tempo moving into the season as Kansas City tries to win the AFC West for the second time in three seasons.

“It’s exciting to see what is happening here,” Cassel said. “We have a lot of work to do, but we are all on the same page and all want to have success together.”

THREE HOT ISSUES

1. The ACL Club: In addition to bringing in several free agents, the Chiefs are getting back three standouts. Safety Eric Berry, running back Jamaal Charles and tight end Tony Moeaki all suffered torn ACLs last September, but all are on pace to be major contributors this season.

“All of those guys look great,” Cassel said. “They’re going to help us a lot.”

2. Dwayne Bowe’s absence: It is over now. Bowe signed his franchise tender Friday, a day after camp ended. The Pro Bowl receiver did not participate in the offseason workouts, either. Bowe likely reported in time to learn the system of new offensive coordinator Brian Daboll and get into football shape. With him being out, the Chiefs' offense clicked and it gained a lot of confidence. Having Bowe back heading out of camp should only make this unit stronger

[+] EnlargeKansas City's Romeo Crennel
Denny Medley/US PRESSWIREChiefs coach Romeo Crennel has the respect of his players.
3. Good vibrations: This team is in a good place. The players love playing for Crennel. One of the reasons Crennel was promoted from interim coach was the players’ respect for him. It has continued now that he is the permanent coach. He is the polar opposite of Haley, who was known as somewhat of a loose cannon. Crennel offers a calm, steady hand. Players love that he’s organized and up front. There is a lot of trust.

“They’ve worked hard and they know the possibilities this team has," Crennel said. “Every team feels good about itself this time of year, but this team’s attitude is in the right place.”

REASON FOR OPTIMISM

This is the best overall roster in the AFC West. It is one of the deepest rosters in the AFC. There is proven talent throughout the roster and the team has the right mix of veteran and young players. Still, the Chiefs are the youngest team in the NFL. They are the only team in the league not to have a player over the age of 30.

“When I was on my visit, I just looked up and down this roster and saw so much talent,” free-agent pickup, tight end Kevin Boss said. “It is just loaded with talent.”

When you look at this roster, there isn’t much not to like.

REASON FOR PESSIMISM

The Chiefs will be dismissed as playoff contenders until Cassel proves otherwise. Many don't believe in them because they don’t believe in Cassel, even though he has already delivered a division title in Kansas City. Many scouts don’t think he can be a difference-maker, and that because he is the least talented of the four quarterbacks in the AFC West, he will not be able to overcome the other teams in the division. I believe there is enough talent on the roster to help Cassel lead the Chiefs deep into the playoffs, but he must prove his mettle.

OBSERVATION DECK

  • The rap on No. 11 overall pick Dontari Poe is that the defensive tackle wasn’t productive at Memphis. The Chiefs didn’t feel that way. They reviewed every college snap he ever played and were impressed that he played 60 percent of the snaps at 346 pounds. For what it’s worth, Poe’s college statistics and combine measurables compare favorably to Green Bay’s B.J. Raji, who has become a star after being the No. 9 overall pick in 2009. Poe is two inches taller and nine pounds heavier than Raji, yet he ran a 4.9 40-yard dash at the combine compared to Raji’s 5.23. Poe had nine more tackles and four more quarterback hurries than Raji in college despite the fact Raji played 16 more college games. This is not to suggest Poe is going to be a better NFL player than Raji, but it does take some steam out of the argument that Poe wasn’t a productive college player.
  • [+] EnlargeKansas City's Dontari Poe
    John Rieger/US PRESSWIREThe Chiefs like what they've seen from first-round pick Dontari Poe so far.
    When Bowe held out, Jon Baldwin thrived under the professional guidance of veteran receivers Steve Breaston and Terrance Copper. Some folks in camp think Baldwin is making strides because he is taking cues from Copper and Breaston.
  • Defensive ends Tyson Jackson and Glenn Dorsey are plus players for the Chiefs. Neither is spectacular and they will always get grief for not living up to their draft billing. Dorsey was the No. 5 overall pick in 2008 and Jackson went No. 3 a year later. But both players are excellent run-stuffers and are among the best in the league in that area.
  • While the focus is on Poe at nose tackle, Anthony Toribio and 2011 draft choice Jerrell Powe are also in the mix.
  • Inside linebacker Brandon Siler looks good after missing all of last season with an Achilles injury. He could push Jovan Belcher for playing time.
  • While Haley was known for his ranting and raving on the field, Daboll is also fiery. He scoots around the field, barking instruction.
  • His new teammates love running back Peyton Hillis. His toughness and competitiveness have created buzz during camp.
  • Left tackle Branden Albert is quietly becoming the player the former Kansas City regime thought it was getting when it took him No. 15 overall in 2008. I expect the Chiefs to try to extend the pending free agent at some point. He’s been stellar.
  • I wouldn’t be surprised if the Brady Quinn-Ricky Stanzi battle to be Cassel’s backup continues all season, but with Quinn winning the job initially. The Chiefs like where they stand with both players.
  • The Chiefs are excited about the potential of tight ends Moeaki and Boss. Expect both to have high-profile roles in the offense.
  • Second-year pass-rusher Justin Houston has been terrific, and the Chiefs are bubbling over at what kind of pass-rush combination Tamba Hali and Houston can become.
  • The team appreciates the flexibility of third-year player Dexter McCluster, who has bounced from receiver to running back to receiver again. McCluster may never have a classically defined role, but he will have a role in this offense.
  • Undrafted rookie receiver Josh Bellamy still has a chance to make the 53-man roster, but in a numbers game, he could wind up on the practice squad.
  • So far, so good for new center Rodney Hudson. The second-year player looks comfortable playing with Cassel and vice versa.
  • Camp observers believe kicker Ryan Succop has gotten bigger and stronger, which will help with his field goal range.
  • The team's fourth-round pick, receiver/returner Devon Wylie, is explosive. He will be given a chance to contribute.
  • Keep an eye on defensive end Ropati Pitoitua. He has outplayed 2011 third-round pick Allen Bailey and he may be a keeper.
  • Brandon Flowers’ foot injury has allowed second-year cornerback Jalil Brown to blossom. I expect Brown to be on the field often in the regular season.
  • Fourth-string quarterback Alex Tanney is a curiosity because of his YouTube trick throwing video. But Tanney isn’t making much real football tread in this camp. The best he could hope for in 2012 is the practice squad.
ST. JOSEPH, Mo. -- The 2009 NFL draft was not a good one.

