AFC West: Eddie Lacy

Many fans were surprised when the Denver Broncos took Wisconsin tailback Montee Ball over Alabama running back Eddie Lacy in the second round of the NFL draft.

So, it was no shock that the question was broached when Denver decision-makers John Elway and Matt Russell held a conference call with some fans Tuesday.

“We liked both these backs, we had them very similar on the board," the Denver Post reported that Russell said during the call. "The issue with Eddie Lacy was we were worried about a toe injury that he had, which is probably what caused him to slip. And we really felt great about Montee Ball. We feel we have a career back in Montee Ball."

Elway told fans that Ball reminded him of the running back Elway won two Super Bowls with as a player -- Terrell Davis. Interestingly, Ball said at the NFL combine that the player he modeled his game after was, indeed, Davis.

In other AFC West notes:

The Chargers have “parted ways’ with one of the undrafted free agents they had agreed upon a deal with. took a look at Oakland’s draft.

Here is a look at the mandatory minicamp schedule for all NFL teams. All four AFC West teams will hold the camps in June.

Former Giants running back Ahmad Bradshaw has been cleared to play after going through a foot injury. Denver reportedly has had some interest in him. The Broncos could take a running back as early as the second round Friday night in the NFL draft.

If Alabama running back Eddie Lacy somehow falls to No. 58, Denver may take him. If not, there are other targets in the second and third rounds for Denver. If the Broncos don’t fill the need, Bradshaw could come into play.

In other AFC West notes:

The Miami Dolphins bragged about how little they gave up moving up from No. 12 to No. 3 in a trade with the Raiders. The Raiders also got pick No. 42 in the trade.

The Denver Post reports the Broncos have moved former Air Force project defensive tackle Ben Garland to the offensive line. Like he was on defense, the practice squad player is a long shot to make the final 53-man roster.

Denver Broncos draft options

April, 20, 2013
Let's take a look at some possible targets of the Denver Broncos, who have the No. 28 pick in the April 25-27 draft:

Tank Carradine, defensive end, Florida State
  • Why is he a top prospect? He has tremendous pass-rush burst and great college film.
  • How would he help? He would help make up for the loss of Elvis Dumervil.
  • What are the risks? Carradine is coming off a major knee injury.
  • How he could be the choice? If Carradine had been healthy last year, he probably would have been a top-15 pick. But there is a strong chance he will be available. Denver could pull the trigger or perhaps even trade down a few spots to take him.
D.J. Hayden, Houston, cornerback
  • Why is he a top prospect? He is a big, strong competitor.
  • How would he help? The Broncos are looking to get younger at the position.
  • What are the risks? He is not an elite talent, and he may never become an elite player.
  • How he could be the choice? He should be available at No. 28 and perhaps even in a trade down. It could be a matter of choice compared to another cornerback.
Margus Hunt, defensive end, SMU
  • Why is he a top prospect? He is huge, and he has natural pass-rushing skills.
  • How would he help? He would add to the pass-rush mix.
  • What are the risks? He is raw, and he is 26. That is a tough combination for a top pick.
  • How he could be the choice? If Denver thinks all the pluses outweigh the risks, he could be the choice. He would be a possible target in a trade down.
Johnathan Jenkins, defensive tackle, Georgia
  • Why is he a top prospect? He is huge at 359 pounds, and he is athletic.
  • How would he help? Denver is solid at defensive tackle, but adding a young talent like Jenkins would be tempting.
  • What are the risks? He takes plays off, and he is far from a finished product.
  • How he could be the choice? If Denver thinks Jenkins is too good to pass up, his selection at No. 28 could easily be justified.
Eddie Lacy, running back, Alabama
  • Why is he a top prospect? He is the best running back available, and many scouts think he can be a top primary back.
  • How would he help? Denver wants to get younger at running back, and Lacy would be a terrific addition for an already strong offense.
  • What are the risks? Some scouts think he may just be average and may be benefiting from a weak overall class.
  • How he could be the choice? If he is available, I think Lacy has a strong possibility of being Denver's choice.
Xavier Rhodes, cornerback, Florida State
  • Why is he a top prospect? He is huge for a corner at 6-foot-2, 215 pounds and knows how to play the position.
  • How would he help? Who couldn't use a young, big corner?
  • What are the risks? Some scouts think he is just average at everything and will not be an impact player.
  • How he could be the choice? Some teams will be in love with Rhodes' size. Some teams would think he'd be worth taking at No. 28.
Jamar Taylor, cornerback, Boise State
  • Why is he a top prospect? He has impressed scouts with his solid, steady play. He seems NFL-ready.
  • How would he help? Again, with Champ Bailey nearing the end of his career, this is a position where Denver could use some youth.
  • What are the risks? He has had injury concerns, and he may have not have a high ceiling.
  • How he could be the choice? The word is, Denver likes Taylor more than some other cornerbacks.
Manti Te'o, linebacker, Notre Dame
  • Why is he a top prospect? He has great film. He was highly productive, and there were few flaws in his college playing career.
  • How would he help? Denver needs a strong inside linebacker, and he'd be another talent to a solid defense.
  • What are the risks? There's concern about the hoax he was involved in, and his combine performance was weak coming off a poor performance in the title game against Alabama.
  • How he could be the choice? If Te'o falls to No. 28, I'm sure Denver will be tempted to take him. Production like his is rare.
Desmond Trufant, cornerback, Washington
  • Why is he a top prospect? There are few flaws with this player, who has the ability to get better.
  • How would he help? See above.
  • What are the risks? He is not overly big or physical.
  • How he could be the choice? The cornerback position at the bottom of the first round will be a matter of taste. If Trufant is there, Denver could be forced into making a tough decision.
Bjoern Werner, defensive end, Florida State
  • Why is he a top prospect? He has everything a team would want in a pass-rusher.
  • How would he help? A Werner-Von Miller pairing could quickly make folks forget about Dumervil's ugly departure.
  • What are the risks? Some scouts think the NFL may be too big for Werner, and his skill set may not be exceptional at the next level.
  • How he could be the choice? Earlier in the draft process, Werner was considered a potential top-five pick. If he falls all the way down to No. 28, Denver would have a difficult time bypassing him.

