AFC West: Christian Ponder

Denver Broncos: Moving On

December, 5, 2011
Here are some areas the Denver Broncos need to focus on after a 35-32 win at the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday:

Recap: The Denver Broncos kept rolling with another late victory. Matt Prater kicked the game-winning field goal as time expired. It was Denver’s fifth straight win, their sixth win in seven starts with Tim Tebow as quarterback and their third straight win in the final moments. Denver is now 7-5 and tied with Oakland for first place in the AFC West heading into the final quarter of the season.

Biggest area to fix: Minnesota rookie quarterback Christian Ponder threw for 381 yards. Denver made big plays on defense when it needed to, but that is way too many yards to give up, especially considering the Broncos face Tom Brady and the Patriots in two weeks.

Biggest area to build on: The Broncos offense was terrific in the second half. The Broncos scored 28 points in the second half Sunday and played with great urgency. It gives this offense confidence it can score points in bunches.

What to watch for: Denver hosts the Jay Cutler-less Chicago Bears next Sunday. The Bears have struggled badly on offense and now is leaking with an injury to star running back Matt Forte. Oakland plays at undefeated Green Bay.

Time for Elway to think post-Tebow

October, 30, 2011
Tim TebowAP Photo/Jack DempseyDespite Tim Tebow's popularity with fans, Denver must start considering alternatives at quarterback.
DENVER -- It is not John Elway’s fault the Tim Tebow experiment is failing, but it will be on his hands if he doesn’t find a solution.

It is clear the Denver Broncos' quarterback of the future is not on the current roster. It must be Elway's primary job to start making plans to fix the problem in Denver. The first step is to realize Tebow probably is not going to be the answer.

Whether it’s figuring out a way to land Stanford star quarterback Andrew Luck via a trade (Denver looks like it is on its way to a top-five pick, but it might have difficultly stinking enough to get the No. 1 pick), zoning in on USC’s Matt Barkley or Oklahoma’s Landry Jones, or even considering pursuing injured Raiders veteran Jason Campbell as a short-term answer in free agency, Elway must start his post-Tebow game plan.

I hate to jump to early conclusions, but it is safe to say Tebow currently is far from being a competent NFL quarterback and that the Broncos have arguably the worst quarterback situation in the NFL.

It was all there to see in blue and orange for the home folks Sunday during the Broncos’ 45-10 loss to the Detroit Lions. Tebow was terribly ineffective all game, and the Broncos were overmatched. The patented Tim Tebow spark? Nowhere to be found. Denver was lethargic on both sides of the ball all game.

There was no wild comeback for Tebow after a mostly bad performance like last week's against the inept Dolphins. Instead of playing poorly for 55 minutes before turning on the jets, Tebow was consistently bad for an entire game Sunday.

There was no playmaking. All we saw were badly overthrown passes, late decision-making and wild scrambles that netted little. Need statistical proof? Tebow was 18-of-39 passing for 172 yards. The Broncos had seven straight three-and-out drives, and Tebow had an interception and a fumble that were brought back for Detroit touchdowns.

“We are embarrassed,” Denver tight end Daniel Fells said.

Added the always-earnest Tebow: “I’m just going to get up early [Monday] and go to work and try to get better tomorrow and consistently improve and be the best person and quarterback for this organization and continue to improve.”

Broncos coach John Fox was asked after the game who his quarterback will be next week in Oakland. He said he needs to look at the film. Clearly, some of the shine on Tebow has been lost.

I don’t necessarily think Tebow should be pulled now. Is Brady Quinn really the answer? We know Kyle Orton isn’t. Tebow deserves more time, but there is no way the 2-5 Broncos can sit through nine more of these types of games with no offensive rhythm. Fox will lose his veteran players if he continues to start Tebow and if Tebow can’t quickly become a capable player.

“It’s only been two games,” Broncos cornerback Champ Bailey said. “But we only got 16 games.”

The problem with Tebow is he isn’t showing any signs of improvement as a traditional quarterback, and that’s what the Denver brass wants to see. There is something technically wrong with every snap he takes. The Broncos want Tebow to show them he can be an effective pocket passer in the NFL. Rookie quarterbacks such as Cam Newton, Andy Dalton and Christian Ponder already have shown they have the makings of being quality NFL passers. Tebow, the No. 25 pick of the 2010 draft (a pick made by the previous Denver regime), is light years behind those players.

