Four Downs: AFC West

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

by Andrew Healy

Denver Broncos

Biggest Post-Draft Weakness: Quarterback

QBASE, our quarterback prediction model, thinks it is unlikely that the Broncos actually addressed their quarterback problem by trading up to draft Memphis prospect Paxton Lynch. Based on his college stats, and in particular the weak schedule he faced, Lynch projects to have about a one-in-three chance of being an adequate starter or better.

It's not just the numbers. Lynch's soft schedule means there's less evidence to know whether Lynch can quickly get through his reads at the NFL level, an area in which some scouting reports have questioned his abilities.

With their great defense, the Broncos may only need adequate quarterback play to contend. Ryan Fitzpatrick, 14th in our DVOA rankings and 12th in ESPN Total QBR last year, is remarkably still available. He would be more likely than either Mark Sanchez or Lynch to be adequate.

Notable Undrafted Free Agent Additions: As they prepare to shift to the Paxton Lynch era, the Broncos brought in two interesting undrafted receivers. Oregon's Bralon Addison had 10 touchdowns in 2015 after missing all of 2014 with a torn ACL. His production throughout his college career got him a Playmaker Rating higher than two first-round picks (Josh Doctson and Laquon Treadwell). The Broncos also signed Lynch's top target at Memphis, Mose Frazier. While Frazier had just four receiving touchdowns in 2015, he added two more as a rusher. Iowa tight end Henry Krieger-Coble also has a good shot to make the roster, as he faces an uncertain depth chart at the position. Krieger-Coble can beat man coverage and could fit well in a zone-blocking scheme.

Kansas City Chiefs

Biggest Post-Draft Weakness: Offensive Guard

Last year, the Chiefs had the league's No. 6 offense by DVOA and the No. 1 rushing offense, but that success masked some weaknesses on the offensive line. The Chiefs ranked close to the bottom in adjusted line yards, our measure of the yards created by the blocking, on runs to the right. They also ranked 28th in adjusted sack rate, a mark that falls partially on the line and partially on Alex Smith.

This offseason, the Chiefs addressed their problem at right tackle by signing free agent Mitchell Schwartz. But the Chiefs still have a weakness at left guard, where fourth-round pick Parker Ehinger is slotted to compete with Jarrod Pughsley (zero NFL starts) for a roster spot. At the other guard, Laurent Duvernay-Tardif got 13 starts in his second season, but mostly struggled.

Notable Undrafted Free Agent Additions: The Chiefs targeted their free agent signings on players who could fill holes on the offensive line and in the secondary. On the interior of the line, they picked up three-and-a-half year starter guard Jake Bernstein out of Vanderbilt and four-year starter Ben Clarke out of Hawaii. Clarke played his first two years at center (where he projects as a pro) before moving to left tackle his last two, not missing a game in 2015 despite playing with a broken foot for several weeks. The Chiefs also picked up two players to help address their thinness at cornerback: Mount Union's Tre Jones and Dartmouth's Vernon Harris. Jones returned five interceptions for touchdowns and would not be the first player to stick in the NFL from his alma mater. Mount Union produced Pierre Garcon and Cecil Shorts in recent years.

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Oakland Raiders

Biggest Post-Draft Weakness: Receiving Tight End

2015 first-round wide receiver Amari Cooper helped Derek Carr make a huge leap forward in his sophomore season. To give Carr his best chance to advance another level, the Raiders would ideally add a receiving tight end to complement Cooper.

Last season, the Raiders had no tight end rank in the top 30 by our receiving numbers. The Raiders currently have their hopes at this spot riding on the shoulders of 2015 third-round pick Clive Walford, who we rated as below-average last season. While Walford showed some flashes as a rookie, he also is now battling a knee injury sustained earlier in the offseason that was just reported on Tuesday.

