Change is most definitely afoot in the AFC West.
There will be new faces under center in Kansas City and Denver, while the Raiders brought back an old face as head coach, turning to Jon Gruden to bring them success before they leave Oakland.
Here’s the outlook for the AFC West:
Team on the rise
Almost every year the Chargers are tipped to succeed, only to then suffer some massive misfortune that derails their season. They have already lost tight end Hunter Henry to a torn ACL, yet this is a roster that appears perfectly set up to bring talk of a “Chargers curse” to an end.
Philip Rivers is the best quarterback in the division and has an array of offensive weapons beyond star receiver Keenan Allen and running back Melvin Gordon. The defense boasts a fearsome pass rush led by Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram and a secondary that was already one of the top units in the NFL before safety Derwin James, arguably the best defender in this year’s draft, was added to it.
Team on the decline
Jon Gruden made tongue-in-cheek comments about taking football back to 1998, but he may only succeed in taking the Raiders to the bottom of the division. The running game is reliant on the aging talents of Marshawn Lynch and Doug Martin, and the receiving options that Derek Carr will look to enjoy a bounce-back year throwing to are questionable outside of Amari Cooper.
Jordy Nelson struggled mightily when robbed of Aaron Rodgers last year and, though talented, off-field issues and dissatisfaction with his role saw Martavis Bryant traded away from Pittsburgh.
On defense there is talent in the pass rush, but Khalil Mack is holding out and the linebacking corps is set to be led by 35-year-old former Chief Derrick Johnson. The depth in the secondary, particularly at corner, appears mediocre at best and, for a defense that finished 26th in passing yards allowed last year, there remains more questions than answers.
Rookies to watch
Bradley Chubb, DE, Broncos
Denver received a gift from the heavens when Chubb fell to them at the No. 5 pick in the draft. On paper, he and Von Miller should form a fearsome pass-rush duo. Training camp will give the first real indication of how quick the former N.C. State star’s impact can be.
Maurice Hurst, DT, Raiders
The Raiders took a gamble on Hurst, whose draft stock was severely damaged by a heart condition discovered at the NFL Scouting Combine. However, Hurst has been cleared to play and will prove to be a steal in the fifth round if he delivers the kind of interior disruption he produced at Michigan.
Derwin James, S, Chargers
How quickly James adapts to the NFL may determine the ceiling of an uber-talented Chargers defense in 2018. He’s a rangy athletic freak who is a perfect fit for Gus Bradley’s defense and has the versatility to play multiple positions. Don’t be surprised if James soon becomes one of the league’s most exciting defensive players.
Player on the spot
Patrick Mahomes, QB, Chiefs
The Chiefs made a huge draft-day trade to go get Mahomes in 2017 and sent Alex Smith to Washington after an impressive 2017 in order to promote the former Texas Tech gunslinger to starter.
The Mahomes hype train gathered speed after he led the Chiefs on a game-winning drive against the Broncos in Week 17 last year, but that was in a no-pressure situation. Now all the expectations are on him to use his incredible arm and playmaking ability to take the Chiefs offense to the next level.
Forrest Lamp, G, Chargers
Lamp missed all of his rookie season because of a torn ACL and had a second surgery on his repaired knee in April. There reportedly is no timetable for his return, meaning Michael Schofield, re-signed in free agency, may have an edge in the competition at right guard.
Mitch Morse, C, Chiefs
Morse was placed on injured reserve late in 2017 with a foot injury. He missed offseason workouts as he recovered from surgery and what he is able to do at camp will provide an indication as to his availability for Week 1.
Dee Ford, DE, Chiefs
Ford was limited to individual drills during offseason workouts having undergone back surgery. He was expected to be ready for camp, though, as he attempts to rediscover his 10-sack form of 2016.
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