Several second- and third-round picks have already been cut. The class took its most serious hit Monday when the Buffalo Bills jettisoned defensive end/linebacker Aaron Maybin. He was the No. 11 overall pick. It is astonishing that a team would give up on a pick that high before the player’s third season.

It’s a prime example of how weak the 2009 draft class was.

The AFC West had five first-round picks that year and none has fully developed. They were defensive end Tyson Jackson (No. 3, Kansas City), receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey (No. 7, Oakland), running back Knowshon Moreno (No. 12, Denver), linebacker Larry English (No. 16, San Diego) and defensive end Robert Ayers (No. 18, Denver).

Although none of these players has produced yet, all eyes are on Jackson because of how high he was taken. However, I haven't had any indication from people I have spoken with at Chiefs camp that they believe they have a Maybin case on their hands. Actually, Kansas City is satisfied with Jackson’s progress.

He started to make strides before he was hurt early last season. He has produced solidly in camp this year. The Chiefs see Jackson as a reliable, hard-working player whom they expect to be a steady, long-term starter. He hasn't made the Pro Bowl or produced gaudy sack numbers. (He has one sack in 28 NFL games.) But Kansas City envisions him as the starting left end for the next several years.

Ideally, you’d want much more than just a steady player from the No. 3 pick. But that’s what type of class this has been. Many league observers thought the Chiefs would take Wake Forest linebacker Aaron Curry. He went to Seattle at No. 4. He, too, hasn’t set the NFL on fire. The case certainly could have been made for Kansas City to take Boston College nose tackle B.J. Raji. He went six spots later to Green Bay and he has become a stalwart. But Raji had character concerns coming out of college, and the Chiefs may have been leery of him.

Jackson is known for his good character, and the Chiefs think his attitude is one of the reasons he'll develop. I asked Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. for his opinion on Jackson. Williamson thinks Jackson has a long way to go and doesn’t think he was worth the No. 3 pick, but he has hope for him.

“He has a very strong defensive coaching staff,” Williamson said. “I would bet he ends up being an adequate starter.”

As Maybin hits the waiver wire Tuesday, it's time to reflect back on the 2009 draft class. However, it seems too early to think this division’s top pick from that class will end up being another Maybin.

2009 AFC West draft rewind

February, 11, 2011
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This is the second in a three-part series of an examination of the past three draft classes of each AFC West team leading up to the NFL scouting combine at the end of the month. Last week, we looked at the 2008 class.

Our second part is the 2009 class:

Denver

First pick: No. 12, running back Knowshon Moreno

Total picks: 10

Stars: No player has stood out yet. First-round picks Moreno and defensive end/linebacker Robert Ayers, have not established themselves. Both could end up being good players, but there is also a bust possibility for each.

Duds: Again, Moreno and Ayers need to show something soon. Second-round pick Alphonso Smith was a disaster (more about him in the next section). Fellow second-round picks safety Darcel McBath and tight end Richard Quinn, have done very little as well. Moreno, Ayers, Smith, McBath and Quinn were all taken in the first 64 picks, partly because of the Jay Cutler trade. Yet, Denver has gotten very little out of this group.

The Smith whiff: This is one of the reasons why Josh McDaniels was fired after 28 games. McDaniels made several questionable personnel decision, and this one was particularly poor. Denver traded it 2010 first-round pick (which turned out to be No. 14) to take Smith at No. 37. Smith was replaced four times as a rookie (including by an undrafted rookie), and Denver gave up on Smith last preseason. It traded him to Detroit for backup tight end Dan Gronkowski.

