We leave the south to enter one half of the wild west. We first go to the AFC West, the division that is home to the reigning, defending Super Bowl Champions Denver Broncos. But despite that win, the division is more open than anyone could imagine. Gunslingers have hung up their guns, and the West is looking for new shooters. Will the Broncos win the division for a second year in a row, or will a new team take the title? Will the surging Raiders take the crown in their possible final season in Oakland? Will the Chiefs finally become AFC West kings? And can the Chargers give the San Diego faithful a farewell season to remember? This is my 2016 NFL Draft Outlook on the AFC West.
2015 Record: 12 – 4 (1st in division)
Playoffs: Won the Super Bowl (1st in Conference)
Analysis: Denver was not my pick to win the Super Bowl, as most of you know. I thought that Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers would win it all due to their high-powered offense and punishing defense. But I was wrong as Von Miller and the vaunted Broncos defense absolutely demolished the Panthers, winning quarterback Peyton Manning his 2nd Super Bowl trophy. Now coming into the draft, Denver has just about everyone back on defense, but they have a huge problem.
They have no quarterback. Peyton Manning? Retired. Brock Osweiler? Signed with the Houston Texans.
Now I know defense win championships, but come on. There is no way in a conference that is this wide open that the Denver Broncos can say that “Butt Fumble” Mark Sanchez is their best option. On top of that, they have to replace Malik Jackson, Jordan Norwood, and Derek Wolfe on defense. What does GM John Elway do?
Draft Picks: 31st in the 1st round, 63rd in the 2nd round, 94th and 98th in the 3rd round.
Draft Players To Watch: Paxton Lynch, QB, Memphis. Denver needs to move heaven and earth to get him as their starting quarterback. While he is slanted for not ever really taking a snap under center and mostly in the shotgun position, he can adjust his great playing style to play under center, which he is doing. Also, with the defense somewhat in tact and just needing some small tuning, he won’t be relied on to win them games. That said, the kid is special, as he has the biggest hands in the draft and is the tallest quarterback as well, standing at 6’7″. His superior height and range as a mobile quarterback gives Denver someone they can start and groom for multiple years, and possibly lead the Orange Crush to another Super Bowl.
2. Kansas City Chiefs
2015 Record: 11 – 5 (2nd in division)
Playoffs: Lost in Divisional game to New England ( Finished 5th in conference)
Analysis: Kansas City was one of the biggest surprises of the season last year, as they went on an absolute tear to make the playoffs. Alex Smith played out of his mind, the offense was clicking, and the defense came close within having a stranglehold on the AFC West. This year, they look to take the AFC West, and not let anyone stop them. But what do they need? Is another defensive stalwart needed, or do they go with another playmaker on offense?
Draft Picks: 28th in the 1st round, 59th in the 2nd round.
Draft Players to Watch: Eli Apple, DB, Ohio State. Kansas City would be wise to look at the backfield, not because theirs is depleted, but because they could use a backup to Marcus Peters and possibly someone to play opposite him. Apple is a rangy corner that can come up and play man and zone, plus his size allow him to not only play 50/50 balls but also help you out in the pass rushing. Kansas City needs to make him the next Chief if they want to win it all.
2015 Record: 7 – 9 (3rd in division)
Playoffs: Did Not Qualify (finished 10th in conference)
Analysis: Oakland is Coming. Let me say that again for everyone in the West. Oakland is coming. This team has everything it needs: a good, young quarterback in Derek Carr. A franchise wide receiver in Amari Cooper, and a standout defense with Khalil Mack leading them. Oakland is going to make some noise, but the question is can they do it before they are possibly relocated out of the Black Hole?
Draft Picks: 14th in the 1st round, 44th in the 2nd round, 75th in the 3rd round.
Draft Players to Watch: Tavon Young, CB, Temple and Dominique Alexander, Safety, Oklahoma. Now I’m not saying that Oakland should draft them immediately for the first round, but they should take a long look at both these guys. Both of them are great open-field tacklers and can also play in zone, which they are going to face in the division with the rate that throwing plays are used in the AFC West. Now I would lean more towards Alexander just because they need to replace Charles Woodson, but with the pickup of Reggie Nelson, Young might be your solution.
4. San Diego/ Los Angeles Chargers
2015 Record: 4 – 12 (4th in division)
Playoffs: Did Not Qualify (Finished 14th in conference)
Analysis: Ugh, this team has so much potential and yet, so much squandering about it. They have a good veteran quarterback in Phillip Rivers and he has got two wideouts in both Antonio Gates and Keenan Allen. But they just can’t get it right. And now with the loss of Eric Weddle, the team needs to get right with the fall of the king Peyton Manning in the division.
Draft Picks: 3rd in the 1st round, 35th in the 2nd round, 66th in the 3rd round.
Draft Players to Watch: Jalen Ramsey, S, Florida State. Ladies and Gentleman, let me introduce you to the first defensive player selected in the 2016 NFL Draft. San Diego would be foolish to not pick him up. His size as a safety makes him an automatic threat on the field, and his speed is incredible. He is a dog hound for the ball and is able to play the position like a receiver. If the Chargers pick him up, expect sparks to fly in San Diego.
In closing, we now see what each team in the AFC West needs. Denver needs a franchise quarterback, while the rest of the division needs to get stronger defensively to make a strong push for the divisional crown. This division will be exciting to watch and we might see a new champion on the western throne.
That’s our look at the AFC side of the west, come back next week to see the NFC side of the west.