I know the Broncos aren't interested in just rolling out the ball every week, and letting Tebow wing it and try to make something happen.

They worked during the week on his delivery; they altered their game plan to spread out the offense and speed up the tempo to help Tebow. But strides were not made. In Tebow’s past three starts (including Week 17 last season), the Broncos are 0-14 on third-down conversions in the first half of games.

Tebow looks a lot more like a quarterback who is close to losing his job than a quarterback who is ascending.

In the end, I believe, working for Elway will shorten Tebow’s window of opportunity. Elway -- in his first year as the Broncos’ top football decision-maker -- was a Hall of Fame player. Watching that amateurish display on his home field had to worry him. He won’t let this go on forever.

One veteran Broncos player I spoke with Sunday said he understands why Denver’s brass turned to Tebow and why he must be given a chance. But he also wondered when Elway and Fox will lose patience. And there is a feeling in Denver that once fans -- who clamored for Tebow to be made the starter -- see that he is so far from being an NFL-ready quarterback, perhaps the Broncos will be able to move on.

Remember, the Broncos didn’t turn to Tebow because they suddenly felt he was ready to be a star. They turned to him because they were ready to give him a chance. Performances such as Sunday’s must show Elway & Co. that now is the time to start thinking about the future at quarterback in Denver -- and it’s difficult to believe Tebow will be part of it in 2012.
Drew Rosenhaus is doing what he does best. He’s in full spin mode.

With a reputation for working tirelessly and loyally for his clients, Rosenhaus is doing the same for Terrelle Pryor. At a news conference Tuesday, Rosenhaus said the embattled former Ohio State quarterback should be a first-round pick. Pryor is planning to enter the NFL supplemental draft, which is expected to take place next month.

Many NFL observers believe Pryor will be a mid-to-late-round pick. Pryor is supremely athletic, but he is not an accurate passer and he needs much more polish. There have even been projections that the 6-foot-6, 232 pounds, the fleet-footed Pryor could be a receiver in the NFL.

Thus, with character issues off the field and position issues on the field, Pryor could have a difficult time becoming a first-round pick in the supplemental draft. But Rosenhaus is a seller. He has accomplished things that seemed highly unlikely before.

Two weeks ago, we looked at the possibility of Pryor landing in the AFC West. If any of the teams in the division use a 2012 first-round pick on Pryor, I’d be shocked. He just wouldn’t be worth it. He doesn’t appear to be an immediate impact player worth mortgaging a priority future pick to acquire. A fourth-round pick is different story. But if a team like the Raiders, who many league observers think could be a favorite to take Pryor, uses their first-round pick on Pryor, it would be a mistake.

I think the timing is poor for Pryor as far as being a first-round pick. Teams usually don’t get overly worked up about the supplemental draft opposed to the April draft. We see teams reach all the time (see Jake Locker and Christian Ponder) for quarterbacks. Teams spend so much time on the draft and when it rolls around, adrenaline and temptation often take over and teams grab a quarterback too early.

Those elements aren’t part of the supplemental draft. So, Pryor might have to wait longer than Rosenhaus thinks. If he doesn’t and a team jumps on him in the first round, that team is putting itself in an instant tough spot.

If you want a QB, take him now

April, 29, 2011
If the Oakland Raiders or Denver Broncos want one of the top-rated quarterbacks, they may want to move quickly.

Auburn’s Cam Newton (No. 1, Carolina), Washington’s Jake Locker (No. 8, Tennessee), Missouri’s Blaine Gabbert (No. 10, Jacksonville) and Florida State’s Christian Ponder (No. 12, Minnesota) all went in the first round.

Arkansas’ Ryan Mallett, TCU’s Andy Dalton and Nevada’s Colin Kaepernick should all go in the second round. The Raiders and Broncos (although I don’t expect it), could take one of these players. The Broncos have visited with all three. Denver has the No. 36 and No. 46 picks in the second round. Oakland has the No. 48 pick.

Buffalo (No. 34), Cincinnati (No. 35), Arizona (No. 38), Washington (No. 41) and San Francisco (No. 45) could all take a quarterback.

