After a fanatical free agency shake-up, it’s time to look on paper where the crop of AFC-West currently stands.
Los Angeles Chargers
Years ago the Chargers offensive line was just plain offensive. Now they have turned it into a strength thanks to the signings of Mike Pouncey, Russell Okung, and the drafting of former Indiana Hoosier, Dan Feeney. Philip Rivers is the most experienced QB returning in the AFC-West, along with the do it all back Melvin Gordon, a promising young tight end in Hunter Henry, and 2017 first round selection, wide receiver Mike Williams. The Bolts have the explosiveness needed all over the offense.
Defensively, Los Angeles boasts a prolific edge-rushing duo in Melvin Ingram and Joey Bosa. On the outside, their secondary is anchored by young stud cornerbacks Casey Hayward and Jason Verrett.
Von Miller is still one of the premier pass rushers in the NFL and continues to give offensive coordinators nightmares as he gets to the quarterback on a routine basis. Cornerback Chris Harris will get tested by opposing quarterbacks with the departure of Aqib Talib off to the Rams. Denver has talented youth throughout its roster with DeMarcus Walker, Justin Simmons, Shane Ray, Todd Davis, Bradley Roby, and recently acquired Su’a Cravens.
The concern on offense is if Case Keenum can replicate his performance from Minnesota to the Mile High city. He has weapons in Demaryius Thomas, Emmanuel Sanders, C.J. Anderson and an offensive line with some capable promise.
John Elway can draft the best player available at fifth overall instead limiting that pick on a pressing need.
Jon Gruden is relying on aging veterans Jordy Nelson and Doug Martin to regain the Raiders offensive momentum they garnered in the 2016 playoff season. The tackle positions on both sides of the ball are weary for different reasons. Amari Cooper must consistently prove that he is the number one option that Gruden wants him to be.
Oakland received a needed upgrade at linebacker by bringing in Tahir Whitehead. The Raiders also mad free agent acquisitions with the signing of cornerbacks Rashaan Melvin and Leon Hall. Melvin has the ability, but on a one year contract, he must put it all together to gain a second contract. Hall, on the other hand, has already played in defensive coordinator Paul Gunther’s system. Gareon Conley showed minimal flashes in a limited 2017 campaign and will now have the veteran presence of Melvin, Hall, and Reggie Nelson. Meanwhile, the front seven still yearns for more talent besides Khalil Mack and Bruce Irvin coming off the edge.
Kansas City Chiefs
Is Patrick Mahomes the answer to lead the Chiefs to the Super Bowl? Mahomes played in one game in 2017 and now will be asked to be the unquestioned signal caller to take the Chiefs to the top. Kareem Hunt, Travis Kelce, and Tyreek Hill are a three-headed monster that can take it to the house on any play. Sammy Watkins will be a nice complement to Mahomes and company. Despite the high optimism on offense, the loss of offensive coordinator Matt Nagy could prove to be a costly one.
Eric Berry is an elite safety in the league when healthy, but he’s had more hardships in his career than most can account for. The loss of Marcus Peters will be noticeable, so expect the Chiefs to add secondary help early in the draft to go opposite Kendall Fuller. They must get better and more youthful impact playmakers on defense to challenge for the AFC-West crown.
In my humble opinion, all four clubs are not that far off in competition. The Chiefs are the reigning champs but lost some critical pieces to that run. Los Angeles appears primed for the next step under head coach Anthony Lynn, but the Chargers must get off get a fast start in 2018 and not live to disappoint like they do all too often. Denver could return to prominence with a solid draft and have their key free agent signings pan out as expected.
That brings us to the beloved Silver & Black. Can Jon Gruden bring the Raiders back to the promised land this season? Or, will it be another year full of mishaps and missed opportunities? With a healthy Derek Carr and added talent on what was a porous defensive unit a season ago, the Raiders could be primed to regain their throne atop the AFC-West.
Ramble on Raider Nation!