AFC West: Chris Wells

Posted by ESPN.com's Bill Williamson

There are two draft picks by AFC West teams in the fourth round that I really like.

I believe the Raiders' choice of Florida wide receiver Louis Murphy and the Chargers' choice of running back Gartrell Johnson are going to be big for both teams.

The Raiders' selection of Murphy takes away some of the sting of Oakland's decision to draft Darrius Heyward-Bey over Michael Crabtree at No. 7. Murphy is a steady player who many scouts I've talked to believe can develop into a strong player. He has good size and speed and he a chance to have a long career.

I see him working his way into Oakland's receiver rotation quickly. He is a good insurance policy for the Raiders if Heyward-Bey takes a while to develop.

In San Diego, Johnson was an intriguing choice. Prior to the draft, there was talk San Diego would take Knowshon Moreno or Chris Wells in the first round.

I believe waiting until the fourth round, especially to get Johnson, was the right move. The Chargers have about $13 million tied up this year in running backs LaDainian Tomlinson and Darren Sproles.

They didn't need to speed big money on a tailback in the draft. Johnson is great value. He is a powerful, down-hill runner. He will be a perfect change-of-pace back working with Tomlinson and Sproles.

With Tomlinson nearing the end of his career, Johnson will get a chance to be a feature back if he shows himself well as a rookie. For a fourth-round pick, this choice made a lot of sense.

On the Clock: Denver Broncos

April, 5, 2009
4/05/09
9:30
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Bill Williamson

Team needs: Defensive line, linebacker, quarterback, safety

 
  Gary A. Vasquez/US Presswire
  Might the Broncos package their No. 1 picks to trade up for former USC quarterback Mark Sanchez?

Dream scenario: The Broncos have two first-round picks -- No. 12 and No. 18 -- after the huge trade that sent Jay Cutler to the Chicago Bears. Ideally, the Broncos would get a quarterback and a defensive lineman in the first round if they keep the two picks. Here's a perfect scenario: USC quarterback Mark Sanchez with the No. 12 pick and LSU defensive lineman Tyson Jackson at No. 18. Sanchez may not get past Jacksonville at No. 8 or San Francisco at No. 10. San Diego could take Jackson at No. 16.

Plan B: Even if Sanchez is on the board at No. 12, the Broncos may opt to let quarterbacks Kyle Orton (acquired in the Cutler deal) and Chris Simms compete for the starting job and try to draft a young signal-caller in the later rounds. New Denver coach Josh McDaniels is used to developing late-round  quarterbacks from his days with the Patriots. Also, Denver could decide to package the two picks into the top five to take an ace defensive player such as Wake Forest linebacker Aaron Curry or Boston College defensive tackle B.J. Raji. If Denver keeps the No. 12 and No. 18 picks and a quarterback is not in the mix, it will likely look at defense and Jackson will be a target. Then, there's this scenario: Denver tries to become a running team with Cutler gone and goes after Ohio State running back Chris "Beanie" Wells. Don't ignore this possibility. Wells is visiting Denver and the team has also held a private workout with him. The team would be thrilled with a Wells-Jackson combination in the first round.

Scouts Inc. take: "The Broncos are going to be interesting to watch in the draft after the Cutler trade. They need all kinds of help on defense, but I could see them trying to package a way up to draft Mark Sanchez. I think he'd fit Josh McDaniels' system very well. There are similarities to another USC guy, Matt Cassel. I think that would be a great fit. But Denver could also keep the two picks and work on the front seven. I think Denver is going to dedicate most of its draft on front-seven players who can play the 3-4. Tyson Jackson wouldn't be a bad fit there." -- Matt Williamson, Scouts Inc.

Who has final say: McDaniels enters his first draft as the Broncos' head coach.

Now On the Clock: Buffalo Bills, April 6.

Previous On the Clock: Washington Redskins. The team-by-team series.

