AFC West: Rey Maualuga
When the game is on the line, San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers usually is on the right side of the most decisive play of the game.
He wasn’t Sunday.
In the worst possible time to fail, the San Diego Chargers saw their four-season AFC West title reign end. Rivers threw an interception late in the third quarter of an eventual 34-20 loss at Cincinnati. After trailing 13-0, the Chargers clawed back to make it a three-point deficit. They were looking to take the lead and keep their playoff hopes alive. In the final seconds of the third period, San Diego had a first down at its own 47.
A Rivers’ pass intended for tight end Randy McMichael (who was playing for the injured Antonio Gates) went past McMichael and into the hands of Cincinnati linebacker Rey Maualuga at the Bengals’ 32. The linebacker took the ball and rumbled all the way to the Chargers’ 21. It set up a Cincinnati touchdown as the Bengals took a 10-point lead early in the fourth quarter.
The play seemed to take the life out of San Diego. After trying all game to get back into it, San Diego gave all the momentum back to Cincinnati, which went out and dominated the fourth quarter with three touchdowns.
The result was a shocking loss and playoff-contention eviction notice for Rivers and San Diego.
Posted by ESPN.com's Bill Williamson
The San Diego Chargers continued the trend of surprise picks in the AFC West.
Followed by Kansas City's selection of Tyson Jackson at No. 3, Oakland's selection of Darrius Heyward-Bey and Denver's selection of Knowshon Moreno, the Chargers took former Northern Illinois defensive end Larry English at No. 16.
It was no surprise San Diego added a defensive player. But the betting money was on USC linebacker Rey Maualuga and not English.
But English is an intriguing pick. He is an outstanding pass-rusher. He ran up the draft board after a strong offseason and a productive college career.
Expect him to be given the chance to make an immediate impact.
With Shawne Merriman coming back from a knee injury, the Chargers should have a great pass rush this season. Speaking of Merriman, this choice could have been made for the long-term as well.
Merriman could be gone as a free agent in the next two years. English could be groomed to replace him if Merriman bolts. If Merriman stays and English develops, the Chargers could have a nasty defense.
This was a fine pick although it was a bit unexpected.
Posted by ESPN.com's Bill Williamson
The San Diego Chargers' mock draft:
Round 1, pick 16
Rey Maualuga, USC, LB
Round 3, pick 78
Andre Brown, North Carolina State, RB
Round 4, pick 113
Duke Robinson, Oklahoma, G
Round 4, pick 133
Scott McKilop, Pittsburgh, LB
Round 4, pick 134
Stryker Sulak, Missouri, DE
Round 5, pick 148
Chris Baker, Hampton, DT
Round 6, pick 189
Jose Valdez, Arkansas, OT
Round 7, pick 224
John Matthews, San Diego, WR
Posted by ESPN.com's Bill Williamson
On the eve of the NFL draft, here is an AFC West primer as we prepare for a busy weekend:
Will Kansas City trade down? The Chiefs have the No. 3 overall pick. The team would likely be interested in trading down for cost reasons. Many teams would probably want to move down but not many want to move up into the top five. If the Chiefs don't move down, they will likely take Wake Forest linebacker Aaron Curry. But that's the safe pick. New Kansas City general manager Scott Pioli likes to make splashes. So, his first draft move in Kansas City may not be by the book.
|Jody Gomez/US Presswire|
|Will former USC QB Mark Sanchez fall to Denver at No. 12?|
When will Denver take its quarterback? Denver will surely take a quarterback to begin the post-Jay Cutler era, but the question is when. The Broncos' workout with USC's Mark Sanchez this week was intriguing. If Sanchez is available at No. 12, Denver may be tempted to jump on him. Still, it is new Denver coach Josh McDaniels' tendency to take a quarterback in the late rounds because that's the way New England does it. McDaniels had success with late-round quarterbacks Tom Brady and Matt Cassel. McDaniels was enamored with quarterback Kevin O'Connell last year and New England took him in the third round. If Sanchez is not the guy in Denver, perhaps lower-round prospects such as Texas Tech's Graham Harrell, Texas A&M's Stephen McGee, Louisville's Hunter Cantwell or Michigan State's Brian Hoyer will be McDaniels' next project.
