NFL Draft Preview: Analysis of AFC West Team Needs

April 20, 2012

As the final week of April arrives, NFL fans are getting excited about the NFL Draft and the potential new additions to their various teams.

Although this year’s headlines are being monopolized by the best pair of franchise quarterbacks in years in Stanford's Andrew Luck and Baylor's Robert Griffin III, fans of the other 30 teams in the league are also interested in the decisions made by their respective teams’ front offices as to the hundreds of other talented athletes in the draft.

Today we look at the team needs of the AFC West, as well as some of the draft's top prospects:   

Denver Broncos

Picks (8) - 1(25), 2(25), 3(24), 4(13), 4(25), 5(2), 5(25), 6(18)

Denver’s new defensive coordinator, Jack Del Rio, has historically placed an emphasis on strong defensive tackles in his 4-3 scheme, as evidenced by his first round draft selections of John Henderson and Marcus Stroud during his tenure with the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Denver likely will try to find a big DT to fit this mold with one of their early picks.  Due to Knowshon Moreno’s maddening tendency to spend more time in the training room than on the field, it is also possible that Denver will look to add a big play running back to partner with the resurgent Willis McGahee in 2012.

Need - Defensive Tackle

Potential Targets:

1) Michael Brockers – Louisiana State University - 6'6", 322 lbs. – Brockers performed the best in big games in 2011, coming up with 5 tackles in the season opening game versus Oregon; 6 tackles, including 2 for loss, in the SEC championship game versus Georgia; and a career high 7 tackles in the BCS Championship game versus Alabama.  He is strong against the run, as he shows surprising power and ability to win the leverage battle against opposing lineman despite his height. 

2)  Jerel Worthy - Michigan State - 6'2", 308 lbs. - Worthy was the anchor of the top defense in the Big 10 in 2011.  He is explosive off the snap, often stunning his man with an initial punch and then meeting the running back in the backfield. 

Need - Running Back

Potential Targets:

1) Lamar Miller – University of Miami – 5’11”, 212 lbs. – In 2011, Miller recorded the third highest single season rushing total in the history of “The U” with 1,272 yards.  This was good enough to earn him second team All-Conference honors in the ACC.  Miller gets to top speed quickly and leaves defenders in his wake when he finds daylight.

2) LaMichael James – University of Oregon – 5’8”, 194 lbs. – James was an All-American and the Doak Walker award winner as a sophomore in 2010.  He followed that up with another All-American campaign in 2011 as a junior, and also earned earning academic All-American honors.

James is a much tougher runner between the tackles than one would expect given his size.  Where James shines brightest though is in the open field, where he can make defenders miss and utilize his track speed.

Oakland Raiders

Picks (5) - 3(32) (Compensatory), 4(34) (Compensatory), 5(13), 5(33) (Compensatory), 6(19)

The Raiders first pick in the 2012 draft does not come until the end of the third round.  This is due to several trades over the course of the last couple years, including last season's acquisition of Carson Palmer.

The Raiders struggled to stop the run in 2011, ranking 27th in the league in rushing yards allowed per game (136 yards).  The organization will likely use the few picks they have to shore up this deficiency.

Need - Defensive Tackle

Potential Targets:

1) Josh Chapman – University of Alabama - 6'1", 316 lbs. – Chapman’s toughness was evidenced in his play throughout the final 2 months of the 2011 season despite a torn ACL.  He had surgery to repair the injury in January, and has been unable to work out for teams prior to the draft.  Chapman’s best trait is his ability to stuff the run, as he has great strength and is often difficult to handle even with a double team.

2)  Alameda Ta’amu – University of Washington - 6'3", 348 lbs. – Ta’amu earned honorable mention All-Conference in the Pac-12 in 2011.  He is massive at close to 350 pounds, and thus, is very difficult to move.  Ta’amu’s level of athleticism is often underestimated by opponents due to his size.

Need – Outside Linebacker

Potential Targets:

1) Damario Davis – Arkansas State – 6’2”, 235 lbs. – Davis earned All-Conference honors in the Sun Belt in 2010 and 2011.  He also led his team in tackles in 2011 with 70.  Davis was on the Lombardi watch list given to the nation’s top lineman or linebacker.

2) Josh Kaddu – University of Oregon – 6’3”, 239 lbs. – Kaddu finished 2011 with 50 tackles, including 9.5 for loss and 6.5 sacks, while earning first team All-Conference honors in the Pac-12.  He is an effective blitzer given his speed and overall athleticism.  Kaddu is an energetic player with a high motor that always plays until the whistle is blown.

