The AFC West was dominated by the Denver Broncos in 2012, so the division's three other teams entered the draft trying to change that. And some teams did a good job at doing so.
Oakland traded down and nabbed Houston cornerback D.J. Hayden with the 12th overall pick, and they picked Menelik Watson in the second round and Sio Moore in the third round. Kansas City took Eric Fisher with the first pick in the draft and Travis Kelce in the third round. Denver took Sylvester Williams, Montee Ball, Kayvon Webster and Quanterus Smith with their first four picks. And the Chargers used their first three picks to take D.J. Fluker, Manti Te'o and Keenan Allen.
A lot of these players were well known in college, and all of these guys can make impacts. But which AFC West team had the best draft?
Every AFC West team made at least one good move, and some teams made multiple good moves. San Diego nabbed Allen, who could have easily been taken in the first round. Allen caught 98 passes in 2011 and did so while working with a below-average quarterback in Zach Maynard. Allen has great hands, and while he was alarmingly slow in the 40-yard dash (he ran the dash in 4.71 seconds), he isn't too slow.
San Diego also took Manti Te'o, who received lots of attention due to his fake girlfriend scandal, in the second round. Te'o struggled in the BCS Championship Game, but he still managed 10 tackles in that game. Te'o registered 111 tackles in 2012, and he somehow intercepted seven passes. Te'o is a solid player, and the Chargers were able to nab a good player.
The Chargers surrendered 49 sacks in 2012, and they lost guard Louis Vasquez, who gave up just two of those sacks. Fluker gave up four sacks in 2012, but he still fills a huge hole on the line. He isn't a direct replacement for Vasquez, but he can help protect a quarterback (Philip Rivers) who needs protection. San Diego would have liked to take one of the draft's best lineman, but five lineman were off the board when San Diego made their pick at No. 11.
San Diego filled their biggest hole in the first round, and they added another explosive receiver to complement Malcom Floyd. A receiving corps with Floyd, Allen and Danario Alexander will be hard to stop, and with a better offensive line Rivers should be able to get the ball to his playmakers. San Diego addressed some huge needs in the draft, but they weren't the only team in the division that did so.
Denver picked Williams in the first round, adding depth at defensive tackle. The front office was extremely fond of Williams, who showcased his ability to get to the quarterback with six sacks in 2012. Williams also registered 13.5 tackles for loss, so he isn't just going to serve as a run-stuffer down the middle. Williams will likely start immediately and serve as an impactful player who can help make up for the loss of star defensive end Elvis Dumervil.
Ball accumulated a ridiculous 61 touchdowns over his last two years in college. Ball is a guy who can find holes with his superb vision, and once he finds a hole, he's not easy to bring down. Ball can burst up a hole, make one cut and find lots of space, and he should thrive in Denver with a talented offensive line and a four-time MVP at quarterback to deflect attention away from the running game.
The Webster pick was a bit of a head-scratcher, but he is lightning-fast and possesses decent cover skills. Webster is a bit like Hayden, although the inspiring Houston cornerback is definitely a lot more talented. Denver rolled the dice with this pick, but it's not a huge deal even if he doesn't pay off. This pick is mainly for depth, which Denver needs in the secondary.
Denver's fifth-round selection of Smith makes lots of sense for a team in need of a replacement for Dumervil. Smith tore his ACL and is recovering now, but he still managed 12.5 sacks despite missing his last two games. One hundred forty-five players were picked in front of Smith, but that doesn't mean that he can't be an impactful player.
Both the Broncos and Chargers did very well in the draft. Kansas City took Eric Fisher with the first overall pick, giving new quarterback Alex Smith more protection. The Chiefs added another weapon to Smith's arsenal by taking tight end Travis Kelce in the third round, which was key because Kansas City doesn't have many playmaking receivers on the roster. The Chiefs filled some needs and improved, but they weren't as productive as Denver and San Diego.
As for Oakland, they made a great trade with the Dolphins in the first round. They were expected to take D.J. Hayden with the the third overall pick, but they traded back nine spots and still managed to lock up the speedy defensive back who nearly died after a huge practice hit. Oakland also earned a second-round pick in the deal, and they used that pick to help the offensive line by taking Watson. Oakland then drafted linebacker Sio Moore, who finished the 2012 season with eight sacks.
The fact that the Raiders didn't upgrade the pass rush until the third round was a bit confusing. Oakland ranked 18th in total defense and 20th in pass defense, and Oakland could have used the 42nd pick to take a solid cornerback. Sharrif Floyd, Star Lotulelei and Sheldon Richardson were some available defensive tackles, and there were some talented defensive ends such as Cornellius "Tank" Carradine as well.
Oakland added talent, but they could have gone in other directions.
Overall, every AFC West team improved in the draft. Oakland could have targeted a wide receiver or a defensive lineman, but they secured a player with three interceptions in his last three games and a player with star potential in Hayden. Kansas City secured a star in Fisher, and the Broncos and Chargers were both able to fill some holes by taking some good players.
In the end, though, the Broncos had the best draft. They added a good pass-rusher and run-stuffer in Williams; an explosive, durable running back in Ball; and a speedy corner with good cover skills in Webster. Fluker has some flaws, Te'o is slow and is caught up in a lot of hype and Allen, while talented, isn't a complete game-changer.
Denver improved on the defensive line and secured a potential long-term replacement for Dumervil, as Smith is an explosive player who can team up with Von Miller and terrorize quarterbacks when healthy. Denver added an offensive weapon and added some needed depth at key positions, which teams like the Raiders failed to do. The Broncos are already a great team, but they got better in the draft.
And, unfortunately for the AFC West, the back-to-back division champion is poised to win the division again with some new weapons in its arsenal.