With Tony Gonzalez traded to Atlanta, will the Chiefs continue to trade veterans? If Kansas City is going to part with Brian Waters, Larry Johnson or Glenn Dorsey, it will likely be this weekend. I think Waters may be the most likely to go. Here's a deal I think would work: Waters to Buffalo for receiver/returner Roscoe Parrish. Buffalo has shopped Parrish. He'd fit in with the Chiefs, as would Waters in Buffalo.
Will the Chargers pick up a second-round choice? It will not be a surprise if the Chargers move down from the No. 16 pick. The idea would be to choose lower in the first round and pick up a second-rounder in the process. The Chargers don't currently have a second-round pick. If the Chargers manage to get a second-rounder, I could see them getting a defensive player in the first round and hoping a running back such as Connecticut's Donald Brown is available in the second round. He could be a bargain pickup and a future successor to LaDainian Tomlinson.
Will these names end up in the AFC West? Look for these names in the first round: Michael Crabtree, B.J. Raji, Rey Maualuga and Tyson Jackson. I'm predicting at least one of these four players will end up in the AFC West. All four players are being looked at by multiple teams in the division. Crabtree, a receiver from Texas Tech, could end up in Kansas City or Oakland. Raji, a defensive tackle from Boston College, could end up in any of the four AFC West cities (although it would be a shock if he fell to San Diego). Maualuga could be drafted by Denver or San Diego. Jackson could be taken by Kansas City (he'd be a huge reach at No. 3, though), Denver or San Diego.
Will the Raiders break their unlucky 7 streak? The Raiders have the No. 7 pick for the third time since 2005. The number hasn't been kind to Oakland. In 2005, Oakland traded the pick for Randy Moss, who was sent to New England two years later for a fourth-rounder. The next year, Oakland bypassed Cutler (despite a need for a quarterback) and took Michael Huff. Huff has moved from cornerback to safety in the NFL and has yet to make an impact.
Will the 3-4 defense rule the draft? With Denver and Kansas City transitioning to the scheme and San Diego already using it, expect this to be a trend this weekend. Players who fit the 3-4 scheme aren't easy to find, but it will be a goal of both Denver and Kansas City to try to find the correct pieces this weekend. Denver could benefit from Aaron Maybin and Brian Orakpo falling down the draft board if Raji and Jackson rise up it. All four players will fit the 3-4.
Does Oakland like Crabtree or Maclin? I believe the Raiders want to take a receiver with their top pick. If Crabtree and Missouri's Jeremy Maclin are both on the board, it will be interesting to see how it plays out. Some people think Crabtree will be the choice, while others think Maclin will be the guy. Crabtree is considered to be a more complete player, but Maclin is a speedster. Crabtree has been compared to Larry Fitzgerald, whom the Raiders bypassed five years ago in favor of offensive lineman Robert Gallery with the No. 2 pick. Maclin has been compared to Cliff Branch, who was a star for the Raiders in the 1970s and 1980s.
Will San Diego take a standout defender? While the Chargers could use a running back and an offensive lineman, their greatest needs are on defense. Here are some names to keep an eye on: Maualuga, Jackson, Ohio State cornerback (he'd be a safety in San Diego) Malcolm Jenkins and Maybin. If Maybin, who could be a top-10 pick, is available, he would be a great fit in San Diego. With linebacker Shawne Merriman returning from a knee injury and Ron Rivera in control of the defense from the start of the season, the Chargers may be a top defender away from fielding an elite defense.
Could Chris "Beanie" Wells be headed to the AFC West? While it may be a mild surprise, it wouldn't be a shock if either San Diego or Denver (at No. 18) takes the Ohio State running back. It would be a luxury addition in both cities, but adding Wells could shake up the division offensively.
