Four Downs: AFC West

Four Downs: AFC West
Four Downs: AFC West
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

by Derrik Klassen

Denver Broncos

Biggest Need: Quarterback

Drafting a quarterback after having just paid Case Keenum would have been a tough sell. Keenum is good enough for the team to compete, and certainly an upgrade over Trevor Siemian. However, the terms of a contract speak volumes about how a team views a player, and Keenum's contract does not scream long-term quarterback When Minnesota was rostering Keenum for a roughly $2 million cap hit, as opposed to the $15 million and $21 million marks Denver is looking at, Keenum was a success. But if Keenum repeated his play in 2018 under his new contract, he would not be any sort of bargain.

The Broncos had three of the top quarterbacks fall to them at the fifth overall pick, yet chose to ride with Keenum. Maybe Denver is planning to give Keenum a real chance before committing to a new rookie, similar to what the Kansas City Chiefs did with Alex Smith. Whatever the plan may be, there is very little long-term certainty emitting from Denver's quarterback room right now.

Notable Undrafted Free Agents: The Broncos took shots on priority free agents at the same positions on which they spent premium draft picks. Edge rusher Bradley Chubb and wide receiver Courtland Sutton were the team's first two picks in the draft, while two of the team's best undrafted free agents are edge rusher Jeff Holland (Auburn) and wide receiver John Diarse (TCU). Holland comes as an undersized edge presence, measuring in at 6-foot-1 and 249 pounds, but he packs a punch and plays with impressive energy. Diarse, however, is a more complicated prospect. Originally a role player for LSU, Diarse transferred to TCU and contributed as a starter for two seasons, flashing valuable skills in contested catch situations. Safety Trey Marshall (Florida State) and running back Phillip Lindsay (Colorado) are worth keeping tabs on as well, though Lindsay will have a tough road ahead of him in a crowded running back room.

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Kansas City Chiefs

Biggest Need: Cornerback

Kansas City's most notable offseason transaction at cornerback was swapping out Marcus Peters for Kendall Fuller via two separate trades. Fuller, though plenty talented, is not the caliber of player Peters is. At best, it will be a lateral move for the Chiefs, still leaving them with a tattered secondary. The team also signed David Amerson, but Amerson's signing was more of a gamble on a flashy yet inconsistent veteran than anything of true substance. Kansas City's secondary headed into the NFL draft no better than they ended the 2017 season.

With that in mind, one would have hoped to see Kansas City address the cornerback position, but the Chiefs instead focused resources on the front seven. Tremon Smith, a sixth-round selection, was the Chiefs' only cornerback selection. As is the case with most late-round picks, Smith is not likely to have an immediate impact.

Notable Undrafted Free Agents: As if the Chiefs' offense could not get any more explosive, Andy Reid scooped up deep-threat wide receiver Byron Pringle as an undrafted free agent. Pringle is a one-trick pony, but that can still be plenty valuable. During his final year at Kansas State, Pringle posted nearly 25 yards per reception, good for 724 yards and six touchdowns on just 30 receptions. It is unlikely Pringle turns to a star, but if he can be akin to someone such as Brice Butler, that would be a quality pickup. Quarterback Chase Litton (Marshall) also catches the eye as one of Reid's pet projects. Reid is often keen on taking in late-round or undrafted quarterbacks, ranging from Aaron Murray to Tyler Bray, and Litton fits that bill. Lastly, defensive lineman Dee Liner (yes, really, that is his name, and it is perfect) has a legitimate chance to stick on the roster given Kansas City's defensive line issues. Liner is a transfer from Alabama to Arkansas State whose final college season was shortened due to a preseason groin injury.

Los Angeles Chargers

Biggest Need: Off-Ball Linebacker

Similar to the division rival Kansas City Chiefs, the Los Angeles Chargers opted to bolster areas of the defense, but not the one that seemed to be the biggest weakness. The Chargers drafted a total of four defenders over the entirety of the draft weekend, yet none of them were off-ball linebackers. Two safeties, an outside linebacker, and a nose tackle will join the roster as rookies.

The most likely explanation for avoiding the position altogether is that the Chargers chose to draft the "best player available," not the top players at their most needy position. Safeties Derwin James (17th overall) and Kyzir White (fourth round) both seem to be fantastic value. Outside linebacker Uchenna Nwosu and defensive tackle Justin Jones were each selected in a fair range for their talents, but probably got the edge over a linebacker because of the value of defensive linemen and pass-rushers. However, if Denzel Perryman is sidelined by an injury for any extended period of time, the second level of the Chargers' defense will be a complete liability.

