This is the final in a three-part series of an examination of the past three draft classes of each AFC West team leading up to the NFL scouting combine at the end of the month:
First pick: No. 22, wide receiver Demaryius Thomas
Total picks: Nine
Stars: After one season, offensive linemen J.D. Walton and Zane Beadles have been the team’s best draft performers. They were both starters. Neither player was great, but they deserve credit for starting in the NFL as youngsters. Beadles, a guard who was a second-round pick and Walton, a center who was a third-round pick, may have decent futures. Quarterback Tim Tebow, the No. 25 overall pick whom Denver traded three picks to move up and take, started the final three games of the season. He might be the starter in 2011.
Duds: It’s too early to call Thomas a dud, but the Broncos have to be worried about his career issues. Thomas suffered an Achilles tendon injury last week and the team expects him to miss 6 to 8 months. Thomas, who was drafted with a foot fracture, ended the season with an ankle injury. He is very talented, but he has been unable to stay healthy. Denver bypassed Dez Bryant to take Thomas.
McDaniels’ parting gift: Josh McDaniels drafted Tebow because he thought he could make the former Florida star an NFL star. But McDaniels was fired before Tebow ever got an NFL start. Now, the John Elway-John Fox regime will decide what to do with Tebow.
What’s the future of this class? It could end up being very good or very bad. It all depends on Tebow. If he develops into a standout quarterback, it will be a great draft. If Tebow fails and Thomas never develops, it would be looked as a terrible draft. The Broncos could have a gem in receiver Eric Decker. A fine possession receiver, Decker could get a chance to play a lot in 2011. He has strong potential.
First pick: No. 5, safety Eric Berry
Total picks: Seven
Star: It has to be Berry. There was a lot of talk that the Chiefs would be reluctant to take a safety so high; usually safeties aren’t top-five choices. I’m sure the Chiefs are not regretting the decision to take Berry. He was an impact player as a rookie. He is a playmaker who is a tremendous anchor to this improving defense. Expect the hard-working, humble Berry to get better. The Chiefs have a star on their hands. I would not be shocked by the time every 2010 AFC West draft pick retires, the first pick of the Chiefs will be considered the best player of the pool.
Duds: There don’t appear to be any yet. Five of the seven picks contributed as rookies. Third-round pick guard Jon Asamoah appears to have a nice future. Fifth-round pick linebacker Cameron Sheffield seemed promising before he was injured in the preseason.
The next Tony Gonzalez? Third-round pick Tony Moeaki seems like a keeper. He had an instant connection with Kansas City quarterback Matt Cassel. He brought excitement back to the tight end position in Kansas City for the first time since the 2009 trade of Gonzalez. One of the greatest players in team history, Gonzalez was traded to Atlanta in 2009 for a 2010 second-round pick, which turned out to be cornerback Javier Arenas. Moeaki had 47 catches for 556 yards and three touchdowns as a rookie. Those numbers were much better than Gonzalez’ numbers as a rookie. This is not suggest Moeaki will be a better player than the great Gonzalez, but it’s clear tight end is again a position of strength in Kansas City.
What’s the future of this class? It is very bright. Along with Oakland's, this has a chance to be one of the best overall classes in the NFL. The class, which also includes promising receiver/returner Dexter McCluster, is very deep. The rookies helped the Chiefs win their first division title in seven years and I expect this class will assist in winning many more games.
First pick: No. 8, linebacker Rolando McClain
Total picks: Nine
Stars: This class is very deep, but right now the stars appear to be fourth-round pick receiver/returner Jacoby Ford and second-round pick defensive lineman Lamarr Houston. Ford had three kickoff returns for scores in the second half of the season and developed into a thrilling receiver. He could be a starter in 2011. Houston is a tough, rugged player who could be part of this defense for the next 10 years.
Duds: There doesn’t look like there will be one. This class is solid.
Al still has it: You can poke holes in many of Oakland’s recent drafts, but this one looks special. Starting with McClain, this draft appears solid. Al Davis bragged about the class at his January news conference. He deserved to brag. After several whiffs, Davis seems to have hit a home run in 2010.
What’s the future of this class? This is the type of class -- that includes promising left tackle Jared Veldheer (third round) -- that can be a nucleus for a long playoff run. Add youngsters like guard Bruce Campbell (fourth round), linebacker Travis Goethel (sixth) and cornerback Stevie Brown (seventh) and this class is very deep.
First pick: No. 12, running back Ryan Mathews
Total picks: Six
Star: Mathews was the only player from this class to contribute as a rookie. Mathews was good, but not great. He had durability and ball-security issues. Still, Mathews averaged 4.3 yards per carry. He helped this offense when he was on the field. While his impact wasn’t great, he clearly has good potential.
Duds: After Mathews, the Chargers' next pick wasn’t until N0. 79 when they took linebacker Donald Butler. He showed promise but was lost for the year in camp. Every other pick is a future pick.
Will Smith do it again? The Chargers traded a load of picks to move up from No. 28 to No. 12 to take Mathews. This year, the Chargers, who pick No. 18, have extra picks in the second and third rounds. The Chargers could use an impact receiver or pass rusher. If they fall in love with a pick in the top 10, I could see aggressive general manager A.J. Smith moving up again.
What’s the future of this class? If Mathews can stay healthy and be a legitimate power back, this will be a good class. It would be nice if players like Butler, safety Darrell Stuckey (fourth round) and defensive tackle Cam Thomas develop and help this class. But it was clear on draft night that this class was all about Mathews. If he fails, this will likely be the worst class in the division.