Here’s a name to consider in the third-through-fifth rounds: Iowa’s Ricky Stanzi. Denver and Kansas City are among the teams that like him.

AFC West mailbag

April, 20, 2011
Mid-week mail call:

Dan from Virginia Beach, Va., wants to know if the Raiders could take a quarterback such as Florida State’s Christian Ponder or Nevada’s Colin Kaepernick in the second round and take Penn State guard Stefen Wisniewski in the third round.

Bill Williamson: Dan, I think that would be an ideal situation for Oakland. The problem is all three of those players might be taken in the first two rounds. If Oakland wants to take a gamble, I think it probably should take the quarterback (Ponder might be taken before Kaepernick) and then hope Wisniewski is available in the third round. If that scenario unfolded, Oakland would have a potential quarterback of the future and a player who could compete to start at center or guard very soon. That’s a lot of value for those two choices.

Matt Vander Werf from Monroe, Iowa, wants to know if the Chargers could look at Iowa quarterback Ricky Stanzi as insurance if Billy Volek leaves in free agency.

BW: Stanzi is rising up some boards (Kansas City has an interest) and he could be taken in the fourth or the fifth round. The Chargers have a lot of picks and they could take a look at a quarterback to be groomed as Philip Rivers’ backup. They took Jonathan Crompton in the fifth round last year, but he was cut. So, the Chargers could keep an eye out for a quarterback in the late rounds again.

Andrew from Lawrence, Kan., wants to know if Jets’ receiver Santonio Holmes could end up in the AFC West.

BW: It depends if he is unrestricted or restricted. If he is unrestricted, Holmes will be highly coveted by many teams around the league. If San Diego and Kansas City don’t draft a receiver early, I could see some interest. Oakland could use a veteran receiver as well, and Holmes could fit there as well. But, again, many teams would be interested in Holmes if he hits the open market.
I want to thank everyone who participated in our SportsNation poll on rookie quarterbacks and the AFC West.

We had a terrific response and an extremely tight race.

We wanted to know which quarterback prospect you’d most like to see be drafted by an AFC West team. All four teams in the division could draft a quarterback. We focused on prospects who could be taken in the second or third round. The choices were TCU’s Andy Dalton, Nevada’s Colin Kaepernick, Washington’s Jake Locker, Arkansas’ Ryan Mallett and Florida State’s Christian Ponder.

Kaepernick, Locker and Mallett were all neck-and-neck with Dalton and Ponder each getting their share of the votes. This exercise shows just how close these prospects are in skill level and long-term projections. Thanks again for participating.
With the Denver Broncos, Kansas City Chiefs and Oakland Raiders all working out quarterbacks prior to the draft, there is a strong possibility a quarterback could be drafted into the AFC West.

San Diego could also draft a quarterback at some point as insurance if No. 2 quarterback Billy Volek leaves during free agency.

Please pick a quarterback prospect that you would most like to see end up in the division. Your choices are TCU’s Andy Dalton, Nevada’s Colin Kaepernick, Washington’s Jake Locker, Arkansas’ Ryan Mallett and Florida State’s Christian Ponder.

All of those prospects could be gone by the end of the second round. We didn’t include the two top quarterback prospects – Auburn’s Cam Newton and Missouri’s Blaine Gabbert – because we don’t see an AFC West team making the commitment it would take to land either player.

Fill up the comment section below with the reason why you’re voting the way you did.
Cam Newton, Tim Tebow & Blaine GabbertGetty ImagesMany scouts are saying they'd take Cam Newton, left, or Blaine Gabbert, right, over Tim Tebow.
The Tim Tebow debate rages on one year after he was the most dissected prospect in the 2010 NFL draft.

Last year, the Denver Broncos shocked the NFL by taking Tebow with the No. 25 overall pick. Now, it is the Broncos who are considering Tebow’s future.

The Broncos are working out or visiting with several of the top quarterback prospects in the draft. Legendary Denver quarterback and new Broncos vice president of football operations John Elway has said Denver’s interest in quarterbacks is not a smokescreen to confuse other teams. Yet Elway also said the team’s interest in quarterbacks doesn’t mean the team is not sold on Tebow. Elway insists the Broncos simply don’t want to bypass a franchise quarterback if he’s available.

