Each Wednesday leading up to the NFL draft (April 22-24), the ESPN.com blog network will take a division-by-division look at key aspects of the draft. Today’s topic: Schemes and themes.
Denver is a team that definitely will be drafting this year to fit its scheme. Second-year coach Josh McDaniels is still very much building his own program. Much of the scheme drafting will be done on the front lines. Denver is straying from the zone-blocking scheme employed in the past. McDaniels used the zone-blocking scheme last year. But he is switching to a more traditional power offensive line. Denver will look at bigger guards and centers in the draft. Defensively, Denver will be looking for a nose tackle to play in the 3-4 defense. Denver still needs an anchor on the line. With few options available in free agency, expect the Broncos to try to find a nose tackle in the early rounds of the draft. The Broncos also may try to find an inside linebacker to fit the 3-4.
This will be the second year that Kansas City will use the 3-4 defense under general manager Scott Pioli and coach Todd Haley. With new defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel on board, Kansas City is going to be committed in this draft to find players who fit the 3-4. Finding them isn’t easy. There is a growing number of NFL teams adopting the scheme but there is a limited number of college players who are prepared to play in it in the NFL. Still, Kansas City will look for perhaps a nose tackle and linebackers to fit the 3-4. Offensively, the Chiefs will look for receivers who are strong after the catch to fit with starting quarterback Matt Cassel.
The Raiders are going to be looking for multiple offensive linemen. Under head coach Tom Cable, an offensive line specialist, Oakland uses the zone-blocking scheme. Zone-blocking linemen are usually smaller and more athletic than the more traditional plodding, road-grading offensive linemen. There are plenty of zone-blocking offensive linemen out there, but it is difficult find some who are ready to play. But that’s what Oakland probably will be doing at least twice during the draft. Defensively, Oakland is the only 4-3 base defense in the division. Oakland needs linebackers and interior defensive linemen and it shouldn’t have trouble finding quality players. Of course, Oakland’s biggest draft theme is fast players. That will always be the case on Al Davis’ team. Expect the Raiders to take among the fastest players at each position they address.
The Chargers have two major needs in the draft this year and they are both specific to the team’s schemes. Offensively, San Diego is looking for a power back. The team released longtime star running back LaDainian Tomlinson. Finding a new primary back to fit San Diego’s system is necessary. Defensively, the Chargers are going to look for a nose tackle in the 3-4. Jamaal Williams is getting older and may only have one year remaining in San Diego if at all. Williams anchored the defense at nose tackle. He was sidelined for all but one game last year and San Diego’s defense missed him. The Chargers' 3-4 defense won’t be truly at its best until it gets a big nose tackle to collapse the middle of the offensive line. That’s San Diego’s goal this year in the draft.