Posted by ESPN.com's Bill Williamson
Report: The Broncos like free-agent quarterback J.P. Losman.
My take: The report suggests Denver could pursue the former Bills top pick if it doesn't take a quarterback in the draft. I think Denver will take a quarterback this weekend, whether it's Mark Sanchez in the first round or a developmental quarterback in the late rounds. Still, Denver's interest in Losman shows the Broncos aren't sure about the veteran quarterback pairing of Kyle Orton and Chris Simms. If Losman was brought in, he'd surely be in the mix during training camp. Whether it's Losman or not, it is clear there will be another quarterback in Denver very soon.
Here's another take on whether Aaron Curry will be the Chiefs' choice at No. 3.
My take: It could all be moot if Curry ends up the No. 1 choice in Detroit. But I do believe Curry will be available at No. 3 and the Chiefs will ultimately take him. There are other options, including taking a tackle, a receiver, a defensive lineman or a trade. But Curry may be the safest pick and safe is always good that high in the draft.
The Chargers could be eying Ohio State defensive back Malcolm Jenkins.
My take: Jenkins could be moved from cornerback to safety. In San Diego, Jenkins would be moved to safety. Jenkins, I believe, is one of the top defenders on San Diego's wish list. The team does need a safety, but I think there are surer bets out there. Why risk taking a player who needs to switch positions to help you? San Diego should take a player such as linebacker Rey Maualuga or defensive end Tyson Jackson, if they are available, in the first round and take a safety later.
Posted by ESPN.com's Bill Williamson
Below are the choices I made for the AFC West teams as part of ESPN.com's blog network first-round mock draft.
By the way, I will post my final mock draft for each AFC West team Friday. Don't be shocked if there are changes from today's mock draft. The reason? My entire mock draft may be different than today's offering, so there will be some players off the board or on the board for AFC West teams that weren't in play for this mock.
No. 3, Kansas City: Former Wake Forest linebacker Aaron Curry
Why: I could see Kansas City making a surprise pick such as LSU defensive end Tyson Jackson or offensive tackles Jason Smith or Eugene Monroe. But the safest pick is Curry. He is the top defensive player in the draft and his selection makes sense here.
No. 7, Oakland: Former Missouri receiver Jeremy Maclin
Why: Texas Tech receiver Michael Crabtree was off the board, so I went with Maclin. I know many people expect the Raiders to take Maclin even if Crabtree is on the board. I think Crabtree is the better overall player. But Maclin would help Oakland. I was also tempted to tab tackle Andre Smith of Alabama here, but I think Oakland will take a receiver.
No. 12, Denver: Former USC quarterback Mark Sanchez
Why: He was the best player on the board and he's a long-term answer at quarterback. Yes, Denver needs defense and I'd be somewhat surprised if Denver takes Sanchez. But it would be a smart move.
No. 16, San Diego: Former USC linebacker Rey Maualuga
Why: I think he'd be an instant fit for San Diego. He is a playmaker and he can help the defense play at a high level. San Diego needs an impact defender and Maualuga qualifies.
No. 18, Denver: Former LSU defensive end Tyson Jackson
Why: Denver likes this guy. The Broncos could take him at No. 12 and San Diego could take him at No. 16. He is a perfect 3-4 player and would help Denver greatly as it transitions to that scheme.
|Christian Petersen/Getty Images and Derick Hingle/Icon SMI|
|Rey Maualuga and Tyson Jackson are two players expected to be taken in the first round of the draft who could be good fits for Denver or Kansas City.|
Posted by ESPN.com's Bill Williamson
After dumping the 4-3 scheme used by previous regimes, the new leaders in both Denver and Kansas City are hoping for fast results by adopting the 3-4 defense. A new era begins in the AFC West.
Still, the transition might not be easy. Both teams will try to fit existing players into the system and identify new ones to add. The 3-4 defense features three defensive linemen and four linebackers as opposed to the more traditional four defensive linemen and three linebackers set.
