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Draft Preview: AFC West

Welcome to the NFL Draft,

Even if rugby in pads’ daft;

With a tall dark stout

You’ll figure it out;

Though work with no sleep is a graft.

The AFC West can become one of the most competitive divisions in the National

Football League over the next few years. 

At first glance, this may be somewhat surprising, given that the back-to-back AFC

Champion Kansas City Chiefs were the only divisional team to finish the 2020 season

with a winning record. However, with both the Raiders and the Chargers claiming their

scalp last year and the Broncos stern defence making it a one-score game in fortress

Arrowhead, their challengers seem fearless.

The Chargers victory may have come against a Chad Henne-led Chiefs in week 17, but it

was their performance, and particularly that of rookie quarterback Justin Herbert, in

their week two overtime battle that was far more telling. In his first start, Herbert

displayed many of the skills and attributes that would assist him in rewriting the rookie

record books and provided Chargers fans with the hope that they too had found their

franchise quarterback. A hope that, as yet, has evaded Broncos fans. Could things be

about to change?

Denver Broncos

2020 Season: 5-11 (4th in AFC West)

Is this the end of the Drew Lock experiment? Oh, to be a fly on the office wall of the

Broncos new General Manager, George Paton (pronounced Peyton, like Manning,

presumably to evoke nostalgia amongst the Mile High faithful of their last successful

quarterback). The answer to that question, after all, is ultimately down to him. His

predecessor, John Elway, himself a hall of fame signal-caller, was never able to translate

his on-field success under centre into the front office, with a number of his quarterbacks

added to the scrapheap of draft day past. Will Lock, 24, the unenviable league leader in

interceptions last year, be another such casualty?

The aforementioned Manning doesn’t believe so. “I’m a Drew Lock fan… I’m pulling for

him… I’m excited for him to have a good year this year.” Paton, too, has indicated that

the Broncos are “really high on Drew”; however, he has consistently spoken of the need

for competition in the quarterback room, whether it comes through the draft or via

subsequent trades.

For this reason, Denver remains one of the most intriguing storylines on the opening

night of the draft. With the ninth overall pick, they may be primed and ready to trade up

with the Falcons, the Lions, or the Panthers should Mac Jones, Justin Fields, or Trey

Lance be available. However, they will be hoping for a better result than in 2016, when

they traded up in the first to acquire part passer, part pirate, Paxton Lynch.

Whether it be Lock, a rookie, or a journeyman under centre, the Broncos need to add

depth to their offensive line, and this is certainly is the year to do it with a tremendous

wealth of talent emerging at the position. Should they choose to pass on the

quarterback position in the first round, Rashawn Slater may be the pick, assuming the

Bengals do the right thing and select Penei Sewell fifth overall.

On the other side of the ball, Denver is once again building a league-leading defence.

Under the oversight of Vic Fangio, they added cornerbacks Ronald Darby and Kyle Fuller

to what is now arguably the most outstanding secondary in the league. If they wish to

lean heavily on their defence to turn their fortunes around and stop the run in the

process, which I suspect they might, then the pick will be Micah Parsons, the supremely

talented linebacker out of Penn State.

First Round Prediction: Pick 9 – Micah Parsons, LB, Penn State.

Kansas City Chiefs

2020 Season: 14-2 (1st in AFC West. Defeated in Super Bowl LV)

The Broncos don’t have to look far to see the potential reward of trading up to get your

quarterback. For the Chiefs, following the Tampa Bay Buccaneers obliteration of their

weakened offensive line in Super Bowl LV, their offseason has centred on how to

protect that reward. With Patrick Mahomes not yet one year into his ten-year

$503million contract, the protection could not come soon enough.

Despite the depth of this year’s draft class, the Chiefs have left nothing to chance in

solidifying their offensive line. They recently completed their rebuild in trading the 31st

overall pick, and three mid-round picks to the Baltimore Ravens in exchange for the Pro

Bowl Left Tackle Orlando Brown, the 58th overall pick, and a sixth-rounder.

