As each team in the AFC West prepares eyes the beginning of their respective training camps, we look at what each team gained and lost in the offseason and begin piecing together what that means.
Charles Robinson @CRob5769
Writer – @ChiefsFocus
Chiefs Focus @Chiefs Focus
We finally have something related to NFL football to talk about that is happening on the field. Meaningful action occurring on the field of play for every team across the league over the course of the next 5-6 weeks. The thrill of getting back on the field as an entire squad is no doubt something the players and coaches are looking forward to, but those of us (fans) who are thirsty for action are equally as excited to follow along with the storylines and the action surrounding their favorite clubs.
Over the next 5-6 weeks we’ll have the joy of following dark horse players who make an impact in camp and unexpectedly make the roster. We’ll have the agony of a player who could or has contributed in years past going down with an inevitable injury that will limit or eliminate the possibility of playing time in 2022. We will for sure get false hope about players who look like they’re balling out in camp but end up being buried on the depth chart or practice squad. We’ll have pleasant surprises – guys who have been scrapping for years to make the roster who finally breakthrough. Who will be 2022’s Jody Fortson?
We’ll watch as the rosters are shaved from 90 players to 85 (August 16), from 85 to 80 (August 23) and from 80 to the final 53 man roster that each team will (kind of) begin the season with. these final cuts occur on Tuesday August 30.
While the entire league is abuzz about training camp kicking off, the AFC West has a spotlight shining on it from near and far. You have the 6-time reigning defending champion, the AFC juggernaut Kansas City Chiefs coming into Patrick Mahomes fifth season as a starter as…an underdog in the division?
Roster moves made this offseason by the Chargers, Broncos, and Raiders have created a division that is wide open in some public opinion in 2022. We’ll get to what each team added and lost in a second, but many national pundits are taking the glitzy route in choosing Denver, Los Angeles, and some even Las Vegas (sup David Carr) to win the AFC West this season.
No one has a crystal ball. As is the case with every NFL season, the outcome of many of these games will be dictated heavily by injury luck. Whichever team can maintain health in their key pieces and touts the most quality depth going into the 2022 season will undoubtedly be the one standing at the top of the mountain when all is said and done and the 17 game schedule has played out in its entirety. Today, we’re going to take a stab at predicting (loosely) how this season will play out for each team one by one.
Except we’re going to do it a little differently. I’m going to run you through what each team in the AFC West gained, lost, who they drafted, and what each perceived strength and weakness will be for each team in what will probably pan out as the league’s best division. Then…I’m going to tell you the truth about each one.
Let’s start with the Las Vegas Raiders.
Las Vegas Raiders
2021 Record : 10-7 (Wild Card playoff, loss to Cincinnati Bengals)
Key Additions – Chandler Jones, Davante Adams, Duron Harmon
Key Subtractions – Zay Jones, Casey Hayward, Alec Ingold, Brandon Facyson, Nick Morrow, Solomon Thomas, Nick Kwiatkoski
Dylan Parham (G, Memphis) – R3, P90
Zamir White (RB, Georgia) – R4, P122
Neil Farrell (DT, LSU) – R4, P126
Matthew Butler (DT, Tennessee) – R5, P175
Thayer Munford, Jr. (OT, Ohio State) – R7, P238
Brittain Brown (RB, UCLA) – R7, P250
Strengths and Weaknesses
- Defensive front 4, pass rush
- Passing attack on offense
- Defensive secondary
- Offensive line -running game and pass protection
While the Raiders made a big enough splash at the beginning of free agency with the trade that landed them Davante Adams, subsequently resetting the wide receiver market and helping force Kansas City’s hand in trading Tyreek Hill, the side of the ball where they needed to make the most noise was left somewhat untouched.
Of course they added Chandler Jones, and All-Pro pass rusher to compliment Maxx Crosby’s already stellar play on the edge of their defense, but how much did they actually improve year over year with that move? They had Yannick Ngakoue a year ago and pass rush wasn’t the Raiders problem defensively. Their issue was they couldn’t stop the run, and they couldn’t cover anyone in the passing game.
