Every year the draft comes and goes with analysts and draftniks alike rushing to put a letter grade on each teams draft, despite the overwhelming fact that it will take years to determine their level of success. Instead of attempting to predict the future, the goal is to analyze various aspects of each divisions draft class. Focusing on which players are in the most advantageous positions and which players could be looking at struggles. Next up, the AFC West:
Top Contender for Offensive Rookie of the Year
Montee Ball – RB, Denver Broncos #58 Overall
With Willis McGahee steadily declining, the Broncos were looking for a workhorse back to pair with emerging change of pace specialist Ronnie Hillman, a 2012 3rd round draft pick. They found their man with the #58 pick in the second round by selecting Montee Ball the former Wisconsin Badger and all time D-1 career rushing touchdowns leader. There may not be a rookie entering a better situation than Ball in the entire league. Obviously, Peyton Manning returns to lead the Broncos offense. His top 3 weapons, Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker, and free agent addition Wes Welker form the most dangerous receiving trio in the NFL. With franchise left tackle Ryan Clady and a strong offensive line leading the way, Ball will get the opportunity to step in from day 1 and be a feature back on a Super Bowl contender. While Manning and the passing game will get most of the publicity, Ball has a chance to lead all rookies in carries, yards, and touchdowns.
Top Contender for Defensive Rookie of the Year
Manti Te’o – LB, San Diego Chargers #38 overall
Manti Te’o was one of the most polarizing figures of the 2013 NFL draft and most of the attention he received prior to draft day was largely negative after a miserable showing in the national championship game as well as the now infamous “girlfriend hoax”. Lost in the media circus surrounding Te’o and his draft day fall is the fact that he is a fantastic football player who will help solidify the San Diego front 7. San Diego defensive coordinator John Pagano will pair Te’o and rising star Donald Butler together on the inside and both players are capable of playing in sub packages on passing downs as well. The former Notre Dame star has an excellent opportunity to lead the young Chargers defense in tackles and his high football IQ and nose for the ball while in coverage could lead to some big plays in 2013.
Best Schematic Fit
Sylvester Williams – DT, Denver Broncos #28 Overall
The Denver Broncos have one of the most athletic and disruptive defensive fronts in all of football. Sylvester Williams, the athletic and disruptive former North Carolina Tar Heel has the skillset to make an immediate contribution. The Denver Bronco pass rush is among the league’s best, but took a hit when premier edge rusher Elvis Dumervil was let go. Head coach John Fox and defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio are trying to offset the loss of Dumervil with veteran Shaun Phillips and an improved interior pass rush. The addition of “Sly” Williams and further development of 2012 2nd rounder Derek Wolfe should make an intriguing defensive tackle combo on passing downs, their ability to collapse the pocket and the presence of Phillips and All-Pro Von Miller on the edges will keep opposing coordinators and quarterbacks up all night during the 2013 season.
Eric Fisher – OT, Kansas City Chiefs #1 Overall
The #1 overall pick is always under a serious amount of pressure and Eric Fisher is no exception. Fisher will have an easier path as a rookie now that incumbent left tackle Brandon Albert will remain in Kansas City and face the oppositions best pass rusher while forcing Fisher over to the right tackle position. Fisher will be tested often with a brutal schedule featuring the Denver Broncos and Von Miller twice, JJ Watt and the Texans, as well as the NFC East and their plethora of edge rushers. The first overall selection of the John Dorsey/Andy Reid era, Eric Fisher will be counted on heavily to protect new quarterback Alex Smith and will not be given much of a learning curve.
