MackThe Division who represented the AFC in the Super Bowl hope to take the next step.  Three of the divisions four teams made the playoffs, something the AFC West hopes to replicate next season.

Denver Broncos:  The Denver Broncos rode Peyton Manning to a divisional title and a Conference Championship despite playing in the AFC’s toughest division in 2013. While Denver did not use all of their picks (they traded out of the fourth round and picked up an additional fifth next year) they made solid value choices near the top of the draft to replace their free agency losses. First round cornerback Bradley Roby has all of the tools required to be a starter as a rookie. If not for an unfortunate arrest weeks before the draft he might have been the first cornerback chosen, despite a poor season in 2013. Cody Latimer was a late climber up draft boards and could be an upgrade over Eric Decker once he learns the system. Offensive Tackle Michael Schofield offers the team a developmental player that can compete for playing time sooner rather than later. Linebackers Lamin Barrow and Corey Nelson are developmental prospects that should find a home on special teams coverage units for their first season. Michael Paradis, a sixth round pick, is a perfect fit for Denver’s blocking scheme and provides youth and depth to the offensive line, along with Schofield.

Grade B+  Roby and Latimer come with great upside though neither are sure things.  The real value lay in the offensive lineman as both Schofield and Paradis could be starters by year two.

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Kansas City Chiefs:  The Chiefs surprised a lot of people by making the playoffs in Andy Reid’s first season due in large part to the play of Alex Smith, whom the team acquired from San Francisco for a package of draft choices, including this year’s second rounder. Despite having needs at other positions the Chiefs selected Auburn defensive end Dee Ford in the first round. The Chiefs could have used another receiver to pair with DeWayne Bowe but instead chose to add the hard working Ford to their outside linebacker rotation, presumably as a pass rush specialist. With their next pick Kansas City selected Rice cornerback Phillip Gaines. Gains is both tall and long and has the ability to make plays on the ball, as evidenced by his 31 passes defended over the past two seasons. He has rather smallish frame and is not a force in the running game and it might take a season or two as a dime back before he is able to compete for a starting position. Fourth round pick DeAnthony Thomas should be an immediate replacement for Dexter McCluster and Aaron Murray is a good fit as a developmental quarterback that should, at worst, have a long career as a dependable back up. Zach Fulton and Laurent Duvarney-Tardif are both impressive physical specimens that will need to develop their game in order to have a long term future in the NFL.

Grade B- This draft is the classic boom or bust draft.  Can Dee Ford stand up over tackle at the next level (something he did not do at the Senior Bowl) and is he more than a one trick pony?  Can Phillip Gaines learn to play to his forty time?  Will DeAnthony Thomas stay healthy?  A lot will be gained if the answers are positive.  

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Oakland Raiders:  The Raiders, as always, entered the draft with a roster short on talent and short on picks. Unlike previous years, however, this year the team managed to get both great value and impact players in their draft day haul. Kahlil Mack was regarded by many scouts to be the safest pick in the draft (with some calling him the best.) He will immediately give the Raiders a defensive cornerstone around which to build their team over the next decade. He should also harass the opposing quarterbacks in the division with consistent pressure. Amazingly the Raiders followed up a home run first round pick with another home run in the second round. The team was unable to hide its love for Derek Carr despite the fact we reported on May 7th the Raiders were considering him in round one. That they were patient enough to wait until the second round to take the local star quarterback, for a change, is evidence that the team is starting to take a different approach to the draft. Guard Gabe Jackson is a physical player that should be a future starter for the team. Oakland added Justin Ellis and Keith McGill in the fourth round. Both were solid value picks that have high upsides. Ellis is ready to step into a defensive tackle rotation immediately while McGill offers better than prototype size and speed and could pay huge dividends should he develop. The Raiders used their three seventh round selections on developmental defensive players. Shelby Harris was highly rated by TFY before his career hit a wall. Jonathan Dowling and Travis Carrie, like McGill, have the size, speed, and athleticism to play in the NFL but need further refinement. All three will likely find a home on special teams at the outset of their careers.

Grade A For the most part the Raiders got value through much of the seven rounds.  Mack and Jackson will start as rookies, Carr gives them long term potential and their day three picks are all legitimate roster players.

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San Diego Chargers:   The Chargers surprised no one by taking cornerback Jason Verrett in the first round. Verrett might be the cornerback with the best coverage skills in this draft. He is so skilled that teams were willing to overlook his 5‘9” stature and at worst will be a solid nickel back for the team. Georgia Tech linebacker Jeremiah Attachou is a solid pass rushing outside linebacker that can also play defensive end in a four down-lineman set. Chris Watt was a nasty power run blocking guard in college and will add toughness to the Chargers interior offensive line. Ryan Carrethers is a small time college player with the potential to develop into a starting defensive/nose tackle once he irons out some of the details in his game. Marion Grice could find a home as a situational running back behind Ryan Matthews while Tevin Reese offers some big play ability in a smaller than average body.

Grade C+ The Chargers didn’t wow anyone on paper rather they got solid prospects who fit their system.  In the end this was a solid six player draft.