AFC West

One move each AFC West team can make to turn into a contender

What a crazy offseason 2022 has brought us. Franchise quarterbacks such as Deshaun Watson and Russell Wilson were dealt in trades, the league’s top wideout was shipped across the country, and multiple [former] winners of the Defensive Player of the Year award found themselves on a new squad. Through it all, the AFC West was involved in more noteworthy transactions than any other division.

All-Pros Davante Adams, Chandler Jones, Khalil Mack, J.C. Jackson, and Wilson all entered the AFC West this year, making an already tough division that much tougher. So tough, in fact, that analyst Colin Cowherd went as far as calling it historically good.

“It’s pretty remarkable in my life that it’s the greatest, most talented quarterback division ever — and it’s not close”

Even after all the mind-blowing blockbuster moves that transpired in the AFC West this offseason, there’s still room for each of the four teams in the division to improve. And if they each make one specific move, all four will instantly become legitimate contenders. Let’s discuss what that one move is for each team.

One move each AFC West team can take to become a contender

4. Kansas City Chiefs: Trade for Kareem Hunt

Yeah, it’s a little ironic, isn’t it? Kareem Hunt was drafted by the Chiefs in 2017. But an off-field incident the following year led to his time in Missouri coming to an end. In search of a replacement, Kansas City drafted Clyde Edwards-Helaire in the first round of the 2020 NFL Draft.

Edwards-Helaire hasn’t exactly been the player K.C. was hoping he’d be.

In his rookie year, C.E.H. totaled 1,100 scrimmage yards with only five combined scores. His most recent year was his worst, logging just 517 yards on the ground and 129 through the air. If the Chiefs can get a rushing threat in the backfield, something Edwards-Helaire has unfortunately proved to not be, it will help open up things for the passing offense – an ideal outcome as the team still tries to heal the wounds left by Tyreek Hill’s departure.

The difference between Hunt and the Chiefs’ ’20 first-round pick is monumental. Really, I’m not sure there’s a category Edwards-Helaire trumps Kareem Hunt in. The two are more or less equal in speed, as shown by their .01 difference in 40-yard dash times, but Hunt is noticeably bigger and stronger.

Coming out of college, it was believed the receiving presence of C.E.H. was his best asset, but Hunt reigns supreme there as well. Hunt’s 304 receiving yards in 2020 was more than Edwards-Helaire has recorded in the NFL. Also, his 16 career receiving touchdowns are more than five times that of Kansas City’s former first-rounder.

Hunt wants to become a RB1, and on the Chiefs, he would pick up right where he left off as that guy. Given the history here, it’s unlikely Kansas City will pull the trigger on this deal, but boy would it elevate the team greatly if they did. Hunt back in the AFC West? That’s bad news for the other three teams.

3. Los Angeles Chargers: Add a legitimate run stopper to the front-seven

There’s really not too much you can complain about with this roster. Actually, it’s one of the most complete rosters league-wide.

The Chargers needed some defensive help up front, so they went out and added Sebastian Joseph-Day, Austin Johnson, Kyle Van Noy, and former Defensive Player of the Year Khalil Mack. Offensively, the team thought their O-line could use an improvement, so they grabbed Boston College guard Zion Johnson in the first round of the 2022 NFL Draft.

If there’s one thing the AFC West team in Los Angeles could still use – a run defending specialist up front.

In 2021, only the Houston Texans and Pittsburgh Steelers allowed more rushing yards than the Chargers. Los Angeles’ defense also placed bottom-six in yards allowed per rushing attempt, in addition to allowing the third-most rushing touchdowns. This is their Achilles’ heel.

Joseph-Day and Johnson will help some, but neither were too great against the run themselves last season. Joseph-Day earned a grade of 65.0 against the run. This isn’t a problem; unless, of course, you’re relying on this caliber of a run defender to single-handedly change things.

Johnson’s 53.9 was even worse.

Of all the front-seven acquisitions this offseason, Joseph-Day posted the highest run defense grade. Maybe the Chargers’ defense will get it together as a whole and maybe they won’t; it’s a question mark, and perhaps the only one on this roster. That said, grabbing a legitimate run stopper up front would indefinitely make this team better.