What’s the future of this class? It all depends on the five players from the first two rounds. This was supposed to be a nucleus draft. But if these players don’t develop quickly, this class will be looked at as a total failure.

Kansas City

First pick: No. 3, Tyson Jackson, defensive end.

Total picks: Eight

Star: The player who has been the most productive out of this class so far was kicker Ryan Succop. He was the final pick of the entire class. Yes, the fact that Succop has been the best player of this class says a lot.

Duds: It may be too early to call Jackson a bust, but he hasn’t been overly productive. Jackson has had his moments, and he may turn into a reliable, productive player. But I’m not sure he’ll ever become a player worthy of being taken No. 3. The Chiefs may regret not taking nose tackle B.J. Raji. He went to Green Bay at No. 9 and has become an integral part of the Packers’ 3-4 defense. The Chiefs run the same defense.

Slow start to Pioli era: The first two seasons of the Scott Pioli era in Kansas City have been mostly golden. His 2010 draft class was terrific, and he has made good veteran pickups. But his first draft class doesn’t look overly impressive.

What’s the future of this class? If Jackson doesn’t develop -- 2008 top pick Glenn Dorsey came on in his third year so there’s time for Jackson -- the class will be looked at as being very weak. However, it has to be noted that the team did score linebacker Jovan Belcher as an undrfated free agent. He was a 15-game starter in 2010, and he looks like he has a fine future.

Oakland

First pick: No. 7, receiver, Darrius Heyward-Bey

Total picks: Seven

Stars: Third-round pick defensive end Matt Shaughnessy and fourth-round pick Louis Murphy; both could be longtime contributors for the Raiders. Neither may end up being a star, but they should be productive players who ended up being good-value choices.

Duds: You have to continue to question the choices of Heyward-Bey and second-round pick Mike Mitchell. Both players were considered large reaches on draft weekend and neither has established themselves as a sure things. Both players have potential, but it may be unrealistic to think either will be stars.

Why not Crabtree? Until Heyward-Bey starts playing like a top pick, he will be compared with San Francisco receiver Michael Crabtree, who was taken three picks later. Crabtree was considered a much better all-around prospect than Heyward-Bey, who impressed Oakland owner Al Davis with his great speed. So far, Crabtree has been the better pro. Crabtree has 103 catches and eight touchdowns in 27 NFL games. Heyward-Bey has 35 catches and two touchdowns in 26 NFL games.

What’s the future of this class? If Heyward-Bey and Mitchell make big strides, this will be a pretty good draft. If not, it will be remembered as one of missed opportunity. But again, Shaughnessy and Murphy are good players, and seventh-round pick Brandon Myers is a nice role player. So, at least, Oakland is getting something out of this class, and it may be the best class in the division from 2009.

San Diego

First pick: No. 16, linebacker Larry English

Total picks: Eight

Star: Third-round pick Louis Vasquez may be the best player of this class in the entire division. He has been a starter in San Diego since Day One. He looks like he’ll be a 10-12 year starter. He was a terrific value pick.

Duds: There wasn’t much value of this draft beside Vasquez. English -- like the four other first-round picks in this division --- could end up being a bust. English has been injury prone and unimpressive. He was drafted as a pass-rusher, but he has just five sacks in 24 NFL games. He is a hard worker who could still develop. But he has to show something in 2011.

Message to Merriman: The drafting of English was the Chargers’ first public indication that they were losing patience with Shawne Merriman. English was clearly taken to be Merriman’s replacement. The oft-injured Merriman was cut in 2010.

What’s the future of this class? The Chargers have hope for fourth-round picks defensive end Vaughn Martin and guard Tyronne Green. If they can develop, there will, at least, be some value in the class other than Vasquez. But if English turns out to be a bust, this class will be remembered as a failure.

Chiefs are on the clock

April, 25, 2009
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Posted by ESPN.com's Bill Williamson

The Chiefs are on the clock. Here are some options:

LSU defensive end Tyson Jackson.

Wake forest linebacker Aaron Curry.

Boston College defensive tackle B.J. Raji

Texas Tech receiver Michael Crabtree

Virginia left tackle Eugene Monroe.

Trade the pick.

If I had to guess this moment, I have to say the pick will be Jackson. We'll see soon.

Posted by ESPN.com's Bill Williamson

  Dorsey

A league source said it is still a possibility that Kansas City trades second-year defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey to Atlanta. Likely compensation would be the Falcons' first-round pick in Saturday's draft, No. 24, and their third-round pick, No. 90.

Will this trade happen? We'll see in the next several hours.

Dorsey was the No. 5 overall pick last season. He had a somewhat disappointing rookie season but he is still considered an elite prospect. However, Dorsey may not be a perfect fit for the 3-4 defensive scheme Kansas City is adopting.

If Dorsey is dealt, Kansas City will have to find impact players in this draft to play in the new scheme. Drafting former LSU defensive end Tyson Jackson would be the first step. If the Chiefs take former Boston College defensive tackle B.J. Raji at No. 3, the Dorsey trade talks could still be alive because Raji is considered a perfect 3-4 nose tackle.

