Safe or Surprise Draft: AFC West
As the 2013 NFL Draft approaches, we’re laying out both the safest and riskiest route that teams might take with their first selection. Read them all.
First pick: Round 1, No. 28 overall
The Safe Route: Bjoern Werner, DE, Florida State
Once considered a sure-fire top-10 pick, Werner’s taken some hits in recent weeks — so much so that some believe he’ll slip out of Round 1 entirely. I’m not in that camp, mainly because I think Denver might pounce if he slides to No. 28.
The Broncos find themselves in need of a pass-rushing defensive end after botching the restructuring of Elvis Dumervil’s deal, paving the way for him to move to Baltimore. Werner, even with his faults, would be a prime candidate to rack up double-digit sacks next season.
The Surprise: Manti Te’o, LB, Notre Dame
Denver remains a bit unsettled in the middle, with new signing Stewart Bradley expected to compete against Nate Irving and (if he’s not released) Joe Mays. Perhaps drafting Te’o would just add to the mess and create some unneeded distractions for a team with Super Bowl aspirations.
Or Te’o would solve the Broncos’ issues up the middle, at least on first and second downs.
Kansas City Chiefs
First pick: Round 1, No. 1 overall
The Safe Route: Luke Joeckel, OT, Texas A&M
With each passing pre-draft day, the Chiefs seemingly are linked to a different prospect for this No. 1 pick. My message: Don’t overthink it.
The Chiefs cut right tackle Eric Winston and reportedly have left tackle Branden Albert, their franchise-tagged player, on the trade block. That leaves Kansas City in need of at least one and possibly two tackles to build its line around in the Andy Reid era. Joeckel is the best offensive tackle available in this draft — and maybe the best overall player, period.
The Surprise: Star Lotulelei, DT, Utah
Kansas City was a mess against the run last season, finishing 27th in the league. Mike DeVito’s arrival via free agency should help there, but the Chiefs still need to add talent to their 3-4 front.
Lotulelei, concerns over his heart behind him, flashed dominant potential at times during his Utah days. The Chiefs could work him into the rotation pretty much anywhere up front, and he would command more than enough attention to free up extra space for guys like Tamba Hali and Justin Houston.
First pick: Round 1, No. 3 overall
The Safe Route: Sharrif Floyd, DT, Florida
This is a near-unanimous prediction in the mock draft world, including by SI’s own Don Banks. It doesn’t take a football genius to see why: The Raiders are devoid of any meaningful talent at the defensive tackle spots, and Floyd is capable of taking games over up front. Granted, Oakland needs plenty of help elsewhere, too, but Floyd would look mighty good in Raider black.
The Surprise: Geno Smith, QB, West Virginia
This is like walking through the door to a surprise party you know is happening. Act surprised, then carry on.
The Raiders attempted to address their QB position this offseason by trading away Carson Palmer and nabbing Matt Flynn from the Seahawks. But they’re as unsure of Flynn’s future as the rest of the NFL — his new deal with Oakland basically boils down to a one-year trial (though Oakland would have to eat some money in 2014 if it got rid of him).
So, the Raiders figure to have their eyes on at least quarterback somewhere in this draft. With a potentially loaded QB class next April and voids all over the roster, GM Reggie McKenzie may be better served to address a different position at No. 3, then turn his attention to a quarterback project in the middle rounds. If the Raiders believe Smith is a legit NFL starter, however, then it will be hard to say no here.
San Diego Chargers
First pick: Round 1, No. 11 overall
The Safe Route: Lane Johnson, OT, Oklahoma or Jonathan Cooper, G, North Carolina
The Chargers’ offensive line absolutely stunk in 2012. And they have not done nearly enough to patch things back together, despite the additions of King Dunlap, Chad Rinehart and Rich Ohrnberger — all of whom might be better off as backups than starters.
Some of San Diego’s indifference toward major upgrades on the line this offseason might be due to that 11th pick. There should be at least one or two impact linemen available, most likely Johnson, Cooper and possibly Chance Warmack.
Any one of the three would be penciled in as a starter from Day One.
The Surprise: Tavon Austin, WR, West Virginia
New Chargers head coach Mike McCoy has his work cut out for him as he attempts to get this team’s offense firing on all cylinders again. Addressing the line might be the way to go about restoring Philip Rivers’ mojo, but giving Rivers another weapon in the passing game could be the play instead.
In Danario Alexander and Vincent Brown, the Chargers have a pair of promising young talents (especially if Brown’s fully recovered from a broken ankle), and 31-year-old Malcom Floyd delivered a decent 2012.
And yet, no Chargers player topped Floyd’s 59 catches and the team’s second-, third- and fourth-leading pass catchers all played other positions (running back Ryan Mathews, tight end Antonio Gates and running back Ronnie Brown, respectively).
Austin would add some required juice to the Chargers’ attack and finally help this offense get over the loss of Darren Sproles.