Expect the Denver Broncos and Kansas City Chiefs to try to stockpile defenders who can play in the 3-4 in the April 25-26 draft. Scouts Inc.'s Matt Williamson said he thinks Denver will dedicate "95 percent" of its draft class to players who can play in the 3-4. Denver is in great shape to add young talent with five picks in the first 84 choices, some as a result of the Jay Cutler trade. Kansas City has started the transition process with the additions of veteran linebackers Mike Vrabel and Zach Thomas.
Who might be among the top-flight draft prospects for 3-4 schemes? Possible targets include former Boston College defensive tackles B.J. Raji and Ron Brace, former USC linebacker Rey Maualuga and ex-LSU defensive lineman Tyson Jackson. Will those players be ready to make an immediate impact in the 3-4 defense? Williamson said he believes both the Broncos and the Chiefs might have difficulty making the adjustment to the 3-4, which has long been used by the San Diego Chargers.
"The two teams are starting from scratch in a lot of ways as they try to move to the 3-4 along with San Diego," Williamson said. "They may have to slowly transition to it because it takes some of these young kids a couple of years before they can make a difference in that scheme. Not enough kids play the 3-4 in college, so it takes time. If Denver and Kansas City think they are going to get a quick fix, it may be tough. And San Diego now has more competition because two more teams in its own division will be looking for 3-4 players."
|Joe Robbins/Getty Images|
|It's unknown how players drafted to play in a 4-3 defense, such as Kansas City's Glenn Dorsey, will perform in a 3-4.|
Williamson thinks there are some high-profile players in Denver and Kansas City who may have trouble flourishing in the new system. In Denver, Williamson pointed out linebacker D.J. Williams, who last September signed a big extension to stay in Denver. In Kansas City, Williamson believes defensive lineman Glenn Dorsey is not suited for the 3-4 defense. Dorsey was the No. 5 overall draft pick last season. Williamson thinks Kansas City should try to trade Dorsey. New Kansas City coach Todd Haley, who brought creative defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast with him from Arizona, is not worried, though.
"I think he's got a lot of great versatility, especially where we are transitioning potentially to this 3-4," Haley said of Dorsey. "I think there are some roles in there for him where he could have more of an attacking role."
One reason the AFC West will be a 3-4 defense division is because of the heavy influence of the New England Patriots that has invaded the division.
Former New England offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels replaced Mike Shanahan as head coach in Denver and brought in former San Francisco head coach Mike Nolan to run the 3-4 defense that the Patriots used. Kansas City is moving to the 3-4 defense because former Patriots executive Scott Pioli is the new general manager there.
The Chargers are interested to see how the division will be affected by 75 percent of the teams using the 3-4 scheme.
"It gives you flexibility as a defense," San Diego general manager A.J. Smith said. "You can show different looks and we have found it very useful. ... We're seeing Denver and Kansas City moving to the 3-4 as they start a new beginning. It will be very interesting to see how everything works with nearly every team in the division using the scheme."
McDaniels said the key in Denver will be versatility and flexibility in the scheme. He said the speed of the 3-4 transition may depend on the personnel the team picks up in the draft.
"There are a few boards at our facility and they're put up different ways," McDaniels said. "Because I think it's really important that we see where we finish this spring, and head into training camp in terms of our personnel. I don't think we can really sit there today and say, 'That looks perfect.' In terms of playing them as a 3-4 or as a 4-3, I think we have guys that can do a lot of things. Versatility is a huge thing for what we're going to try to do on defense."
The transition will not be easy, but the process begins in earnest with the draft for both Denver and Kansas City.
Posted by ESPN.com's Bill Williamson
Weekend mail call:
Ryan from Lincoln, NE: BW, What is your take on the Chiefs' defensive philosophy this season? I'm personally not a fan of the 3-4 but as your article about the Patriot Way moving to the West said this is the defensive scheme New England loves. If the Chiefs do take Aaron Curry where we he fit in a 3-4 scheme?