Posted by ESPN.com's Bill Williamson

As we wait for a Jay Cutler trade to go down, here some happenings around the AFC West Thursday afternoon:

  • Iowa running back Shonn Greene is on San Diego's radar. The Chargers are looking at several running backs in the draft. Perhaps San Diego will spend a second-round pick (if it trades for one) or a third-round selection on a player such as Greene or Connecticut's Donald Brown instead of using its first-round pick on Chris Wells or Knowshon Moreno. ESPN's Todd McShay thinks the Chargers could trade down from the No. 16 spot if they can't get a top tackle,
  • The Kansas City Star reports Larry Johnson could still be released.
  • Oakland has re-signed linebacker Sam Williams.
  • Denver cornerback Champ Bailey chimed in on the Cutler saga in a radio interview.

Around the AFC West

February, 21, 2009
2/21/09
2:50
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Bill Williamson

Kansas City

My take: A lot of Chiefs fans were in an uproar after new coach Todd Haley said he had a good punter when asked about the state of his team. Many people took it as Haley ripping the players. I believe he was just being lighthearted. He said he hasn't had much of a chance to study the roster. Haley has been spending the two weeks since being hired trying to compile his staff. So don't put too much stock into his comment.

Oakland

My take: The Raiders will need their youngsters to develop as they make yet another transformation. The big-dollar flops of 2008 are being weeded out so it is time for players such as defensive end Trevor Scott and receiver Chaz Schilens to develop.

San Diego

My take: If the Chargers restructure the contract of LaDainian Tomlinson, they likely won't draft a running back early. If Tomlinson ends up being cut, the Chargers could draft a player such as Knowshon Moreno or Chris Wells in the first round. The Chargers need to start thinking about the future but if they are keeping both Tomlinson and Darren Sproles, who was franchised this week, the Chargers won't be able to afford another high-priced running back.

AFC West combine concerns

February, 20, 2009
2/20/09
1:01
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Bill Williamson

With the NFL combine going on for the next several days in Indianapolis, here is a look at the key goals of each team in the AFC West. Free agency (which begins Feb. 27) and the draft (April 25-26) are looming.

Denver

The Broncos cut five defensive starters earlier this week and carved several million dollars in salary-cap room, so the team is at the combine in full reload mode.

The combine is supposed to be about the draft, but it is just as much about free agency. With free agency a week away, many teams spend the time in Indianapolis finalizing their game plans for free agency. That's what Denver surely is doing.

The Broncos need five or six defensive starters and they need help at every layer of their defense. The list could include nose tackle Grady Jackson and cornerback Ronald Bartell. The draft is also of major importance to Denver, so its scouting department will be keeping a keen eye on what's happening on the field in Indianapolis.

The Broncos have the No. 12 overall pick and nine draft picks total. Like in free agency, expect defense to be the focus. Players Denver will study the most are Boston College defensive tackle B.J. Raji and USC middle linebacker Rey Maualuga. Denver would likely be thrilled to draft either player.

Kansas City

The future of tight end Tony Gonzalez and running back Larry Johnson are huge issues, but the new regime will be heavily focused on the draft this weekend.

Kansas City has the No. 3 pick and what it does with it will help define the early portion of the Scott Pioli and Todd Haley era.

Expect the Chiefs to seriously eye quarterbacks. The Chiefs may not take one because of the presence of Tyler Thigpen, who's a capable player, and their huge need for impact players on defense. But the Chiefs may be romanced by the memory of what last year's No. 3 pick, quarterback Matt Ryan, did for Atlanta.

The Chiefs will no doubt spend a lot of time with Georgia's Matt Stafford and USC's Mark Sanchez, the top quarterback prospects. There is also the idea of trading for New England's Matt Cassel, who obviously has a history with Pioli.

Also expect the Chiefs to spend a lot of time with Wake Forest linebacker Aaron Curry this week. He could be the best defensive player available.

Other burning issues for Kansas City in Indianapolis include the likelihood of the Chiefs talking to teams about trading for Johnson. Because of his price tag and off-field baggage, Johnson may difficult to move. He may end up getting cut.

