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12 May 2017

Four Downs: AFC West

by Scott Kacsmar

Denver Broncos

Biggest Post-Draft Weakness: Quarterback

In the last two offseasons, we have questioned the Broncos' answers at offensive tackle, as well as their failure to restock defensive line talent, or add a reliable receiver outside of Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders. Denver addressed some of its biggest needs early in the draft with the selections of left tackle Garett Bolles and defensive end DeMarcus Walker. Tight end Jake Butt could also be a fifth-round steal should he recover properly from ACL surgery.

However, quarterback is still a big question mark for the Broncos heading into 2017. There will be a competition between Trevor Siemian and 2016 first-round pick Paxton Lynch. Siemian had a tendency to play things safe, and he ranked 21st in both DVOA and QBR -- or, barely above Brock Osweiler. Lynch was more "bombs away" with his passing, but also was off-target on 24.7 percent of his throws, which would have been the highest rate in the league among 2016 starters according to ESPN Stats & Info. Chad Kelly, the final pick in the draft, should make Denver's roster as the No. 3 quarterback, but there are not many reasons for optimism on this depth chart as John Elway continues to try replacing Peyton Manning at football's most important position.

Notable Undrafted Free Agents: Denver has struck some gold here before, with cornerback Chris Harris and running back C.J. Anderson both coming to the team as undrafted free agents. Among this year's class, Miami safety Jamal Carter was one of the top undrafted players at his position, and his $20,000 signing bonus is the highest Denver dished out. Baylor safety Orion Stewart was second on that list at $12,500, so the Broncos may feel most confident in these safeties. Carter was a one-year starter with good physical skills, but has to shake off the "project" label. Stewart has ball skills, but won't wow anyone with his speed or hitting ability.

Kansas City Chiefs

Biggest Post-Draft Weakness: Inside Linebacker

The Chiefs drafted much-needed competition at some of the weaker spots on the depth chart, including quarterback Patrick Mahomes, running back Kareem Hunt, and defensive end Tanoh Kpassagnon. Those players may not contribute a lot in 2017, but could still do more than Ukeme Eligwe, a late fifth-round pick and the only linebacker the team selected.

Inside linebacker is still where the Chiefs are going to rely on Derrick Johnson, who is recovering from a ruptured Achilles and will turn 35 in November. The Chiefs only have marginal players to fill in next to Johnson with Ramik Wilson, D.J. Alexander, and Justin March-Lillard on the depth chart. The need to replenish this position should be even greater next offseason.

Notable Undrafted Free Agents: The Chiefs recently announced 12 undrafted free-agent signings, and five of the players were wide receivers. Albert Wilson was found by the Chiefs this way a few years ago. Tony Stevens (Auburn) and Gehrig Dieter (Alabama) were two of the lowest-graded wideouts on NFL.com's draft pages, but Kansas City's other three prospects were not graded at all. Stevens is the classic case of good physical traits, but shoddy production and untapped potential. Dieter has good size, but below-average speed. He produced for Bowling Green, but only caught 15 passes after transferring to Alabama last season.

Los Angeles Chargers

Biggest Post-Draft Weakness: Safety

For a team coming off a 5-11 season, the Chargers have an impressive starting lineup, especially after adding another wide receiver (Mike Williams) and two guards (Forrest Lamp and Dan Feeney) to help out quarterback Philip Rivers in his twilight years. The defense also has some real building blocks in Joey Bosa, Denzel Perryman, and Jason Verrett. The problem has been keeping everyone healthy. During Mike McCoy's four-year tenure as head coach, the Chargers had the most injured rosters of any coach in our injury database since 2002.

If there is a spot where the Chargers still lack a real threat, it would be at safety, where veterans Jahleel Addae and Dwight Lowery are penciled in to start this year. Their backups are mid-round rookies Desmond King and Rayshawn Jenkins. That is a far cry from the days of having Eric Weddle, or when new defensive coordinator Gus Bradley had Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor in Seattle.

Notable Undrafted Free Agents: First-round pick Mike Williams is not the only Clemson wide receiver the Chargers picked up this spring. Artavis Scott was also claimed after the draft, though he will face stiff competition from Keenan Allen, Travis Benjamin, Dontrelle Inman, and Tyrell Williams to join Mike Williams on the roster this season. Scott was the second-highest graded wideout (by NFL.com) to not be drafted. The Chargers also added athletic Jacksonville State quarterback Eli Jenkins, who only completed 49.8 percent of his passes in 2016, but rushed for 984 yards and 13 scores.

