During the month of August, the Last Word on Sports NFL department will be breaking down every division in the league by position. This article contains a breakdown at each position for the AFC West offenses. The breakdown will contain “the best” at each unit followed by “the rest” in descending order.
2019 AFC West Breakdown by Position: The Offense
The Best: Kansas City Chiefs
The decision here pretty obviously comes down between Patrick Mahomes of the Chiefs and Philip Rivers of the Chargers. And despite Mahomes being the reigning league MVP, the answer here is tougher than you might think. That may seem odd to say; however, it can be ill-advised to crown a quarterback as a top tier one after only one year of starting. Meanwhile, Rivers has been playing at a top level for over a decade. But on the other hand, Mahomes threw 50 touchdowns and as previously mentioned was crowned the MVP. That kind of performance is nothing to sneeze at – it’s reminiscent of Kurt Warner in his first year as a starter.
Meanwhile, Derek Carr of the Raiders is proof as to why it may not be the best idea to put a quarterback in the top tier after only one or two great years. (Three is typically the magic number.) After throwing 60 touchdowns across the 2015 and 2016 seasons, now he almost feels like an afterthought compared to then. On the other hand, he did set personal records in 2018 for passing yards (4,049) and completion percentage (68.9). And he hasn’t hit his thirties yet, so he does still have plenty of time to have a career bounce back. Time will tell as to whether he can do so.
The Broncos are really the only team in the division with a question mark at quarterback. Although Joe Flacco seems to be expected to start in Week One, there are still a lot of eyes on rookie Drew Lock. And with decent reason; Flacco can be pretty shaky at times. While he does have a decent deep ball, he’s not nearly consistent enough to be considered dependable. Having Flacco as their quarterback and an unknown factor as the second-stringer leaves the Broncos at the bottom of the division at the quarterback position.
The Best: Denver Broncos
The Rest: Kansas City Chiefs, Los Angeles Chargers, Oakland Raiders
Putting the Broncos first may seem quite unexpected, and it sort of is. If this were written back in May or June, the Chargers would be in the top spot. However, Melvin Gordon has since started a holdout and requested a trade. For this ranking’s purposes, we’re going to act as if he will not be out there to start the season. The issue is, when you take Gordon out of the equation, the quality of the AFC West running backs goes down dramatically. There are no other top ten backs in this division. What’s left is mostly a bunch of committees and one unproven rookie.
The best remaining running back in the division would have to be Phillip Lindsay; mainly because of his versatility. He’s a good runner and receiver for the Broncos. Royce Freeman is also expected to share carries, and though he underwhelmed in his rookie year, he’s still got some potential. Once the recently signed Theo Riddick returns from injury, he’ll be another strong pass-catching back for the Broncos. Right now, the Broncos look to have the most proven depth.
With Kareem Hunt gone, Damien Williams has earned the Chiefs starting running back job. However, if last year after Hunt was released is anything to go off of, the running game may not be as heavily utilized here. Fortunately, Williams is also a decent receiving back. The Chiefs have a solid alternate as well in Carlos Hyde, who struggled heavily last year with two separate teams. Still, he’s quite capable and will be playing with a better team than he has in his entire career.
If Gordon doesn’t show up, the Chargers running duties will go to Justin Jackson and Austin Ekeler. Jackson showed some promise last year as a change of pace back and even had a solid start when both Gordon and Ekeler were injured. Ekeler is better used as the resident James White / Darren Sproles type. The issue is the lack of depth beyond that – Detrez Newsome and Troymaine Pope would probably be next in line.
The issue for the Raiders is that it would appear their main running back this year will be Josh Jacobs. He’s supposed to be good, but he’s also a rookie so he can’t really be gauged right now. The depth beyond that – Doug Martin, Jalen Richard – is okay, but unremarkable. This running game wasn’t that great last year either with a lot of the same runners (save for Jacobs), so that’s not promising.
The Best: Los Angeles Chargers
The Rest: Oakland Raiders, Kansas City Chiefs, Denver Broncos
While the Raiders may have the best receiver overall in Antonio Brown, the Chargers have the best receiver duo in the West and possibly one of the best ones in the AFC in general. Keenan Allen and Mike Williams evolved into this last year, and Williams truly came into his own when Allen went down against the Chiefs in a late-season game. While Allen is closer to being a top NFL receiver than Williams, both are quite capable of putting up great numbers. The depth does go down a bit after that, but Travis Benjamin is still a decent speedy / deep pass option. You’ve probably never heard of the remaining folks (Andre Patton, Artavis Scott).