San Diego Chargers

Picks (8) - 1(18), 2(17), 3(15), 4(15), 5(14), 6(13), 7(19), 7(43) (Compensatory)

The Chargers struggled to get teams off the field in third down situations in 2011.  Part of this was due to a poor pass rush, as the team ranked 23rd in the league in sacks last year with a total of 32.  Strengthening the defensive backfield also would go a long way toward lowering their opponents’ third down efficiency next season.

Need – Pass Rush - Outside Linebacker/Defensive End

Potential Targets:

Whitney Mercilus/The Daily Sports Herald

1)  Whitney Mercilus – University of Illinois - 6'4", 261 lbs. – Mercilus’ 16 sacks, 22.5 tackles-for-loss, and 9 forced fumbles during the 2011 season earned him All-American honors as well as the Ted Hendricks award given annually to the best defensive end in the country.  He is very active and plays at top speed every down.  Mercilus also has great hand strength, as evidenced by his 9 forced fumbles. 

2)  Nick Perry – University of Southern California - 6'3", 271 lbs. – Perry led the Pac-12 in sacks in 2011 with 9.5.  He is very athletic for his size, as evidenced by his numbers at the NFL Draft Combine.  Perry recorded a 1.57 second 10 yard dash, and a 38.5-inch vertical leap.  These numbers are typically seen out of wide receivers rather than 270 pound hybrid DE/OLB’s.

Need - Defensive Back

Potential Targets:

1) Harrison Smith – Notre Dame – 6’2”, 213 lbs. – Smith’s most productive season was 2010 when he recorded 91 tackles, 7 pass breakups, and 7 interceptions.  He has the prototypical size for an NFL strong safety, and his strength allows him to deliver punishing hits on opposing ball carriers.

2) Josh Robinson – University of Central Florida – 5’10”, 199 lbs. – In 2011, Robinson recorded 8 pass breakups along with 2 interceptions, one of which was returned for a touchdown.  He captured scouts' attention at the NFL Draft Combine by recording the fastest 40 yard dash time among all participants (4.33 seconds).  In addition, Robinson earned the top scores among defensive backs in the shuttle run and broad jump.

Kansas City Chiefs

Picks (8) - 1(11), 2(12), 3(11), 4(12), 5(11), 6(12), 7(11), 7(31)

Despite the Chiefs' recent efforts to draft quality defensive lineman, their defense struggled to stop opposing running backs in 2011, ranking 26th in the league in rushing yards allowed per game (132 yards).

With this in mind, it is likely the Chiefs will again target a stout defensive tackle with one of their first picks.  The organization may look to add some beef along the offensive line as well.

Need - Defensive Tackle

Potential Targets:

1) Dontari Poe – University of Memphis - 6'4", 346 lbs. – Poe was named second team All-Conference in Conference USA in 2011, recording 33 tackles, including 8 for loss.  Poe’s stock took off at the NFL Draft Combine where he put up 44 reps of 225 pounds in the bench press, and recorded a fast-for-his-size 40 time of 4.98 seconds. 

2)  Alameda Ta’amu – University of Washington - 6'3", 348 lbs. – As mentioned previously, Ta’amu earned honorable mention All-Conference in the Pac-12 in 2011.  He is massive at close to 350 pounds, and thus, is very difficult to move.  Ta’amu’s level of athleticism is often underestimated by opponents due to his size.

Need – Offensive Line

Potential Targets:

1) David DeCastro – Stanford University – 6’5”, 316 lbs. – DeCastro is the consensus #1 offensive guard prospect in the 2012 draft.  This is evidenced by his incredible career sacks-allowed total of 1, which occurred in 2009.  DeCastro’s mental aptitude and pursuit of perfection at his position are just as impressive as his physical attributes.

2) Kevin Zeitler – University of Wisconsin – 6’4”, 314 lbs. – Zeitler’s 2011 accolades include first team All-American honors by Pro Football Weekly, first team All-Conference honors, and All-Academic team honors in the Big 10.

Zeitler has excellent foot speed, allowing him to get out and pull with the best of the offensive lineman in this year’s draft.  This quickness also enables him to get to the second level and carry the smaller defenders out of the play.

Beginning Thursday all of the speculation will be put to rest as Round One of the 2012 draft gets underway.

Although the television analysts will immediately begin grading each team’s draft, it will be 2-3 years before anyone really knows who had a great draft and who had a lousy one.  Regardless of what the experts say, fans will certainly be excited to see what new blood will be brought to their team in 2012.

By Chris Harker
Contributing Writer for The Daily Sports Herald

1 comment:

  1. I agree with the Broncos' needs and targets. Looks like a RB and DT are a high priority, especially if we get Asante Samuel to solidify the back end. I expect a WR/KR later, perhaps as early as Round 3. I look forward to the draft. Very well thought out and written article.


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