This is not the same Denver team that won Super Bowl 50, but the Broncos’ defense should still be among the NFL’s best. Even with the questions on offense, particularly at quarterback, there’s no reason to not consider Gary Kubiak’s team a threat to repeat. Kansas City would like nothing more than to knock Denver from its perch atop the division, but the Chiefs have some question marks of their own on both sides of the ball. Oakland could be ready to take a step forward, as the Raiders have building blocks on offense and defense and bolstered the roster further in free agency. San Diego’s future remains up in the air, both in terms of where the team will call home and regarding a roster that’s in transition.
In order to get an accurate assessment of how the AFC West is shaping up heading into the 2016 season, Athlon asked NFL scouts to talk anonymously about the Broncos, Chiefs, Chargers and Raiders.
Note: These scouting reports come directly from NFL scouts and do not necessarily reflect the views of Athlon's editorial staff.
“No team has had a shorter time to enjoy their Super Bowl win than the Broncos. After Peyton Manning retired, Brock Osweiler, on the strength of seven total starts, won the lottery with a four-year, $72 million deal from the Texans, and the search was on for John Elway and Co. in finding a new QB."
"Mark Sanchez was signed from Philadelphia, and on the surface, people will ridicule him as a starter. However, in this style of offense — in conjunction with their defense and special teams — he might be able to return to his initial success with the Jets and give them a suitable option for 2016."
"In the meantime, they waited patiently in the draft and then traded up five spots to select Paxton Lynch, who is a more athletic version of Osweiler."
"Expect to see more ‘12’ personnel with tight ends Jeff Heuerman and Virgil Green on the field and C.J. Anderson as the single back."
"Demaryius Thomas disappeared in the playoffs but did catch 105 passes last year, and Emmanuel Sanders is a very accomplished receiver in his own right."
"Defensively, coordinator Wade Phillips will rely on his three pass rushers [Von Miller, DeMarcus Ware and Shane Ray] and three corners [Aqib Talib, Chris Harris and Bradley Roby] to match up with virtually every offense they will face."
"Kicker Brandon McManus was the unsung hero in 2015; he made 30-of- 35 field goals, including five kicks beyond 50 yards.”
“Andy Reid is a true leader and usually strikes the right chords with his staff and players."
"Alex Smith has a comfort level in Reid’s scheme that will be put together by Brad Childress this year."
"Between Smith, the healthy return of Jamaal Charles and the continued ascension of tight end Travis Kelce, the Chiefs like to play an efficient version of ‘small ball’ on offense, although Jeremy Maclin does give them some presence on the outside."
"Kelce is really gifted and a mismatch player on a weekly basis."
"The offensive line is so-so, at best, but they did sign tackle Mitchell Schwartz in free agency, which means Eric Fisher will remain at left tackle."
"GM John Dorsey has said outside linebacker Justin Houston will play in 2016, but no one knows if that means September or December with him coming off ACL surgery."
"Without Houston, defensive coordinator Bob Sutton will lean on the consistency of Tamba Hali and hope that Dee Ford can finally reach his pass rush potential."
"Defensive end Jaye Howard was terrific on the inside with 5.5 sacks."
"Derrick Johnson enters his 12th season after a sensational comeback from a torn Achilles in 2015 with 116 total tackles."
"K.C. gambled on cornerback Marcus Peters, and he rewarded them with Defensive Rookie of the Year honors, but with Sean Smith departing for Oakland, their cornerback situation is unsettled.”
“Everyone forecasts the Raiders to challenge for AFC West honors and for good reason. They have an excellent nucleus of young players headlined by QB Derek Carr. He has quickly become the face of the franchise, is an incredibly hard worker and an inspirational leader to his teammates."
"Amari Cooper, as anticipated, stepped in as a rookie and was terrific, but the bigger surprise was the re-emergence of Michael Crabtree."
"They have turned the corner on the offensive line by signing free agents Rodney Hudson and Kelechi Osemele in the past two offseasons. Guard Gabe Jackson is a dominant force on the interior and one of the best guards in the whole league."
"Latavius Murray put together a 1,000-yard season in 2015, but don’t be surprised to see rookie DeAndre Washington become the change-of-pace, complementary back."
"Former Seahawks first-rounder Bruce Irvin was signed to bookend Khalil Mack, who had 15 sacks last year and is a rising star."
"Not sure they have a legitimate inside linebacker, but Malcolm Smith prospered under Ken Norton Jr. with 122 tackles as a Will."
"Absolutely love the addition of Sean Smith at corner, and with the retirement of Charles Woodson, GM Reggie McKenzie didn’t waste any time in signing Reggie Nelson and drafting Karl Joseph in the first round.”
“The Chargers are in no-man’s land both on and off the field. With an aging, superstar QB and no definitive plans of where they will be after 2016, it’s difficult to forecast them as more than a .500 club."
"Philip Rivers piles up big numbers every season, but they become one-dimensional because of their atrocious run game."
"In 2014, they were 30th in the league in rushing yardage then drafted Melvin Gordon in the first round and finished 31st in 2015. Gordon never found his rhythm."
"When the line is anchored by left tackle King Dunlap — let’s just say that’s not a good thing. But he’s actually been OK over the past two seasons."
"They added speedy Travis Benjamin to the wide receiver mix, and he should help create more room for Keenan Allen, who missed the final eight games of 2015."
"In prepping for Antonio Gates’ exit, GM Tom Telesco chose Hunter Henry in the second round."
"Before that decision, he opted for Ohio State Joey Bosa at No. 3, so defensive coordinator John Pagano will have to manipulate his 3-4 to a degree to make it a workable fit."
"Melvin Ingram responded with 10.5 sacks last year, and Jeremiah Attaochu recorded six of his own, so they should be able to create more pressure in 2016."
"Jason Verrett is a quality corner, but they never negotiated with safety Eric Weddle, instead opting for incumbent Jahleel Addae and free agent Dwight Lowery to cover the postion."