Monthly Archives: July 2017

AFC West: Training Camp Snapshot

The AFC West was as competitive as ever in 2016 as the Kansas City Chiefs and Oakland Raiders tied atop the division at 12-4. The Chiefs were the two seed for the playoffs thanks to a clean sweep of their division rivals.

Oakland tumbled from legit Super Bowl contender to a one-and-done wild card team after quarterback and MVP candidate Derek Carr broke his leg in Week 16. Denver fought admirably to a 9-7 record with Trevor Siemian at the steering wheel after living legend Peyton Manning retired.

The Chargers suffered through a brutal, injury plagued season that ended with the franchise announcing they would be moving to Los Angeles as the “other” team in the Rams sprawling stadium and athletic complex of the future.

Training camp is here, so lets get to it. Here are some quick hits from around the AFC West.
*Order is predicted standings for 2017

1.) Oakland Raiders
The Raiders certainly have a chip on their shoulder after putting it all together in 2016, only to see it fall apart, because of a broken leg. Carr, took a massive step in Year Three, as he passed for nearly 4,000 yards with 28 touchdowns against just six interceptions. Of course it helps when you have targets like Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree to throw too. The team also added Jared Cook to upgrade the tight end position. The biggest story line for the Raiders entering camp is the freshness of running back Marshawn Lynch, who came out of retirement to join his hometown Oakland Raiders before they move to Las Vegas.

Despite a rapidly developing juggernaut on offense, the Raiders were still lacking on defense. The unit finished the season 26th in total defense. That’s not good enough for a Super Bowl contender. While superstar end Khalil Mack continued to haunt opposing quarterbacks, the rest of the line suffered through injuries and inconsistencies. A lot will be riding on Mario Edwards who needs to stay healthy. The secondary also left a lot to be desired. Newcomer Reggie Nelson led the team with five interceptions, but more needs to be done. Which is why the team spent their first two draft picks on corner Gareon Conley and safety Obi Melifonwu.

Best Camp Battle: Ben Heeney vs Cory James vs Marquel Lee
The starting middle linebacker spot is a major weakness. Heeney, started last season, but went down early with an ankle injury, openung the door for James. James, logged 48 tackles and five starts. Still unimpressed, the team drafted Lee in the fifth-round. Lee, finished his senior year at Wake Forrest with 105 tackles.

2.) Los Angeles Chargers
Injuries and uncertainty killed the Chargers the past two season. Now everything is settled. The team is now in LA and under the direction of first time head coach Anthony Lynn. Luckily for Lynn, he still has Philip Rivers manning the ship. Despite losing top target Keenan Allen for the second consecutive season due to injury, Rivers still led the eighth best passing attack in the league. The Bolts added another weapon in first-round pick Mike Williams, but his season is already in doubt with a back injury. The key for the Bolts will be a resurgent run game, which is why they invested two top draft picks to bolster the guard positions.

New coordinator Gus Bradley will be transitioning the team from a 3-4 to a 4-3 scheme and has the perfect building blocks in pass rushers Joey Bosa, last year’s Defensive Rookie of the Year, and Melvin Ingram. The two combined for 18.5 sacks last season. The linebacking corps is led by youngsters Denzel Perryman and Jatavis Brown. Who mans the third spot will be a toss up between Korey Toomer, second on the team in tackles in 2016, and Jeremiah Attaochu. The corners boast some nice young talent in Casey Hayward and Jason Verrett, although Verrett has struggled to stay healthy over his first three seasons and opened training camp on the PUP list.

Best Camp Battle: Dwight Lowery vs Rayshawn Jenkins vs Desmond King
Lowery is the incumbent and had a solid season in 2016, posting 60 tackles and nine pass breakups. Jenkins and King are rookies. Jenkins, is big, strong, and fast and can really pack a wallop. King, won the Thorpe Award in 2015 and will be moving from corner to safety. He has the skill to develop into a quality starter, but how fast?

3.) Denver Broncos
Injuries and inexperience crushed the Broncos in 2016, particularly in the run game. Starter C.J. Anderson went down after seven games, leaving rookie Devontae Booker to lead the rushing attack. He finished with 612 yards and four touchdowns. Denver signed Jamaal Charles hoping the long time Chief still has a little left in the tank. As underwhelming as the rushing attack was, the offensive line should take some of the blame for vastly underperforming. The team invested heavily in this unit over the offseason, signing Menelik Watson and Ron Leary via free agency and drafting Garett Bolles in the first round. All three should start from Day One.