Fast forward to training camp 2022 and Vegas has placed corner Trayvon Mullen and defensive tackles Johnathan Hankins and Bilal Nichols on the PUP list before camp has even started. All are projected starters for a Raider defense that seems to have somehow regressed with the addition of Chandler Jones. Leave it to the Raiders.
Better hope Neil Ferrell and Matthew Butler pan out, because they’re going to need the help in the middle of the defense. Of the Raiders measly 6 draft picks, these two will without question be the most crucial to their success in 2022.
The Raiders also have extremely questionable roster scenarios unfolding this season with the fact that Jonathan Abrams and Josh Jacobs will very publicly not be extended after this season. Both are + players for Vegas, Jacbs is the key piece to their running attack. Interesting choices by the Vegas front office, and ones that surely won’t pan out well for the Raiders. Like I said earlier – leave it to the Raiders.
Davante Adams is a nice addition to the offense for Las Vegas, but if the offensive line can’t protect Derek Carr any better than they did last year, Adams should start working on coming back to the ball and breaking up interception attempts when Carr’s noodle arm starts slinging ducks. This year we will find out the answer to the question that we’ve always had surrounding Derek Carr – maybe he was born with it? Or maybe it’s Maybelline.
The Raiders figure to be the least talented club in the division at the most important position (QB) as well as across the board. I would not look for a repeat playoff appearance for the boys in Silver and Black in 2022, despite what Derek’s older brother may try to tell you.
Los Angeles Chargers
2021 Record : 9-8 (missed playoffs, last appearance 2018)
Key Additions – Khalil Mack, JC Jackson
Key Subtractions – Uchenna Nwosu, Kyzir White, Scott Quessenberry, Jared Cook, Chris Harris, Jr., Linval Joseph
Zion Johnson (G, Boston College) – R1, P17
JT Woods (S, Baylor) – R3, P79
Isaiah Spiller (RB, Texas A&M) – R4, P123
Otito Ogbonnia (DL, UCLA) – R5, P160
Jamaree Salyer (G, Georgia) – R6, P195
Ja’Sir Taylor (CB, Wake Forest) – R6, P214
Deane Leonaerd (CB, Ole Miss) – R7, P236
Zander Horvath (FB, Purdue) – R7, P260
Strengths and Weaknesses
- Offensive versatility behind Justin Herbert
- Pass rush/Versatile secondary
- Play calling/coaching decision making
- Interior offensive line
- Ability to stay healthy on defense
The Chargers, to me, are the most dangerous team in the division when it comes to unseating the Chiefs as top dog. Justin Herbert is on a meteoric rise after completing a sophomore campaign that saw him throw for over 5,000 yards and 38 touchdowns. He’s outpacing Patrick Mahomes for the most prolific start to a NFL career, albeit Mahomes didn’t have the luxury of a 17 game season in any of his first three years as a starter.
Herbert is a stud. Rashawn Slater is protecting his blind side and is probably already the best left tackle in the division. Austin Ekeler is anchoring their running game – top 5 RB in the game in my opinion. The defense is loaded with names like Joey Bosa, Khalil Mack, JC Jackson, and Derwin James.
So what’s to stop this ultra-loaded roster from running away with the AFC West and the AFC in general?
Well, here’s the thing…Brandon Staley might be an idiot. Not in a literal sense. He’s a very intelligent guy by all accounts. A mad scientist of sorts. But the Chargers went for it on 4th down more times than any team that wasn’t atrocious (the top 5 last year were Lions, Bears, Chargers, Panthers, and Washington), and in a game where they could have taken control of the division in week 15 against Kansas City at home they turned the ball over on downs 3 times. 3 failed 4th down attempt in a game decided by 6 points. All in KC territory, 2 of the failures inside of the Chiefs 5 yardline.
I get it. If you’re going to go, go all in. But Staley’s hot and cold decision making plagued the Chargers last year, and if he doesn’t turn that around, there will be more “what if’s” asked when talking about Justin Herbert’s first few years in LA than there will be banners.
To top it off, their entire defense is made of glass. Bosa, Mack, and James haven’t stayed healthy for an entire season since like the Obama administration. Obviously an exaggeration, but these guys cant stay on the field. Also…you’re paying Bosa, Mack, and Jackson outrageous amounts of money to hope that they can all stay on the field? What’s the plan for extending Derwin James, Justin Herbert, and Rashawn Slater all within a few years? Think about that one?
