Tag Archives: AFC West

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.

2017 NFL Draft Grades: AFC West

The 2016 season had two distinct story lines. One was the resurrection of the Oakland Raiders, who returned for the first time since 2002 with a 12-4 record. However, there Super Bowl dreams were dashed when quarterback David Carr went down with a broken leg near the end of the regular season.

The second was that the San Diego Chargers played their final game in San Diego as they decided the best move of the organization would be the second Los Angeles team and move into the LA Rams new stadium in 2020. It was a crushing move for the San Diego natives and it didn’t help that the team showcased Defensive Rookie of the Year Joey Bosa on their way out.

It was the Kansas City Chiefs who took the division crown, but just as in Philadelphia, coach Andy Reid proved consistently making the playoffs rarely turns into a Super Bowl appearance. While Denver rolled up to the finish line with a modest 9-7 record as Trevor Siemian took the reigns from the retired future hall-of-famer Peyton Manning.

For such a competitive division in 2016 the most striking aspect of it was the amount of turnover that occurred in the postseason.

The Oakland Raiders also agreed to relocate in 2020, with a move to Las Vegas finalized. Now, with an end date in Oakland, hometown hero Marshawn Lynch was coaxed out of retirement in an attempt to help send off the Raiders with a Super Bowl trophy while still in the bay area.

Elsewhere in the division, Broncos coach Gary Kubiak decided to retire which led to the hiring of first-time coach Vance Joseph. In San Diego, Mike McCoy was let go and returned to Denver as offensive coordinator, a position he already held from 2009-2012. Anthony Lynn was tasked as the man to replace McCoy and lead the Chargers into their new turn as the LA Chargers.

With such turnover, how did things transpire on draft day? Look no further. Here is the complete breakdown…

Denver Broncos: B+
1.) Garrett Bolles, OT, Utah
2.) DeMarcus Walker, DE, Florida St.
3.) Carlos Henderson, WR, Louisiana Tech
3b.) Brendan Langley, CB, Lamar
5.) Jake Butt, TE, Michigan
5b.) Isaiah McKenzie, WR, Georgia
6.) De’Angelo Henderson, RB, Coastal Carolina
7.) Chad Kelly, QB, Ole Miss

The Broncos and GM John Elway continue their impressive build up. Addressing the trenches to start was a tremendous approach. Bolles, will be a 25-year-old rookie and is still a bit raw, but he should start Day One on the left side. Walker, fits seamlessly into the Broncos 3-4 scheme. He had 26.5 sacks over the past two seasons. Henderson, gives Denver a slot option with the hands and quickness to be dynamic. With the final pick in the draft the Broncos tagged Chad Kelly. A very intriguing move. The nephew of hall-of-famer Jim Kelly, Chad has shown an impressive ability at the position, but has considerable off-field questions. With fellow hall-of-famer Elway in the building, it will be interesting to see how Kelly develops.

Best pick: Jake Butt
Butt, would have been a lock second-round pick, if not a first-round choice, had he been healthy. Butt, tore his ACL in the Orange Bowl and will take awhile to yield results from him, but he is a classic tight end who can block and be a reliable receiving option.

Kansas City Chiefs: C
1.) Patrick Mahomes, QB, Texas Tech
2.) Tanoh Kpassagnon, DE, Villanova
3.) Kareem Hunt, RB, Toledo
4.) Jehu Chesson, WR, Michigan
5.) Ukeme Eligwe, LB, Georgia Southern
6.) Leon McQuay, S, USC

The Chiefs were very aggressive during the draft. First moving up 17 spots to take Mahomes and handing over their first-round pick in the 2018 draft to do so. Mahomes, threw for over 5,000 yards and 40 scores in his final season at Texas Tech, but he is still raw in respect to the NFL level. The Chiefs again moved up for Hunt. With long time back Jamaal Charles now in Denver, Hunt adds to the committee to replace him. Chesson, was expected to breakout in 2016 after a promising 2015, but injuries slowed him down. The Chiefs are hoping he can get back to his 2015 self.

Best pick: Tanoh Kpassagnon
The man is an athletic freak. That simple. Kpassagnon, has the explosiveness and length to excel in the NFL, but needs to develop. Voted a team captain, Kpassagnon put up 17.5 sacks and 31 tackles-for-loss over his final two years.

LA Chargers: B+
1.) Mike Williams, WR, Clemson
2.) Forrest Lamp, OG, Western Kentucky
3.) Dan Feeney, OG, Indiana
4.) Rayshawn Jenkins, S, Miami
5.) Desmond King, S, Iowa
6.) Sam Tevi, OT, Utah
7.) Isaac Rochell, DT, Notre Dame

The Chargers did a tremendous job drafting for need. The Bolts still believe in Phillip Rivers, but his weapons have been few and injury prone. Williams, instantly upgrades the unit and provides the perfect compliment to Keenan Allen. Spending capital on linemen with their next two picks was smart as that was their weakest link for a few seasons now. Lamp, can play any position along the line and should be a Day One starter. Jenkins, can play either safety position and is a thumper. King, won the Thorpe Award in 2015 and will have his abilities maximized sliding over from cornerback to safety at the NFL level.

Best pick: Dan Feeney
When word gets out that the New England Patriots had to scramble after you selected a player one pick before them, you know you’re on to something. Feeney, will be a Day One starter and, like Lamp, offers versatility along the interior.

Oakland Raiders: C
1.) Gareon Conley, CB, Ohio St.
2.) Obi Melifonwu, S, UConn
3.) Eddie Vanderdoes, DT, UCLA
4.) David Sharpe, OT, Florida
5.) Marquel Lee, LB, Wake Forrest
7.) Shalom Luani, S, Washington St.
7b.) Jylan Ware, OT, Alabama St.
7c.) Elijah Hood, RB, North Carolina
7d.) Treyvon Hester, DT, Toledo

The Raiders surprised many with the selection of Conley. Just before the draft, Conley was accused of rape after an incident in Cleveland. Conley has maintained his innocence, the Ravens gave him a lie detector test previous to the draft, and Conley regularly has met with Cleveland police. That pick aside, the Raiders turned in a rather lackluster class. Majority of the prospects are depth pieces. Vanderdoes, in the third-round was surprising. He was on his way to developing into a considerable talent before a knee injury derailed his development and hasn’t seemed to be able to get on track. Lee, was a three-year starter and the anticipation and tackling ability to add quality depth and special teams play to the Raiders.

Best pick: Obi Melifonwu
Melifonwu, was a fringe first-round talent and is wildly athletic. He played all over the field at UConn showing ability at corner and safety. With his size and dependable tackling, Melifonwu could significantly improve the Raiders 24th ranked pass defense.