BW: It's what the brass is comfortable with. But it could take a while to establish the 3-4 defense. Some scouts don't think Curry, the best defensive player on the board, is a good fit for the 3-4. But, then, there are scouts who think he is a good enough athlete and is bright enough to adjust well to the move should Kansas City take him at No. 3.
Gabe from Las Vegas, NV: Hey Bill, I appreciate what you do for us fans in the information department. Let's say that Crabtree is available at the 7th pick. Would you be surprised to see the Raiders trade that pick for both their first round picks and attempt to pick up Darrius Heyward-Bey with one of them.
BW: Thanks, Gabe. No, I could see Oakland trading down for a couple of first rounders. But if Crabtree is there at No. 7, the Raiders will be very tempted to take him.
Nick from Denver: Hey, Do you think the broncos could draft Nate Davis in the later rounds. McDaniels likes to develope late rounders like Tom Brady and Matt Cassel. Do you think they would do that?
BW: I expect new Denver coach Josh McDaniels to indentify a quarterback in the late rounds to draft. That is the way Patriots do things and McDaniels (New England's former offensive coordinator) does things the way the Patriots do them. Perhaps Davis or Texas Tech's Graham Harrell could be a fit.
San Diego: BW I have read most of your blogs, as a charger fan I know they have some serious needs but who do you think they will really pick at #16, if all there options are there (Jenkins/Jackson/Rey M./ OHER)?
BW: If all four of those guys where there? I still say Rey Maualuga of USC, but the Chargers might be tempted to go after Ohio State cornerback Malcolm Jenkins if he was on the board.
Hass from Piscatway NJ: The more I think about the Jeff Garcia signing the more I wonder. It seems to be that the most logical explanation is to give Russel some incentive to practice harder. With Kerry Collins and Kurt Warner replacing two franchise quarterbacks last year Russell has to be aware that the same could happen to him. Maybe this is what will push him to finally develop into the quarterback the Raiders expected him to be when they drafter him. If this is holds to be true, taking this and the rest of the off season into account it seems like the Al Davis that built championship teams is back. P.S-being a Rutgers student I have to wonder, could you see the Raiders drafting either WR Kenny Britt or WR Tiquan Underwood or Saftey Courtney Greene?
BW: I think you are on the right track on Garcia. He is an insurance policy for JaMarcus Russell if he gets hurt or if he regresses. I think it was a smart move for Oakland. If Russell does well, Garcia will sit the on the bench with no issues. As for the Rutgers guys, I'd say Oakland could show interest in Britt in the second round if it doesn't draft a receiver in the first round.
Posted by ESPN.com's Bill Williamson
While I can barely pick the first round, ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. has his four-round mock draft up. It is viewable for ESPN insider subscribers.
To give you a taste, here are Kiper's selections for each AFC West team:
No. 3: Aaron Curry, OLB, Wake Forest
No. 12: Tyson Jackson, DE, LSU
No. 18: Everette Brown, DE, Florida State
No. 48: Ron Brace, DT, Boston College
No. 79: Asher Allen, CB, Georgia
No. 84: Louis Murphy, WR, Florida
No. 114: Chip Vaughn, S, Wake Forest
|Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images|
|Jay Cutler is out of Denver, but the trade that sent the quarterback to Chicago will help shape the Broncos' roster.|
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando and Bill Williamson
Jay Cutler's divorce from Denver is final. Now the Broncos, armed with the picks they acquired from Chicago for the Pro Bowl quarterback, must determine how to proceed in the draft.
AFC West blogger Bill Williamson and his NFC West counterpart, Mike Sando, debate the options while exploring how the Seahawks and 49ers could affect the Broncos' future at quarterback.
Mike Sando: Quarterbacks are a high-risk proposition at the top of the draft, but that's also where teams tend to find the great ones. Nine quarterbacks drafted since 1965 have been enshrined in the Hall of Fame. Seven of them were first-round picks, including a guy named Elway. If the experts are right in saying Matthew Stafford and Mark Sanchez are the franchise quarterbacks in this draft, shouldn't the Broncos consider trading up to get one? They certainly have the firepower.
