Former Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o (No. 5) will now be playing inside linebacker in the Chargers' 3-4 defense. (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)
The Oakland Raiders have a long way to go to improve from a 4-12 season, so general manager Reggie McKenzie was understandably happy about his team’s selection of 10 players in the just-concluded three-day NFL draft.
But other teams in the AFC West improved as well. How did Oakland’s division rivals do in the draft? A quick look, in order of estimated improvement:
San Diego Chargers: Like the Raiders, this team, too, needed a heavy dose of new talent, and it got it. ESPN analyst Mel Kiper gave the Chargers his highest overall draft grade in the division, a B+ (he gave the Raiders a B-) for adding Alabama offensive tackle D.J. Fluker in the first round to give quarterback Philip Rivers some protection, added Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o and Cal cornerback Steve Williams to a struggling defense and got Cal wide receiver Keenan Allen in the third round. Allen, at 6-foot-2, should give Rivers another big target. Despite all the hoopla regarding Te’o and his slide down the draft board, the former Notre Dame star could be an immediate contributor at inside linebacker in the position vacated by Takeo Spikes.
Kansas City Chiefs: The division doormat in 2012 should be significantly better in 2013, because it’s already added a legitimate NFL quarterback in former 49er Alex Smith, acquired in a trade with the 49ers this offseason. Then in the draft, the Chiefs added offensive left tackle Eric Reid with the No. 1 overall choice to protect Smith’s blind side and one of the best tight ends available in Cincinnati’s Travis Kelce. On defense, K.C. already had added free-agent corners Sean Smith and Dunta Robinson and in the draft picked up Alabama inside linebacker Nico Johnson, a reputed tough guy who could immediately earn an inside linebacker job. Kiper’s team grade: B.
Denver Broncos: The division’s best team needed to get better defensively, and it did, going for players on D with three of its first four picks: defensive tackle Sylvester Williams in Round 1, cornerback Kayvon Webster in Round 3 and defensive end Quanterus Smith in Round 5. Williams, a 6-foot-3, 313-pound behemoth, could immediately start at defensive tackle. Also, quarterback Peyton Manning picked up some offensive help with Wisconsin running back Montee Ball in Round 2. Kiper’s team grade: B-. One of the team’s best pickups the past week, however, came in free agency, with the signing of former Chargers linebacker Shaun Phillips, who will add pass-rushing talent to an already strong pass-rush group.