JT Woods might be the answer for the Derwin James conundrum. Woods is a talented player out of Baylor and a steal for the Chargers where they got him. TBD if Zion Johnson and Jamaree Salyer can help bolster the offensive interior, but Johnson without a doubt figures to be a key addition and immediate starter. All in all, the Chargers did a pretty nice job drafting for needs, let’s see if that turns into depth or if they end up needing these guys right off the bat because of injury issues with highly paid veterans.
I think the Chargers will be a playoff team in 2022, but I think it’s a wild card berth.
2021 Record : 7-10 (missed playoffs, last appearance 2015)
Key Additions – Russell Wilson, Randy Gregory
Key Subtractions – Shelby Harris, Noah Fant, Nate Hairston
Nik Bonito (Edge, Oklahoma) – R2, P64
Greg Dulcich (TE, UCLA) – R3, P80
Demarri Mathis (CB, Pitt) – R4, P115
Eyioma Uwazurike (DL, Iowa State) – R4, P116
Derrian Turner-Yell (S, Oklahoma) – R5, P152
Montrell Washington (WR, Samford) – R5, P162
Luke Wattenberg (C, Washington) – R5, P171
Matt Henningsen (DL, Wisconsin) – R6, P206
Faion Hicks (CB, Wisconsin) – R7, P232
Strengths and Weaknesses
- Offensive line/running game
- Potentially dynamic passing game
- Pass coverage
- Unproven assets on offense
- Second level defending (linebackers)
- Interior defensive line
- First year head coach as well as both coordinators
Remember when you went to sports camp when you were a kid and the last day was trophy day? The stud kid at the camp always got the camp MVP. But there were several different awards you could rack up. Maybe you were the fastest? Maybe the strongest? Maybe you won the punt, pass, and kick award? But there was always an award for the kid that was the hardest tryer. The kid who wasn’t that great when the camp was over, but was really not great when the camp started. At least by the end of it he or she could run in a straight line had found some coordination.
That kid always got the “Most Improved” award. And this season’s AFC West Most Improved trophy without a doubt goes to the Denver Broncos. Any time you can upgrade at quarterback from the Drew and Teddy show to Mr. Unliiiiiiimited, you’re improving your roster.
But let’s take it easy on all this Super Bowl talk, yeah?
Russ is without a doubt a great player. He’s a threat with his legs, has good pocket awareness, and throws the best deep ball in the game. Yes, Mahomes has a better arm – but the touch that Wilson puts on deep passes is a thing of beauty.
Alright, I’m done being nice about Russell Wilson. If you expect this tool to come in and take the thrown from Mahomes in the AFC West you’re out of your mind. This goon is more worried about his public image and profile than winning football games, and he has been since he got famous from actually winning football. I wrote about this in March, but for the last 7 years Wilson was in Seattle he didn’t lead the Seahawks past the division round one time. That’s with defensive units that were superior to the unit Denver is trotting out in 2022.
He’s also got a very, very unproven receiver room to work with in Denver. Tim Patrick, Courtland Sutton, and Jerry Jeudy all seem to be talented, but what do we really know about them? Will the Nathaniel Hackett system probably aid their production and the overall health of the Denver passing attack? Yes. But how does their offensive line, who spent the better part of last year getting behind their pads in a run heavy offense, react to having to sit back and pass protection 40-50 times per game?
There are a lot of question marks with the Broncos heading into 2022, but there is one thing that is for sure – they will be better than the 7-10 mark they posted in 2021. You could throw Walt Disney’s frozen body on the field at quarterback and get better production than they got from Drew Lock and Teddy Bridgewater.
The Broncos also, sadly, had a decent draft. Nik Bonito is a guy who could either be an absolute screamer off the edge, or get sat in a puddle the first time he sees an actual NFL offensive tackle. But Greg Dulcich will immediately contribute a tight end on their offense, and Dorian Turner-Yell turned heads in their rookie camps on defense and figures to be a huge contributor on special teams for Denver this year.
I have Denver also pegged as a wild card team in 2022.