Bill Williamson: There's no way the Broncos should trade up that high if it means giving up both the 12th and 18th overall picks. Sure, Denver could get a top-five pick in return, but I don't think it's worth the risk -- even for a quarterback.
The picks acquired for Cutler are too valuable to risk on Stafford, Sanchez or a player along the lines of Boston College defensive tackle B.J. Raji.
The idea is to get a lot of quality players here. If Denver is going to survive the Cutler trade, it will need to maximize those picks. Trading up and drafting Raji or Wake Forest linebacker Aaron Curry would be great for a needy defense, but the Broncos need to address multiple areas, not just one. The Cutler trade does allow the Broncos to address several areas in the draft instead of rolling the dice on just one.
Mike Sando: More than a few 49ers fans watched with interest while the Broncos figured out where Cutler would wind up. His destination wasn't San Francisco, but the 49ers and their NFC West rivals could still shape the Broncos' quarterback situation beyond the Cutler era.
The Rams probably have too many needs and too much money invested in Marc Bulger to consider a quarterback at No. 2, but the Seahawks and 49ers could draft one. Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. told me he thought the 49ers would be crazy to pass on Sanchez at No. 10 if the USC quarterback remained available at that point. The NFC West could foul up Denver's plans if the Broncos are hoping to find a quarterback in the first round.
Posted by ESPN.com's Bill WilliamsonLouie from Oakland: hey Bill....if you feel that signing Burress would be a step backward, who do you see would be the best fit for Oakland out of the list of available WR's out in the market right now? Including WR's like Ocho Cinco who are possibly available via trade.... Thanks
BW: I think the best guy who would fit is Arizona's Anquan Boldin. He'd cost a lot in a trade but he'd be worth it. He'd answer Oakland's needs at the position. Also, I like Torry Holt as a third-round option. He'd move the chains in Oakland.
Pat from Dallas: Bill, Based on the trade value chart, it seems to me that it wouldn't take that much for the Broncos to trade up and ensure they get Mark Sanchez. And it shouldn't take sacrificing the chance at a good defensive player in the first round to do it - contrary to what many pundits are saying. Here are just a couple trade possibilities: #12 (1200 points) + Denver's second rounder (#48 - 420 points) + Chicago's third rounder (#84 - 170) = 1,890 points for #4 (Seattle - 1,800). #12 (1,200) + Denver's third rounder (#79 - 195) + Chicago's third rounder (#84 - 170) + Seattle's fifth rounder (#140 - 36) = 1,601 for #6 (Cincinnati - 1,600). These seem like no-brainers. (Seattle and/or Cincinnati get mulitple picks to start rebuilding, Denver guarantees its chance at a QB of the future and an impact defensive player.) So, does Denver like Sanchez enough to make this happen, and what do you think are the chances? Thanks, Pat
BW: I'd only support that move if it was a short trade up. You don't want burn a big chip in the Jay Cutler trade on a quarterback. It would neutralize Denver's value garnered from the trade. If Sanchez is there at No. 12, I think it would be a smart move.
Patrick from Saint George, UT: The broncos would be stupid to combine the #12 and #18 pick to grab Mark Sanchez. Basically you gave up the ability to help the defense by trading Cutler because now your first round pick is gone to fix a position that didn't need fixing before the fiasco and there is no guarantee Sanchez will be the fix either. The best bet for the Broncos is to go after Brady Quinn with the #18 pick. At that point you traded Cutler for Orton and Brady, an upgrade on your 5th round pick to a 3rd round pick and a first round pick next year. That is a vastly better deal than taking Sanchez because you can still use the #12 pick to help your defense. No one has mentioned this but why not see if the Browns would trade Quinn for Tony Scheffler and a 2nd or 3rd round pick. They traded away Kellen Winslow so a nice TE like Tony Scheffler might be a desirable scenario for them and then Denver still gets Quinn and gets to keep that #18 pick to help the defense and the Browns get a good TE and a 2nd round pick.