AFC West links: Raiders sign CB Jenkins

April, 9, 2013
Oakland Raiders

The Raiders signed veteran cornerback Mike Jenkins, GM Reggie McKenzie announced Tuesday. Jenkins, 28, played for Dallas his first five seasons. He is expected to compete for a starting spot. Earlier this offseason, the Raiders signed veteran cornerback Tracy Porter as a prospective starter.

A 5-foot-10, 197-pound veteran out of South Florida, Jenkins has played in 71 games with 48 starts. His career totals include eight interceptions, 43 passes defensed, one forced fumble and one interception return for a touchdown since entering the NFL as Dallas’ first-round selection (25th overall) in 2008.

Denver Broncos

Former Broncos safety Jim Leonhard has signed a one-year deal with the New Orleans Saints, writes Mike Klis of the Denver Post.

Lance Ball, who has been part of the Broncos’ running back rotation the past three seasons, signed his $1.323 million tender as a restricted free agent. The salary doesn’t become guaranteed unless Ball makes the team’s season-opening roster.

Andrew Mason, an independent analyst for the team's website, takes a look at the wide receivers that might interest the Broncos in the upcoming draft.

Kansas City Chiefs

The Chiefs will focus on forcing turnovers under new defensive coordinator Bob Sutton, writes Randy Covitz of the Kansas City Star.

As part of a draft spotlight series, Reid Ferrin of the team's website profiles Alabama running back Eddie Lacy.

San Diego Chargers

Veteran right tackle Eric Winston, 29, said he had a salary discussion with the Chargers last month, but "things kind of fell through." He hasn’t found a taker since the Chiefs released him March 6, writes Tom Krasovic of the San Diego Union-Tribune. Winston was to make $4.9 million in base salary before the Chiefs released him. He said he’s seeking $3 million to $4 million this season and isn’t asking for a long-term deal.

Wide receiver Deon Butler and cornerback Cornelius Brown signed one-year contracts, and receiver Dan DePalma signed a two-year deal, writes Michael Gehlken of the Union-Tribune.

Ricky Henne of the team's website profiles UCLA pass-rusher Datone Jones.
Midweek mail call:

Logan Starks from Lincoln, Neb., wants to know if I think Alabama running back Eddie Lacy could be Denver’s choice with the No. 28 pick.

Bill Williamson: I think Lacy could certainly be a possibility. In fact, in my last mock draft, I have him tabbed to be Denver’s choice. But with Elvis Dumervil leaving, the Broncos will also be looking at pass-rushers. Executive Vice President of Football Operations John Elway is known for going for the best available player. But Lacy, I believe, will be in the conversation.

Antonio Spellman from San Diego wants to know if I think the Chargers will add another running back.

BW: I think they could draft a running back in the mid-rounds. Ryan Mathews is the starter, but he has yet to prove he can stay healthy. He needs help. The team signed Danny Woodhead and he will have a role on third down and in the red zone. Ronnie Brown was brought back as a backup. The team claimed Fozzy Whittaker off waivers from Arizona. New San Diego offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt coached Whittaker and he likes him. But I can still see them adding another tailback into the mix.

Md. Ellis from Council Bluffs, Iowa, wants to know what the Raiders should expect in terms of compensatory picks in 2014.