Denver finished fourth in total defense last season and return mostly intact. The only big change comes with the retirement of future hall-of-famer DeMarcus Ware. With Ware gone, the pass rusher job opposite Von Miller falls to former first-round pick Shane Ray, however he tore ligaments in his wrist on the first day of training camp and will miss six to eight weeks following surgery. The secondary continues to boast, arguably, the best cornerback tandem in the league with Chris Harris and Aqib Talib. Newcomers Domata Peko (free agency) and DeMarcus Walker (draft) should help bolster the run defense, which finished the season 28th in the league.

Best Camp Battle: Trevor Siemian vs Paxton Lynch
Siemian played admirably in 2016. The first time starter posted 3,401 yards with 18 touchdowns against 10 interceptions. However, he’ll have to show even more to stave off Lynch. The team invested a first round pick in the former Memphis quarterback making it difficult for the organization to not hand over the reigns.

4.) Kansas City Chiefs
What a strange offseason for the Chiefs. After a string of head scratching moves by GM John Dorsey, culminating with the mismanaged release of wide receiver Jeremy Maclin, Dorsey was fired, a move that shocked many around the league. So what are the Chiefs left with? Quarterback is set with Alex Smith and first-round pick Patrick Mahomes waiting in the wings. Running back will be led by incumbent Spencer Ware with another rookie, Kareem Hunt, behind him. The biggest question mark comes at wide receiver. With Maclin gone it will be up to Chris Conley, Tyreek Hill, Albert Wilson, Demarcus Robinson, and rookie Jehu Chesson to help the aerial attack.

The Chiefs depth along the defensive line will be tested after the departures of Dontari Poe and Jaye Howard. The team signed Bennie Logan and drafted Tanoh Kpassagnon, to help, particularly with run defense. KC is stacked with linebackers. Justin Houston and Dee Ford can wreak havoc off the edge, but Houston needs to stay healthy. He’s only played in 16 games over the past two seasons. Additionally, veteran Tamba Hali is growing discontent with the team. A valued vet, Hali was irritated with his lack of playing time in the playoffs and recently took to twitter and the podcast world to express his frustrations with multiple issues and even questioned if he was needed by the franchise.

Best Camp Battle: Every Cornerback vs Every Cornerback
Marcus Peters is a shut down corner. His position is unquestioned. As is nickle back Steven Nelson’s. But who will take the starting spot opposite Peters? Veterans Terrance Mitchell, Phillip Gaines, Kenneth Acker, and Eric Murray as a dark horse candidate all will compete. Someone needs to distance themselves from the pack.


NFC West: Training Camp Snapshot

At the close of the 2016 season the Seattle Seahawks were atop the division and the only surprise came from the floundering of the Arizona Cardinals at 7-8-1, who had entered the season as legitimate Super Bowl contenders.

The least surprising story of 2016 was the futility of the Los Angeles Rams and San Francisco 49ers. Both teams fired their coaches and are starting over with Sean McVay and Kyle Shanahan, respectively. Both are leading an organization for the first time, with McVay being the youngest head coach in NFL history at 31 years old.

With the Cardinals having already reported to camp, let’s take a sneak peak at the division and their best training camp battles.
* Order is in predicted standings for 2017

1.) Seattle Seahawks
The Seahawks once again boasted a top-five defense and Russell Wilson continued to lead the organization, no thanks to the offensive line. Wilson was sacked 41 times (tied for second worst in the league) and played most of the season hobbled. The line was in shambles all season, except for Justin Britt who manned the pivot admirably. The team drafted Ethan Pocic in the second round of the draft and has the versatility and talent to start at either guard or center. Eddie Lacey will look to revive his career in the Pacific Northwest, similar to Marshawn Lynch back in 2010.

On defense, cornerback will be under close scrutiny. All-Pro Richard Sherman was on the trading block, after an overly pugnacious 2016 season. DeShawn Shead, started opposite Sherman, but tore his ACL in the postseason. His return is up in the air. Safety Earl Thomas also suffered an injury, playing in only 11 games. It was the first time he failed to complete a full season in his career. Depth is a major issue for the secondary, which lead to the team spending four draft picks on this unit.