Earlier this week, ESPN’s John Clayton said he thinks Elway might take a quarterback in the second round and admit that the Tebow pick -- which was made by former Denver coach Josh McDaniels -- was a mistake. With Tebow’s future perhaps unclear again, we polled several draft experts and experienced NFL scouts about what they think Denver should do and how Tebow stacks up against the better quarterback prospects of 2011.

[+] EnlargeJohn Elway
AP Photo/Barry GutierrezJohn Elway and the Broncos may be looking for Tim Tebow's replacement already.
Tebow remains a polarizing figure. The experts are divided. Some think Tebow is a born leader. Others wouldn’t touch him because of an unrefined throwing motion.

ESPN draft guru Mel Kiper still has a difficult time grading Tebow because he doesn’t think he can be a pro-style quarterback. Kiper thinks Tebow would likely be a fourth-round pick in 2011. Former NFL scout Gary Horton of Scouts Inc. thinks Tebow is the answer in Denver because he projects better to the NFL than Auburn quarterback Cam Newton, who could be the No. 1 overall pick by Carolina. Horton said it would be “ridiculous” and Denver would be “absolutely crazy” to draft Newton or Missouri’s Blaine Gabbert at No. 2 and ignore its massive defensive needs after drafting a quarterback in the first round last year.

The other quarterbacks who could be taken in the first three rounds are Washington’s Jake Locker, Arkansas’ Ryan Mallett, TCU’s Andy Dalton, Florida State’s Christian Ponder, Nevada’s Colin Kaepernick and Iowa’s Ricky Stanzi. Kiper and Scouts Inc.’s Matt Williamson and Steve Muench think most of them are better NFL quarterback prospects than Tebow.

“Tim Tebow is interesting because so many people have different opinions about him,” Muench said. “That’s what Denver is probably trying to figure out right now. In a lot of ways, I’d say there are a lot better options than Tebow, but then, I wouldn’t be surprised if Tim Tebow succeeds because of what kind of person and leader he is. … It’s not easy.”

Muench said Scouts Inc. had Tebow rated as a late second-round or an early third-round prospect last year. He was the fourth-rated quarterback on Scouts Inc.’s list behind Sam Bradford (who went to St. Louis at No. 1), Jimmy Clausen (No. 47, Carolina) and Colt McCoy (No. 85, Cleveland). Muench said this year’s quarterback class is much better than the 2010 class. Thus, he thinks Tebow would be a fourth-round prospect, and a similar prospect to Virginia Tech’s Tyrod Taylor. Some teams think Taylor is best-suited for another position. Last year, Kiper looked at Tebow as an H-back prospect (and perhaps some teams did, as well). Kiper’s thoughts haven’t changed.

“I don’t think many teams would look at him in the second or third rounds,” Kiper said. “He’s not up there with Newton and Gabbert, then he’d be behind second-level guys like Andy Dalton. Ponder is moving like crazy. … I think Tebow would certainly be the fourth or fifth, sixth or seventh quarterback on teams' boards.”

[+] EnlargeTim Tebow
Justin Edmonds/Getty ImagesSome scouts thought Tim Tebow would be better served as an H-back in the NFL.
Still, Horton would rather have Tebow than Newton, who’ll certainly be a top-12 pick.

“There are football questions about Tebow, but there’s also football questions about Newton,” Horton said. “There are no intangible questions about Tebow. But there are intangibles questions about Newton."

Horton thinks Denver should either let veteran quarterback Kyle Orton start the season and replace him with Tebow when the season goes south or go with Tebow to start the season. Horton reasons that quarterbacks emerge as top draft prospects every year and there will be plenty of options next year if Tebow fails, perhaps even Stanford gem Andrew Luck.

“If it doesn’t work with Tebow, well, then you move on, but you have to see what he can do,” Horton said. “Tebow was drafted as a developmental guy. Don’t run out of patience with him before he gets a chance to develop.”

Williamson said he never thought it was a good idea for Denver to draft Tebow and he would support Elway’s decision to pull the plug now. He thinks there are several second-round type prospects who would be better options than Tebow in Denver.

“I would certainly rather have Gabbert, Newton and Ponder over Tebow, in that order. And there could be an argument made for the others,” Williamson said. “I would take Mallett for sure over [Tebow]. Tebow and Locker are similar -- big, strong guys with suspect accuracy/passing skills, but Locker is further along coming out of school than Tebow.”

