It’s been a heck of an offseason thus far in the AFC West as we slowly creep into the meat of the summer months. From the departure of Tyreek Hill and Tyrann Mathieu in Kansas City to the additions of Khalil Mack and J.C. Jackson in Los Angeles, Russell Wilson in Denver, and the arrival of Davante Adams and Chandler Jones in Las Vegas, the AFC West presents one of the more polarizing groups of teams we’ve seen in a long, long time.
It’s been a whirlwind of a spring, but as we are just a tick over two months from kickoff, let’s take a deeper dive into the who’s who of the AFC West, with signal-callers excluded. Below is each team ranked if we take away the quarterback position.
Los Angeles Chargers
On paper, this really isn’t a question. While the additions of Mack and Jackson alone slot this roster amongst the league’s most talented—on paper—they drafted Zion Johnson to bolster the interior, re-signed wideout Mike Williams, added Gerald Everett to boost the tight ends room, inked Sebastian Joseph-Day to a deal, drafted Isaiah Spiller, all while stars like Joey Bosa, Derwin James, Keenan Allen, Austin Ekeler, Rashawn Slater, Asante Samuel Jr., and Corey Linsley all return. I get it, names and high Madden ratings don’t win rings, but the Chargers are absolutely loaded on both sides of the ball and they got that quarterback slinging it around, too. They could very well represent the AFC in the Super Bowl come February.
Kansas City Chiefs
I went back and forth with our TDN Premium subscribers discussing the 2-4 AFC West slots, and let me tell you the margin between the Chiefs, Broncos, and Raiders was paper-thin.
While the losses of Hill and Mathieu will hurt, the Chiefs are built from the inside out and tout one of the more impressive front fives in football anchored by Creed Humphrey. They also have Chris Jones and Frank Clark on the defensive side. The big boys matter, folks—I’ll get to that more later with Vegas.
The wideouts room enjoyed an overhaul with the signings of JuJu Smith-Schuster and Marquez Valdes-Scantling, but it’s a group of veterans who will quickly be thrown into the fire alongside rookie Skyy Moore, who could progress into Kansas City’s top target not named Travis Kelce.
On defense, I’m extremely excited for George Karlaftis. He wasn’t the sexiest edge defender in a class touting Aidan Hutchinson and Kayvon Thibodeaux, but he understands how to win off the edge, and should tease with double digits sacks sooner rather than later.
In the secondary, L’Jarius Sneed remains one of the more underrated corners in football, and the selection of Trent McDuffie offers the Chiefs an uber-competitive cover corner who isn’t afraid to stick his nose in the run game. Up top, Mathieu’s absence will be felt immediately, but Nick Bolton and Willie Gay will continue to play fast at the linebacker spots, and the arrival of Justin Reid should provide a sense of leadership at the roof.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the running backs room that added Ronald Jones II from Tampa Bay and re-signed playoff standout Jerick McKinnon. While Jones failed to move the needle for Bruce Arians, he should complement Clyde Edwards-Helaire well. If not, just plug in McKinnon, whose play last postseason showcased a player that can create on all three downs. Offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy could approach the season with a snap-by-snap approach with his three ball carriers and I wouldn’t complain if he does. Iron sharpens iron and Kansas City has three talents that open the playbook in unique ways.
If I could put the Broncos and Raiders together I would, but they are both unique teams that separate themselves from each other in different position groups. First, the plan at running back remains interesting. At some point, newly minted head coach Nathaniel Hackett will have to take the reins off of Javonte Williams, and while you fantasy gurus out there will enjoy his extended leash, where does that leave Melvin Gordon? And does it really matter?
Out wide, Jerry Jeudy looks to be good to go for training camp after his legal case was dismissed, and he has all the tools in the world to become one of the league’s top young wideouts working in tandem with Denver’s sparkling new quarterback under center. It’s not just Jeudy, however, as Courtland Sutton, Tim Patrick, and K.J. Hamler round out an impressive group of pass catchers that create within all three levels of the defense. At tight end, rookie Greg Dulcich should earn immediate targets, especially considering the success tight ends have had with Hackett during his tenure in Green Bay.
Defensively, they should take a step forward with Randy Gregory now in the fold opposite of Bradley Chubb. While the former No. 5 overall pick in Chubb failed to record a sack last fall in just seven games, he’s now back to full strength, and teams will pick their poison in opting to block him or Gregory. Add in rookie Nik Bonitto, a pass-rushing specialist with burst off the edge, and the Broncos have a recipe for success with a nice rotation of pass rushers that sets the table for one of the most talented secondaries in football.
Led by safety Justin Simmons and cornerback Pat Surtain II, although the losses of Kyle Fuller and Bryce Callahan could affect their overall depth, free-agent signee K’Waun Williams and fourth-round pick Damarri Mathis should fill in quite nicely for a team that allowed the eighth-fewest passing yards last fall.
Las Vegas Raiders
I get it, the Raiders are going to be EXTREMELY fun this year. But on paper, they have the most holes on either side of the ball in comparison to the other three teams listed. I love Adams, Hunter Renfrow is a sneaky star, Darren Waller has become one of the top flex options in football, Josh Jacobs has enjoyed success, and the duo of Crosby and Jones should push the pocket all campaign long. But outside of those headliners, I have questions, and a high amount of jersey sales won’t win Lombardi trophies. Depth matters and the Raiders are in need of such.
Behind a front five that could prove to be the league’s worst, while it’s nice to have weapons at Derek Carr’s disposal, he can’t see downfield when he’s on his back. The Raiders must improve up front after finishing in the bottom half of sacks allowed in 2021 (40). Additionally, their depth at edge rusher behind Jones and Crosby is non-existent—if you are still banking on Clelin Ferrell working out, a hat tip to you.
Behind them is a linebacking core headlined by Denzel Perryman, who did enjoy a good 2021 season (154 tackles), but both Jayon Brown and hybrid athlete Divine Deablo will start alongside him. Those are two players that will be asked to do a lot in the lungs of defensive coordinator Patrick Graham’s unit, but Brown will learn under live fire switching to middle linebacker and Deablo is still getting his toes wet at the NFL level after appearing in just 26% of the defensive snaps in his rookie season.
In the secondary, starting corners Rock Ya-Sin and Trayvon Mullen Jr. won’t scare anyone, and while I remain optimistic about Tre’von Moehrig’s development and the continued improvement of rookie standout Nate Hobbs, there are just too many “what ifs” for me to anoint the Raiders as a roster that trumps the Chargers, Chiefs, or Broncos right now.
Everything will change when pads start to crack, that we know for sure, and it’s not to say the Raiders couldn’t win the AFC West when the dust finally settles this winter. However, from a 10,000-foot view, Josh McDaniels’ Raiders slot fourth for me.