AFC West: Jake Locker

Rapid Reaction: Kansas City Chiefs

October, 6, 2013
10/06/13
4:27
PM ET

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- A few thoughts on the Kansas City Chiefs' 26-17 win over the Tennessee Titans at LP Field:

What it means: The Chiefs, after leading 13-0 at halftime, survived, but only after a frantic fourth-quarter touchdown drive that was aided by a questionable late-hit penalty against the Titans. Until then, they were miserable in the second half, a collapse so steep that it’s logical to wonder whether the Chiefs were good in the first place. The Chiefs had everything going for them in a lopsided first half but had trouble holding off the Titans, who were playing without injured starting quarterback Jake Locker.

Stock watch: Quarterback Alex Smith had by far his worst game of the season -- throwing a horrible pass in the third quarter that was intercepted. The Titans then went on to score the go-ahead touchdown off the turnover. Smith went on to lead a big fourth-quarter touchdown drive that put the Chiefs ahead for good. Wide receiver Donnie Avery had two big catches of 40-plus yards. Rookie cornerback Marcus Cooper scored a touchdown when he recovered a fumbled punt in the end zone and later had a fourth-quarter interception. Ryan Succop made all of his four field goal attempts, including a 48-yarder with 2:12 to go that put the Chiefs ahead 26-17.

Defensive collapse: The Chiefs allowed the Titans and backup quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick 153 yards in a dismal third quarter. The Titans climbed to within 13-10 by the end of the period. The Chiefs redeemed themselves with a goal-line stand that featured four plays from the Kansas City 1. They also intercepted Fitzpatrick twice in the fourth quarter.

What’s next: The Chiefs begin a three-game homestand next Sunday when they play the Oakland Raiders. The Raiders have beaten the Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium in each of the past six seasons.
Chris Johnson, Dontari PoeAP Photo With Jake Locker out, Chris Johnson,left, may see his workload increase. It'll be up to Dontari Poe and the Kansas City defense to contain him.
Raise your hand if you figured a Week 5 matchup between the Kansas City Chiefs and Tennessee Titans in Nashville would feature teams with a combined 7-1 record.

If your hand is up, you’re likely fibbing.

In his first season in Kansas City, Andy Reid has already doubled last season’s win total. In his third season as the head coach of the Titans, Mike Munchak appears to have a revamped team on a good course.

ESPN Titans reporter Paul Kuharsky and ESPN Chiefs reporter Adam Teicher discuss the teams they cover in advance of the game.

Teicher: Jake Locker was obviously playing well but he won’t be available to the Titans on Sunday. What do the Titans lose without him in their lineup and how will their offense change, if it does, with Ryan Fitzpatrick at quarterback?

Kuharsky: Well, they won't have him running around as much, though he’s more mobile than one might think. But they haven't used Locker on bootlegs and roll outs so much as they might eventually, as they've been going against 3-4s. They moved away from Matt Hasselbeck in March as he was too expensive for a backup, and they were eyeing Fitzpatrick as they made that move. He’s a smart guy, obviously, and has been a good resource for Locker. He entered the Jets game with the Titans holding a big lead and he said his job was simply not to screw it up. He knows his job changes now for however long Locker is out. Fitzpatrick wasn't on a good team in Buffalo, but he turned the ball over way too much. The Titans are 3-1 in large part because they have not turned the ball over at all yet. The Titans are confident in their system and that Fitzpatrick will be able to keep the trend going.

Alex Smith is a minimal-mistake guy, too. How conservative has he been in Reid's offense?

Teicher: Smith opened things up a little more, went downfield a little more against the Giants on Sunday. Most of their long pass plays from the first three games had been of the catch-and-run type, but he has completed some passes down the field. The Chiefs actually have more pass plays of 20 or more yards (14) than their opponents (10). Smith threw his first two interceptions of the season Sunday, but you could argue that neither one was his fault. On the first, Dwayne Bowe ran a lazy slant route and allowed the cornerback to cut in front and make the catch instead. The other interception was deflected by Jamaal Charles, who accidentally kicked it straight to a defender. The throw wasn't a great one, it was slightly behind Charles, but the interception wasn't Smith’s fault. Going down the field a lot doesn't play to Smith’s strengths. He doesn't throw a great deep ball. His strengths are good decision-making and accuracy on shorter routes.

