2012 NFL Draft: An Offensive Threat for Each AFC West Team
Each team in the AFC West has a defining characteristic.
The San Diego Chargers will keep Norv Turner despite falling short of preseason expectations. The Oakland Raiders will be among the league leaders in penalty yards.The Kansas City Chiefs will field a lot of playmakers who do not make plays. The Denver Broncos will say that Tim Tebow is the starter while shopping for replacements behind his back.
In all, this is consistently the most underachieving division in football. The 2012 season promises more of the same as each one of these teams has a lot to prove.
With that being said, everyone in the AFC West is potentially one playmaker away from winning the division. This slideshow will highlight one offensive threat who each team will target in the 2012 NFL Draft.
Denver Broncos: David Wilson, RB, Virginia Tech
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As long as Tim Tebow is the starting quarterback, nothing will come easy for the Denver Broncos' offense. If they are going to commit to Tebow, they need to surround him with offensive weapons.
Denver will target the fastest offensive playmaker still available in the first round. The Broncos would love to add Kendall Wright to their receiving corp, but he already will be off the board by the 25th pick.
That leaves running back David Wilson from Virginia Tech.
He will be joining Willis McGahee and Knowshon Moreno in a crowded backfield. But with McGahee on the wrong side of 30 and Moreno's injury history, Wilson will see a good number of carries early on.
Wilson is one of the most exciting players in this year's draft. He is elusive in tight spaces, which allows him to buy time while running lanes develop. His speed and start-and-stop acceleration allows him to explode past the first wave of defenders and into the open field. Once this happens, forget about it.
For someone with a slight build (5'10", 205 pounds), Wilson was surprisingly effective at gaining yards after contact in college. He has the potential to be an elite back if this skill translates to the NFL.
Wilson can be used right away in Denver's option offense. His speed will spread out defenses and open up running room for Tebow, McGahee and Moreno on the inside.
Wilson's quick-twitch speed will add a missing dimension to this team and take the pressure off Tebow and the passing game.
Kansas City Chiefs: Chris Polk, RB, University of Washington
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The Kansas City Chiefs were favorites to win the AFC West last season. Their high hopes quickly disappeared after Matt Cassel, Jamaal Charles, Eric Berry, Brandon Siler, and Tony Moeaki went down with season-ending injuries.
With these key starters back in 2012, the Chiefs have the potential to represent the AFC West in the playoffs.
The loss of Charles in Week 2 clearly hurt Cassel's production. He threw for 0 touchdowns and nine interceptions during the nine games he played prior to injuring his throwing hand.
Running backs Thomas Jones and Jackie Battle are both free agents this offseason. This leaves the pint-sized Dexter McCluster as the only back behind Charles on the depth chart. For this reason, the Chiefs will be looking for a bigger back to complement Charles.
The Chiefs will target Chris Polk in the second round to provide much-needed depth and security to the position.
At 5'11" and 224 pounds, Polk has the talent to do it all. In his four years at Washington, he scored 30 touchdowns and finished three seasons with at least 220 carries and 20 receptions.
Polk has great balance and vision. He runs tall but lowers his shoulder at the point of contact. He has the power to drive the pile and the finesse necessary to break big runs.
Polk's only downside is his lack of speed, but he is confident that he can prove the doubters wrong by running the 40-yard dash in about 4.4 seconds.
The combination of Charles and Polk will create one of the most dynamic backfields in the NFL. Polk is starter quality and will be able to handle the full load if Charles has to miss any time.
Don't be surprised if Polk has the most productive career out of all the running backs chosen in the 2012 NFL Draft.
San Diego Chargers: Orson Charles, TE, University of Georgia
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With all the injuries in Kansas City, the San Diego Chargers looked primed to win the AFC West in 2011. But, as usual, the Chargers underachieved, finishing 8-8.
San Diego's offense was not as efficient as it had been in the past. Part of the reason was that a lot of offensive starters missed time due to injuries. The inconsistency of the lineup negatively affected Rivers, who threw a career-high 20 interceptions.
Wide receiver Vincent Jackson will likely be finding a new club this offseason. With him gone, the Chargers will need to find another weapon for Rivers in the passing game.
San Diego will target tight end Orson Charles in the second round to fill that need.
Future Hall-of-Famer Antonio Gates is on the wrong side of 30 and has missed nine games in the last two season. But do not think of Charles as Gates' replacement.
Standing at 6'3" and 242 pounds, Charles will be a wide receiver-tight end hybrid in the NFL. He is a taller, more athletic version of Delanie Walker, San Francisco's underrated X-factor.
Charles is a raw athlete. He is quick and has decent hands but needs to improve his route running. His skill set will leave defensive coordinators scratching their heads. He is too fast to be covered by linebackers and too physical for smaller corners.
Orson's value is on the rise thanks to the stellar play of NFL tight ends in 2011. After watching Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez torture defenses all last season, the Chargers will be curious to see what headaches a Gates-Charles combo can cause.
Oakland Raiders: Vick Ballard, RB, Mississippi State
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The Oakland Raiders have given up all but two of their 2012 NFL draft selections to fix the quarterback problem the failure of JaMarcus Russell created. In the past few seasons they traded for Jason Campbell and (more recently) Carson Palmer, an injury-prone 32-year old, to address the issue. Classic Raider logic.
The Raiders will have to wait until the fifth round before they select their first player. With Darren McFadden coming back from injury and Michael Bush leaving via free agency, Oakland needs to find a solid backup running back.
With their fifth-round selection, the Raiders will target Vick Ballard.
After playing for a junior college in 2008 and 2009, Ballard transferred to Mississippi State. While playing for the Bulldogs, Ballard averaged 1,078.5 yards per season and scored 31 touchdowns.
Although he is smaller and faster, Ballard (5'11" 217 pounds) has a similar style to former Mississippi State running back Anthony Dixon (who now plays for the San Francisco 49ers). Both players run with power and explode through big holes, but have a tendency to stop moving their feet when they cannot find the room to run.
Ballard is raw but has the potential to develop into a well-rounded running back. He will not make Raiders' fans forget about Bush next season, but that should not be expected from a fifth-round pick.
His immediate contribution will be on special teams. His combination of size and speed will allow him to wreak havoc on the kick-coverage units.