The issue for the Raiders is that while they have the best receiver in the division, they don’t really have a solid #2 to go alongside him. They arguably have more depth than the Chargers with Tyrell Williams, J.J. Nelson, Ryan Grant, and Marcell Ateman. However, as decent as some of those options are, they don’t have the luxury of having a truly dependable second wideout if Brown is getting double coverage. Still, this Raiders receiver lineup does look better than last year’s.
For the Chiefs, they have an issue of a lack of depth. They have the speedy Tyreek Hill, they have the solid but inconsistent and Sammy Watkins… and not much else. Demarcus Robinson and rookie Mecole Hardman look to be the next targets. While Hardman is supposed to be similar to Hill, he’s still an unproven rookie. The fortunate thing for the Chiefs is that whoever’s out there at receiver doesn’t always seem to matter. Mahomes often finds them anyway.
For the Broncos, they have Emmanuel Sanders who is quite solid but is also coming off an Achilles tear. While he seems to be recovering faster than expected, it remains to be seen how that will affect him. Regardless, he’s still the best receiver here. The Broncos will be hoping for improvement from Courtland Sutton. It goes downhill from there – DaeSean Hamilton, Tim Patrick, Nick Williams. They definitely look to have the shakiest lineup. The Chiefs may not have a ton of depth either, but they have more upside.
The Best: Kansas City Chiefs
The Rest: Los Angeles Chargers, Oakland Raiders, Denver Broncos
With the retirement of Rob Gronkowski, the title of best tight end in the AFC falls to Travis Kelce, who helps the Chiefs make up for their lack of depth at the receiver position. He had a career year with Mahomes last year with 100+ catches and 1,300+ yards. More of the same should be expected this year. While they don’t have much of a second tight end (Blake Bell is the closest), that’s okay – they don’t really need one.
The Chargers, meanwhile, are getting back Hunter Henry this year after missing all of last regular season with a torn ACL. The Chargers have slightly more depth at the position with Virgil Green, who’s a solid blocker and a decent #2 tight end. Still, Henry’s not at the level of Kelce right now. There’s no Antonio Gates on the roster this year, but as long as Henry stays healthy, he’s not as needed at this point.
The talent in tight ends in the AFC West goes down after that. With the departure of Jared Cook, the Raiders now are stuck with Derek Carrier and Luke Willson. Willson has some upside, but he’s been mostly a #2 TE option his entire career. Meanwhile, the Broncos have the first-round pick Noah Fant and are hoping for big things from him. Still, he’s unproven, and the most experienced tight end on the roster is Jeff Heuerman.
The Best: Oakland Raiders
The Rest: Kansas City Chiefs, Los Angeles Chargers, Denver Broncos
While the Raiders may have some issues at multiple positions, the offensive line is actually looking pretty decent. They have a Pro Bowl center in Rodney Hudson, and a solid guard in Gabe Jackson. They also picked up Trent Brown this off-season, and while they may have overpaid him, he’s still likely to be a decent tackle. There’s also Richie Incognito, who’s been out of football for a year and has had multiple off-the-field incidents, but was also a Pro Bowler in the three years leading up to that year off. Time will tell if he’s still able to play well (and stay out of trouble). However, this still looks like the most stacked o-line in the West. Kolton Miller’s probably the biggest question mark over at left tackle (in terms of playing ability, anyway).
The Chiefs have a couple of standouts on their o-line, with All-Pro Mitchell Schwartz and former first-round pick Eric Fisher, who might finally be living up to that status a little after making his first Pro Bowl last year. Laurent Duvernay-Tardif ought to be decent too if he can avoid getting injured this year. The main question mark for the Chiefs is at center, where Austin Reiter looks to be starting – despite having only five career starts.
The Chargers have a couple of good Pro Bowlers of their own as well, with Mike Pouncey and Russell Okung. Okung will be missing some games this year, but he is still expected to return. The rest of their o-line is merely okay at best, though at least they seem to know who will be out there for the most part. It’ll be interesting to see if former second-round pick Forrest Lamp finally plays a role this year.
The Broncos did make a decent off-season pickup in Ja’Wuan James, who has played solidly for the Miami Dolphins the last few years. Beyond that, Garett Bolles may be the only other noteworthy starter. They picked up Ronald Leary a couple of years ago from the Dallas Cowboys, but he’s struggled to stay healthy since he got to Denver. Even if there’s some improvement this year, this still looks to be the shakiest o-line in the West – again.
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