Breaking down the AFC West

This is the fourth in a series about the NFL Draft, which will be held April 26 and 27. <br><br><b> Today: The AFC West</b>

The Broncos feel like they signed their quarterback of the future when they grabbed former Arizona bust Jake Plummer off the free agent market. But it's questionable that Plummer will be any kind of upgrade - at least on the field - over former starter Brian Griese, who will be released after June 1. Griese won't be alone among those sent packing by head coach Mike Shanahan, as DT Chester McGlockton, DT Kavika Pittman, CB Denard Walker, G Lennie Friedman, OT Blake Brockermeyer and DE Keith Washington have already been released by the team. This is a team with some serious needs, especially on defense. The Trevor Price experiment at defensive end began quickly, but fizzled late in the season. Right defensive ends Reggie Hayward and Bertrand Berry - who? - failed to record a sack last season. Of course this team could also use an infusion of some talent at cornerback, too. That's especially true in a division that includes both Kansas City and Oakland. Tyrone Poole, who played well in 2002, signed with New England and former No. 1-draft picks Deltha O'Neill and Willie Middlebrooks haven't lived up to their billing. With the 20th-overall pick, the Broncos would be reaching to grab a cornerback, so they will likely go after a defensive end. Jerome McDougle is a possibility, as are Michael Haynes, or Chris Kelsay. If they decide to go after a cornerback, Sammy Davis is probably the only player worthy of reaching for at that point.

Kansas City
Signing linebacker Shawn Barber, defensive end Vonnie Holliday and cornerback Dexter McCleon should help solidify the league's worst defense, but more help is needed if the Chiefs are going to make a strong playoff push before Dick Vermeil cries his way into retirement again. Holliday and Eric Hicks should give the Chiefs a decent push from the ends, leaving cornerback and, remarkably enough, wide receiver as the team's biggest needs. Picking at 16, the Chiefs find themselves in the same boat as division mate Denver. Only the top two corners in this draft are worthy of selection before this point and both will be gone. They'll have to hope McCleon can solidify the position. With a receiving corps that includes the likes of Johnnie Morton, Eddie Kennison and Marc Boerigter doesn't inspire fear in opponents like the group Vermeil put together in St. Louis. An outside threat would really help take some pressure off tight end Tony Gonzalez. Taylor Jacobs, if he's still available, would be a good pick here. Kelley Washington or Tyrone Calico may also pique Vermeil interest. Priest Holmes hip injury is also a concern, as is the fact that things could get ugly is Holmes decides to hold out of training camp. Don't be surprised if the Chiefs grab a running back at 16 – maybe even Willis McGahee – but more likely Larry Johnson.

The Raiders purged themselves of overpriced veterans like safety Anthony Dorsett, wide receiver James Jett, defensive end Regan Upshaw, cornerback Tory James and defensive tackle Sam Adams. Former San Francisco defensive tackle Dana Stubblefield moved across the bay to join Jerry Rice, but the Raiders have largely been forced to sit out the free agency period because of salary cap concerns. But with the 31st and 32n picks in this year's draft - thanks to the John Gruden trade - the Raiders should be able to add some much-needed youth to their aging defense. Defensive end, safety and cornerback are a concern and the Raiders should be able to fill two of those needs in the first round. If the Steelers pass on Troy Polamalu, he'll be a member of the Raiders. If not, Mike Doss or cornerback Sammy Davis could be wearing the silver and black. A defensive lineman such as Cory Redding, Kenny Peterson or Chris Kelsay would also be good value at this spot. Of course you can always count on Al Davis to do something screwy, so taking Willis McGahee if he's available here wouldn't be a surprise.

San Diego
With the passing this week of GM John Butler, while not surprising since he was battling cancer for some time, comes at a tough time for the Chargers, who have had an interesting offseason. Mixing Marty Schottenheimer with free agent wide receiver David Boston could make for some fireworks. The Chargers also signed blocking back Lorenzo Neal, proving Schottenheimer isn't quite ready to stop pounding the ball. Mr. Charger, linebacker Junior Seau, likely will be playing elsewhere next season. And the team already let strong safety Rodney Harrison walk, so there's little doubt Schottenheimer will be looking to upgrade the defense. Even though the Chargers grabbed Quentin Jammer in the first round last season, they have a big need at cornerback. Ryan McNeil will move inside to free safety and Rogers Beckett will attempt to replace Harrison. Cornerback, as it is for most teams, is a glaring need. The once stout defensive front is being manned at the tackle positions by Jamal Williams and Jason Fisk. They're decent, but not stars by any means. Someone to push the middle of the line would really make ends Marcellus Wiley and Raylee Johnson so much more effective. Picking at 15, the Chargers would love to grab Boss Bailey to ease the loss of Seau. If he's gone, Ty Warren or William Joseph could squeeze into this slot. It's probably a little high for Polamalu, but Beckett wasn't impressive last season at free safety, so there's not reason to think he'll be much better on the strong side.

Previous Breakdowns: NFC South | AFC South | NFC East | AFC East

Dale Lolley

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