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NFL Draft

Which AFC West Team Has The Best Non-QB Roster?

  • The Draft Network
  • June 9, 2020
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There is something futile about this exercise when looking at a division that is not only home to the most recent Super Bowl champions but one of the most electric, dynamic quarterbacks of this generation. But the AFC West gets a lot more interesting by removing Patrick Mahomes from Kansas City’s roster and the question marks surrounding the position in both Denver and Los Angeles.  

The Chiefs aren’t a bad team, but without their star, they look a lot different and cannot sit atop the division anymore. The Raiders offseason moves put them in a position to compete, in this sense, while the Broncos and Chargers can, even for a second, escape the trouble they both face under center.

Let’s take a closer look.

Denver Broncos 

The competitive balance in this division has been restored and the team coming out on top is the Broncos; luckily for them, Drew Lock and journeyman Jeff Driskel aren’t a factor here.

Denver’s defense boasts Von Miller, a one-man wrecking crew who has 106 career sacks and 216 quarterback hits over nine seasons, two quiet playmakers in the middle in linebackers Alexander Johnson and Todd Davis, and a pair of formidable safeties. Kareem Jackson, who had a 75.8 pass rating when targeted last season, and Justin Simmons, who ranked first out of 43 safeties with at least 30 targets (32.1), according to Pro Football Focus, and allowed just 27 receptions for 288 yards and one touchdown from 53 targets. Denver added A.J. Bouye to the backfield in free agency and has Bradley Chubb returning from injury to pair with Miller. The Broncos ranked No. 11 in total defense (allowing 225.6 yards per game) and No. 10 in scoring defense; Denver was one of nine teams to allow fewer than 20 points per game (19.8).

The offense, without Lock and especially without the aging Joe Flacco who stepped in last season but since moved to New York, has the most depth in this division. The Broncos added Melvin Gordon, after he started his career with the Chargers, to go along with 2018 undrafted free agent and breakout running back Phillip Lindsay and now RB3 Royce Freeman. Denver needs help on the offensive line but added 2020 rookie Lloyd Cushenberry III at center. Its wide receiver corps is so-so but again used the draft to add Jerry Jeudy and K.J. Hamler alongside Courtland Sutton. The Broncos are missing a true star tight end, but the well-rounded roster can now go toe-to-toe with the rest of the AFC West.

Las Vegas Raiders

The reemergence of Jon Gruden on the sidelines hasn’t gone according to plan. His 10-year, $10 million contract has so far returned back-to-back losing seasons. But a move to Las Vegas, a new stadium and a new influx of talent could go a long way.

How can a disastrously inefficient defense help move the Raiders anywhere close to the top of this list? Gruden and general manager Mike Mayock addressed all three levels with key additions. They signed Cory Littleton and Nick Kwiatkoski in free agency to turn around a bottom-of-the-barrel linebacker group. Last season, in Oakland, the secondary was very green; this year, the backfield is still very inexperienced with Trayvon Mullen and Lamarcus Joyner returning as the most experienced starters (with 10) in defensive coordinator Paul Guenther’s system, but now have veteran Prince Amukamara. 

And the Raiders’ offense—with running back Josh Jacobs, a set offensive line and depth at tight end—help push them above the reigning champions. Jacobs is the star of the backfield—admittedly, Las Vegas doesn’t have much depth behind him. He finished the 2019 season with 1,150 rushing yards his rookie season; Jacobs also had seven touchdowns despite playing in just 14 games. Rodney Hudson leads the group up front, but what really gave Las Vegas the edge was its tight end room. Darren Waller had a breakout campaign and his first 1,000-yard season last year while Foster Moreau was a reliable No. 2. Here, those two together are better than one Travis Kelce.

Kansas City Chiefs

It might be time for a quick reminder: Kansas City’s roster sans Mahomes is not great. Kelce headlines the talent on offense and a receiving corps with Tyreek Hill is special on the field. But beyond that, the Chiefs are young—first-round rookie Clyde Edwards-Helaire is the newest star behind Mahomes—and lacking on the interior offensive line. 

Much like this exercise for the NFC West, a great quarterback can hide many flaws; and a quarterback as potent as Mahomes has kept most from peeling back the curtain on a questionable defense. The strongest position group is arguably the defensive line. Kansas City secured Chris Jones and his 33 career sacks. Behind him is a weak linebacker group that has too many missed tackles—Anthony Hitchens has 12 missed tackles and a 110.4 passer rating when targeted (which is an improvement for him)—and a defensive back group that is only highlighted by Tyrann Mathieu.

Sure, Mahomes can make any bad or even so-so team Super Bowl champions, but that doesn’t help the Chiefs here.

Los Angeles Chargers 

Since the Chargers are lacking almost everywhere, let’s first focus on their strengths: an absolutely loaded secondary and a talented receiver room. 

Los Angeles had the fifth-best pass defense last season, allowing 3,204 yards, and the secondary is by far the best unit on this roster, which includes all-pro safety Derwin James and cornerback Chris Harris Jr. in the slot as well as Casey Hayward and Desmond King. Elsewhere, the Charges are so-so. The defensive line has Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram, and rookie Kenneth Murray is projected to start in an unknown linebacker group. There’s no questioning Bosa and Ingram’s overall production—the two have combined for 82 career sacks and 185 quarterback hits—and the two will get more support in run-defense with the free-agent addition of Linval Joseph.

The best offensive player, with or without a quarterback, is Keenan Allen. The three-time Pro Bowl receiver shared targets with Mike Williams and running back Austin Ekeler while tight end Hunter Henry helped with modest production. The offensive line did a poor job protecting veteran Philip Rivers last year but Los Angeles is combating that with the additions of Trai Turner and Bryan Bulaga; hopefully solidifying the line for the team’s next passer.

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