BW: Well, Raiders fans should hope not much. That would mean that the players who left in free agency fared better than the ones brought in. The comp pick formula is based on several things, including salary, performance and honors received by outgoing free agents weighed against the performance against incoming free agents. Yes, a lot of outgoing Oakland players got paid well this offseason opposed to several players who were signed by Oakland. But the incoming free agents will play a lot. So, if the Raiders get a slew of comp picks it will mean the incoming free-agent class didn’t fare that well.

AFC West checkpoint

March, 23, 2013
Free agency is 11 days old, and the heavy lifting has been done. The Denver Broncos and Kansas City Chiefs were among the busiest teams in the NFL this offseason. Elsewhere in the AFC West, the Oakland Raiders and the San Diego Chargers have taken more measured approaches because of salary-cap constraints.

There are still bargains out there, and I expect Oakland and San Diego to cherry-pick the remaining scraps in free agency to bolster their rosters. And then there's the draft, coming up in a little more than a month.

Let’s do a late-March checkpoint for each team:

Denver Broncos

Where are they strong? Denver doesn’t have many holes, and its offense got more potent with the addition of slot receiver Wes Welker. His signing was one of the stories of the offseason. He is a perfect addition and a new toy for quarterback Peyton Manning. Pair Welker with Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker and Denver has arguably the best group of receivers in the NFL. Denver added cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, defensive tackle Terrance Knighton and middle linebacker Stewart Bradley to a defense that finished 2012 rated No. 2 overall in the NFL.

Where are they weak? The Broncos could use a safety, some clarity at middle linebacker, perhaps another pass-rusher and a running back.

Biggest remaining question: Where is Denver going to go with the No. 28 pick in the draft? The John Elway regime is known for taking the best available player. If there is a safety such as Texas’ Kenny Vaccaro or a running back such as Alabama's Eddie Lacy available, I can see Elway pouncing. Either could come in and play a major role.

Kansas City Chiefs

Where are they strong? The new regime has done a nice job of beefing up, making the Chiefs better in a lot of spots. They were already good at linebacker; now they are strong in the secondary after adding cornerbacks Sean Smith and Dunta Robinson. Along with Brandon Flowers, this might be the best group of cornerbacks in the NFL. Throw in young safety Eric Berry and this is a powerhouse.

Where are they weak? You never want to go too crazy about a team coming off a 2-14 season, but the Chiefs don’t have a ton of holes. They have improved in key spots and don't have glaring holes. The biggest improvement, of course, was at quarterback, where Alex Smith takes over for Matt Cassel and Brady Quinn. Smith is not elite, not even close. Still, he is far from terrible. With that problem fixed, the Chiefs might look to get stronger on the offensive line, and they also could use another inside linebacker and another body on the defensive line. But that’s average stuff. Pretty good for a 2-14 team.

Biggest remaining question: Will the Chiefs trade left tackle Branden Albert? The franchised player could command a second-round pick in return. That would make up for the second-round pick Kansas City lost in the Smith trade. The Chiefs could be interested in such a move. If that deal happens, the team probably would take Texas A&M left tackle Luke Joeckel with the No. 1 pick and find an answer elsewhere for the hole at right tackle.

Oakland Raiders

Where are they strong? This team has talent despite the exodus the past two offseasons. I think the most interesting group right now is the linebackers after the addition of free agents Nick Roach, Kevin Burnett and Kaluka Maiava. The Raiders also have second-year player Miles Burris, who started as a rookie. The front seven will vary, but the Raiders are expected to remain a 4-3 base defense -- so there is some versatility on this unit.

Where are they weak? The Raiders have holes on both sides of the ball as they rebuild after years of wild spending by the previous regime. They need big help on the secondary and must continue to work on the defense as a whole. Tight end and offensive line are other positions of need.

Biggest remaining question: Second-year general manager Reggie McKenzie has added some nice pieces at bargain rates in free agency after seeing several good players leave. Can McKenzie continue to find more help? This team still needs six to nine starters.

San Diego Chargers

Where are they strong? This is a good team on defense. It was underrated last season, especially the front seven. The Chargers also have quarterback Philip Rivers. Yes, he has had some issues the past two years, but new coach Mike McCoy has often said the key is to build around Rivers.

Where are they weak? OK, well, the Chargers have to continue to build around Rivers. The offensive line still needs two or three starters, and another skill-position weapon is a must. Cornerback Derek Cox was a good get, but the Chargers need Shareece Wright or Marcus Gilchrist to take the next step at cornerback. Another safety might be needed, as well.

Biggest remaining question: How are the offensive line holes going to get fixed? The team probably will draft a left tackle with the No. 11 pick, but this unit needs to get better or Rivers will have no chance to succeed.

AFC West mock draft: Take IV

March, 21, 2013
With the first phase of free agency over, here is my fourth mock draft for AFC West teams' first-round picks. We will periodically update as we move closer to the April draft.