Trading Dorsey would be somewhat risky because the organization invested greatly in Dorsey. Trading the No. 5 overall pick a year after he was drafted is highly unusual. But if Dorsey doesn't fit the new system, at least Kansas City can recoup two picks for him.

AFC West draft questions

April, 24, 2009
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Posted by ESPN.com's Bill Williamson

On the eve of the NFL draft, here is an AFC West primer as we prepare for a busy weekend:

Will Kansas City trade down? The Chiefs have the No. 3 overall pick. The team would likely be interested in trading down for cost reasons. Many teams would probably want to move down but not many want to move up into the top five. If the Chiefs don't move down, they will likely take Wake Forest linebacker Aaron Curry. But that's the safe pick. New Kansas City general manager Scott Pioli likes to make splashes. So, his first draft move in Kansas City may not be by the book.

 
  Jody Gomez/US Presswire
  Will former USC QB Mark Sanchez fall to Denver at No. 12?

When will Denver take its quarterback? Denver will surely take a quarterback to begin the post-Jay Cutler era, but the question is when. The Broncos' workout with USC's Mark Sanchez this week was intriguing. If Sanchez is available at No. 12, Denver may be tempted to jump on him. Still, it is new Denver coach Josh McDaniels' tendency to take a quarterback in the late rounds because that's the way New England does it. McDaniels had success with late-round quarterbacks Tom Brady and Matt Cassel. McDaniels was enamored with quarterback Kevin O'Connell last year and New England took him in the third round. If Sanchez is not the guy in Denver, perhaps lower-round prospects such as Texas Tech's Graham Harrell, Texas A&M's Stephen McGee, Louisville's Hunter Cantwell or Michigan State's Brian Hoyer will be McDaniels' next project.

With Tony Gonzalez traded to Atlanta, will the Chiefs continue to trade veterans? If Kansas City is going to part with Brian Waters, Larry Johnson or Glenn Dorsey, it will likely be this weekend. I think Waters may be the most likely to go. Here's a deal I think would work: Waters to Buffalo for receiver/returner Roscoe Parrish. Buffalo has shopped Parrish. He'd fit in with the Chiefs, as would Waters in Buffalo.

Will the Chargers pick up a second-round choice? It will not be a surprise if the Chargers move down from the No. 16 pick. The idea would be to choose lower in the first round and pick up a second-rounder in the process. The Chargers don't currently have a second-round pick. If the Chargers manage to get a second-rounder, I could see them getting a defensive player in the first round and hoping a running back such as Connecticut's Donald Brown is available in the second round. He could be a bargain pickup and a future successor to LaDainian Tomlinson.

Will these names end up in the AFC West? Look for these names in the first round: Michael Crabtree, B.J. Raji, Rey Maualuga and Tyson Jackson. I'm predicting at least one of these four players will end up in the AFC West. All four players are being looked at by multiple teams in the division. Crabtree, a receiver from Texas Tech, could end up in Kansas City or Oakland. Raji, a defensive tackle from Boston College, could end up in any of the four AFC West cities (although it would be a shock if he fell to San Diego). Maualuga could be drafted by Denver or San Diego. Jackson could be taken by Kansas City (he'd be a huge reach at No. 3, though), Denver or San Diego.

Will the Raiders break their unlucky 7 streak? The Raiders have the No. 7 pick for the third time since 2005. The number hasn't been kind to Oakland. In 2005, Oakland traded the pick for Randy Moss, who was sent to New England two years later for a fourth-rounder. The next year, Oakland bypassed Cutler (despite a need for a quarterback) and took Michael Huff. Huff has moved from cornerback to safety in the NFL and has yet to make an impact.

Will the 3-4 defense rule the draft? With Denver and Kansas City transitioning to the scheme and San Diego already using it, expect this to be a trend this weekend. Players who fit the 3-4 scheme aren't easy to find, but it will be a goal of both Denver and Kansas City to try to find the correct pieces this weekend. Denver could benefit from Aaron Maybin and Brian Orakpo falling down the draft board if Raji and Jackson rise up it. All four players will fit the 3-4.

 Crabtree
 Maclin

Does Oakland like Crabtree or Maclin? I believe the Raiders want to take a receiver with their top pick. If Crabtree and Missouri's Jeremy Maclin are both on the board, it will be interesting to see how it plays out. Some people think Crabtree will be the choice, while others think Maclin will be the guy. Crabtree is considered to be a more complete player, but Maclin is a speedster. Crabtree has been compared to Larry Fitzgerald, whom the Raiders bypassed five years ago in favor of offensive lineman Robert Gallery with the No. 2 pick. Maclin has been compared to Cliff Branch, who was a star for the Raiders in the 1970s and 1980s.

