With the initial free-agency frenzy winding down, organizations are turning their attention to the 2012 NFL Draft. What are the biggest remaining holes for each AFC West team? Let's examine ...
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Bringing in all-time quarterback Peyton Manning will cover up a lot of the Broncos' roster ills -- even if some fans aren't happy that their Tim Tebow jerseys are obsolete after his trade to the New York Jets. The Broncos improved some of the pieces around him, including adding former Bengals receiver Andre Caldwell to the outside duo of Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker, and will undoubtedly sign others to aid Manning's offensive attack. A receiver/returner type may be in the cards with Eddie Royal now filling that role in San Diego. The four-time MVP might like the offensive line the Broncos have in place, but finding interior depth might be necessary to keep him upright through the next couple of seasons.
Defensive tackle Ryan McBean and linebacker D.J. Williams will be serving six-game suspensions for violating the league's substance-abuse policy, and the team already needed talent at those spots. The Broncos might, therefore, take advantage of strong talent at defensive tackle early in the draft. Team president John Elway and head coach John Fox addressed the secondary by signing a pair of new starters -- free safety Mike Adams (from Cleveland) and cornerback Tracy Porter (New Orleans) -- but Denver might add more corners if unsure about its nickel and dime options.
Injuries were one factor in the Chiefs' exclusion from the playoffs in 2011, so just getting back quarterback Matt Cassel, running back Jamaal Charles, tight end Tony Moeaki and safety Eric Berry could push them back into the division race. The Chiefs not only hope for Charles' return in the backfield, but also signed Peyton Hillis to fortify their backfield. Losing thumping fullback Le'Ron McClain to the Chargers, however, creates a need for a new lead blocker -- an elite guard prospect like David DeCastro would be a nice find in the first round. The team also signed Eric Winston at right tackle, and then brought in Brady Quinn as an insurance policy in case Cassel goes down again next fall.
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The Chiefs ranked 26th in the NFL in rushing defense last year, so adding a nose tackle to occupy blockers up front makes sense. Getting Berry back should help the secondary in 2012, but replacing Brandon Carr with released Oakland corner Stanford Routt should not be considered a wash. Kansas City must find another outside defender, as well as more depth behind Berry and fellow starter Kendrick Lewis at safety.
The Raiders' new general manager, Reggie McKenzie, cleaned house a bit after the team's 8-8 2011 season. He released tight end Kevin Boss, linebacker Kamerion Wimbley and Routt, among others, while also losing running back Michael Bush and center Samson Satele. Oakland is also without its first four picks in the 2012 draft due to trades and the supplemental draft, though the league awarded the Raiders a third-round compensatory pick (95th overall), giving them one pick in the first two days of the draft.
Signing cornerbacks Shawntae Spencer (from San Francisco) and Ron Bartell (St. Louis) helps, but McKenzie might still be trying to upgrade the talent there. Finding a linebacker to start across from seemingly revitalized Aaron Curry is a major need, as well. McKenzie gave 2011 starting right tackle Khalif Barnes a one-year deal, but might look to find him competition if unsure of his ability to protect quarterback Carson Palmer -- for whom they gave up their 2012 first-round pick and a conditional first- or second-round pick next year. Losing Boss to the Chiefs creates an opportunity for a mid-round pick at tight end to make an impact as a rookie.
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Quarterback Philip Rivers lost his main big-play target in Vincent Jackson, but the team still has Malcom Floyd, tight end Antonio Gates and promising second-year receiver Vincent Brown. And they also acquired free agents Robert Meachem and Eddie Royal to help out. The Chargers released left tackle Marcus McNeill due to his injury history, while they re-signed Jared Gaither, who took over for McNeill when he went on injured reserve last season. But San Diego should seek more depth behind both tackle spots. Tyronne Green has been a part-time starter at left guard the past two seasons, but might also see some competition for that spot.
The team needs more help on the other side of the ball, as they try to improve their 22nd-ranked scoring defense from 2011. Free-agent nose tackle Antonio Garay might not return, so finding a run stuffer in the middle to rotate with Cam Thomas would be beneficial. Linebacker Antwan Barnes was a pass-rushing force last fall (11 sacks), but adding former Ravens starter Jarret Johnson might point to other changes at the position. Strong safety is another need position, as Steve Gregory was signed by the New England Patriots and free-agent acquisition Atari Bigby is a better reserve/special teams player.