1. Kansas City Chiefs: OT Luke Joeckel, Texas A&M. It still looks like Joeckel is going to be the pick, even if he has to play right tackle for the time being. I wouldn’t be shocked if the Chiefs seriously consider Utah defensive lineman Star Lotulelei now that he is healthy. But for now, we’re sticking with Joeckel.

Previous pick: Joeckel

3. Oakland Raiders: DT Sharrif Floyd, Florida. Yes, Oakland has signed two defensive tackles in Pat Sims and Vance Walker. But they combined for 10 starts last season. There is room for Floyd. I am tempted to go with Alabama cornerback Dee Milliner because of the lack of cornerbacks in Oakland, but we’re sticking with Floyd for the moment. He is a more highly rated player.

Previous pick: Floyd

11. San Diego Chargers: OT Lane Johnson, Oklahoma. At this point, the Chargers better hope Johnson is still on the board. He should be, but there aren’t many other great left tackle options for this team and for Philip Rivers’ blind side.

Previous pick: Johnson.

28. Denver Broncos: RB Eddie Lacy, Alabama. The Broncos don’t have many holes and they were productive in free agency. Adding a player like Lacy would add another dimension to a strong offense.

Previous pick: LB Manti Te’o, Notre Dame.
One of the more interesting storylines of this fast-moving free-agency period will be the cornerback market.

The Broncos (Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie) and San Diego (Derek Cox) got things started late Wednesday night with signings. All four AFC West teams went into free agency needing cornerbacks. The Chiefs signed Dunta Robinson on Friday. Even with those signings, the Chargers and Chiefs are probably still looking for cornerbacks. The Broncos are probably off the market. Oakland, which is hosting Cincinnati's Terence Newman, needs multiple cornerbacks.

It is a buyer’s market for cornerbacks and some bargains can be had.

In other AFC West notes:
  • For what it’s worth, the Raiders are represented at West Virginia’s pro day Thursday. They have been linked to quarterback Geno Smith with the No. 3 pick. But representation at pro days really doesn’t mean much. Most teams go to major pro days.
  • Green Bay receiver Greg Jennings is visiting Minnesota. There were some reports listing Oakland as a possible destination for Jennings. I think that would be a stupid move. Jennings would take up a huge part of the Raiders’ salary cap and they have much bigger needs on defense.
  • The more I think about it, the more I think Denver could target a running back with the No. 28 pick. It could target Alabama’s Eddie Lacy. The team is filling other holes quickly in free agency.
  • The slow market for pass-rushers could persuade Elvis Dumervil to accept a pay cut in Denver. If the deal Denver is offering isn’t totally awful, Dumervil might not be able to do better in a market that is drying up. A decision is expected by Friday.
  • The San Francisco Chronicle reports Detroit defensive lineman Corey Williams has left the Raiders’ facility without a deal. That doesn’t necessarily mean there will be no deal. He is not going to be a big-money player, anyway.
The Denver Broncos are getting better and they are not mortgaging the future while doing it.

The team is doing nothing to stop the chatter that it will be a Super Bowl favorite in the 2013 season.

In a cherry to top a massive day, the Broncos inked Eagles cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie to a $5 million, one-year deal. Many league observers thought Rodgers-Cromartie was the best cornerback available in a strong class.

The headliner for Denver was outstanding slot receiver Wes Welker. The Broncos also signed defensive tackle Terrance Knighton and middle linebacker Stewart Bradley. They got all three players plus Rodgers-Cromartie for $22 million. Tuesday, they nabbed guard Louis Vasquez from the Chargers in a five-year, $23 million deal.

These deals enhanced a very strong roster. Denver has few holes, but is still looking for a running back and a safety. The Broncos may need a pass-rusher if Elvis Dumervil is cut. I could see Denver grabbing a running back -- perhaps Alabama’s Eddie Lacy -- with the No. 28 pick at this point.

There is no doubt the cornerback position is set for now. Signing Rodgers-Cromartie means Denver will not pursue Darrelle Revis in a trade or pursue free agent Nnamdi Asomugha. There were reports Denver was interested in both players.

Rodgers-Cromartie is a fine get. He is super athletic and he will be a nice pairing with Champ Bailey. The Broncos like Chris Harris, who finished last season as the starter, as a nickel. Tony Carter is also a fine player. If Denver takes a cornerback early in the draft it will be for the future.

Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. likes the signing for Denver.

“DRC is a very good man-to-man corner that has great height and length -- he can also really fly in a straight line,” Williams said. “He does have lapses here and there and really doesn’t like tackling or hitting, but if they keep him isolated in man coverage, it should work out fine.”

Rodgers-Cromartie will also be motivated to have a big year to try to get a long-term deal, whether it’s in Denver or not. If Rodgers-Cromartie gets Denver closer to its goal of a Super Bowl, the Broncos will be happy with the investment.