Bolts' AFC West rivals primed to improve


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Jan 22, 2006
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Bolts' AFC West rivals primed to improve

By: JAY PARIS - Staff Writer

SAN DIEGO ---- While Chargers general manager A.J. Smith is focused on bolstering the Bolts come this NFL draft weekend, what about his AFC West rivals? If the Chargers intend to go deep in next season's playoffs, a guaranteed entrance to the postseason comes with being the AFC West champion.

That takes the guesswork out of trying, and praying, to qualify as a wild-card team.

But wearing the AFC West crown isn't a common occurrence for the Chargers. They finished 9-7 and in third place in the four-team division last year. They have claimed the AFC West title but once (2004) since 1994.

With that in mind, here is what the Chargers' AFC West rivals will be contemplating this weekend:

Denver Broncos

< Selections: Eight total. First pick: 15th overall

< Needs: WR, RB, TE, OL, S.

< At a glance: The defending AFC West champions are the only divisional team to have multiple first-round picks at Nos. 15 and 22. And they have three picks in the first 61 selections. The Broncos figure to use one of them on a wide receiver. Ashley Lelie was to play opposite Rod Smith for years to come, but he's already complaining he wants out, and the Broncos are hardly enamored with him. The Broncos cherish drafting running backs, and with former Camp Pendleton Marine Mike Anderson no longer on the roster, there is a need to replace their leading rusher. They are also thin at tight end after cutting Jeb Putzier. The offensive line has extinguished its share of birthday candles, so lighting a fire under the competition there is being considered. And seasoned S John Lynch (Torrey Pines High) is a stud, but even studs are sent out to pasture eventually.

< Possible first-round picks: WR Chad Jackson (Florida), RB DeAngelo Williams (Memphis), RB LenDale White (USC). They could package their two top picks in a trade and move up to snag TE Vernon Davis (Maryland), QB Vince Young (Texas) or QB Jay Cutler (Vanderbilt).

Kansas City Chiefs

< Selections: Seven. First: 20th overall.

< Needs: CB, DL, WR, OL, QB.

< At a glance: The Chiefs seek to plug various holes instead of having a must-fill position on their draft board. The team did cut cornerbacks Dexter McCleon and Eric Warfield, along with their 104 career starts. Considering that Herm Edwards (San Diego State) is now in charge, this former NFL cornerback might try to get better at that spot. And other than RE Jared Allen, the defensive line needs some work. Finding someone to play opposite WR Eddie Kennison is a requirement. While veteran offensive linemen Will Shields and Willie Roaf are Pro Bowlers, they have more yesterdays in the NFL than tomorrows. Don't forget one-time Chargers draft pick Trent Green is no longer green. The quarterback turns 36 before training camp ---- only six months younger than Brett Favre. Looking for a long-term solution at that position could be a necessity.

< Possible first-round picks: CB Jimmy Williams (Virginia Tech), CB Tye Hill (Clemson), WR Santonio Holmes (Ohio State), WR Chad Jackson (Florida).

Oakland Raiders

< Selections: Seven. First: seventh overall.

< Needs: OG, S, RB, OT, QB.

< At a glance: With Hall of Famer Art Shell back for his second stint as the Raiders' head coach, he will get busy upgrading a shaky offensive line. Much criticism has found its way to tackles Robert Gallery and Barry Sims, but it's the interior of the unit that needs attention. C Jake Grove is solid; so good, that he might be moved to guard. Gallery could be flipped from the right side to the left, leaving a hole in the spot he vacated. The Raiders haven't had a reliable safety since Rod Woodson's 2002 showing. RB LaMont Jordan did his part in '05, but there was little else in a ground game that ranked 28th. The Raiders signed free-agent QB Aaron Brooks but likely aren't done fiddling with that spot after Kerry Collins' release.

< Possible first-round pick: QB Vince Young (Texas), T Winston Justice (USC), RB LenDale White (USC), S Michael Huff (Texas).
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