However, former Carolina and St. Louis draft executive Tony Softli said he had Tebow ranked as a low second-round pick last year when Softli was with the Rams. He said he wouldn’t draft a quarterback this year. He believes in Tebow. Softli raved about Tebow’s leadership ability, his history as a winner and his intelligence. Softli said Tebow, Matt Ryan, Bradford and Josh Freeman were the brightest quarterback prospects he’s seen in the past 10 years when it came to working on the grease board and breaking down the game.

“I understand why Denver is looking at quarterbacks -- they’re doing their homework and that’s smart -- but I think Tebow is going to be the guy,” Softli said. “I think the Broncos should forget about his throwing motion and just let him be who he is. His intangibles are off the charts. When it’s Tebow time, he’ll show he’s the answer.”

It’s clear. The Tebow debate is not over.
The AFC West may be adding a rookie quarterback or two in the April 28-30 draft.

In case it happens, we’ll get an opportunity to preview some of the prospects on ESPN’s “SportsCenter.” Jon Gruden’s QB Camp will return this year. It will air April 21 at 7 p.m. ET.

Gruden will break down the games of Auburn’s Cam Newton, Missouri’s Blaine Gabbert, Washington’s Jake Locker, Arkansas’ Ryan Mallett and TCU’s Andy Dalton. Last year’s version was very entertaining as Gruden didn’t hold back punches with the quarterback prospects. Viewers got a good sense of each quarterback’s game.

Gruden is doing what at least half of the AFC West teams have been doing this spring. Denver has worked out or met with all of the above mentioned quarterbacks, plus others. Kansas City has talked to Dalton and Nevada’s Colin Kaepernick. There haven’t been any reports that Oakland has met with any quarterback prospects, but it wouldn’t be a shock if the Raiders drafted a quarterback.

Neither Mel Kiper nor Todd McShay had a quarterback going to AFC West teams in their three-round mock drafts, which were released an Insider pieces Wednesday. McShay expects quarterbacks to go faster than Kiper does. McShay has seven quarterbacks – the above mentioned six and Florida State’s Christian Ponder -- going in the first 41 picks. Kiper has those seven quarterbacks going in the first 75 picks.

Around the AFC West

April, 5, 2011
Catching up on some mid-day AFC West notes:

The Kansas City Star reports the informal Chiefs’ meeting will be held Tuesday. Earlier reports quoted players as saying the meeting would be held Monday. Prior to his arrest Monday for theft at an Indiana casino, Kansas City linebacker Mike Vrabel talked about the importance of the meeting.

The Kansas City Star is taking on the task of predicting each of the Chiefs’ draft mocks. The newspaper has two interesting choices for the team’s choices in the first two rounds. It has Penn State guard Stefen Wisniewski going to the Chiefs in the first round and Miami receiver Leonard Hankerson going to Kansas City in the second round.

Both are interesting players. If I had to guess right now, the first round may be a bit of a reach for Wisniewski and Hankerson may not be available when the Chiefs pick in the second round.

The Denver Post wonders if Florida State’s Christian Ponder is the answer at quarterback for the Broncos. Denver is studying several quarterbacks. Ponder is projected to be a second-round pick.

Here is a five-year draft ranking of every NFL team. The Chiefs had the highest ranking of any AFC West team. Two teams in the division ranked in the first half of the league and two were in the bottom half.

Here’s sad news. The 38-year-old brother of recently released Denver tight end Daniel Graham has died. Our condolences go out to the Graham family.
John Clayton made an intriguing call in his mailbag on

He is getting the feeling that new Denver Broncos vice president of football operations John Elway might draft a quarterback early in the draft and begin to move away from Tim Tebow.

This is part of what Clayton wrote:
I'm starting to think Elway might take a QB in the second round and call the Tebow selection a mistake. That interest creates tantalizing possibilities on draft day and thereafter. Thinking that Cam Newton can go No. 1 to Carolina, the Broncos could entice a team such as Tennessee to trade up to the No. 2 spot to get Blaine Gabbert. The Broncos could then take a quarterback in the second round and eventually trade [Kyle] Orton for a second-round pick in 2012.