Notable Undrafted Free Agent Additions: The Raiders grabbed one of the most interesting UDFA options when they signed Southern Utah pass rusher James Cowser. The FCS career sacks leader with 43.5, Cowser also posted the fastest 3-cone time of any pass rusher invited to the combine this year. SackSEER likes Cowser's production and it's surprising no team took a late-round flier on him. Great pass rushers have come out of small schools in the past, and we can even leave out Cowser's new teammate, the already-great Khalil Mack. Robert Mathis (Alabama A&M) and Jared Allen (Idaho State) are two small-school pass rushing gems that teams unearthed in the later rounds of the draft. In addition to Cowser, the Raiders picked up Ed McCaffrey's son -- that would be >this one, not this one.

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San Diego Chargers

Biggest Post-Draft Weakness: Linebacker

Coming into the offseason, the Chargers' defensive line was in the running for the NFL position group most in need of improvement. The Chargers ranked dead last in DVOA against the run and 25th in adjusted sack rate in 2015.

To address their defensive line deficiency, the Chargers signed tackle Brandon Mebane and end Joey Bosa, with the latter technically being a linebacker in a 3-4, but with the job description of a 4-3 defensive end. Those acquisitions should help with San Diego's defensive problems, but much of the Chargers' shortcomings in run defense came behind the first line of defense. The Chargers ranked 31st in stopping opposing runners between 5 and 10 yards beyond the line of scrimmage, and 32nd beyond 10 yards. Even after adding Bosa, San Diego still needs more from the other linebackers than they got last year.

Notable Undrafted Free Agent Additions: Before tearing an ACL in the last game of the 2013 season and then tearing the same ligament again before the start of the next season, Oregon left tackle Tyler Johnstone seemed unlikely to eventually go undrafted. Remember that there was a time when it took two years to recover from ACL injuries. If Johnstone can return to his pre-injury trajectory, the Chargers could have a valuable line contributor. The Chargers certainly know success in the undrafted free agent market, having signed one of the best UDFAs in NFL history: tight end Antonio Gates.

Comments

12 comments, Last at 23 May 2016, 4:17pm

1 Re: Four Downs: AFC West

The Chargers drafted 2 linebackers (3, if you count Bosa). They also dumped Butler, who had become a scrub, and replaced him with Perryman, who played pretty well to end last year.

Their bigger post draft weakness would still seem to be safety, where they drafted 0 players and *ahem* "replaced" Weddle with Lowery.

9 Re: Four Downs: AFC West

I agree, the Charger section is lacking.

Bosa will play DE, but the author has been reading the national media which is clueless. The chargers play at least one of their DE's in one-gap mode anyway, this isn't the 'classic' two-gapping 3-4 style that indeed would not fit Bosa's talent as well. Furthermore, they played 70% of their snaps _outside_ of the base 3-4 defense, most often in some flavor of nickel. On those snaps, the line will look like : Attachou, Bosa, Liuget, Ingram; with 2 LBs and 5 DBs.

At the end of the season, Melvin Ingram was very impressive rushing the passer (9 sacks in last 8 games -- he added a spin move), and Perryman replacing Butler was huge.

The stats listed by the article here are for the whole season on average. While the offense collapsed in the second half as the OL and WRs got injured, the defense got better.

I think they are still weak at LB in some respects, but safety is a bigger question with less depth and more unknowns.

The OLBs look better than they have in a while, at ILB Perryman looks above average at the position (vs replacement level or worse for Butler), Manti is so-so but not horrible, and they drafted a couple promising LBs.

The OL is still a concern as well, there have been some HUGE improvements but the depth is still not great. The biggest problem last year was at C, and that seems to be fixed. On paper if the injury situation isn't a dumpster fire for the third year in a row, OL won't be the team's biggest problem again. If the injury bug hits the OL again, hopefully the added depth helps.

2 Re: Four Downs: AFC West

If you would do the barest bit of research, you would know that the Chargers have no plan to play Bosa at 3-4 OLB, even one with 4-3 end responsibilities. The Chargers have said over and over that he will be a 3-4 end. The front seven will have Bosa, Mebane, and Luigit in the trenches with Teo and Perryman at ILB and Ingram and Attouchu at OLB. Criticize them using him as a small end if you want, but stop with the misrepresenting what position he will actually play.
Also, the linebackers got a lot better when Butler was replaced by Perryman. You also can't understate how bad the DL was last year, consistently allowing OL to get to the second level with ease.