Will San Diego take a standout defender? While the Chargers could use a running back and an offensive lineman, their greatest needs are on defense. Here are some names to keep an eye on: Maualuga, Jackson, Ohio State cornerback (he'd be a safety in San Diego) Malcolm Jenkins and Maybin. If Maybin, who could be a top-10 pick, is available, he would be a great fit in San Diego. With linebacker Shawne Merriman returning from a knee injury and Ron Rivera in control of the defense from the start of the season, the Chargers may be a top defender away from fielding an elite defense.

Could Chris "Beanie" Wells be headed to the AFC West? While it may be a mild surprise, it wouldn't be a shock if either San Diego or Denver (at No. 18) takes the Ohio State running back. It would be a luxury addition in both cities, but adding Wells could shake up the division offensively.

Posted by ESPN.com's Bill Williamson

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote that the B.J. Raji situation would be closely watched by all four AFC West teams because he'd be a good fit with all four teams.

Thus, today, all four teams in the division are likely relieved now that a website has admitted it incorrectly reported that Raji tested positive for drugs at the NFL scouting combine in February.

With Raji in the clear, he likely won't fall down the draft board. The Boston College defensive tackle is considered a top-10 pick and one of the best defensive players on the board.

Raji will fit both a 3-4 and a 4-3 defensive scheme. If Wake Forest linebacker Aaron Curry ends up being the No.1 pick in Detroit, Raji could be Kansas City's choice at No. 3. Oakland, which picks No. 7, has greater needs but it wouldn't be shocking the Raiders took Raji. There's little chance Raji would fall past Denver at No. 12 if he were still on the board. San Diego likely would also covet Raji, but it would have to move up from No. 16, to grab him.

With Raji's name now cleared, his draft stock is sky high again, especially in the AFC West.

Posted by ESPN.com's Bill Williamson

The Oakland Raiders are the lone team in the AFC West to stick with the traditional 4-3 defensive scheme.

Denver and Kansas City are planning to transition to the 3-4 defense, and San Diego has long used the 3-4 scheme.

The Raiders do have a new defensive coordinator in former San Francisco and Seattle assistant coach John Marshall. Marshall has been quiet since he took over in Oakland but his history is to run a 4-3 defense.

The Raiders tried to use a 3-4 in 2004, Warren Sapp's first season in Oakland. However, it never worked and the Raiders scrapped it. Oakland's current personnel fits the 4-3 defense better, anyway, so expect the Raiders to skip the 3-4 party in the division.

Interestingly, though, it wouldn't be a surprise if the Raiders added a player that the 3-4 teams in the AFC West are studying in next weekend's draft: Boston College defensive tackle B.J. Raji. He also fits the 4-3 defense. While Raji may not be Oakland's top choice, he could end up being Oakland's selection at No. 7.

AFC West puts on defensive shift

April, 17, 2009
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  Christian Petersen/Getty Images and Derick Hingle/Icon SMI
  Rey Maualuga and Tyson Jackson are two players expected to be taken in the first round of the draft who could be good fits for Denver or Kansas City.

Posted by ESPN.com's Bill Williamson

After dumping the 4-3 scheme used by previous regimes, the new leaders in both Denver and Kansas City are hoping for fast results by adopting the 3-4 defense. A new era begins in the AFC West.

Still, the transition might not be easy. Both teams will try to fit existing players into the system and identify new ones to add. The 3-4 defense features three defensive linemen and four linebackers as opposed to the more traditional four defensive linemen and three linebackers set.

Expect the Denver Broncos and Kansas City Chiefs to try to stockpile defenders who can play in the 3-4 in the April 25-26 draft. Scouts Inc.'s Matt Williamson said he thinks Denver will dedicate "95 percent" of its draft class to players who can play in the 3-4. Denver is in great shape to add young talent with five picks in the first 84 choices, some as a result of the Jay Cutler trade. Kansas City has started the transition process with the additions of veteran linebackers Mike Vrabel and Zach Thomas.

Who might be among the top-flight draft prospects for 3-4 schemes? Possible targets include former Boston College defensive tackles B.J. Raji and Ron Brace, former USC linebacker Rey Maualuga and ex-LSU defensive lineman Tyson Jackson. Will those players be ready to make an immediate impact in the 3-4 defense? Williamson said he believes both the Broncos and the Chiefs might have difficulty making the adjustment to the 3-4, which has long been used by the San Diego Chargers.

"The two teams are starting from scratch in a lot of ways as they try to move to the 3-4 along with San Diego," Williamson said. "They may have to slowly transition to it because it takes some of these young kids a couple of years before they can make a difference in that scheme. Not enough kids play the 3-4 in college, so it takes time. If Denver and Kansas City think they are going to get a quick fix, it may be tough. And San Diego now has more competition because two more teams in its own division will be looking for 3-4 players."

 
  Joe Robbins/Getty Images
  It's unknown how players drafted to play in a 4-3 defense, such as Kansas City's Glenn Dorsey, will perform in a 3-4.