The Broncos are looking at all of the top quarterbacks. Among the quarterbacks they could look at in the second round include Washington’s Jake Locker, Arkansas’ Ryan Mallett, Florida State’s Christian Ponder, Nevada’s Colin Kaepernick and TCU’s Andy Dalton.

Elway said last week that the team’s interest in quarterbacks is not a smokescreen. I don’t think it is. The Broncos are spending too much time on quarterbacks simply in the name of espionage. Plus, what’s the point of trying to fool other teams when it comes to second-round prospects?

If Denver does take a quarterback in the second round, it would certainly be a major indictment on Tebow’s future in Denver. I’d still be surprised if Tebow doesn’t get a chance to prove he can be the guy in Denver. It’s within Elway’s right to make that call now.

He inherited Tebow. If Elway wants to call Tebow’s selection at No. 25 a mistake by former coach Josh McDaniels and move on, that’s reasonable. Elway is the boss. It’s his call.

If Denver does take a quarterback in the second round, it would be the story of the second night of the draft and could be the beginning of the end of the three-game Tebow era in Denver.
The Oakland Raiders are the only team in the NFL currently without a first-round pick. The New England Patriots own the No. 17 pick, which the Raiders sent them for defensive lineman Richard Seymour in September 2009.

The Raiders’ first pick in the April 28-30 draft will be No. 48 overall. We have been focusing on Penn State guard Stefen Wisniewski for Oakland during our AFC West mock draft series.

However, I wanted to look at some of the other names the Raiders could consider in the second round:

Clint Boling, OG, Georgia: He’s athletic and strong and should be available at No. 48.

Curtis Brown, CB Texas: He has excellent speed and good size. Looks to be a Raider-type CB.

Marcus Cannon, OG, TCU: A massive, strong player.

Bruce Carter LB, North Carolina: Some teams aren’t high on him, but he could be intriguing.

Quinton Carter, S, Oklahoma: One of the better safeties available.

Andy Dalton, QB, TCU: He doesn’t have a great arm, but he’s a winner.

Ras-I Dowling, CB, Virginia: One of the better second-round prospects at the position.

Orlando Franklin, OG, Miami: He could fit in with Oakland nicely.

Brandon Harris, CB, Miami: He’s small, but dynamic.

Colin Kaepernick, QB, Nevada: He could be the type of player Al Davis falls in love with.

Christian Ponder, QB, Florida State: Many scouts think he’ll be a NFL starter soon.

William Rackley, OG, Lehigh: A small-school standout such as Oakland tackle Jared Veldheer, who was taken in the third round last year.

Aaron Williams, CB, Texas: He’s a second-round quality cornerback.

Who’s on your list, Oakland fans? Hit the comment section below with your thoughts.
Last week, Denver’s reported visit with Washington quarterback Jake Locker seemed curious. Now, it’s just part of a trend. Denver has set up several workouts or visits with quarterback prospects in next month’s draft. We’ll catch up with the entire list at the end of this post.

Denver owns the No. 2 pick and is looking at quarterback prospects that are expected to be taken in the first round and beyond. But Denver is looking at enough quarterback prospects that it’s clear it’s doing more than just its due diligence. It is checking out quarterbacks for a reason.

It’s fascinating, because the team has major defensive needs and possesses quarterbacks Kyle Orton and Tim Tebow, who was expected to get a chance to be the starter at some point. Tebow was the No. 25 overall pick in last year’s draft. Both Denver coach John Fox and Denver vice president of football operations John Elway said that Denver’s look into quarterbacks this spring is not a knock on Tebow.

"I don't think it's an indictment on anybody,” Fox said Tuesday. "I just think if there's a Hall of Famer there we ought to look at them.''

Elway told the Denver Post this on Monday: “We're always looking for that guy. We may already have the guy who can pull the trigger and win us a championship someday. We may have him. We don't know. We believe in Tim, but he's not there yet."

Denver has either been to pro day or set up a visit or workout with the following quarterbacks:

Player, School

Blaine Gabbert, Missouri

Colin Kaepernick, Nevada

Jake Locker, Washington

Ryan Mallett, Arkansas

Cam Newton, Auburn

Christian Ponder, Florida State

AFC West quarterback audibles

March, 17, 2011
There’s plenty of quarterback nuggets that involve then AFC West on Thursday. Let’s take a look:

The San Jose Mercury News wonders if the Raiders may try to move into the first round to take Washington quarterback Jake Locker. The paper reasons it will likely take Oakland, which doesn’t have a first-round pick this year, to trade its first-round pick in 2012 to get in the range to take Locker, who Denver has a workout set up with.