Big plays have hurt the Chiefs in the running game, but Chris Johnson is averaging fewer than 3.5 yards per carry. Is he still capable of exploiting KC’s run defense or are his best days behind him?

Kuharsky: He's definitely still capable of stellar runs. The Titans have faced some stiff run defenses, particularly in Pittsburgh and against the Jets. They rebuilt the interior of the offensive line, but the new threesome hasn't jelled as quickly as they may have expected. And Johnson will benefit from surrendering some carries to the bigger, better-in-short-yardage Shonn Greene, but Greene's been out since early in the opener with a knee injury that required a scope. He could return this week. Tennessee has run it 55 percent of the time, and Fitzpatrick and the Titans could look for that to go up.

Charles isn't just the Chiefs' top rusher, he's their top receiver. If the Titans can control him, how much will they improve their chances?

Teicher: A lot. In the passing game, no other receiver has stepped forward as a consistent threat for the Chiefs. Bowe has scored a couple of touchdowns, but otherwise, his numbers are way down. He’s just not getting open a lot. The other starting wide receiver, Donnie Avery, had a big game against the Eagles in Philadelphia but has otherwise produced little. Likewise, Dexter McCluster had a nice game last week against the Giants, but otherwise has given them almost nothing. The Chiefs are hurting at tight end. Of their top three tight ends at training camp, one is out for the season while the other two are injured and didn't play last week. In the running game, the Chiefs don’t trust anyone but Charles. They drafted Knile Davis in the third round this year, but between fumbles, lining up in the wrong place and running the wrong play, they can’t count on him for much.

The Titans are a lot like the Chiefs in that they are living off a nice turnover differential. The teams are tied for the league lead at plus-9. What’s it going to look like for the Titans when that begins to balance out?

Kuharsky: Not only are the Titans tied with Kansas City with the league-best plus-9, but Tennessee's plus-9 includes zero giveaways. Odds are this team is due to lose a fumble or throw a pick, and Fitzpatrick is more likely to get picked off than Locker, though he should be less inclined to force anything in this system than when he was pressing in Buffalo. But this is a big piece of what they want to do -- play mistake-free and capitalize on mistakes they help prompt.

Looking at the stats, I see the Chiefs are giving up 5.4 rushing yards a clip. Johnson once ran a mile for a touchdown at Arrowhead and then played the drums he found on the sideline to celebrate. Defensively, what's the best plan of attack for the Titans' offense?

Teicher: He played the drums well, too, as I recall. The Titans need to be patient with the running game. They need to stay with it even if they get behind early or it isn’t working well. If they give up on it early, it’s probably going to be a long day for Fitzpatrick and the offense because the Chiefs are relentless in getting after the passer. They have the players and the schemes to make it work, so the last thing Tennessee needs to do is drop-back the quarterback a bunch of times. Though their season stats look ugly, the Chiefs had only one game where their rushing defense stats were completely out of whack. Philadelphia rushed for 264 yards on 27 carries, but Michael Vick accounted for a lot of that. The Chiefs have allowed 11 runs of 10 or more yards and six were in that game. Their longest run allowed in the other three games is 15 yards. But that’s still the best plan of attack for the Titans.

The Titans haven’t received as much attention for the way they’ve played on defense, but they’ve got a lot of guys playing well on that side of the ball. Who are some of the defensive players the Chiefs need to make sure they account for in the running game and the passing game?

Kuharsky: A guy who's probably remembered by Chiefs fans, safety Bernard Pollard, is the defensive tone-setter. The Titans have managed to keep him out of coverage situations downfield, which are not his strength. Defensive tackle Jurrell Casey is a really good, disruptive rusher and effective run-stopper who rates as the best player on defense. Zach Brown is a speedy weakside 'backer who's gotten to the quarterback. And cornerback Alterraun Verner has more takeaways than anyone in the league with four picks and two fumble recoveries. They wondered if he'd be good enough playing more man-press, which they're going to more often. He's been great.

Same question to you. We know Justin Houston's got 7.5 sacks and Eric Berry is a very good safety. Who else keys that defense?