Under the Radar Impact Player
Travis Kelce – TE, Kansas City Chiefs #63 Overall
The last time Andy Reid got his hands on a Cincinnati Bearcat tight end, he turned Brent Celek into an impact performer. Reid is hoping that history repeats itself and 3rd round pick Travis Kelce can step in and contribute immediately as Alex Smith’s security blanket. The complete package as an in-line tight end, Kelce is a vertical threat down the seams as well as a legit red zone target at 6’6 260 lbs. His primary competition for playing time will be from the injury prone Tony Moeaki and veteran journeyman Anthony Fasano, who is a better blocker than receiving threat. Kelce has a chance to factor into the passing game from day 1 and could challenge wide receiver Dwayne Bowe for the most targets in the passing game. Alex Smith did favor Vernon Davis to Michael Crabtree while in San Francisco.
Menelik Watson – OT, Oakland Raiders #42 Overall
The ghost of Al Davis must have been chirping in Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie’s ear on day two of the NFL draft, the raw yet immensely talented tackle from FSU is a classic Davis pick. Despite fantastic athleticism, the resume that Watson put together in just two seasons of organized football was hardly worthy of a mid second round selection. The former basketball player for Marist College did have a fine junior year in Tallahassee, only giving up one sack all season. Though it remains to be seen where he will end up on the line, Watson will begin his career in a battle with Khalif Barnes for the starting right tackle job.
Highest Bust Potential
DJ Hayden – CB, Oakland Raiders #12 Overall
DJ Hayden is an excellent cornerback prospect. He has the size, speed, and instincts to be a shutdown corner for a very long time. However, the life threatening injury that Hayden suffered in practice before the tenth game of his senior season could have long term effects on the former Houston Cougar. Hayden collided with a safety while in a pass defense drill during practice, the safety’s knee struck him in the chest and tore the inferior vena cava in his heart. This injury is commonly seen in high speed vehicular accidents and has a 95% fatality rate. Not only is Hayden lucky to be playing football again, but he is lucky to be alive. Hayden recently underwent abdominal surgery to clear up some scar tissue, but the Raiders would not comment as to whether or not this was caused by the previous heart injury. The surgery will keep Hayden out of OTA’s and on the sideline until training camp, and that is when Hayden will have his biggest challenge. When the players begin full contact drills, scrimmages, and eventually pre-season games, will Hayden be able to recover mentally? Will he play without hesitation or will the thought of his near death experience always be in the back of his mind? The human element of professional sports is often over looked and even ignored, but the biggest hurdle to DJ Hayden’s return to form is going to be a mental one. Even if Hayden is able to get over the injury with relative ease, he is still going to be in a very tough position. The Raiders have one of the worst defensive lines in the NFL and do not have a single edge rusher worth fearing. A strong pass rush is a cornerbacks best friend, and in Oakland, DJ Hayden will not have any friends in 2013.
Best 2nd Round Pick
Manti Te’o – LB, San Diego Chargers #38 Overall
This one was a very tough call. Montee Ball and Manti Te’o are the same prospect, just different sides of the ball. Neither play a premium position, they both lack elite athleticism for their positions, both have stellar college resumes, and both should be immediate starters and solid professionals for the foreseeable future. I gave the nod to Te’o due to his likely career longevity as well as his individual importance to the San Diego defense. San Diego has the makings of a very strong and youthful front 7. The loss of Melvin Ingram for the year is a tough one, as a torn ACL will surely keep him sidelined for all of 2013 while affecting his 2014 as well. As mentioned earlier, the Chargers are very excited about their inside linebacker duo of Te’o and Donald Butler, who had a breakout season in 2012. Their starting defensive line averages just 24 years of age and if Dwight Freeney can team up with Jarrett Johnson to produce enough of an edge rush, an athletic interior rush combination of Kendall Reyes and Corey Liuget could prove formidable. Manti Te’o is not a make or break player for this up and coming defense, but he is capable of taking it to a higher level.
Best 3rd Round Pick
Keenan Allen – WR, San Diego Chargers #76 Overall
Quite possibly the steal of the entire 2013 NFL Draft. The knee injury, which cost Allen the last 3 games of his college career while also keeping him out of the Senior Bowl and NFL combine, is still a nagging issue and could hamper him throughout his rookie season. His inability to work out at 100% was the primary cause in his fall from probable top 15 pick to the middle of the third round. Once past this injury, Allen will prove just how lucky San Diego was and just how dangerous he can be with a capable quarterback. A good route runner, excellent hands, and #1 wide receiver size and ability. His health is the only thing keeping him from leading all rookies in receiving yardage and touchdowns.