Best Camp Battle: Luke Jockel vs George Fant
Left tackle will be under close watch as Jockel and Fant battle it out to be top dog. Fant started 10 games last season, but as an undrafted former basketball player, his game still has a long way to go. Jockel, like Lacey, is looking to revive his career after four injury plagued seasons in Jacksonville after being selected as a Top 10 pick.

2.) Arizona Cardinals
The Cards are, seemingly, giving it one last swing with Carson Palmer at the helm. Injuries took out most of the team in 2016, but one bright spot was the emergence of David Johnson. He took as much off of Palmer’s shoulders as possible, rushing for over 1,200 yards and 16 touchdowns, while adding 80 receptions (second best on the team) and another 800-plus yards. Similarly to Palmer, this could be the last go for club legend Larry Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald, has transitioned well to playing the possession role more as he gets older. He posted another 100-plus catch season.

Arizona posted the second best overall defense in the league last year, however the team lost five starters during free agency. One position they addressed via free agency was inside linebacker, where the team brought back Karlos Dansby for his third stint with the team. Even at his age, he is still an asset. The front line is a strength, but lost another club legend in Calais Campbell. That leaves last year’s first-round pick Robert Nkemdiche. He under-performed last season and has a lot to prove in 2017.

Best Camp Battle: Brandon Williams vs Justin Bethel
Marcus Cooper led the team in interceptions and is now in Chicago, leaving Williams and Bethel to start opposite Patrick Peterson. Both started three games last year and neither left an impression. Williams, a third-round choice last year, has the inside track, but is still new to the position. Bethel, a special teams stud, needs to be more consistent to keep the spot after starting his career at safety.

3.) San Francisco 49ers
A lot is new in San Francisco. The team is now being led by Shanahan and fellow first-timer in GM John Lynch. Lynch, proved legitimate after wisely maneuvering the draft. He and Shanahan were smart in building their roster. They brought in familiar faces from Shanahan’s previous coaching stops, signing Brian Hoyer, Pierre Garcon, and Aldrick Robinson. The team finished the season with the second worst offense, there is only room for improvement. Jeremy Zuttah, was acquired via trade, fresh off his first Pro Bowl appearance. He adds another top talent to work with left tackle Joe Staley.

While the team finished second to last in total offense, they finished dead last in total defense. Again, there is only room to improve. Coordinator Robert Saleh is also a first timer. He’ll be switching the team from their long time 3-4 alignment to a 4-3 and got two tremendous building blocks in Solomon Thomas and Reuben Foster in Round One of the draft. Defensive leader NaVorro Bowman will also be back. The linebacker missed 12 games in 2016 thanks to a torn Achilles. Third-round draft pick Ahkello Witherspoon could compete for a starting spot at cornerback.

Best Camp Battle: Jimmie Ward vs Jaquiski Tartt
Safety will be a fun position battle. Ward, has been used at cornerback and safety over his three years in the league, while Tartt has been used as a supersub at both safety positions. Safety is Ward’s natural position, but if the corner position fails to solidify and Tartt beats out Ward, corner could be Ward’s new home.

4.) Los Angeles Rams
In five years under Jeff Fisher, the Rams only produced 31 wins. It got so bad, that star running back Todd Gurley said their offense “looked like a middle school offense out there” after a 42-14 thrashing by the Atlanta Falcons last season. Fisher is out and McVay is in. He has a lot of work to do in bringing life to the Rams’ offense. Early reports are that the players are buzzing over McVay’s new scheme, but a lot still needs to be upgraded. The addition of proven and consistent veterans like Robert Woods, Andrew Whitworth, and John Sullivan should pay off. Jared Goff, will be looked at to take the next step.

McVay was very smart to hire Wade Phillips as defensive coordinator. He’s still one of the best in the league and will transition the team to his preferred 3-4 scheme. It will be interesting to see if it pays off as all-world talent Aaron Donald has excelled as a three technique over his first three years. He’ll move to a five technique. Similarly, Robert Quinn’s transition from end to linebacker will be worth monitoring. He has not aged well. Trumaine Johnson is the No. 1 corner and excels in zone schemes, however Phillips’ defense requires more press-man coverage.

Best Camp Battle: Tyler Higbee vs Gerald Everett
Tight end is an important part in McVay’s offense. Higbee started seven games last year as a rookie, but only turned in 11 receptions for 85 yards and a single touchdown. Everett, is a rookie who plays like a supersized wide receiver. If he can translate that ability, the payoffs could be big.