Teicher: They have a lot of guys playing well on defense. Dontari Poe, their nose tackle, has been outstanding. He’s providing some consistent push in the pass rush they haven’t had from the middle of their line in a long time. Inside linebacker Derrick Johnson is playing as well as he ever has. The other outside linebacker, Tamba Hali, had a big game against the Giants with a couple of sacks and a forced fumble. The corners, Sean Smith and Brandon Flowers, have mostly held up well. Dez Bryant of Dallas had a big game against Flowers. He has a sore knee that prevented him from playing Sunday and could be trouble for him again this week. A rookie, Marcus Cooper, filled in nicely for Flowers. A lot of their players seem to have taken to the pressure system put in by new coordinator Bob Sutton.

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A few thoughts on the San Diego Chargers' 20-17 loss to the Tennessee Titans.

What it means: The Chargers had not lost to the Titans since the franchise was in Houston and known as the Oilers in 1992 (nine straight games). San Diego lets another game slip away in the final moments and falls to 1-2.

Defense can’t stop Locker: Tennessee quarterback Jake Locker went 7-of-10 for 94 yards on the game-winning drive, including a 34-yard touchdown strike to rookie receiver Justin Hunter with 15 seconds left. San Diego could have effectively ended the game four plays earlier, but defensive back Marcus Gilchrist couldn’t hold onto an interception on a tipped ball off the hands of Titans tight end Delanie Walker. Locker finished 23-of-37 for 299 passing yards.

Stock watch: Rising -- Philip Rivers continues to show a rebirth under new Chargers coach Mike McCoy. Rivers completed 20 of 24 passes for 184 yards with a 7-yard touchdown pass to tight end Antonio Gates. Rivers now has eight touchdown passes and just one interception on the year. Rivers did cost his team field position with a personal foul penalty for arguing an offensive pass interference call in the first half that negated an Eddie Royal touchdown pass in the first half. The Chargers had to settle for a Nick Novak 44-yard field goal on the drive.

Reserves step up: Michael Harris started in place of rookie D.J. Fluker (concussion) at right tackle and looked solid in pass protection, not giving up a sack. Harris also made a key block on Ronnie Brown's 1-yard touchdown run that put San Diego ahead in the second half, 17-10. Reggie Walker was a late replacement at inside linebacker in place of Donald Butler (groin), and notched a sack in the first half.

Titans run wild: Tennessee owned the line of scrimmage offensively, finishing with 170 rushing yards. Chris Johnson rushed 19 times for 90 yards. And Locker finished with 68 rushing yards.

What’s next: The Chargers return home to face the Dallas Cowboys next Sunday at 4:25 p.m. ET.
Rivers/LockerUSA TODAY SportsJake Locker, right, will try to keep up with Philip Rivers and the Chargers, who have scored 61 points through two games.
The San Diego Chargers are the Tennessee Titans' white whale.

The teams don’t play that frequently -- just nine times since 1993, including a wild-card playoff matchup in January 2008. The franchises have undergone all sorts of changes during that span, but one thing has remained consistent when they meet: The Chargers always win.

Bill Williamson, why do you think that is, and what are the odds it continues?

Bill Williamson: I don’t see the Chargers' history with the Titans being a factor. I know in Nashville the word "Chargers" makes fans cringe because of the history. Both teams are rebuilding and trending upward. These are two similar teams, and they will both be in the AFC conversation in the coming years.

The Titans made a lot of changes. This isn’t the team the Chargers beat 38-10 last September. What’s the biggest difference?

Paul Kuharsky: The central part of the offseason revamp was the offensive line. The Titans have three new starters on the interior with left guard Andy Levitre, center Rob Turner and right guard Chance Warmack. Turner has been shaky, however, and Warmack is a rookie who is going to take some lumps when he’s across from someone like J.J. Watt. The group hasn’t jelled yet, but the run-blocking has been pretty good.

We've seen the good Philip Rivers and the bad Philip Rivers over the years. With the new regime in place, what is your feeling on who he will be now?

Williamson: I might be the wrong person to ask, Paul. I’ve always been high on Rivers. Yes, his play sank the past two seasons and he committed 47 turnovers during that span. But it wasn’t all on him. The previous regime in San Diego let go of a lot of skill-position talent, and the offensive line was decimated by injuries. Rivers didn’t have much help. He was pressing as a result. So far under head coach Mike McCoy, offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt and quarterback coach Frank Reich, Rivers has looked re-energized. He has looked relaxed and confident over the first two weeks. He has shown that he is still a high-level player. Stopping him is the main challenge for the Titans.