Best 4th Round Pick
Nico Johnson – LB, Kansas City Chiefs #99 Overall
The Chiefs effectively stole a starting inside linebacker with their 4th round pick when they selected Alabama’s Nico Johnson. The 250 two down run thumper is a perfect complement to the athletic Derrick Johnson on the inside of Kansas City’s 3-4 defense. His primary competition will be coming from Akeem Jordan, a journeyman linebacker who has been with Andy Reid for years in Philadelphia before coming with him to Kansas City. But at 6’1 230 lbs., Jordan simply doesn’t possess the natural gifts of Johnson. It is very rare for a good defense to add a starter on the draft’s 3rd day, but that appears to be exactly what John Dorsey and Andy Reid have done.
Best 5th Round Pick
Quanterus Smith – DE, Denver Broncos #146
7 years ago the Broncos used a mid round selection on a pass rush specialist out of Louisville named Elvis Dumervil. John Elway, John Fox, and Jack Del Rio can only hope that history repeats itself with Quanterus Smith, a talented edge rusher from Western Kentucky. Before a November ACL injury, Smith was leading the nation in sacks per game and was quickly rising NFL Draft boards. The 6’5 250 lb. athletic pass rusher who showed an ability to bend around the edge could factor into the late season pass rush rotation once he is fully healed and caught up to the speed of the NFL game. It is very likely that 2013 will be considered a “redshirt” year for Smith as he and the Broncos coaching staff look to 2014 for his true impact.
Best 6th Round Pick
Latavius Murray – RB, Oakland Raiders #181 Overall
Latavius Murray was a productive big back at UCF, at 6’2 and 230 lbs, Murray turned heads at the Knights pro day by running an impressive 4.38 forty yard dash. Murray averaged over 5 yards per carry as a senior on his way to over 1,100 yards and 15 touchdowns. He will battle with Rashad Jennings and Jeremy Stewart for the top back up spot to oft injured star running back Darren McFadden. Murray has already made moves in the competition with a strong showing at OTA’s which drew praise from head coach Dennis Allen.
Best 7th Round Pick
Zac Dysert – QB, Denver Broncos #234 Overall
With Peyton Manning nearing the end of his career, the Broncos selected Brock Osweiler a season ago to be Manning’s heir apparent. With Osweiler waiting in the wings, the Broncos also drafted Miami of Ohio quarterback Zac Dysert to be their developmental 3rd quarterback. Dysert has some very intriguing skills to go along with a proto-type build for the position. While Dsyert has some starting potential down the road, he should develop into the long term back-up in Denver.
UDFA Most Likely to Earn a Roster Spot
Kwame Geathers – DL, San Diego Chargers
The mammoth 6’6 350 lb. Geathers will compete for the back up nose tackle duties behind Chargers 4th year pro Cam Thomas. Geathers has some serious NFL bloodlines as both brothers(Robert and Clifton Geathers), his father(Robert Geathers Sr.), an uncle(Jumpy Geathers), and a cousin(Jeremy Geathers) all have played or are currently playing in the NFL. He is primarily a two down run stuffer with very limited pass rush capability, but gigantic men who can move and play the nose tackle position will always be in demand. With San Diego a little light on its nose tackle depth, Geathers is in a nice position to not only make the roster, but contribute in 2013.
Topics: 2013 Nfl Draft, Denver Broncos, Kansas City Chiefs, Keenan Allen, Kwame Geathers, Latavius Murray, Manti Te'o, Menelik Watson, Montee, NFL, Notre Dame, Oakland Raiders, Quanterus Smith, San Diego Chargers, Wisconsin Badgers Football, Zac Dysert