Oakland

The Raiders' job is fairly simple. They must pick up an impact offensive player with the No. 7 pick. Because there are about eight can't-miss offensive players, Oakland, which has failed often this decade with its first choices, has a chance to get a quality player who can make an instant impact on offense.

The Raiders will likely choose between a receiver and an offensive tackle with the No. 7 pick. The top choices at receiver are Texas Tech's Michael Crabtree and Missouri's Jeremy Maclin. Seattle may take Crabtree at No. 4; otherwise, Oakland might be able to choose between the two receivers.

Still, Oakland needs a dominant left tackle nearly as much as it needs a game-breaking receiver. The top tackles available are Alabama's Andre Smith, Baylor's Jason Smith and Virginia's Eugene Monroe. One of these three tackles, at least, should be available. So, the Raiders should be able to pick between at least two of five players who could instantly help them. This week's work will help Oakland decipher what it wants to do in the draft.

San Diego

The Chargers are going to have an interesting weekend as they try to resolve the LaDainian Tomlinson situation and prepare for the future.

The team is expected to have serious talks with Tomlinson's agent. The two sides are expected to try to hash out a restructured contract that will keep Tomlinson in San Diego. If a new deal can't be reworked by Thursday night, Tomlinson will be released. But both sides want to avoid that sad scenario.

A new deal may be tricky but not impossible. The in-person talks in Indianapolis could have the team and Tomlinson come to a resolution. Also, it wouldn't be a shock if the Chargers continue talks about a long-term deal with quarterback Philip Rivers while at the combine.

As far as draft business this weekend, the Chargers, who have the No. 16 overall pick, have plenty of options. If Tomlinson returns, the team will likely not pursue a running back such as Georgia's Knowshon Moreno or Ohio State's Chris Wells.

The Chargers will likely focus on linebackers this weekend, including Maualuga and his USC teammate, Brian Cushing, and Ohio State's James Laurinaitis.

 
  Kevin Terrell/Getty Images
  After eight great seasons, the San Diego Chargers need to begin contemplating life without LaDainian Tomlinson.

Posted by ESPN.com's Bill Williamson

It is time for the San Diego Chargers to find a replacement for LaDainian Tomlinson.

It is not, however, time to replace the star running back.

But that's the whole idea. The Chargers have to be prepared for when Tomlinson can't be their bell-cow back. Get ready, Chargers fans, that time is coming. It is only natural to think Tomlinson is nearing the end of the line. That's not a knock on the future Hall of Famer. It's just part of life for NFL running backs.

LaDainian Tomlinson
#21 RB
San Diego Chargers

2008 STATS
ATT YDS TD AVG LNG
292 1,110 11 3.8 45

Tomlinson will be 30 in June. This season, he had the fewest rushing yards of an eight-year NFL career, and he's starting to get banged up. He battled a turf-toe injury in the first half of the season and then had a groin injury that kept him out of the last six quarters of the Chargers' season. San Diego's 35-24 loss in the AFC divisional playoffs was the first game Tomlinson missed because of injury in his career. Tomlinson could be facing offseason groin surgery.

Yes, Tomlinson is showing signs of slowing down. After the loss in Pittsburgh, Tomlinson said his goal was to stay healthy in 2009.

"I'm going to be 30," Tomlinson said. "I want to be able to play every game."

It has gotten to the point in his career where Tomlinson's NFL mortality is suddenly in question. On a San Diego radio station earlier in the week, Tomlinson said he has heard trade rumors but he didn't know the team or teams supposedly involved. The Chargers shouldn't trade Tomlinson. He still has value to the team and, as the ace of the franchise, should be in San Diego until he can no longer be an effective NFL player.

But it's time for the Chargers to start thinking ahead. Tomlinson has shown enough wear and tear that they should start thinking about how to spell him before it becomes an urgent issue. San Diego can't be caught unprepared in 2010 and be forced to try to find a replacement.

The 2009 draft is a perfect time to start looking. San Diego has the No. 16 pick. The Chargers have other needs, with most on the defensive side of the ball. They could use another linebacker or safety or even a defensive lineman or an offensive lineman. But there are no super pressing needs.