How’s Jake Locker coming along?

Kuharsky: He made a bad throw on a crucial third-and-1 late in regulation in the loss to the Texans. The Titans have hardly turned him loose so far. But since the start of camp, he’s shown steady progress. I’m not a complete believer by any means, but I think he has a chance and I didn’t always feel that way. We still haven’t seen some aspects of the offense that should be featured for him. Maybe this week he’ll run around more and we’ll see more boots and rollouts.

I’m curious about one of the guys who will be chasing Locker. The Titans have seen a great deal of Dwight Freeney over the years. How has he fit in the defensive scheme there?

Williamson: An old foe, indeed. Freeney is in a tough spot. He was signed (and paid well) to be the Chargers’ primary edge pass-rusher after 2012 first-round pick Melvin Ingram blew out his knee in May. But at 33, Freeney is best suited as a rotational player. He has half a sack this season. He has been active and will give his best effort, but he needs help. It would be a stretch to think he can still be a premier player. But he knows the Titans, and I’m sure he will be motivated to perform well Sunday.

What can Rivers and the Chargers' offensive line expect from the Titans’ pass rush?

Kuharsky: The best guys so far haven’t been the ends. Derrick Morgan, Akeem Ayers and Kamerion Wimbley should key the rush. Ayers moves from stongside linebacker to end on rush downs but has been limited by a bad ankle. Tackle Jurrell Casey and weakside linebacker Zach Brown have been the best rushers so far. The fronts are less predictable and the blitzes more frequent. That’s the influence of defensive assistant Gregg Williams. This defense is far better than I expected.

Final Word: AFC West

September, 23, 2011
9/23/11
1:30
PM ET
NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 3:

Tolbert not a force at the goal line: The San Diego Chargers would like to see bowling-ball running back Mike Tolbert regain his mojo at the goal line Sunday against visiting Kansas City. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Tolbert has scored on just one of six goal-to-go situations in two games. Last year, he was 10-of-21 in those situations. Tolbert was stopped on fourth-and-inches at the goal line at New England last week. It was one of the most crucial plays of the game.

[+] EnlargeSan Diego's Mike Tolbert
AP Photo/Charles KrupaThe Chargers need to get more production around the goal line from running back Mike Tolbert.
Raiders need to put hex on Rex: One of the reasons New York Jets coach Rex Ryan has been so effective as a head coach is his confidence. He is not afraid to play anywhere. He certainly won’t fret about entering the Black Hole on Sunday. Since he took over the Jets in 2009, Ryan’s team is 6-0 against non-divisional AFC competition on the road. It’s up to the Raiders to show Ryan the road can be a tough place.

Last trip to San Diego not good karma for Chiefs: The last thing the Kansas City Chiefs need right now is bad memories. The Chiefs are floundering at 0-2. They have been outscored 89-10 in two games, they have injury issues, and coach Todd Haley is reportedly on the hot seat. A win at San Diego would solve a lot of problems, but the Chiefs will not be hitting the field in San Diego with terrific memories. The Chargers hammered the Chiefs 31-0 in Week 14 of last season -- Kansas City's last visit. The Chiefs were without quarterback Matt Cassel, who had an appendectomy earlier that week.

Did the Titans pick the right QB? Before the end of the lockout, there was speculation the Tennessee Titans would pursue a veteran quarterback to help groom first-round pick Jake Locker. A lot of the speculation centered on Denver’s Kyle Orton. However, instead of trading for Orton, the Titans signed Seattle’s Matt Hasselbeck. In the end, Orton didn’t get dealt, and now the two veterans will face each other Sunday in Nashville. So far, Hasselbeck is enjoying a fast start for the Titans, so they probably don’t have any regrets going into this matchup.

Raiders defensive front could have a field day: New York star center Nick Mangold is out for Sunday’s game. Rookie free-agent Colin Baxter is expected to start in his place. Baxter was claimed off waivers from the Chargers after the Chargers cut him with the intent of stashing him on the practice squad earlier this month. Baxter has had nine practices with the Jets and will be in charge of protecting Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez, who has a bruised arm. The Raiders’ defensive front, one of the best in the league, must take advantage of this. It has to attack the middle of the Jets’ line and try to make life as difficult as possible for Baxter. If Baxter fails, the Jets are prepared to use left guard Matt Slauson at center. That would put the Jets’ offensive line in even more upheaval.
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.
Now that the draft is completed, we have a better idea of what teams still need a quarterback and who could potentially be interested in Denver quarterback Kyle Orton. The pool has shrunk considerably as six quarterbacks were taken in the first 36 picks.