Notable Undrafted Free Agents: Heading into the offseason, the Chargers needed help in the secondary. Of course, the team was already fortunate enough for James to fall to them in the draft, but they were also able to acquire safety/nickel hybrid Tony Brown and cornerback Brandon Facyson. Brown is a former five-star recruit who bounced around the secondary while at Alabama and tested exceptionally well in most athletic tests at the NFL Combine. On the other hand, Facyson had an odd career at Virginia Tech. Facyson erupted with five interceptions as a true freshman in 2014, but lingering injuries, primarily a tibia issue, derailed his sophomore season and he never recorded another interception for the remainder of his college career. It is possible that the Chargers can help Facyson regain his former prowess.

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Oakland Raiders

Biggest Need: Off-Ball Linebacker

Oakland's defense was a massive work in progress heading into the draft. There was no way they could address every position of need. Like many other teams around the league, Oakland opted to bolster the defensive line and secondary rather than the linebacker corps.

The only draft resource Oakland put into the position was a sixth-round pick in Azeem Victor. While at Washington, Victor flashed talent early on, but struggled to be a consistent football player and was benched in his senior season. The Raiders may get lucky with a Vontaze Burfict situation out of Victor, but more than likely, Victor is just a depth player.

That leaves Oakland's starting linebackers to be Tahir Whitehead and Cory James, with Marquel Lee and Emmanuel Lamur in relief. Whitehead is a below-average, although functional, NFL starter. James is a backup quality player, and Lee and Lamur are not the caliber of depth players to get excited over. Oakland's linebacker unit will once again be a weak point for the defense. The fan base can take solace in the rest of the defense getting help, but it will be tough to watch the linebackers this year.

Notable Undrafted Free Agents: Oakland selected punter Johnny Townsend of Florida in the fifth round, and he will now be united with his former special teams partner, kicker Eddy Pineiro. Pineiro led the NCAA in field goal percentage in 2017 by making 17 of his 18 attempts. Though he lacks the booming leg of Sebastian Janikowski, Pineiro regularly made attempts of 40-plus yards while at Florida. As for the offense, tight end Marcus Baugh (Ohio State) and fullback Chris Warren III (Texas) have outside chances at roster spots. Warren is the son of former NFL running back Chris Warren Jr., best known for his eight years with the Seattle Seahawks. The Raiders also signed Jason Cabinda, a linebacker from Penn State. Cabinda needs some work, but has the athletic profile to crack a weak Raiders linebacker depth chart.

Portions of this article originally appeared at ESPN Insider.


17 comments, Last at 30 May 2018, 12:27pm

1 Re: Four Downs: AFC West

"But if Keenum repeated his play in 2018 under his new contract, he would not be any sort of bargain."

According to this sites stats, Keenum was the 4th best QB in the league last year. Now, we all know that's not the whole story - but he was clearly not terrible.

And 18-20m for a quarterback that's not terrible in this league is a fine use of cap space.

2 Re: Four Downs: AFC West

True. The real question is "Was last year a fluke"? If so this really won't be any sort of bargain. If not then they'll be getting their money's worth.
Was wr

6 Re: Four Downs: AFC West

His guaranteed money per year is 8th highest among QB's, his average salary per year and total guaranteed amount are both about 20th. So if he plays like last year (unlikely) he is still a bargain.

4 Re: Four Downs: AFC West

In that scheme with those WRs - and he's not saying its bad if he plays that way, just that it's not a bargain. Essentially Denver's upside is that they get what they're paying for, which is arguably the issue with the contract.

It's not the worst contract to a QB we've seen recently - Mike Glennon was only last year - but the room for 'upside value' is minimal.

11 Re: Four Downs: AFC West

Realizing that I know nothing more than I see in the press, I offer my take on the Denver QB depth chart:

Case Keenum will bring an elevated level of consistency to a unit that flailed the past couple seasons. There's a small-but-reasonable chance of high upside and a more-than-reasonable chance he's a top-10 starter.

Paxton Lynch is likely a bust, but he's still cheap on his rookie contract and he's familiar with the playbook. It's unlikely, but given his youth still possible, that he earns a starting role. If he shows some promise, he might make good trade bait.

Chad Kelly is a wildcard. By all accounts, he has good upside and has done well as his leg heals. Denver wants to give him a thorough chance to pass Lynch on the depth chart. If he does so and can stay healthy, he'll get a full grooming for the starting role.

3 Re: Four Downs: AFC West

>Kansas City's secondary headed into the NFL draft no better than they ended the 2017 season

They get Eric Berry back from a his season-erasing achilles injury. He's a freaking three time All Pro! That's as big a boost to the secondary as any team managed in free agency.