Williamson thinks there are some high-profile players in Denver and Kansas City who may have trouble flourishing in the new system. In Denver, Williamson pointed out linebacker D.J. Williams, who last September signed a big extension to stay in Denver. In Kansas City, Williamson believes defensive lineman Glenn Dorsey is not suited for the 3-4 defense. Dorsey was the No. 5 overall draft pick last season. Williamson thinks Kansas City should try to trade Dorsey. New Kansas City coach Todd Haley, who brought creative defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast with him from Arizona, is not worried, though.

"I think he's got a lot of great versatility, especially where we are transitioning potentially to this 3-4," Haley said of Dorsey. "I think there are some roles in there for him where he could have more of an attacking role."

One reason the AFC West will be a 3-4 defense division is because of the heavy influence of the New England Patriots that has invaded the division.

Former New England offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels replaced Mike Shanahan as head coach in Denver and brought in former San Francisco head coach Mike Nolan to run the 3-4 defense that the Patriots used. Kansas City is moving to the 3-4 defense because former Patriots executive Scott Pioli is the new general manager there.

The Chargers are interested to see how the division will be affected by 75 percent of the teams using the 3-4 scheme.

"It gives you flexibility as a defense," San Diego general manager A.J. Smith said. "You can show different looks and we have found it very useful. ... We're seeing Denver and Kansas City moving to the 3-4 as they start a new beginning. It will be very interesting to see how everything works with nearly every team in the division using the scheme."

McDaniels said the key in Denver will be versatility and flexibility in the scheme. He said the speed of the 3-4 transition may depend on the personnel the team picks up in the draft.

"There are a few boards at our facility and they're put up different ways," McDaniels said. "Because I think it's really important that we see where we finish this spring, and head into training camp in terms of our personnel. I don't think we can really sit there today and say, 'That looks perfect.' In terms of playing them as a 3-4 or as a 4-3, I think we have guys that can do a lot of things. Versatility is a huge thing for what we're going to try to do on defense."

The transition will not be easy, but the process begins in earnest with the draft for both Denver and Kansas City.

Posted by ESPN.com's Bill Williamson

Team needs: Defensive end, linebacker, offensive line, safety.

 
  Paul Jasienski/Getty Images
  Wake Forest linebacker Aaron Curry is the best defensive player in the draft, and one the Chiefs desperately need.
Dream scenario: There are two likely scenarios Kansas City will find at No. 3. The Chiefs could easily work within the framework of both. One is that Detroit takes Georgia quarterback Matthew Stafford at No. 1, leaving Wake Forest linebacker Aaron Curry is on the board when the Chiefs pick. The Chiefs would likely be happy to nab Curry even though they have added four linebackers this offseason. He is the best defensive player on the board and the Chiefs desperately need help in the front seven. Curry is considered one of the safest bets in the draft. He would make an instant impact in Kansas City. The other scenario: The Lions take Curry and Stafford falls to No. 3. This would put Kansas City in a position of strength. Several teams will likely consider moving up to draft Stafford. Kansas City has plenty of needs, so a trade down for additional draft picks wouldn't be the worst idea.

Plan B: If Curry is off the board and if a trade down can't be worked out, the Chiefs may have to look at offensive players. Yes, defense is the team's greatest need but there aren't a lot of great defensive players at the top of the draft. But there are some good offensive players who could provide Kansas City some options. A possibility could be Texas Tech wide receiver Michael Crabtree. He'd make a nice tandem with Dwayne Bowe and give new Kansas City quarterback Matt Cassel a nice group of weapons. Kansas City could also look at tackles such as Jason Smith of Baylor (if he remains on the board) or Eugene Monroe of Virginia. If the Chiefs take a tackle, they could move Branden Albert -- the No. 15 overall pick last season -- to right tackle.

Scouts Inc.'s take: "I think what Kansas City should do is draft Boston College defensive tackle B.J. Raji. I think he is the best fit for the Chiefs as they go to the 3-4 defense. He'd be the perfect nose tackle in that defense. I think he'd be an immediate impact player. I like Aaron Curry but I'm just sure if he fits the 3-4 defense. He can be mismatched in those instances. I really think he can be a great 4-3 linebacker but I'm not sure if he'd be a fit. It's the same thing with last year's top pick, Glenn Dorsey. I don't think he fits the 3-4 defense. If they take Dorsey and Curry in back-to-back years it would be taking two guys that don't really fit the new system. That's why I think Raji should be the guy." -- Matt Williamson, Scouts Inc.

Who has final say: Scott Pioli enters his first season as Kansas City's general manager after spending the past several years as a key executive in New England.

Now On the Clock: St. Louis Rams, April 16.

Previous On the Clock: Seattle Seahawks. The team-by-team series.

On the Clock: Oakland Raiders

April, 10, 2009
4/10/09
9:30
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Bill Williamson

Team needs: Offensive tackle, wide receiver, defensive tackle.