I don’t know if I’m on board with that idea. Oakland’s roster is close to being a playoff contender. I’d rather Oakland go get a player at a position who can help right now if it moves into the first round. I have no problem with the Raiders taking a quarterback at No. 48 if someone like Locker, Arkansas’ Ryan Mallett or Florida State’s Christian Ponder is available. But there’s no rush to go get one in the first round.

Jason Campbell is the unquestioned starter in 2011. Let’s see what he can do and let’s see if he can earn another contract beyond 2011. If not, Oakland can then look to use a first-round pick on a quarterback.

This year’s group of quarterback prospects isn’t a dull lot. ESPN’s Chris Mortensen has reported the Wonderlic (a pre-draft intelligence test every prospect takes) scores of some of the top quarterback prospects. Ponder scored a 35, Mallett scored a 26 and Locker scored a 20. Anything over 20 is considered solid for a quarterback. TCU’s Andy Dalton, who Kansas City is going to work out, scored a 29.

Here is a report that suggests Seattle or Tennessee could be interested in trading for Denver quarterback Kyle Orton. It suggests a possible third-round pick this year and a fifth-round pick next year will do the trick. I think Denver would rather get a second-round pick this year, but I’m sure it will be willing to haggle over Orton’s price. However, if the lockout doesn’t end before the draft, Orton won’t be able to be dealt.

Missouri quarterback Blaine Gabbert has his pro day Thursday. If he impresses, Carolina could consider both Gabbert and Auburn quarterback Cam Newton for the No. 1 pick. Denver is keeping a watchful eye. If the Panthers take a quarterback, that would open the entire defensive draft board for the Broncos. Denver is expected to take a defensive player.

AFC West combine primer

February, 24, 2011
Da'Quan Bowers, Nick Fairley and Patrick PetersonGetty ImagesDenver is looking defense and that could mean Da'Quan Bowers, Nick Fairley or Patrick Peterson.

INDIANAPOLIS -- With the NFL combine kicking off, let’s take a look at several of the potential storylines involving the AFC West during the draft-preparation event:

It all starts at No. 2: The draft epicenter of the AFC West this year is in Denver. That’s the reward for going 4-12 and taking a major step backward. The Broncos will be looking for defensive help, and every move made by Clemson defensive end Da'Quan Bowers, Auburn defensive tackle Nick Fairley, LSU cornerback Patrick Peterson and several others will be scrutinized by the defense-hungry Broncos in the next several days.

Scouting Wisniewski II: The Raiders don’t have a first-round draft pick (New England gets the No. 17 pick from the 2009 Richard Seymour trade). The Raiders don’t pick until No. 48. One player Oakland will likely look at closely is center/guard Stefen Wisniewski. He is the nephew of former Raiders offensive line great and new assistant line coach Steve Wisniewski. That combine player-coaching staff meeting would be fun to watch. Wisniewski, who followed his famous uncle to Penn State, would fill a need in Oakland. I can see the Raiders taking a long look at him.

Pass-rushers galore: This is a strong class for pass-rushers and that should benefit both the Chargers and Chiefs. San Diego picks No. 18 and the Chiefs pick No. 21. I could see both teams taking a pass-rusher with their top picks. The better the pass-rushers do in Indianapolis, the larger the range of prospects for the Chiefs and Chargers. That group should include Missouri’s Aldon Smith, UCLA’s Akeem Ayers and Cal’s Cameron Jordan.

[+] EnlargeJake Locker
Chris Morrison/US PresswireJake Locker could be a target for the Oakland Raiders.
Oakland and the second-tier QBs: The Raiders could look at a quarterback in the second round to groom beyond Jason Campbell. This might be the time to groom a young quarterback in Oakland. If Washington’s Jake Locker and Arkansas' Ryan Mallett tumble and TCU’s Andy Dalton, Nevada’s Colin Kaepernick and Florida State’s Christian Ponder impress, these prospects could all be possibilities in the middle of the second round. Last year, Carolina took Notre Dame’s Jimmy Clausen at No. 47. He was the third quarterback taken.