13 Re: Four Downs: AFC West

A 30 yr old DB coming off a ruptured Achilles is no sure thing. Many fail to recover their normal ability. If he's 90% of his normal that would be a definite plus, but better not to assume the best case.

7 Re: Four Downs: AFC West

The Chargers part isn't right.

Both Uchenna Nwosu and Kyzir White will be off the ball LB's in the Chargers 4-3 Under Scheme. Nwosu will replace Emmanuel on passing downs and will be the 3rd EDGE, after Ingram and Bosa, also replacing Mcain. White will be competing for the Will position, while also being in position to be the DIME LB that Adrian Phillips played last year. And Phillips had a lot of snaps. They still have Jatavis Brown, who was the best LB on the team his rookie year, two years ago, but had injuries last year, as well as the aforementioned Perryman. If teams play 5+ DB's over 70% of the time, one can say that the Chargers have too many LB's. (Jatavis, Perryman, Emmanuel, Nwosu, White, Dzubnar, plus Addae, Phillips, James and Dez King all being capable of playing LB in nickel or Dime)

So, the weakness is actually interior DL, with both Mebane and Liuget being below average starters at best (Mebane is actually a very bad starter and most are surprised he wasn't cut). Liuget is suspended for the first 4 games. FS can also be considered a weakness, depending on what you see in Derwin James skillset.

8 Re: Four Downs: AFC West

I can't believe Derrick Johnson wasn't worth a mention for the Raiders even if it would be to dismiss him. That was probably the biggest news for the Raider linebacker corps in the offseason.

9 Re: Four Downs: AFC West

I rather object to the Denver selection. The QB argument is essentially that in 3 years there will be a mess, and the mess could come earlier.

Denver's TE depth is two rookies, right tackle seems to not have a plan, and the replacement plan for talib has been a safety.

10 Re: Four Downs: AFC West

I agree that the article that denigrated what is a reasonable contract for any starting level QB. If he plays like a league average starter, you have a good contract for him. If he plays below average, you paid market value and if he's anything close to last year, you are way above market value and have an excellent contract.

Keenum's contract is short so that they could allow him to prove himself. If he does, and plays well for two years, he'll have earned a much better contract. If he doesn't, he still makes them markedly more competitive as he's clearly an upgrade over the replacement level dudes they've recently fielded.

I do agree that TE and RT are more problematic areas and I'm not optimistic about those positions, though I do have some hope that they replacements will at least not be worse than what the team has fielded lately.

As for CB, Talib is being replaced, primarily by Roby, so it's the third CB who is more of a question mark. Is it a downgrade at two positions? Absolutely. Can this team potentially field a very good defense with this personnel? Perhaps.

If Keenum flames out miserably. Denver may get a reasonable draft pick next year as well.
The only QB that I wanted as a Broncos fan was drafted first overall.

Frankly, not drafting Allen was a gigantic relief.

12 Re: Four Downs: AFC West

I really wanted them to grab Rosen at #5 (well what I *REALLY* wanted is the deal Tampa got for #7), but I don't think there's much to criticize about the first round; Chubb has as much chance of working out as anyone.

And let's be realistic, we all know Vance Joseph would have stunted Rosen's development somehow given the opportunity.

14 Re: Four Downs: AFC West

Don't know if Chubb is a future star or not, but that was a "need" pick if the Broncos really intend to retain the identity they just won the SB with; I don't expect Keenum to be as good away from Diggs thielen, but not drafting a QB they didn't love was the right move

15 Re: Four Downs: AFC West

The problem I have with this is - look at the Browns. They didnt love Wentz. They didn't love Watson and just went through a 1-31 stretch. That kind of futility usually gets an entire organization fired, but somehow, improbably, Hue managed to keep his job while his predecessors were canned despite achieving far more success.

I find it hard to believe they didn't like this crop of qbs but were positively smitten with Paxton Lynch. I think the right strategy, when you are a qb needy team and there is a well regarded qb sitting there - you take him.

16 Re: Four Downs: AFC West

Striving to 'retain an identity' doesn't make a lot of sense to me. I mean, yeah, having a great dual pass-rushing threat is a good thing, but prioritizing it over other positions simply because that has been a strength in the recent past seems like poor logic. Surely the easiest way for Denver to improve is by investing in their weak offense, rather than attempting to recreate one of the all-time great defenses?

17 Re: Four Downs: AFC West

More to that point, I'm not convinced a defense strong, offense weak model is the right team building strategy. The number of teams to successfully pull it off are so few that we can count them on our hand. Thats equally true for offense strong, defense weak models as well.