How will Kansas City fare with Patrick Mahomes at quarterback? Scouts offer their takes on the Broncos, Chargers, Chiefs and Raiders
Kansas City is the AFC West defending champion but all of the attention is on Oakland and Jon Gruden's return to the sideline. The Chiefs are turning their offense over to second-year quarterback Patrick Mahomes while Gruden is hoping he can bring the best out of Derek Carr although the biggest questions for the Raiders come on the other side of the ball.
Denver is starting over at quarterback with Case Keenum looking to give more support to a Broncos defense that was hung out to dry by an ineffective and turnover-plagued offense last season. Meanwhile, the Chargers are poised to make plenty of noise of their own thanks to the presence of the division's most established quarterback and a draft class that should help an emerging defense take another step forward
In order to get an accurate assessment of how the AFC West is shaping up heading into the 2018 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.
"John Elway almost parted ways with head coach Vance Joseph after one season but instead opted to continue their partnership with a new quarterback in Case Keenum."
"Keenum will not find the same kind of talent around him in Denver, but the idea is that he can stabilize their offense and play off their still-capable D."
"Center Matt Paradis played well in 2017 and has emerged as their leader on the offensive line. Garett Bolles had a trial-by-fire year at left tackle and must be better in Year 2. They traded for the Cardinals’ Jared Veldheer, but he was below average in Arizona."
"Devontae Booker will lead the running backs, and they are thinking third-round pick Royce Freeman can help."
"Both Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders have declined in recent seasons due to injuries and quarterback play. Tight end Jeff Heuerman has struggled staying healthy and the organization is hopeful that Jake Butt can contribute after missing his rookie year due to a knee injury sustained in the Orange Bowl. Truthfully, they have gotten very little from this position."
"Von Miller is arguably the best pass rusher in the league, and with Bradley Chubb now on the opposite side, look out."
"Shelby Harris is an excellent rotational defensive lineman, and Todd Davis is an underappreciated linebacker."
"They traded Aqib Talib to the Rams, so it’s Chris Harris and Bradley Roby on the corners and questions at the nickel spot."
"Justin Simmons is a legit NFL starting-caliber safety, while Darian Stewart gets exposed too often in coverage."
"This is a team that seems to be trending down."
"With the specter of No. 1 pick Patrick Mahomes looming over the quarterback position, Alex Smith played very well in the early going of 2017, but he wasn’t good enough to get K.C. deep into the playoffs. Now the organization is totally hitched to Mahomes."
"Mahomes will have an excellent set of skill people around him after Kareem Hunt led the league in rushing, and Tyreek Hill continued his explosive ways. Hunt got off to a fast start and was phenomenal as a rookie. Hill, tight end Travis Kelce and Sammy Watkins will form an impressive mixture of targets."
"Watkins got $30 million of his $48 million package guaranteed, but the question remains: Can he finally live up to his potential after catching eight touchdowns with the Rams last year?"
"The left side of the line is shaky with Eric Fisher, but Mitchell Schwartz at right tackle has been very good."
"Defensively, Chris Jones emerged as a force as a second-year player."
"The Chiefs released favorite Derrick Johnson but signed Anthony Hitchens from Dallas, and Reggie Ragland actually played pretty well after getting the system down."
"Andy Reid has always done a masterful job with players labeled as 'character risks,' but he could not reach Marcus Peters, so they traded him to the Rams and received Kendall Fuller as part of the Smith trade. Ron Parker was waived, so they feel good about Eric Berry returning from his Achilles tear."
"Everything really hinges on Mahomes; if he is as good as they think he can be, Kansas City will stay in playoff contention with the goal of punching a Super Bowl ticket by the end of the 2019 season."
"In a suddenly unstable division, I really like this team to have a breakthrough season. While Denver, Oakland and Kansas City all made coaching or quarterback changes, Anthony Lynn returns for a second campaign, and the ageless Philip Rivers is back."
"After a disastrous kicking game contributed to an 0-4 start in 2017, they recovered to win nine of their last 12 games and immediately signed Caleb Sturgis when free agency opened back in March."
"The offensive line should get a boost from Forrest Lamp, who missed all of his rookie year with an ACL. They took a chance on Mike Pouncey as a free-agent center, but his hips might be shot."
"Hunter Henry has quietly emerged as one of the league’s best tight ends, while Keenan Allen always impresses when he’s healthy. They are hoping for big things from Mike Williams, last year’s top pick, and they are super pleased with Melvin Gordon, who had his problems as a rookie in 2015." [Editor's note: Hunter Henry tore his ACL in late May and is out for the season.]
"Gus Bradley had a redemptive return as an assistant coach, and he sparked their opportunistic defense."
"Melvin Ingram and Joey Bosa may form the NFL’s best bookend pass rushers; both are extremely productive and require specific pass protection plans."
"Casey Hayward has proved to be a terrific signing. He’s picked off a bunch of passes and earned [second-team] All-Pro honors last year."
"The Chargers received an early Christmas present when Florida State do-everything safety Derwin James fell into their laps at No. 17."
"Their rivals to the north stole the headlines, but if they can avoid injuries and some sort of setback in September, the Chargers might end up with the better team in 2018."
"The Raiders fell off the map the last four games, and Jack Del Rio was dismissed. Owner Mark Davis offered Jon Gruden an enormous contract. His first order of business will be to coach Derek Carr and stabilize his performance. Amari Cooper must cut down on his dropped passes."
"The offensive line is in good shape led by center Rodney Hudson, tackle Donald Penn and guard Kelechi Osemele. Gabe Jackson took a step back in 2017, and Marshall Newhouse was a disaster at right tackle. Vadal Alexander will get a shot, but expect first-round pick Kolton Miller to be in the lineup."
"This offense is all about Carr, but he didn’t get much help from Cooper, and Seth Roberts was ineffective from the slot. They signed Jordy Nelson to bring more consistency and let Michael Crabtree go, then traded for Martavis Bryant over the draft weekend."
"With Khalil Mack coming off the edge and Karl Joseph patrolling the back end, they have two dynamic defenders to build around. They need more from Bruce Irvin as a disruptive force, and Eddie Vanderdoes must play better on the inside."
"Their linebackers are suspect at best and the worst position on the roster."
"Gareon Conley has to come through for them at one of the corner spots, but their overall cover ability is a major concern."
"Gruden has a contract and time on his side, but this is a team that is hard to read."