 
  Sam Adams/US Presswire
  Texas Tech wide receiver Michael Crabtree would be a solid complement to JaMarcus Russell and Darren McFadden in Oakland.
Dream scenario: The Raiders are going to be in good shape if they stay at No. 7. They will get a player who will likely help them right away. The Raiders are fortunate because the draft is top heavy with left tackles and wide receivers. Those are Oakland's two greatest needs. There are five players -- tackles Jason Smith, Andre Smith and Eugene Monroe and receivers Michael Crabtree and Jeremy Maclin -- who could help Oakland immediately. Because the six teams picking ahead of Oakland have varying needs, the Raiders are virtually certain that one of those aforementioned five players will be on the board at No. 7. Oakland coach Tom Cable said last month that tackle is the team's greatest need. Still, Cable said the tackle pool is very deep this season and starting-quality players can be had in the third round. That's why I think receiver is where Oakland is going to go. I believe the pick will be Crabtree because of his superior overall skill set compared to Maclin's. Adding Crabtree to an offense that includes 2007 and 2008 top picks JaMarcus Russell and Darren McFadden would be a dream scenario for Oakland.

Plan B: If Oakland gets impatient or if it decides quantity over quality is the route it wants to go, it could trade down in the first round. One possible trade partner could be Philadelphia, which has the No. 21 and No. 28 picks. The Raiders could possibly get a receiver such as Percy Harvin or Darrius Heyward-Bey with the No. 21 pick. Oakland could then snag an offensive tackle, such as Arizona's Eben Britton, or a defensive tackle at No. 28.

Scouts Inc. take: "Oakland is in need of help in a lot of areas. The Raiders can draft at receiver, offensive line or on the defensive line. I think the guy they should take is Boston College defensive tackle B.J. Raji. He'd be perfect there. But if they don't go with Raji, I really like Michael Crabtree if he is there. I think he'd be a better pick for Oakland than Jeremy Maclin. Then, there's a bunch of offensive tackles and Oakland will need to take one in the early rounds. But it starts with Raji or Crabtree." -- Matt Williamson, Scouts Inc.

Who has final say: Owner Al Davis makes the final call in everything in Oakland. Davis, 79, still studies plenty of film as the draft approaches.

Now On the Clock: Cincinnati Bengals, April 12.

Previous On the Clock: Jacksonville Jaguars. The team-by-team series.

 
  Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
  Jay Cutler is out of Denver, but the trade that sent the quarterback to Chicago will  help shape the Broncos' roster.

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando and Bill Williamson

Jay Cutler's divorce from Denver is final. Now the Broncos, armed with the picks they acquired from Chicago for the Pro Bowl quarterback, must determine how to proceed in the draft.

AFC West blogger Bill Williamson and his NFC West counterpart, Mike Sando, debate the options while exploring how the Seahawks and 49ers could affect the Broncos' future at quarterback.

Mike Sando: Quarterbacks are a high-risk proposition at the top of the draft, but that's also where teams tend to find the great ones. Nine quarterbacks drafted since 1965 have been enshrined in the Hall of Fame. Seven of them were first-round picks, including a guy named Elway. If the experts are right in saying Matthew Stafford and Mark Sanchez are the franchise quarterbacks in this draft, shouldn't the Broncos consider trading up to get one? They certainly have the firepower.

Bill Williamson: There's no way the Broncos should trade up that high if it means giving up both the 12th and 18th overall picks. Sure, Denver could get a top-five pick in return, but I don't think it's worth the risk -- even for a quarterback.

The picks acquired for Cutler are too valuable to risk on Stafford, Sanchez or a player along the lines of Boston College defensive tackle B.J. Raji.

The idea is to get a lot of quality players here. If Denver is going to survive the Cutler trade, it will need to maximize those picks. Trading up and drafting Raji or Wake Forest linebacker Aaron Curry would be great for a needy defense, but the Broncos need to address multiple areas, not just one. The Cutler trade does allow the Broncos to address several areas in the draft instead of rolling the dice on just one.

Mike Sando: More than a few 49ers fans watched with interest while the Broncos figured out where Cutler would wind up. His destination wasn't San Francisco, but the 49ers and their NFC West rivals could still shape the Broncos' quarterback situation beyond the Cutler era.

The Rams probably have too many needs and too much money invested in Marc Bulger to consider a quarterback at No. 2, but the Seahawks and 49ers could draft one. Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. told me he thought the 49ers would be crazy to pass on Sanchez at No. 10 if the USC quarterback remained available at that point. The NFC West could foul up Denver's plans if the Broncos are hoping to find a quarterback in the first round.

(Read full post)

AFC West mailbag

April, 8, 2009
4/08/09
11:00
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Bill Williamson

Louie from Oakland: hey Bill....if you feel that signing Burress would be a step backward, who do you see would be the best fit for Oakland out of the list of available WR's out in the market right now? Including WR's like Ocho Cinco who are possibly available via trade.... Thanks

BW: I think the best guy who would fit is Arizona's Anquan Boldin. He'd cost a lot in a trade but he'd be worth it. He'd answer Oakland's needs at the position. Also, I like Torry Holt as a third-round option. He'd move the chains in Oakland.


