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Track Key Free Agency Pick-Ups For The Raiders And AFC West

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(credit: Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

(credit: Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

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By: Tony Meale

NFL Free Agency has begun ( check out our Free Agency Tracker here ) and we’re taking a look at which players each team and division needs to pick up to improve in the 2012 season.

AFC West

Oakland (8-8)

The Raiders are without a first-round pick as a result of trading for Carson Palmer, which is looking more and more like a steal for the Bengals.

In fact, the Raiders are without a pick in the second, third and fourth rounds as well. They have just two picks in the entire draft – one in the fifth, one in the sixth.

Oakland ranked 29th in the league in total defense last year – 27th against the pass and 27th against the rush – so obvious improvements could be made on that side of the ball. The Raiders, however, might be better served by acquiring a possession receiver, as seemingly every pass-catcher they have is a deep threat. Bringing in a “young” quarterback like Oklahoma State’s Brandon Weeden (who’s actually 28) might help push Palmer to excel.

But make no mistake. Oakland, perhaps more than any other team in the NFL, is what it is. Few draft picks – and no meaningful ones – have this team’s hands tied.

San Diego (8-8)

The Chargers remain one of the most underachieving teams in all of football. Prone to stumbling out of the gate, San Diego started 4-1 last season only to lose six straight and miss the playoffs. Again.

San Diego could go one of several routes with its first-round pick. Stanford offensive guard David DeCastro would be a wise pick at No. 18 – especially given Kris Dielman’s retirement. Linebacker Courtney Upshaw is an ideal fit for a team that needs youth at that position (Takeo Spikes turns 36 next season). Nick Perry is another first-round option; the USC product would bolster the pass rush at linebacker and defensive end – something the Chargers desperately need given that they finished tied for 23rd with 32 sacks last season.

Vincent Jackson is unlikely to return, which would leave a gaping hole at wideout; Jackson was the only Charger to top 1,000 yards last season. Aside from Malcolm Floyd, San Diego’s top pass-catchers were tight end Antonio Gates and running backs Ryan Matthews and Mike Tolbert.

Denver Broncos (8-8)

Denver, first and foremost, needs to commit to Tim Tebow. How anyone thinks Tebow shouldn’t be the quarterback of the future is beyond me. Pessimists will say, “He can’t be an NFL quarterback; he finished last in the league in completion percentage.” The optimist, on the other hand, says, “Yeah, he finished last in the league in completion percentage – and he still went 8-4 as a starter, helped his team to a division title and led the Broncos to a postseason win over the Steelers.”

In other words, imagine what he could do if he became even a mediocre passer.

Tebow will never be a guy who completes 70 percent of his passes, a la Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers. But if his 46.1 completion percentage can increase to the 55-60 range, then he absolutely can – and will – be a very successful quarterback in this league. By the way, he’s 24. Give him a chance to develop.

Not only that. Give him some weapons. What Denver wideouts, outside of Demaryius Thomas, strike any fear whatsoever in opposing defenses? Exactly. Denver should consider drafting Stephen Hill. A 6-4, 215-pound wideout from Georgia Tech, Hill had an excellent combine and, with his reach and build, can atone for Tebow’s inaccuracy.

Defensively, the Broncos have a pretty solid line with Ryan Clady, Elvis Dumervil and Von Miller, but Penn State defensive tackle Devon Still would really shore up a rush defense that ranked 22nd in football last year. Denver also has gaping holes in the secondary, so Alabama’s Dre Kirkpatrick could also get some first-round love.

Oh, did I mention the Broncos should commit to Tebow?

Kansas City (7-9)

The Chiefs had the sixth best passing defense in football last year – 20 spots ahead of their rush defense, which came in 26th overall. Drafting Boston College linebacker Luke Kuechly, a tackling machine, would ameliorate this problem, particularly in Romeo Crennel’s 3-4 defense. Defensive tackle Dontari Poe – a 6-3, 330-pound Memphis product – is another option.

Using the franchise tag on Dwayne Bowe was a must. Kansas City averaged just 13.3 points per game last season – second to last in the NFL – and that was with Bowe playing all 16 games and catching 81 balls for 1,159 yards. Aside from Steve Breaston, who is no better than a No. 3, KC simply has no one to throw to. Making a pitch to Vincent Jackson or Pierre Garcon would be wise.

Tony Meale is a freelance writer for MLB.com, cincinnati.com and ffjungle.com, among others. His fantasy football work has led to guest appearances on several radio outlets, including ESPN Radio and Sirius Radio. He has a Master’s in Journalism from Ohio University and has been recognized by the Society of Professional Journalists for outstanding work. A Cincinnati native, he is currently writing a book on one of the great sports stories never told. Follow Tony Meale on Twitter @tonymeale.

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