From an outside perspective the AFC West looks like a division capable of putting up some gaudy scoring figures in the upcoming season. With the Denver Broncos' acquisition of Peyton Manning to replace Tim Tebow, each team in the division now has a quality NFL starting quarterback to lead their squad.
The upgrade of Manning over Tebow really does not need to be discussed any further, as a healthy or even semi-healthy Manning represents the biggest offseason change of any NFL team. In San Diego, Charger fans have to believe that last year was an aberration for Philip Rivers and that he will revert back to being the quarterback who previously led them to the brink of the Super Bowl. Despite the loss of Vincent Jackson in free agency the Chargers brass would have to think a core group of Rivers, Antonio Gates and Ryan Mathews will be able to score some points.
While the Raiders had to slash payroll across the board, they do welcome back Carson Palmer for his second season in Oakland where one would have to assume he will be far more comfortable following a full offseason with the club. Despite losing Michael Bush at running back, the Raiders still have some speedy playmakers in guys like Darren McFadden, Jacoby Ford and Denarius Moore.
Despite some fans wishing otherwise, the Kansas City Chiefs will once again have Matt Cassel back to lead the team. He looks to regain the Pro Bowl form he showed in 2010 as the Chiefs not only welcome back players like Jamaal Charles and Tony Moeaki from injury but have added quality pieces during the offseason in the form of Eric Winston, Peyton Hillis and Kevin Boss.
So with all that being said, it seems to figure that on Thursday night when the first round of the 2012 NFL draft takes place the AFC West will likely have a defensive flavor to it. After all, the best way to stop an opposing offense is to have players who can get to and hit the quarterback.
In a mock draft done earlier this month by ESPN prognosticator Mel Kiper Jr., he had every AFC West team with first-round pick -- sorry, Raiders -- taking a defensive player.
As many other mock drafts have had as well, he had the Chiefs going with Boston College Luke Kuechly. While Kuechly would fill a need the Chiefs have also been mentioned with a group of defensive linemen in Dontari Poe, Fletcher Cox and Michael Brockers. If the Chiefs went with a defensive lineman or a player anywhere on the defense it should not surprise anyone, as previous drafts have shown with general manager Scott Pioli taking Tyson Jackson and Eric Berry with first-round selections. With a defensive minded head coach in Romeo Crennel and a solid but not spectacular quarterback in Cassel it might behoove the Chiefs to try and focus on their defense in the first round of the draft. If the team could land a premium nose tackle that could come out and contribute right away who knows how high in the defensive rankings the Chiefs could be in 2012.
In that same mock draft Kiper also had San Diego selecting a linebacker by the name of Chandler Jones from Syracuse. Last season the Chargers had trouble rushing the passer and, with 2009 first-rounder Larry English not living up to his draft slot, the team may have to yet again take a chance on a pass rushing linebacker. Due to his playing at Syracuse, Jones is not a household name for many but, in a Top 100 overall prospect list recently put out by NFL Network's Mike Mayock, he checked in surprisingly as the No. 9 overall player on the board. Much like Pioli in Kansas City, Chargers general manager A.J. Smith has shown a penchant for selecting defensive players such as English and DT Cory Liuget last season.
The last first-round pick then by Denver at No. 25 in Kiper's mock draft was LSU defensive tackle Michael Brockers. There is a good chance that Brockers would not fall this far down the board, as he has been mentioned as high as No. 11 where the Chiefs pick but if he did happen to fall this far then expect Denver to jump on him. Most every mock draft out there has John Elway selecting a defensive tackle in the first round to help try to fill the massive gap the Broncos have in the middle of their defense. With the addition of Manning, the common thought is that the Broncos will go with either the best remaining defensive tackle on their board or select a cornerback if one of the top prospects falls. Some rumors have leaked that the Broncos are fond of South Carolina cornerback Stephon Gilmore, but most mock drafts tend to have him being selected before the Broncos' selection.
So while the offseason headlines in the AFC West were focused almost strictly on offense, mainly thanks to the Manning coverage, do not be surprised if the first-round draft coverage is flipped.