BW: I agree; that can't be done. It would be silly. I don't think you have to worry about it. I think Denver could move up, but it would be for a defensive player such as B.J. Raji or Aaron Curry. If Denver could get Quinn for the No. 18 pick, it would be a decent trade. Denver would still have the other picks in the draft and Kyle Orton could be the backup. The key for Denver is to get as much value out of the Cutler trade as possible.
Paul from Escondido: I'm starting to really like Maualuga. Is it just me, or is he a top 5 player that, through a variety of happenings, just might fall to the Bolts at 16? And if so, how bad would it be to pass on him?
BW: I think he could be the guy for the Chargers. I really like Rey Maualuga. He's got a nose for the game and he plays hard every down. He may not be great in coverage, but he's a strong two-down player who would be a nice fit with the Chargers. The USC middle linebacker has visited with the team so perhaps he will end up in San Diego.
Posted by ESPN.com's Bill Williamson
It's your turn now.
You are invited to make your own mock draft after enduring countless mocks (expect even more as the April 25-26 draft approaches) it is your turn to take a crack at it. Go for it.
If you need a little direction -- I bet you don't -- below are some names to consider for each AFC West team and here is my latest mock draft for the division.
Kansas City, No. 3:
Aaron Curry, LB, Wake Forest
B.J. Raji, defensive tackle, Boston College
Michael Crabtree, wide receiver, Texas Tech
Oakland, No. 7:
Jeremy Maclin, wide receiver, Missouri
Andre Smith, tackle, Alabama
Eugene Monroe, tackle, Virginia
Denver, No. 12 and No. 18:
Mark Sanchez, quarterback, USC
Tyson Jackson, defensive end, Denver
Rey Maualuga, linebacker, USC
Brian Cushing, linebacker, USC
Aaron Maybin, defensive end/linebacker, Penn State
Chris "Beanie" Wells, running back, Ohio State
San Diego, No. 16
Knowshon Moreno, running back, Georgia
Posted by ESPN.com's Bill Williamson
This is the fourth in a periodic series attempting to project AFC West teams' first-round picks leading up to the April 25-26 draft. Denver's trade of Jay Cutler to Chicago gives the Broncos the No. 18 pick in the draft. The AFC West is now the power broker of the early portion of the draft. The division has five of the first 18 picks.
Here is a look at who I believe each AFC West team should select at this point:
3. Kansas City, Aaron Curry, LB, Wake Forest: He best fits Kansas City's top need. He'd be an impact player on defense. If Detroit doesn't take him, he should be the pick without a doubt.
First mock draft choice: Andre Smith, OT, Alabama
Second mock draft choice: Curry
Third mock draft choice: Curry
7. Oakland, Michael Crabtree, WR, Texas Tech: I know other mock drafts have the Raiders taking Missouri receiver Jeremy Maclin, but I have a difficult time thinking Oakland will bypass Crabtree if he is available. He has to be the guy here.
First mock draft choice: Eugene Monroe, OT, Virginia
Second mock draft choice: Crabtree
Third mock draft choice: Crabtree
12. Denver, Mark Sanchez, QB, USC: The Broncos need a quarterback of the future and Sanchez would be a nice fit for Josh McDaniels' system. If Sanchez is there, he should be the choice.
First mock draft choice: Rey Maualuga, LB, USC
Second mock draft choice: Maualuga
Third mock draft choice: Tyson Jackson, DE, LSU
Why the change: The Cutler trade makes this change necessary.
16. San Diego, Maualuga: The Chargers have other needs, but Maualuga makes perfect sense -- yes, even after the signing of Dallas' Kevin Burnett. He'd be a beast in Ron Rivera's defense.
First mock draft choice: Knowshon Moreno, RB, Georgia
Second mock draft choice: Brian Cushing, LB, USC
Third mock draft choice: Maualuga
18. Denver, Jackson: He fits in Denver's system well and he'd a good fit at No. 12 as well. But Jackson has a better chance of being on the board at No. 18 than Sanchez does.