5 Re: Four Downs: AFC West

Bosa is listed at 269 lb, which makes him an almost certain liability at end in a 3-4 on running downs. Maybe he'll play outside on early downs and slide inside in passing situations?

10 Re: Four Downs: AFC West

Yes, and Jason Verret is too short and a liability on the outside. I get it, all you need to know about a player is his combine measurements. Right.

Bosa is already at 280, and any watching of tape on him will show you how his use of hands and technique has him win against the run. He has tape versus most of the 1st and 2nd round OL picks this year, and had no problem in the run game on the inside or outside. Why? He sheds his blocks very fast, is quick and active with his hands and is very good at preventing blockers from getting their hands into his body and locking on. He will not be asked to play 2-gap defensive interior where the size and bulk matters much more.

A few facts that one can find via chargers' coach interviews or elsewhere:

70% of the Chargers' snaps on D last year were not in the base 3-4, so this whole enterprise of fitting a player into the base D is somewhat silly.

The Chargers play mostly a 1-gap scheme, despite a 3-4 base defense (actually, most 3-4's these days do). One of the DE's typically lines up between the T and G or T and TE towards the wider side of the field, this will be Bosa. Liuget will be the DE that plays closer to the C.

Bosa is also a bit of a wild-card that can be moved around to attack from outside the TE or T in various packages, but he'll have his hand in the dirt at the snap the vast majority of the time.

11 Re: Four Downs: AFC West

Bosa played collegiately at 284 lbs. He slimmed down to 269 b/c there was talk about him playing as an OLB. The Chargers already list him at 280. He'll play this season at 280+. And keep in mind, he won't turn 21 until July. Don't worry about his weight.

I don't want to compare him to J.J. Watt (no rookie should be compared to a player who is among the discussion of GOAT for his position) but physically they are nearly clones (which is one reason why the comparison is made so frequently). But JJ plays the 5-technique at roughly 290. Bosa will be just fine as 3-4 DE.

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3 Re: Four Downs: AFC West

Outside the receiving corps, the whole Denver offense is a question mark.

Anderson and Hillman are OK, but they won't strike fear into opponents. I'm optimistic about Devontae Booker, but he's still an unknown at the pro level. With Kubiak and Dennison no longer having to scheme around Manning, will the running game be strong enough to open up play action?

The tight ends were almost invisible last year. Will the scheme get them more involved this season?

The OL improved from "train wreck" to "barely passable" over the course of last season. Okung and Garcia should be OK on the left, Paradis has been improving at center, but Stevenson and McGovern are questions on the right. I see this line having a limited upside and a low floor, esp. if Okung gets injured.

Same thing at QB: Sanchez and Lynch seemingly present a pretty low ceiling. What will Kubiak and Dennison be able to make of them?

Of course, last season's offense had similar questions (even if they weren't recognized as such) and still ended up hoisting the Lombardi. So I'm not pessimistic per se. Just really curious.

4 Re: Four Downs: AFC West - Broncos QB

The Broncos have shown time and time again that they will fit their scheme to the current quarterback's strengths. It seems clear to me that they are moving away from the Peyton Manning "timing, reads and execution" offense that fit Manning in his prime so well to a simpler scheme that doesn't rely so heavily on QB reads, perfect passes and perfect timing that were the strengths of Manning. Misdirections, bootlegs, keepers will be the strength of the offense. I don't think Fitzpatrick is a good candidate for that type of offense. Sanchez, on the other hand, has shown his mobility and so has Lynch.

6 Re: Four Downs: AFC West - Broncos QB

Mobility indeed:

https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=1&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=0ahUKEwjIsIjcyuTMAhVH2oMKHbCEDLsQyCkIHzAA&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.nfl.com%2Fvideos%2Fnfl-network-total-access%2F0ap2000000286025%2FOne-year-anniversary-of-the-butt-fumble&usg=AFQjCNHDzZbi0eE_gV5UMzodPa9kY7ZpIg&sig2=oMR7wMB9L-hOUGVSXWmc4A