This trade follows a blockbuster free agency deal, which saw the outstanding former

New England Patriots Guard, Joe Thuney, join the Chiefs on a five-year $80million

contract. With former Ram Austin Blythe now at centre and Pro Bowler Kyle Long

returning to the game, after what must have been a long first year of retirement, the

makeover was almost complete. The final piece was the announcement of the return of

Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, the guard who gave up in a year in the trenches to join front-

line healthcare workers amid a pandemic. With this front, the Chiefs will undoubtedly

be challenging for the Lombardi Trophy once again next February, and Mahomes could

not be happier.

In the absence of a first-round pick, the Chiefs can now focus their attention on days

two and three, where I expect to see some pass-catchers added alongside a blocking

tight end. On the defensive side of the ball, Steve Spagnuolo will be looking to add

talent on the edge and depth at the cornerback position.

Los Angeles Chargers

2020 Season: 7-9 (3rd in AFC West)

The priority for the Chargers, in many ways, matched that of the Chiefs. With a faltering

offensive line and their own superstar under centre to protect, they have followed in

the footsteps of Kansas City and made waves in free agency. General Manager Tom

Telesco secured the services of former Green Bay Packers All-Pro centre Corey Linsley

on a five-year $62.5million contract, making him the highest-paid centre in the process.

With Brian Bulaga returning at right tackle, they also added Matt Feiler, a versatile

lineman from the Pittsburgh Steelers who can play at both guard and tackle.

Following a mass exodus in free agency, the Chargers will need every one of their nine

draft picks to add depth at tight end and on the defensive side of the ball, particularly in

the secondary. After five years with the team, Casey Hayward Jr. was cut from the

roster, raising the possibility of a cornerback heading to Los Angeles with the thirteenth

pick. A shutdown corner in the shape of Alabama’s Patrick Surtain II may be out of

reach, making Jaycee Horn an exciting prospect.

Despite this, I would still expect the Chargers to claim an offensive lineman in the first

round. Should Slater somehow fall, he would slot straight in at left tackle, though perhaps the more likely outcome is that of fellow tackle Christian Darrisaw, donning a blue Bolts cap on Thursday night.

Should this be the case, Chargers fans will hope that first-round talent will fall to day

two in Asante Samuel Jr., the corner out of Florida State. With questions of nepotism

following his football journey, he plays with a chip on his shoulder and a toughness that

would be a tremendous asset to this struggling secondary.

First Round Prediction: Pick 13 – Christian Darrisaw, OT, Virginia Tech.

Las Vegas Raiders

2020 Season: 8-8 (2nd in AFC West)

On the back of a confusing offseason for the Raider Nation, a pattern is developing in

the AFC West. Amongst rumours of weight gain, they traded right tackle Trent Brown to

New England. His exit was soon followed by guard Gabe Jackson and centre Rodney

Hudson to Seattle and Arizona, respectively. However, despite general manager Mike

Mayock’s claims that he is “excited and energised” by his younger offensive line group,

the public consensus remains that the Raiders cannot leave this draft without a starting

right tackle.

If we can be sure of one thing on draft day, the Raiders will always have the potential to

surprise and shock us. Whether this is the year they abandon the plan to select the

fastest, strongest or biggest player available, only time will tell. Still, their reputation for

rogue picks certainly makes for exciting viewing.

Last year, they opted for the fastest player in the draft, selecting Henry Ruggs III, who

ran a 4.27s forty-yard dash, twelfth overall, making him the first wideout off the board

in a year of exceptional receiver talent. However, that pales in comparison to their first-

round pick in 2000 when they opted not for the biggest guard or defensive end in the

draft, but the biggest kicker, Sebastian’ Seabass’ Janikowski. He may have served the

organisation well over seventeen years, but the seventeenth pick was an extremely high

price to pay.

This year, the Raiders once again hold the seventeenth overall pick. However, for

several reasons, the sensible decision would be to pass on those first-round tackles. By

biding their time, they can execute the most Raiders of picks and select the right tackle

Spencer Brown in the third round. In Vegas, bigger is better, and they don’t come much

bigger than Brown, towering over the opposition at a staggering 6 foot 8 inches.

However, with options wide open in the first round and the Raiders defence like a sieve,

new defensive coordinator Gus Bradley will undoubtedly be pounding the table for a

playmaking safety, corner, or linebacker come Thursday night. Whether Jon Gruden is

with him and knocking on wood is yet to be seen.

First Round Prediction: Pick 17 / Trade down in the First – Trevon Moehrig, S, Texas

Christian University.

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