INDIANAPOLIS -- The NFL scouting combine starts Thursday. Let’s look at some key storylines that affect the AFC West:
It starts with the Chiefs: The Chiefs have the No. 1 pick in the draft for the first time in the modern era. It’s been well documented that this is not an ideal year for the Chiefs to have the top pick. Even though a quarterback has been selected with the top pick in 12 of the past 15 years, there are no quarterbacks who currently have a chance to be the top choice. Yes, quarterback is the Chiefs’ greatest need. The Chiefs would likely love to trade out of the first pick. But because the lack of a top quarterback and the fact that most of the top prospects are fairly equally rated, the trade market may not be robust. The Chiefs will likely test the trade waters this week at the combine, but don’t be surprised if the Chiefs leave Indianapolis, resigned to the fact that he will keep the pick.
The Raiders are not far behind: Welcome to the AFC West, where third place equals the No. 3 overall draft pick. Unlike the Chiefs, the Raiders are in a great spot because this is a defense-heavy draft. Oakland needs all kinds of defensive help. It will spend the week scouting the best defensive talent and then go from there.
Will Floyd rise all the way to Oakland? That leads us to this question -- could Florida defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd get on Oakland’s radar at No. 3? Floyd is considered a fast riser. He started as a late first-round prospect. However, there's talk he could move all the way up to the Raiders pick and could bypass Utah’s Star Lotulelei as the top interior defensive lineman available. This is a big week for Floyd and Oakland will be watching closely.
New philosophies abound: Don’t look now, but John Elway is the most senior decision maker in the AFC West. It’s just the third year in this role for the legendary former quarterback. But he is the dean of AFC West executives. We have new general managers in San Diego’s Tom Telesco and Kansas City’s John Dorsey. Both men are first-time general managers. Both Telseco and Dorsey are highly regarded. It will be interesting to see them operate this week at the combine.
Will Denver trade down again? Last year, the Broncos traded down out of the first round. Could they do it again? Elway has shown he values picks and he tries to pick a player where there is value. The Broncos have a lot of options at No. 28, but this week starts the process for Elway to see whether or not he will be flexible to move down.
Second-round QB options for the Chiefs: Unless West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith steals the combine; the Chiefs will likely consider taking a quarterback in the second round. If I had to guess, three quarterbacks to watch in the second round may be USC’s Matt Barkley, Syracuse’s Ryan Nassib and Arkansas' Tyler Wilson. Barkley could be a great fit for Andy Reid’s West Coast offense. Barkley’s shoulder is still not healed enough for him to throw, but I’m sure the Chiefs will quiz him this week.
Chargers have options: San Diego may be in a position of strength at No. 11. We may not see the Chargers’ draft plan unfold after they do their free-agent shopping. Left tackle is San Diego’s top need. The free-agent class is solid. If the Chargers answer their left tackle needs before the draft, they could operate from a position of strength in the first round. They could let the draft board fall to them. Then perhaps see if guards Chance Warmack of Alabama or Jonathan Cooper of North Carolina fall to them. Both are considered top prospects, but the truth is, guards often drop. So, either player could be a steal at No. 11. I think the same could be said for Alabama cornerback Dee Milliner. But it starts with the Chargers looking at this class of left tackles and deciding if free agency is the way to go.
Will Patterson be one of them? A darkhorse for the No. 11 spot is Tennessee receiver Cordarrelle Patterson. This is not a strong class for receivers. But Patterson is supremely talented. If he blows the doors off at the combine, he could intrigue the Chargers. They badly need a playmaker for Philip Rivers as he enters a critical time in his career. The Chargers will surely poke around Patterson
Will Oakland get more picks? The Raiders, who didn’t pick until the end of the third round last year, have more picks this season, but they are missing second and fifth-round picks for failed trades for veterans. Oakland has one of the thinnest rosters in the NFL. It needs talent everywhere. The Raiders would likely love to trade down from the No. 3 to acquire more picks. But like Kansas City and the No. 1 pick, trading down from No. 3 will not be easy. But I’m sure Oakland will put feelers out this week.
Great year to need linemen: Many folks around the league do not think this is a great overall draft. But it seems strong for offensive and defensive linemen. Several could be taken in the top 40 picks. Each team in the division could use help in both areas. It will be interesting to see if the feeling about these positions remains strong after the combine.
Will Lane Johnson continue to rise? If the Chargers do take their chances at left tackle in the draft, an answer may be Oklahoma’s Lane Johnson. He has a great Senior Bowl and the former quarterback could be an option for the Chargers if he comes through with a strong combine.
Will the Honey Badger migrate west? One of the more talked about prospects this week will be former LSU cornerbacks Tyrann Mathieu. He will be at the combine after missing last season because of reported drug issues. Known as the "Honey Badger” for his dynamic playmaking and return ability, Mathieu is a fan favorite. But the truth is, scouts had questions about him before he missed the 2012 season. He is considered an average cover man. But he has ball skills. If he has a good combine he could be taken in the rounds 3-4. All of the AFC West teams could use a cornerback (with Oakland and San Diego having the greatest needs), so he will be watched by this division.
Injured stars will get looks: Both South Carolina running Marcus Lattimore and Florida State’s pass-rusher Tank Carradine would likely be top prospects if they weren’t coming off major knee injuries. Still, both will likely land in the mid-rounds, and both players could be steals if they regain their health. I could see Denver closely monitoring Lattimore, and Carradine is a type of player who could help any team. So, the focus at the combine will be more than simply on the players on the workout field.