Team needs: Safety, inside linebacker, defensive end, right tackle
|Tim Larson/Icon SMI|
|San Diego could consider LSU defensive end Tyson Jackson if he is available at No. 16.|
Dream scenario: San Diego is working from a position of strength. Yes, the Chargers have needs, but they won't be pigeonholed into selecting any one position. Because San Diego doesn't have a second-round pick, it could potentially trade down from the No. 16 spot down 5-7 picks (maybe to take advantage of a team trying to catch a falling star such as a quarterback) to pick up a second-round pick and still be able to find a player who could help right away. Expect the Chargers to seriously consider USC linebacker Rey Maualuga and LSU defensive end Tyson Jackson if they are on the board. If Alabama tackle Andre Smith, who is slipping down the board, tumbles all the way to No. 16, San Diego could take him and move him to right tackle, giving it a nasty offensive line.
Plan B: If there are no trade options available and Maualuga, Jackson and Smith are all off the board, the Chargers will still have plenty of options because of no pressing needs. They could look at Ohio State inside linebacker James Laurinaitis to solidify the linebacking crew. There is also some thought that the Chargers could pull the trigger on a running back, even though they have nearly $13 million in 2009 salary tied up in LaDainian Tomlinson and Darren Sproles. The team is visiting with both Knowshon Moreno of Georgia and Chris "Beanie" Wells of Ohio State prior to the draft. The Chargers are clearly looking at their post-Tomlinson life, but seeing them draft a running back would be a surprise because of the lack of an immediate need. Still, whatever San Diego does, it should be able to help itself.
Scouts Inc. take: "I believe San Diego's biggest need is strong safety, but there is no one available who'll be worth taking at No. 16. The Chargers may address that need later in the draft. Some people say they may no longer need an inside linebacker after signing Kevin Burnett from Dallas. But I think it would be hard for them to pass up Rey Maualuga if he was there. Maualuga is a great two-down player and Burnett is a very good coverage linebacker who can help on third down. I think that would be a good combination there." -- Matt Williamson, Scouts Inc.
Who has final say: A.J. Smith enters his seventh draft as the Chargers' general manager.
Now On the Clock: Houston Texans, April 1.
If Todd McShay's latest mock draft, which is based on the idea of the Lions passing on quarterback Matthew Stafford at No. 1, is on the money, there will be some very interesting players headed to the AFC West. Here's a look:
3. Kansas City: Aaron Curry, linebacker, Wake Forest: This is the player most often connected to Kansas City. The Chiefs have serious defensive needs and Curry is considered the best defensive player available. If Stafford isn't the top pick to the Lions, though, Curry could be, so the Chiefs would have to reconsider their options, possibly starting with trading out of the No. 3 pick.
7. Oakland: B.J. Raji, defensive tackle, Boston College: This is fascinating. The Raiders most need tackles and receivers. In this scenario, tackles Jason Smith and Eugene Monroe and receiver Michael Crabtree would be off the board. Oakland could take Missouri receiver Jeremy Maclin, but McShay has the team taking Raji. This wouldn't be a bad pick. Raji is very talented and the Raiders could use the help in the middle of their defensive line. Still, it would be somewhat surprising to see Oakland bypass Maclin.
12. Denver: Tyson Jackson, defensive end, LSU: Many mock drafts have Jackson being Denver's pick, so the Stafford scenario doesn't change much. Jackson is being linked to Denver because he is a 3-4 player. The Broncos are adopting the defensive scheme and could use a defensive end.
16. San Diego: Jeremy Maclin, wide receiver, Missouri: This is the most eye-popping pick of McShay's AFC West selections. The Chargers really don't need a receiver. But Maclin would be an incredible value at No. 16. Again, he could easily go to Oakland at No. 7. Maclin is a sure top-10 talent. The Chargers have bigger needs on defense. Southern California linebackers Brian Cushing and Rey Maualuga (who are both available on McShay's board) could make impacts as rookies. But Maclin could make San Diego's offense one of the most multidimensional and dangerous in the league. It would be difficult to argue against this pick.