2. Denver Broncos: Trade for Tyler Lockett to have a shot in the AFC West

The Broncos have a ton of talent in the receiver room. Courtland Sutton is a dominant presence, Tim Patrick is a reliable target, Jerry Jeudy is a promising prospect and K.J. Hamler has legitimate playmaking potential. So, why does trading for another receiver make sense?

First off, this isn’t just another receiver – this is Tyler Lockett. The same Lockett who Wilson has grown to rely on more than anyone over the years. The reason Russ relies on Lockett so heavily? The Seahawks’ wideout is elite in the scramble drill; the same scramble drill Wilson has forged a legendary career with.

To reiterate my first sentiment here, Denver undoubtedly has a talented receiver unit. The question is, can this group of players run that scramble drill with Russ that’s plagued opposing defenses for years? It’s an area neither Sutton nor Patrick have much experience in, let alone success with. Hamler looks like he may be able to fill that role and has a chance with Patrick on the IR list, but it’s still a question mark. Lockett, on the other hand, is not a question mark.

Look, Denver; You shipped a big haul to Seattle to acquire your franchise quarterback. Now go get his favorite weapon, who’s elite in the area Russ excels at more than anything. Given Lockett turns 30 years old this month, the price shouldn’t be a premium.

1. Las Vegas Raiders: Trading for OG help to compete in the AFC West

What else did you expect to see other than beefing up the O-line? If Las Vegas wants to make a run for the AFC West crown, they must make sure they give Derrek Carr enough time to throw the ball. 

The Raiders’ offensive line wrapped up the ’21 season as the 28th ranked unit via Pro Football Focus. How did Las Vegas respond to that over the offseason? Well, they didn’t, aside from selecting Dylan Parham in the third round of the 2022 NFL Draft, and OSU’s Thayer Munford in the seventh.

These two rookies make up the only two offensive linemen on the Raiders’ roster who didn’t play for the team last season.

It gets even worse. In 2021, the Silver and Black selected Alabama lineman Alex Leatherwood in the first round. Before he could even begin his second [regular] season as a Raider, the team decided to part ways with their former first-rounder. With Leatherwood now out of the picture and Brandon Parker on the Injured Reserve list, Jermaine Eluemunor is the starting right tackle, abandoning his former post at guard.

There are a lot of people worried about Eluemunor at right tackle, but I don’t find myself to be in that boat. Actually, Eluemunor has been quite successful with McDaniels and offensive line coach Carmen Bricillo in New England playing RT. Before coming to Las Vegas last season, the versatile offensive linemen played as a Patriot during the ’19 and ’20 seasons, starting eight contests at right tackle in 2020.

In the 418 snaps recorded at tackle during his last year as a Patriot (277 on the right side), Eluemunor posted a pass-blocking grade of 70.3. For comparison, Kolton Miller aside, no Raider reached a mark north of 70 last season. If the past is any indication, the 27-year-old will at least be serviceable. If things trend south, rookie Thayer Munford impressed greatly this preseason, posting a 72.3 pass blocking grade.

There’s a lot of focus on the right tackle spot through the media given Leatherwood’s cut and lack of productivity at the position in 2021, but the guard duo is quietly a bigger concern. After a great camp, Lester Cotton started to trend downward with a lackluster end to this year’s preseason, and his counterpart John Simpson hasn’t been too impressive.

Last year, no offensive lineman on the Raiders’ roster – Leatherwood included – posted a worse run blocking grade than Simpson. His 46.5 grade in this category was abysmal, and the pass blocking grade of 62.7 Simpson earned wasn’t good enough to make up for his lack of presence in the run game. This preseason, Simpson hardly managed to get his grade up against the run, finishing with a mark of 53.1.

Your offensive line is as bad as your worst player, not as good as your best player. No team proved that true more than the ’21 Raiders, who struggled all year despite Kolton Miller dominating at left tackle. In this case, it isn’t just a player who’s the worst player, but an overall position that’s the weakest.

The worst part? Thayer Munford or Jackson Barton can step in with ease if Eluemunor struggles. If Cotton or Simpson struggle, there’s only Parham. In the event both struggle, which is certainly not out of the realm of possibility, there’s not much the team can do. Forget tackle; prioritize grabbing a reliable guard.

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*Top Photo: RB Kareem Hunt of the Cleveland Browns (AP Photo/David Richard)

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