Orton -- along with Philadelphia’s Kevin Kolb and Cincinnati’s Carson Palmer -- could all be trade possibilities when the lockout ends.

However, the longer the lockout extends, the higher the odds are that Orton stays in Denver. If second-year quarterback Tim Tebow doesn’t get ample offseason work, the Broncos could be tempted to begin the season with Orton as the starter. Still, because Orton’s contract ends after this season, the Broncos might be swayed to trade him while they can get a decent return for him. Here are a few teams that may be interested in Orton because they didn’t address quarterback in the draft.

Arizona: This could be a good fit.

Buffalo: The Bills will likely stick with Ryan Fitzpatrick

Miami: Orton could paired with Brandon Marshall again.

Seattle: The Seahawks will likely pursue a veteran.

Tenneesse: Despite drafting Jake Locker, the Titans could look for a vet.

Washington: The Redskins may go with John Beck.

If you want a QB, take him now

April, 29, 2011
4/29/11
9:00
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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.
In a conference call with Denver Broncos' season-ticket holders, team executive John Elway was asked which quarterback prospect in the upcoming draft reminds him most of himself.

Good question, season-ticket holder.

The legendary quarterback’s answer? Washington quarterback Jake Locker.

“Jake Locker, if you talk about height, weight and speed, he’s probably the closest to me,” Elway said. “We’re the same height, he’s faster, probably, and heavier than I was, but when you think about play style, Jake Locker is probably the closest even though [Blaine Gabbert, Cam Newton and Colin Kaepernick] are all very mobile themselves, too.”

Elway and the Broncos have looked at all of the top quarterback prospects. There is a school of thought Denver could draft a quarterback in the second round. Locker will likely be taken late in the first round or early in the second.

While Elway gave Locker a huge compliment, Denver coach John Fox compared LSU cornerback Patrick Peterson to a Hall of Famer he coached: Rod Woodson, who is now an assistant in Oakland.

"I'll be honest with you, I had Rod Woodson, Gil Byrd, I've had some pretty good guys. I've never seen anything like [Peterson], with that size, that speed,” Fox told the Denver Post. “I don't think there's been a 219-pound guy run a 4.3. He's a special talent. That's the way the game (has) changed, he's about the same height as Rod, but 219 pounds and ran 4.3.”

Peterson could be a top-five pick; Denver could take him, especially if the team slides down a few spots from No. 2.

In other AFC West-related nuggets on Friday afternoon:

The San Diego Union-Tribune looks at the defensive ends the Chargers could consider with the No. 18 pick.

A Bay Area columnist thinks new Oakland coach Hue Jackson is consumed by kissing up to Oakland owner Al Davis. Tom Cable publicly did the same thing. It didn’t work for him. My advice to Jackson: Just Win, Baby.

The Kansas City Star looks at the Chiefs’ need for a No. 2 receiver.

Draft Watch: AFC West

April, 21, 2011
4/21/11
12:00
PM ET
NFC Draft Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Each Thursday leading up to the NFL draft (April 28-30), the ESPN.com NFL blog network will take a division-by-division look at key aspects of the draft. Today's topic: Dream scenario/Plan B.

Denver Broncos

Dream scenario: The Broncos’ dream scenario begins with the Carolina Panthers taking a quarterback with the No. 1 pick. That would mean the entire defensive draft board is available. The Broncos' primary needs are on defense. Denver would likely choose between Alabama defensive tackle Marcell Dareus, Texas A&M linebacker Von Miller and LSU cornerback Patrick Peterson. The general consensus is Denver will most likely take Dareus.

Plan B: If Carolina takes Dareus, Denver could take Miller or Peterson or trade down to the No. 5-8 range and compile other high-round picks. I could see Miller and Peterson being available at No. 5. If Denver goes down to No. 8, it could look at Auburn defensive tackle Nick Fairley, North Carolina defensive end Robert Quinn or Clemson defensive end Da'Quan Bowers.

