From aging teams looking for new life, to young teams looking to take the next step towards greatness, the AFC West is a very eclectic division. The Super Bowl champion Denver Broncos will have question marks at several key positions this offseason, namely quarterback. As we await Peyton Manning’s decision, it is up to the Broncos’ front office to determine whether they even want him on the roster.
The Kansas City Chiefs ended the year on an 11-game winning streak before eventually falling to the New England Patriots in the Divisional round. Let’s see what they do in free agency and in the draft. On the other hand, the Oakland Raiders and San Diego Chargers have some holes to fill on their path back to playoff contention, which could depend heavily on how they do at the end of April too.
2015 Snapshot: The Lombardi Trophy made its way to Denver. The Broncos’ third Super Bowl in franchise history, and the first since general manager John Elway was under center. Peyton Manning turns 40 following the worst statistical season of his career that included six games on the bench as he dealt with plantar fascia (and other injuries). Will he be back in 2016?
Biggest Needs: The 2015 Denver defense was one of the most dominant units of all-time. Super Bowl MVP Von Miller has already been hit with the exclusive franchise tag while re-signing defensive end Malik Jackson also appears to be a priority. With big contracts coming for several key players, other free agents like linebacker Danny Trevathan may be forced to go elsewhere for the deal they desire. Elway has made it clear that keeping the majority of this defense intact is his goal, along with the continued improvement of his offensive line.
First-round pick: No. 31 overall
Potential Picks: Denver has to get younger along the offensive line. With the final pick in the first round the Broncos could take Auburn’s Shon Coleman, a man who has already defeated leukemia and will work hard to become a consistent starter. Brock Osweiler is likely not the long-term answer at quarterback (and that’s if he returns at all), so perhaps drafting Michigan State quarterback Connor Cook and allowing him to learn on the bench for a few years can make him the next Kirk Cousins. Either way, Denver definitely has a plan, as Elway always knew a rebuild was imminent following the end of the Manning era.
Kansas City Chiefs
2015 Snapshot: The Chiefs started the year off 1-5 and looked to be dead in the water following Jamaal Charles’ season-ending ACL tear in Week 5. They then rattled off 11 straight wins to set a franchise record for consecutive victories. The 2015 Chiefs were the first team since the 1970 Cincinnati Bengals to make the playoffs after starting 1-5. The Chiefs’ defense carried the team all the way to New England for the AFC Divisional round, where they finally suffered their first loss in almost three months.
Biggest Needs: As much as the offense struggled in 2015, the personnel may be good enough to forego drafting a player in the first round. The Chiefs’ front seven is elite, but another shutdown corner to play alongside Marcus Peters could make this the most complete defense in the NFL. If their targets come off the board before they get a chance, taking a big wide receiver could help Alex Smith continue to progress in the passing game.
First-round pick: No. 28 overall
Potential Picks: Cornerback is a strong position this draft; there are a handful of talented secondary players that are projected to fall somewhere in the late first round after the blue-chippers are taken. Ohio State’s Eli Apple, Virginia Tech’s Kendall Fuller, and Houston’s William Jackson all have the size and ability to compete in the NFL. If TCU wide receiver Josh Doctson somehow falls to No. 28, the Chiefs should consider adding another pass-catching threat to line up alongside Travis Kelce and Jeremy Maclin.
2015 Snapshot: Although their record still fell below .500, there is much to be excited about in the Bay Area this offseason (besides Steph Curry). The Raiders (7-9) were much improved from a year ago, and 2015 No. 4 overall pick Amari Cooper has proven he is uniquely gifted at the wide receiver position. A potent offense led by Derek Carr (32 TDs, 13 INTs, 3,987 yds.) must improve even further, and head coach Jack Del Rio must transform this defense in order for the Raiders to be contenders.
Biggest Needs: Help in the secondary is vital for Oakland to continue to progress. Future Hall of Famer Charles Woodson led the team in interceptions with five, and his retirement leaves a rather large hole to fill in the secondary. On the bright side, Khalil Mack was the first player in NFL history to be selected first-team All-Pro at two different positions (defensive end, linebacker). There are a lot of budding superstars in Oakland, surrounding them with a capable supporting cast is the path to the playoffs.
First-round pick: No. 14 overall
Potential Picks: Clemson cornerback Mackensie Alexander has been all over the mock draft boards but he believes he is the best corner in this class. Unfortunately, Alexander was unable to back up these choice words at the recent Scouting Combine due to a hamstring concern. This spot is too early to take a safety but the Raiders must address that need in the later rounds. If the Raiders are looking to get maximum value out of the No. 14 pick, they may go after a big offensive lineman like Ohio State’s Taylor Decker.
San Diego Chargers
2015 Snapshot: The San Diego Chargers held opponents to 20 points or fewer only three times in 2015, and they still lost two of those matchups. Their four wins came against Detroit, Cleveland, Jacksonville and Miami, who finished a combined 17-47 last season. Philip Rivers still managed to throw for nearly 4,800 yards, but no other facet of the Chargers’ game was impressive in the slightest.
Biggest Needs: Both sides of the line need major help. It is evident from observing all of the NFL’s draft needs what the necessities are for a squad in order to compete. Starting with both lines and building outward is the best way to go, so for that reason the Chargers must look at a disruptive pass rusher or a stout offensive tackle.
First-round pick: No. 3 overall
Potential Picks: Rumors have linked Notre Dame left tackle Ronnie Stanley and Ohio State defensive end Joey Bosa to this pick for weeks now. Both players must be a force right out of the gate, and San Diego hopes to take the right guy with a pick in the top three. There have been mentions of beefing up the secondary, but upgrading the defensive line is the smarter route. San Diego had one of the worst run defenses in all of football last year, and an explosive lineman can significantly improve the defense on the ground and through the air. The Chargers finished 31st in the NFL in rushing yards in 2015 so an offensive tackle could be the safe pick.