Checking in on the Chiefs' AFC West Rivals Before the NFL Draft

With free agency winding down, what have the Kansas City Chiefs' AFC West rivals done so far, and what are their needs heading into the draft?

The AFC West, as a whole, has treaded water over the course of the 2021 offseason so far.

While the Kansas City Chiefs have had to deal with pretty significant turnover this offseason, the other teams in the division have not fared much better.

This could have been an offseason for one of the other three teams in the division to make aggressive moves to seriously pack their rosters to challenge the Chiefs. None of them have taken that path.

What have these offseasons looked like for the other teams in the AFC West? Let’s take a look at their major moves so far, positions of need, and where they might go in the draft.

Denver Broncos

Major signings/re-signings: Kyle Fuller (Cornerback, Bears), Justin Simmons (Safety, Broncos), Shelby Harris (Defensive Lineman, Broncos), Ronald Darby (Cornerback, Washington), Kareem Jackson (Safety, Broncos), Von Miller (EDGE, Broncos), Mike Boone (Running Back, Vikings)

Major departures: Jeremiah Attaochu (EDGE, Bears), Phillip Lindsley (Running Back, Texans), Jurrell Casey (Defensive Lineman, free agent)

With Von Miller, Shelby Miller and Cortland Sutton all coming back next year along with additions at cornerback, the Broncos did a fairly good job filling holes on their roster this offseason.

The one remaining question now for the Broncos is at quarterback.

While it seems early to give up on a young quarterback like Drew Lock, this draft class is special at the position. There are five legitimate, franchise guys that could go early in the draft. So while the first three picks seem destined to be signal callers, the Broncos could still be in line to snag one of these top five guys.

So what will new general manager George Paton do?

Assuming the top two quarterbacks are Trevor Lawrence and Zach Wilson, which seems all but certain, Paton’s evaluation of the remaining three quarterbacks will be the key to whether the Broncos move on from Lock or take a non-quarterback at pick No. 9. This decision is the biggest one of the Broncos’ year and will have enormous ramifications for years to come.

Current needs/draft fits: Quarterback (Mac Jones, Trey Lance, Justin Fields), impact defender (Micah Parsons, Jevon Holland), tackle (Liam Eichenberg, Jackson Carman, Spencer Brown), EDGE (Ronnie Perkins, Jordan Smith, Chris Rumph), cornerback (Benjamin St-Juste, Thomas Graham Jr., Robert Rochell)

Los Angeles Chargers

Major signings/re-signings: Corey Linsley (Center, Packers), Jared Cook (Tight End, Saints), Matt Feiler (Guard/Tackle, Steelers), Michael Davis (Cornerback, Chargers), Oday Aboushi (Guard, Lions)

Major departures - Melvin Ingram (EDGE, free agent), Casey Hayward (Cornerback, free agent), Trai Turner (Guard, free agent), Mike Pouncey (Center, Retired), Hunter Henry (Tight End, Patriots), Denzel Perryman (Linebacker, Panthers), Sam Tevi (Left Tackle, Colts), Rayshawn Jenkins (Safety, Jaguars)

While the Chargers have done well to invest in some offensive lineman to protect Justin Herbert, they have lost depth all over their roster heading into the 2021 offseason.

Players like Ingram, Hayward, Henry, and Perryman were not All-Pro level players, but all of them were quality starters who are overall positive presences to any NFL roster. Losing all this talent and having very few replacements for them will probably hurt the Chargers going forward.

This is the issue for the Chargers roster right now. It has some great talents like Joey Bosa, Herbert, Keenan Allen and Derwin James, but the depth on the roster is very thin now and the Chargers only have the draft to fix it.

The biggest issue facing the Chargers is one that Chiefs fans are very familiar with; they desperately need a left tackle. The Chargers’ current left tackle is Trey Pipkins. Pipkins, a third-round pick from the 2019 draft, has allowed 42 pressures in only 13 career games so far. Not an ideal player to protect the blindside of your young franchise quarterback.