What about Julio? In addition to pass-rushers, I could see the Chiefs and Chargers considering a receiver early. One player who would fit both teams is Alabama’s Julio Jones. If Jones performs well, there is likely little chance either team will be able to snare him. It will be difficult to imagine Jones falling below the Rams at No. 14 if he stays the course. So, he could require moving up to get.

Will A.J. fall in love again? The Jones’ situation brings us to San Diego general manager A.J. Smith. Last year, he moved up 16 spots to take Fresno State running back Ryan Mathews at No. 12. Smith admitted that he fell for Mathews early and that moving up to get him was long his plan. Will it happen again at the combine this year? If so, Smith is prepared to move up. The Chargers have extra picks in the second and third rounds. So, he is prepared for anything.

Williamson High feeding the AFC West? If Denver takes Fairley, it will mark the second time a player from Mobile, Alabama’s Williamson High School will be taken with a high pick in four years. In 2007, Oakland took Williamson product JaMarcus Russell with the No. 1 pick.

Does Bowers have a dash of Peppers? Bowers will be very popular with teams. He is a top pass-rusher and he has been compared to Julius Peppers. I’m sure new Denver coach John Fox can’t wait to spend some time with Bowers to further examine the Peppers’ comparison. Fox drafted Peppers with the No. 2 overall pick in 2002. It was Fox’s first year in Carolina. If Fox takes Bowers with the No. 2 overall pick in his first season in Denver, the Peppers’ comparison will only heighten.

Will Newton help Denver? If Auburn quarterback Cam Newton impresses the Carolina Panthers, he could be the No. 1 overall pick. The Broncos are hoping for Newton to wow the Panthers. If so, that means every defensive player in the draft will be on the board for Denver at No. 2. Denver is looking defense all the way after being last in the NFL in total defense and points allowed in 2010.

The Chiefs and the SEC: Who are the Chiefs going to take? Well, I think we have to look at the SEC first. Kansas City general manager Scott Pioli has a history of taking players from the SEC early. Both of the players the Chiefs have taken in the first round under Pioli, Tyson Jackson and Eric Berry, are SEC alums. Overall, the Chiefs have taken SEC players in the first round in the past four years.

[+] EnlargeTexas A&M's Von Miller
Thomas Campbell/US PRESSWIRETexas A&M's Von Miller could be a good fit in Denver, San Diego or Kansas City.
All eyes on Von Miller: The physically impressive Miller is the type of player who could fit in Denver, San Diego and Kansas City. The question is whether or not he is a realistic target for any of those teams. If Miller has a great combine, he could move into the conversation for Denver at No. 2, but that might be a tad high. Denver could try to move down a few spots to get him, but trading down from No. 2 will be difficult. The No. 2 pick hasn’t been traded in 11 years. San Diego and Kansas City could potentially try to move up for Miller. I think San Diego would be a better bet. It has more trading ammunition than the Chiefs have and the Chiefs will likely be happy to stick at No. 21 and see what falls to them.

Casey Matthews' time? The Oregon middle linebacker could be popular. He is the younger brother of Green Bay linebacker Clay Matthews, who blossomed into one of the NFL’s better defenders in his second season. Teams could be swayed by Mathews’ potential and look at him as high as the second round. I could see Denver, San Diego and Kansas City all taking a look at him.

The Robert Quinn factor: The former North Carolina defensive end could be an X factor. He didn’t play in 2010 because he made contact with an agent. He was considered a top prospect. If he has a great combine, he could work his way into the conversation for Denver.

Oakland and the stop watch: Whoever posts the fastest 40-yard dash at the combine has to be considered an Oakland prospect. The Raiders covet speed as much as any team in the league. Last year’s fastest man at the combine was Jacoby Ford. Oakland grabbed him in the fourth round and he looks like a future star.

Will the Chiefs find a backup QB? I would be surprised if the Chiefs brought back backup Brodie Croyle in 2011. So, the team could be interested in looking for a young backup. I could see Kansas City studying prospects in the third and fourth rounds.

The Duke works the combine: New Denver VP of football operations John Elway will be at the combine. This is his first season as a football personnel man and he will be a big part of Denver’s process at the combine.