Oakland Raiders

Biggest Post-Draft Weakness: Inside Linebacker

Given how well Oakland has built its offense, it was no surprise to see the Raiders use five of their first six draft picks on the defensive side of the ball. The secondary was improved the most, with cornerback Gareon Conley and safety Obi Melifonwu going in the first two rounds. Eddie Vanderdoes was a much-needed pick at defensive tackle in the third round.

However, the Raiders still neglected the middle of the field, not taking a linebacker until they grabbed Marquel Lee in the fifth round. That means Oakland still hasn't invested anything higher than a fifth-round pick into its inside linebacker depth chart, a not-so-intimidating group that includes Jelani Jenkins (a free agent signed in March), Ben Heeney, Tyrell Adams, Neiron Ball, and Cory James. Great athletes such as Khalil Mack, Bruce Irvin, and Karl Joseph will try to make up for this group.

Notable Undrafted Free Agents: The Raiders are taking a no-risk chance on Baylor wide receiver Ishmael Zamora, who was one of the 28 players to leave college early and not get drafted this spring. He also never attended the combine stemming from an incident at Baylor where he was filmed beating a dog with a belt. Zamora met with the Raiders during the pre-draft process. He only had one real year of college production, catching 63 passes for 809 yards and eight scores in 2016.

(Portions of this article originally appeared on ESPN Insider.)

Posted by: Scott Kacsmar on 12 May 2017

12 comments, Last at 16 May 2017, 9:20am by Aaron Brooks Good Twin

Comments

1
by Raiderjoe :: Fri, 05/12/2017 - 3:04pm

G. Conley and O. Melifonwu exclelnet picks. Defense beocmign top notch. Offense alrerady there. Just havbe to have quaurerbackl helthy in playoffs. Team will upend Pates if Carr is okay.

Unforms ratings in afc wets
1. Raiders
2. cheisf
3. Chargers
3. broncos

Broncos unfiorms actually quite dorky.

3
by dryheat :: Fri, 05/12/2017 - 5:13pm

Uniforms?

1. Chiefs
2. Raiders
3. Chargers
4. Broncos

How they'll actually finish:

1. Chiefs
2. Raiders
3. Broncos
3. Chargers

9
by Lebo :: Sun, 05/14/2017 - 4:55pm

Unifoms:

1. Raiders (home and away are both awesome)
2. Chargers (on the strength of the powder blues)
3. Chiefs (still pretty awesome uniforms)
4. Broncos (bascially vomit)

11
by MilkmanDanimal :: Mon, 05/15/2017 - 12:51pm

Agree on all counts. I'd put the powder blue Chargers uniforms as maybe my favorite uniforms of all time, but (A) they're not an everyday thing, and (B) the 25 people who will actually be in "their" stadium next year won't appreciate them anyways.

7
by Karl Cuba :: Sat, 05/13/2017 - 6:46am

Do the bolts still use those powder blues? I'd put those at the top of the list.

2
by galactic_dev :: Fri, 05/12/2017 - 4:10pm

Broncos' biggest weakness is still O-line. I don't think one tackle fixes the Broncos' terrible O-line, which is sad since both WRs are awesome and both QBs are so young.

4
by bobrulz :: Fri, 05/12/2017 - 5:45pm

I'm surprised I don't see more talk about Carlos Henderson being a draft steal. I'm very excited about that pick, and I think he has real potential to solve the Broncos' WR3 problems.

I tend to agree that the offensive line is still the biggest problem, especially since I have serious doubts about Bolles' NFL readiness.

5
by theslothook :: Fri, 05/12/2017 - 6:26pm

Paxton Lynch is going to define Denver over the next few years. The team's roster is currently in the meat or toward the end of their primes and the descent will begin in the coming years(good thing they got a Superbowl out of it, this has been a helluva run).

Chiefs seem to be in similar shape and who knows what the Los Angeles Football Clippers will look like. There roster is all disjointed between an aged offense and a young burgeoning defense.

For the first time, Raiderjoe hyperbole is justified and isn't the product of glue sniffing.

6
by Karl Cuba :: Sat, 05/13/2017 - 6:45am

I think it will be interesting to see if losing Son of Bum hurts the defense; we know he usually improves a unit by about 10%, how much does it cost when he leaves?

8
by Vincent Verhei :: Sun, 05/14/2017 - 1:18am

I am so stealing Los Angeles Football Clippers. That's so perfect.

10
by justanothersteve :: Sun, 05/14/2017 - 5:38pm

It's not surprising to see both the Raiders and Chiefs with Inside LB as their biggest post-draft weakness. Both GMs trained under Ted Thompson and he has historically placed a low emphasis on the position. It wouldn't surprise me to see ILB listed as the Packers weakness, though I'm not going out on a limb to say it'll probably be RB.

12
by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Tue, 05/16/2017 - 9:20am

Does ILB even count as a weakness? Is there a less important position on the field?