The Chargers problem at left tackle is compounded by the fact that they have a desperate need at cornerback as well with Casey Hayward leaving the team. Faced with the dilemma of two dire needs, what the Chargers do at 13 will be a very interesting decision.

Current needs/draft fits: Left Tackle (Christian Darrisaw, Rashan Slater, Alijah Vera-Tucker), Cornerback (Jaycee Horn, Greg Newsome, Tay Gowan), Safety (Jevon Holland, Talanoa Hufanga, Caden Sterns), Offensive Line (Robert Hainsey, Jackson Carman, Brady Christensen), Linebacker (Derrick Barnes, Dylan Moses, Monty Rice).

Las Vegas Raiders

Major signings/re-signings: Yannick Ngakoue (EDGE, Ravens), Nick Martin (Center, Texans), John Brown (Wide Receiver, Bills), Kenyan Drake (Running Back, Cardinals), Soloman Thomas (Defensive Lineman, 49ers), Nicholas Morrow (Linebacker, Raiders), Denzelle Good (Guard, Raiders)

Major departures: Trent Brown (Right Tackle, Patriots), Rodney Hudson (Center, Cardinals), Lamarcus Joyner (Safety, Jets), Tyrell Williams (Wide Receiver, Lions), Nelson Agholor (Wide Receiver, Patriots), Gabe Jackson (Guard, Seahawks)

It is hard to determine exactly what the Raiders’ strategy was this offseason.

The offensive line shuffle was the strangest storyline of the Raiders’ offseason. While the Trent Brown trade made sense due to rumors he was having a hard time with weight gain, trading away Hudson and Jackson did not follow that same logical thread. Derek Carr is his best when he is not pressured. With downgrades at guard, center and right tackle, will Carr get the protection he has benefited from the past few years?

The rest of the Raiders' free-agent class is a hodgepodge of fine role players who do not move the needle much. The biggest addition was Yannick Ngakoue, but Ngakoue has proven to be just a pass-rushing specialist at this point in his career. Will his addition really provide a meaningful impact to a Raiders defense that is still talent-deficient? The hope for the Raiders is that new defensive coordinator Gus Bradley can deliver at least an average defense.

Going into the draft, the Raiders still just need talent everywhere. Since head coach Jon Gruden and general manager Mike Mayock got to Oakland/Las Vegas, that has always been the case for the team, but four years later, little has changed. Much like the other teams in the AFC West, the Raiders have a gaping hole at a tackle position, but with the holes they have, they cannot narrow their focus to just tackles at pick No. 17. They need a broad horizon.

Current needs/draft fits: Right Tackle (Teven Jenkins, Liam Eichenberg, Spencer Brown), Safety (Trevon Moehrig, Jevon Holland, Jamar Johnson), Cornerback (Olaijah Griffen, Elijah Molden, Benjamin St-Juste), Wide Receiver (Nico Collins, Terrace Marshall, Simi Fehoko), Defensive Line (Bobby Brown III, Jay Tufele), Offensive Line (Aaron Banks, Sadarius Hutcherson, Dan Moore)

The State of the AFC West Now

The rest of the AFC West has not done enough to even scare Andy Reid and Patrick Mahomes, let alone take the division from them.

The only true threat to the Chiefs’ dominance right now is the Chargers. With the new hire of new head coach Brandon Staley, who employs a creative, modern NFL defense, the Chargers and Justin Herbert could give the Chiefs some fits in 2021. The issue with the Chargers is that they have potentially gotten worse over the course of the offseason with the exodus of many key role players.

Unless the Broncos land one of the promising rookie quarterbacks, it is hard to imagine a world where the Chiefs are not AFC West champions once again. This was the offseason for the teams in the division to make a push in free agency and the draft to challenge the Chiefs as they scrambled to fill a healthy amount of roster holes, but the teams in the division have not made the requisite moves to do so.

With the draft and some veteran free agents remaining, who will make the strongest final push in the division to go from treading water to swimming with ease? As long as the Chiefs stay at the top, it may not really matter.

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