Pat from Dallas: Bill, Based on the trade value chart, it seems to me that it wouldn't take that much for the Broncos to trade up and ensure they get Mark Sanchez. And it shouldn't take sacrificing the chance at a good defensive player in the first round to do it - contrary to what many pundits are saying. Here are just a couple trade possibilities: #12 (1200 points) + Denver's second rounder (#48 - 420 points) + Chicago's third rounder (#84 - 170) = 1,890 points for #4 (Seattle - 1,800). #12 (1,200) + Denver's third rounder (#79 - 195) + Chicago's third rounder (#84 - 170) + Seattle's fifth rounder (#140 - 36) = 1,601 for #6 (Cincinnati - 1,600). These seem like no-brainers. (Seattle and/or Cincinnati get mulitple picks to start rebuilding, Denver guarantees its chance at a QB of the future and an impact defensive player.) So, does Denver like Sanchez enough to make this happen, and what do you think are the chances? Thanks, Pat

BW: I'd only support that move if it was a short trade up. You don't want burn a big chip in the Jay Cutler trade on a quarterback. It would neutralize Denver's value garnered from the trade. If Sanchez is there at No. 12, I think it would be a smart move.


Patrick from Saint George, UT: The broncos would be stupid to combine the #12 and #18 pick to grab Mark Sanchez. Basically you gave up the ability to help the defense by trading Cutler because now your first round pick is gone to fix a position that didn't need fixing before the fiasco and there is no guarantee Sanchez will be the fix either. The best bet for the Broncos is to go after Brady Quinn with the #18 pick. At that point you traded Cutler for Orton and Brady, an upgrade on your 5th round pick to a 3rd round pick and a first round pick next year. That is a vastly better deal than taking Sanchez because you can still use the #12 pick to help your defense. No one has mentioned this but why not see if the Browns would trade Quinn for Tony Scheffler and a 2nd or 3rd round pick. They traded away Kellen Winslow so a nice TE like Tony Scheffler might be a desirable scenario for them and then Denver still gets Quinn and gets to keep that #18 pick to help the defense and the Browns get a good TE and a 2nd round pick.

BW: I agree; that can't be done. It would be silly. I don't think you have to worry about it. I think Denver could move up, but it would be for a defensive player such as B.J. Raji or Aaron Curry. If Denver could get Quinn for the No. 18 pick, it would be a decent trade. Denver would still have the other picks in the draft and Kyle Orton could be the backup. The key for Denver is to get as much value out of the Cutler trade as possible.


Paul from Escondido: I'm starting to really like Maualuga. Is it just me, or is he a top 5 player that, through a variety of happenings, just might fall to the Bolts at 16? And if so, how bad would it be to pass on him?

BW: I think he could be the guy for the Chargers. I really like Rey Maualuga. He's got a nose for the game and he plays hard every down. He may not be great in coverage, but he's a strong two-down player who would be a nice fit with the Chargers. The USC middle linebacker has visited with the team so perhaps he will end up in San Diego.

Posted by ESPN.com's Bill Williamson

Boston College standout defensive tackle B.J. Raji and his agents are disputing reports that he tested positive for drugs at the NFL scouting combine.

Raji is clearly upset. A positive test could affect his draft status.

Raji's situation is worth monitoring in the AFC West. He would be a solid fit on all four teams. He is considered a perfect 3-4 defensive tackle. The San Diego Chargers have long run the 3-4 and Denver and Kansas City are considering moving to the 3-4 defense. Oakland runs a 4-3 scheme but Raji would still be a good fit for the defensive-tackle needy Raiders.

It is not inconceivable that Kansas City takes him with the No. 3 pick or if Oakland were to take him at No. 7. Denver has worked out Raji and it would likely jump on him at No. 12. If Raji fell all the way to No.16, San Diego would have to seriously consider drafting him.

This situation will be very closely monitored by all the teams in the AFC West. Raji's strong reaction to the report had to be duly noted by the teams in the division.

Join the mock madness

April, 7, 2009
4/07/09
5:03
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Bill Williamson

It's your turn now.

You are invited to make your own mock draft after enduring countless mocks (expect even more as the April 25-26 draft approaches) it is your turn to take a crack at it. Go for it.

If you need a little direction -- I bet you don't -- below are some names to consider for each AFC West team and here is my latest mock draft for the division.

Have fun.

Kansas City, No. 3:

Aaron Curry, LB, Wake Forest

B.J. Raji, defensive tackle, Boston College

Michael Crabtree, wide receiver, Texas Tech

Oakland, No. 7:

Jeremy Maclin, wide receiver, Missouri

Andre Smith, tackle, Alabama

Eugene Monroe, tackle, Virginia

Crabtree

Raji

Denver, No. 12 and No. 18:

Mark Sanchez, quarterback, USC

Tyson Jackson, defensive end, Denver

Rey Maualuga, linebacker, USC

Brian Cushing, linebacker, USC

Aaron Maybin, defensive end/linebacker, Penn State

Chris "Beanie" Wells, running back, Ohio State

San Diego, No. 16

Knowshon Moreno, running back, Georgia

Jackson

Cushing

Smith

Wells

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