Kansas City Chiefs
Key Additions – Justin Reid, Juju Smith-Schuster, Marquez Valdez-Scantling, Ronald Jones, Jr, Jermaine Johnson, Lonnie Johnson
Key Subtractions – Tyreek Hill, Tyrann Mathieu, Charvarius Ward
Trent McDuffie (CB, Washington) – R1, P21
George Karlaftis (DE, Purdue) – R1, P30
Skyy Moore (WR, Western Michigan) – R2, P54
Bryan Cook (S, Cincinnati) – R2, P62
Leo Chenal (LB, Wisconsin) – R3, P103
Joshua Williams (CB, Fayetteville State) – R4, P135
Darian Kinnard (OT, Kentucky) – R5, P145
Jaylen Watson (CB, Washington State) – R7, P243
Isaiah Pacheco (RG, Rutgers) – R7, P251
Nazeeh Johnson (S, Marshall) – R7, P259
Strengths and Weaknesses
- Versatility across offensive line
- Continuity in coaching staff
- Patrick Mahomes and Travis Kelce
- Inexperience on all levels of the defense
- Question marks on the front 4
- Chemistry between new WR corps and Mahomes
There has never been a more disrespected 6 time defending, world beating heavyweight team than the 2022 Kansas City Chiefs. But what’s new?
In 2021 the Chargers were going to unseat the Chiefs as the division champs.
How’d that go?
This year the Broncos, Raiders, and Chargers are all “much better” and the Chiefs lost Tyreek Hill. They let Tyrann Mathieu walk. They didn’t even try to retain Charvarius Ward. And now Orlando Brown is in a standstill with the organization who couldn’t come to an agreement with him on a contract extension.
And the train keeps rolling.
The Chiefs enter camp and Year 5 of the Patrick Mahomes era with more question marks than usual, but also with a lot more answers than their division counterparts.
To start, the wide receiving corps is deep for the first time in Mahomes career. Yes, the top of the room was eliminated when Tyreek Hill was traded to the 2019 Chiefs Miami Dolphins, but the additions of Juju Smith-Schuster, Marquez Valdez-Scantling, and Corey Coleman on top of drafting Skyy Morre, signing Justyn Ross to a UDFA deal, and developing further players like Josh Gordon and Daurice Fountain, the Chiefs are in a much better position as a unit than they have been in years, possibly ever. If Mecole Hardman can add a breakout year to the mix, we could be in for the most explosive offense we’ve seen in Kansas City.
That’s all without mentioning old reliable, Mr. Travis Kelce. The best tight end in the game still calls Arrowhead home, and will without a doubt continue to add to his legacy in 2022. Along with an offensive line that’s adept at protecting Mahomes as well as smashing folks in the running game – this year with new faces in the backfield like Ronald Jones Jr and Isaiah Pacheco – the Chiefs offense is set to continue to do things that they’ve done over the course of the historic previous 4 year run.
Defensively, check back in with us around week 6. It’s likely going to be a rough start for Steve Spagnuolo and the Chiefs defensive unit. With this many rookies looking to contribute immediately, there will without a doubt be growing pains on all levels of the defense for KC coming into camp as well as early into the 2022 campaign. Patience from the fanbase, please. I’m warning you in July that this is going to happen – don’t act surprised when it does.
It will be interesting to see if Brett Veach and the front office elect to do anything along the defensive front prior to the season kicking off. The interior defensive line depth is less than attractive once you get past Chris Jones, so the Chiefs could and should look to bolster that position group whether it be with a free agent addition, via a trade, or picking off players who are cut by other clubs.
The Orlando Brown saga will without a doubt be a focal point for the media in training camp for the Chiefs. If the reports of bad blood between the organization and Brown’s camp are true, this could get much more interesting and much uglier before it gets better. My guess is Brown is on the field for week 1 and this topic goes dormant until we approach next year. But it could be far worse than what I’m expecting.
If this wasn’t clear already, I have the Chiefs finishing 12-5 again, first in the AFC West, and making another deep push in the the playoffs in 2022.
You’ll get the vivid details of how I think the season will play out here in a few weeks. Consider this what I consider training camp to be – an appetizer.