AFC West draft analysis

April, 30, 2011
4/30/11
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NFC draft analysis: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Leadership philosophy in the AFC West was on display during the draft.

One team's philosophy debuted, one team's age-old philosophy stood firm and two other teams went out of their comfort zones in an AFC West draft that may have lacked a ton of major headlines but added necessary depth throughout the division.

In Denver, John Elway used his first pick as Denver’s executive vice president on someone who is reminiscent of the player who gave Elway the most headaches during his playing days.

In Oakland, Al Davis stuck to his roots by taking a player with Raiders bloodlines (top Oakland pick Stefen Wisniewski, who’ll be the team’s starting center under his uncle, Steve Wisniewski) and by taking a couple of the draft’s fastest players.

In Kansas City, Chiefs general manager Scott Pioli deviated some from his reputation as a conservative drafter by taking high-risk, high-reward players such as receiver Jon Baldwin (first round) and pass-rusher Justin Houston (third round).

In San Diego, noted draft trader A.J. Smith entered the draft with major ammunition -- five picks in the first 89 choices. Remarkably, Smith kept all five picks.

Let’s take a look at some of the major angles of the AFC West during the draft.

BEST MOVE

It has to be the selection of the best player. I like a lot of the picks made in the division, including the third-day selection of running back Taiwan Jones (Oakland, fourth round) and quarterback Ricky Stanzi (Kansas City, fifth round). Both of those players could become steals.

But the toast of the 2011 AFC West draft is Texas A&M linebacker Von Miller. Denver took Miller with the No. 2 overall pick. He offers a stunning combination of college production, combine success, size and speed.

Miller should be an instant impact player on a defense that was ranked last in the NFL in several key statistical areas in 2010. If the Broncos make strides in 2011, Miller should be a reason why. Count him as an early favorite to be NFL defensive rookie of the year.

RISKIEST MOVE

[+] EnlargeJon Baldwin
Charles LeClaire/US PresswirePitt wideout Jon Baldwin could be a boom-or-bust pick for the Chiefs.
Baldwin, the No. 26 overall pick, is the only high pick that is fairly risky. Baldwin was an extremely accomplished receiver at Pittsburgh. He can make spectacular catches and he has fabulous size at 6-foot-4, 230 pounds. However, Baldwin has a few red flags. His desire has been questioned, and he was known for being difficult at times at Pitt.

Pioli likes high-character players, and Kansas City coach Todd Haley has no time for players flapping their gums. Haley broke down No. 1 receiver Dwayne Bowe in the coach’s first season in Kansas City in 2009. Bowe made his way out of Haley’s doghouse, and he responded with a Pro Bowl season in 2010. So Baldwin will have a short leash.

If Baldwin doesn’t live up to Pioli and Haley’s standard, he won’t last long in Kansas City. Still, I think Baldwin fits well into the Chiefs’ offense and could find fast success as the No. 2 receiver behind Bowe in the Chiefs’ multifaceted offense. If Baldwin succeeds, this offense will be scary. That’s worth the risk.

MOST SURPRISING MOVE

There weren’t any stunning picks in the AFC West, but I think the Chargers’ selection of Illinois defensive lineman Corey Liuget at No. 18 surprised some.

Many league observers thought that Liuget wasn’t a perfect fit for the Chargers’ 3-4 defense. The Chargers were expected to take a 3-4 pass-rusher at No. 18. However, San Diego bypassed a few of those players in favor of the falling Liuget, who was expected to be a top-15 pick.

He is a big, stout player who has a knack for getting into the backfield. He may not have been pegged as a perfect Charger, but San Diego feels good about the choice.

FILE IT AWAY

The offensive lines of the Broncos, Raiders and Chiefs got an infusion of youth during a 10-pick span in the second round, and it could pave the way for strong offensive-line play in the division this decade.

At No. 46, Denver took Miami’s Orlando Franklin, who will start at right tackle. Two picks later, Oakland took Wisniewski and immediately penciled him in as the starting center. At No. 55, Kansas City took Florida State’s Rodney Hudson. He could be the starter at center or guard soon.

All three of these players have big potential and could have a huge effect on these offenses down the road.

Bill Williamson | email

ESPN Oakland Raiders reporter

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