If San Diego falls in love with a running back, this could be the time to take him.

Running backs Chris "Beanie" Wells of Ohio State and Knowshon Moreno of Georgia both could be standouts in the running game. Both could be available when San Diego picks. The Chargers have to consider this option.

 
  Paul Spinelli/Getty Images
  Darren Sproles is an ideal role player for the Chargers, but may not have the size to be an every-down back.

If the Chargers do end up taking Wells or Moreno, it doesn't need to mean the end of Tomlinson in San Diego. But because of his contract, age and recent injury history, it is not out of the question that Tomlinson will not be with the team in 2010, so a rookie could be groomed while spelling Tomlinson this season.

If this team is going to have Super Bowl aspirations in 2009, having an extra running back won't hurt the cause. The team's other needs could be addressed in free agency. Getting Tomlinson's replacement in free agency probably wouldn't work because tailbacks have such short shelf lives. If you are going to get a legitimate runner, the draft is usually the way to go.

Some may think the Chargers don't need to get a new running back because they have Darren Sproles. Sproles is a free agent. The Chargers need to re-sign him, but not to be Tomlinson's eventual replacement. Sproles is a terrific backup and change-of-pace back. Sproles is also one of the best return men in the league and is valuable as a receiver.

But Sproles is too small to be a 300- or 400-carries-a-season back. He was terrific as Tomlinson's replacement against Indianapolis in the wild-card round. But Sproles, 5-foot-6 and 181 pounds, struggled on the ground against Pittsburgh as the lead back. He is best suited as a role player. The Chargers need a bigger lead back.

Tomlinson is not going to be there forever. San Diego needs to start looking for his replacement before it is too late.

Chargers early draft look

January, 13, 2009
1/13/09
1:00
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Bill Williamson

This is the fourth in a series looking at the potential draft direction of the teams in the AFC West:

Drafting: 16

Needs: Linebacker, defensive line, safety, offensive line, running back

Possible first-round picks

James Laurinaitis, LB, Ohio State: The Chargers would love to see USC's Rey Maualuga slip, but he likely won't. Laurinaitis could be there when the Chargers pick. The team could use another inside linebacker. With Shawne Merriman coming back, this pick could solidify a strong linebacking crew.

Taylor Mays, S, USC: Like Maualuga, the Chargers may be picking too late to grab Mays who is rising up draft boards. But he'd make a perfect pair with Eric Weddle at safety in San Diego.

B.J. Raji, DT, Boston College: It isn't their greatest need, but the Chargers wouldn't mind adding another big body in the middle of their defensive line. Raji could be a nice complement for Jamal Williams.

Wild card: The Chargers could be tempted to take LaDainian Tomlinson's eventual replacement. It would be luxury pick but if the team falls in love with Ohio State's Chris Wells or Georgia's Knowshon Moreno, this could be the time to make a move.

Broncos early draft look

January, 9, 2009
1/09/09
3:00
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Bill Williamson

This is the third in a series looking at the potential draft direction of the teams in the AFC West.

Denver Broncos

Drafting: 12.

Needs: Linebacker, defensive line, safety, running back

Possible first-round picks

Rey Maualuga, LB, USC: He is a standout player who would bring legitimate help to Denver's linebacking crew. The Broncos could also look at Ohio State linebacker James Laurinaitis. The Broncos were hoping both players would come out in the draft last year when they were picking 12th.

Taylor Mays, S, USC: We've seen play-making safeties change the look of an entire defense and Mays could be that player for the Broncos. Denver has longed for a stud safety all decade. It could get its man this year.

B.J. Raji, DT, Boston College: He is a huge plugger in the middle and Denver has been looking for his type of body for years. Raji could a good start to a defensive facelift.

Wild card: If Ohio State running back Chris Wells is on the board, Denver could be tempted. Now that Mike Shanahan is no longer in the fold, the team needs a true standout at running back. But the team's defensive needs are great.

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