Kansas City Chiefs

Dream scenario: The Chiefs are in a great position. They pick No. 21 and need pass-rushers and an offense tackle. Several of those prospects should be available at No. 21. But if the Chiefs had a dream, I’d think it would be to see Alabama receiver Julio Jones tumble to them. But that is a pipedream. He likely won’t fall past St. Louis at No. 14. I think the Chiefs would like to see a pass-rusher like Missouri’s Aldon Smith, Cal’s Cameron Jordan, Purdue’s’ Ryan Kerrigan or Temple’s Muhammad Wilkerson available at No. 21. If not, the Chiefs could go for a pass-rusher like UCLA’s Akeem Ayers or Georgia’s Justin Houston.

Plan B: If all the pass-rushers are gone, that’d probably mean some tackles would fall. Among those players who could interest the Chiefs are Boston College’s Anthony Castonzo, Wisconsin’s Gabe Carimi or Colorado’s Nate Solder. Kansas City will have options and it could prompt it to trade down a few spots to gain another quality pick and grab a player high on its list.

Oakland Raiders

Dream scenario: The Raiders are the only team currently without a first-round pick. Their first pick is at No. 48. Oakland’s dream scenario would to see a first-round talent slide to them without having to trade up. If a quarterback such as Arkansas’ Ryan Mallett or Washington’s Jake Locker is there, Oakland could easily grab them. The Raiders like veteran Jason Campbell, but getting an eventual replacement at the bargain price of No. 48 is worth it. Colorado cornerback Jimmy Smith would also be a dream scenario for Oakland if he was available at No. 48. The team may lose Nnamdi Asomugha in free agency. Smith is considered a top-15 talent; he may fall because of character issues. He’d be a steal at No. 48.

Plan B: If these players don’t fall, Oakland will likely look at offensive linemen (its biggest need), cornerbacks and quarterbacks in the second round. If the Raiders could get a player like Penn State guard Stefen Wisniewski and Nevada quarterback Colin Kaepernick on the second day of the draft, they would be thrilled.

San Diego Chargers

Dream scenario: The Chargers are in an even better position than the Chiefs. San Diego, which has the No. 18 pick, could use a pass-rusher or an offensive lineman. Plenty should be available when they choose. Plus, San Diego has extra picks in both the second and third rounds. The Chargers can do basically whatever they want to do. Thus, the Chargers can make up their own dream scenario. If they want to move up to No. 5 and take Miller, they probably can. If they want to move up to No. 11-12 and take Wisconsin defensive end J.J. Watt or Jones to help at receiver, they can.

Plan B: If they stay put, the Chargers can wait for players like Jordan, Smith or Kerrigan at No. 18. They could also move down to take a pass-rusher like Houston or Ayers or an offensive lineman in the No. 20-25 range. The Chargers are truly in charge of their own draft destiny.
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.
It looks like Mike Pouncey would be the fans’ choice for the Oakland Raiders if they had the No. 17 pick.

Monday night, we ran a SportsNation poll, asking Oakland fans to make their choice for Oakland at No. 17. Oakland's first pick of the 2011 draft will be at No. 48. They sent their first-round pick to the New England Patriots in Sept. 2009 for Richard Seymour.

The choices we gave Oakland fans were: Florida guard/center Mike Pouncey, Washington quarterback Jake Locker, Colorado cornerback Jimmy Smith and Boston College tackle Anthony Castonzo. Pouncey is leading the poll comfortably.

I agree. I think Pouncey would be the best fit of these four players at No. 17. He’d fill Oakland’s biggest need and along with Castonzo, he is expected to go in the first 20 picks. Locker and Smith could likely be had in the 20-30 range, if not lower.

Taking Pouncey at No. 17 would be a solid choice for Oakland if it had the pick.

Thanks to everyone who participated.
Who you think the Oakland Raiders would focus on if they had the No. 17 overall pick in the upcoming draft?

Oakland is the only team without a first-round pick because it sent it to New England in September of 2009 for defensive lineman Richard Seymour. The Raiders, who don’t pick until No. 48, don’t have a ton of needs, but they’d certainly benefit from having the No. 17 pick.

We have picked four players for you to choose from for Oakland at No. 17. They are Florida guard/center Mike Pouncey, Washington quarterback Jake Locker, Boston College tackle Anthony Castonzo and Colorado cornerback Jimmy Smith.

If you would have voted for another prospect please give your suggestions in the comment section below. Thanks for participating.
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.

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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.”

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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.

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