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Comparing the AFC West – Offense edition

Comparing the Chiefs’ depth chart to the other teams in the AFC West is a crucial part to analyse just how successful Kansas City will be next season. In this short, two-part, analysis I’ll be ranking each team at each position, from best to worst, and giving my reasons why; starting with the offence.

Quarterback

1st – Los Angeles Chargers (Philip Rivers – B+)

In first place I put veteran gunslinger Philip Rivers. Coming off a great season last year, Rivers is poised to continue his performance in LA once the 2018 season kicks off. He racked up a total of 28 touchdowns compared to a mere 10 interceptions (he’s only had one season where he’s had less INTs and that was in 2009 where he had 9). He also had a highly respectable 62.6% completion percentage. He was also selected to his 7th pro bowl this year as well as winning the precision passing event at the pro bowl skills showdown. Being in the NFL since 2004 and starting every single game since 2006, I think, gives Rivers the edge in the division due to his sheer large amount of experience and previous success in the league.

2nd – Denver Broncos (Case Keenum – B)

Case Keenum joined the Denver squad this off-season after a great season at the Minnesota Vikings. Before 2017, Keenum hadn’t started more than 9 games a season his entire 7 year career, showing just how much one good season can propel a player. He racked up a 67.6% completion percentage with 22 touchdowns and only 7 interceptions with the Minnesota team last season and took them to the NFC championship game after beating the Saints in the divisional round in, literally, the last second. Not a bad performance for someone who had been overlooked for the majority of his time in the NFL. So why did I put him below Rivers? Two reasons: experience and postseason performance. John Elway put a lot of praise and confidence in Keenum saying “We got our guy” once the signing was complete. However I don’t feel that Keenum has had the experience of Rivers in commanding his team for multiple, long, seasons. On top of this, the new Broncos QB also had a rocky performance in the postseason in 2017 with only 2 touchdowns and 3 interceptions showing how he may not be ready yet to take Denver back on a deep playoff run.

3rd – Oakland Raiders (Derek Carr – B-)

My decision to put Carr slightly above Mahomes simply comes from his knowledge of the team and experience as a quarterback at the top level. He’s been in the league for four years now, entering his fifth, and has had three consecutive pro-bowl selections. On top of this, Carr has also been pretty consistent with his completion percentage averaging 61.3% over his career (62.7% in 2017). Carr also came 11th on the NFL Top 100 leaderboard in 2017, voted by fellow players, it’s not the most reliable representation of his skill but still something to note. I feel like Carr has been consistently unable to excell his team to the next level for a while now in Oakland. Rivers has had a much longer career and, therefore, experience, and I feel like Keenum has the capability and confidence to be more of a threat than Carr.

4th – Kansas City Chiefs (Patrick Mahomes – C+)

I know it’s hard to take in but that’s the reality of the quarterback situation for the Chiefs. Mahomes is an amazing prospect who’s shown all the signs of being a great player in the league. However, at the moment he is just that; a prospect. With only one regular season start in Week 17 against the Broncos there’s not enough of an argument to put Mahomes above any of the other three starting QBs in the rest of the division. However, we’ll see just how well he takes on the starting role as the season starts in September. Don’t lose hope because he’s ended up in last place in the division; instead look forward to the potential Mahomes has. I’d also highly recommend going back over the week 17 Chiefs highlights on YouTube because, if he performs like that, I don’t see a reason why he won’t be at the top of this list by the end of the 2018 season.

Patrick Mahomes

Running Back / Fullback

1st – Kansas City Chiefs (Kareem Hunt / Anthony Sherman – A-)

How can you not put the NFL’s leading rusher last season as number one? Kareem Hunt played exceptionally, especially as he was a rookie, beating the likes of Le’Veon Bell, Todd Gurley and fellow rookie Alvin Kamara to the rushing title last season. Despite not winning the Offensive Rookie of The Year award, which did in fact go to Kamara, Hunt proved how he’s the running back in for the best season within the division next year. Although there could be an argument made for Lynch at the Raiders, due to the legendary career he’s had at the Seahawks, I feel like his production as an elite back isn’t what it used to be and his prime may be coming to an end. We’ll get onto that shortly.

Kareem Hunt vs Patriots

2nd – Oakland Raiders (Marshawn Lynch / Keith Smith – B-)

I put the Raiders in at second because, although I feel as though Marshawn Lynch isn’t as great as he used to be in Seattle, I still feel like he had a confident season in Oakland. During what I would consider his ‘prime’, between the years of 2011 and 2014, Lynch was churning out unbelievable numbers from the Seahawks backfield. He racked up 11+ touchdowns per season during this time, had 4 consecutive 1000 yard seasons, whilst playing in 63 out of the 64 games across this time as well. Lynch was also made 4 consecutive pro-bowl appearances and 1 first-team all-pro team appearance as well. Now compare that to his 2017 campaign at the Raiders where he had 891 yards whilst still playing in 15 out of 16 games and only had 7 touchdowns across the entire year. Still impressive but not the ‘Beast Mode’ stats we’ve seen from him in previous years. However I still put the Raiders in second not only for Lynch but also for the addition of Doug Martin from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Nicknamed ‘The Muscle Hamster’, Martin is a very similar player to Lynch and should help take some weight off of the veteran RB’s shoulders and even out the workload that little bit more; making Oakland’s backfield still a legitimate threat.

3rd – Los Angeles Chargers (Melvin Gordon / Derek Watt – C+)

Melvin Gordon, as the starting RB for the Chargers, played in all 16 games last season and is a very respectable player in the league. 2017 also saw his first 1000 yard season in his 3 year NFL career. These are some pretty good stats, so why was the team put 3rd on my list? Simply for the lack of depth in comparison to the Raiders and less production than Chiefs RB Kareem Hunt. I feel like Gordon is the type of player who would have amazing seasons if the workload was more shared, similar to a Mark Ingram / Alvin Kamara situation. Gordon had 284 carries last season (Hunt had 272) but still racked up 222 less yards than the Chiefs rookie. However the Chargers have still failed to provide Gordon with a decent second string RB to help him out a bit and therefore, I believe that he will have a similar season in 2018 compared to 2017; good, but not amazing. Therefore, putting the team 3rd on the list.

4th – Denver Broncos (Devontae Booker / Andy Janovich – D)

The running back situation isn’t the best in Denver at the moment. Shipping off CJ Anderson to the Carolina Panthers at the end of last season has left Booker on an island, pretty much, on his own at the RB position. Anderson started every single game last season and had 1007 yards across the year with 4.1 yards per attempt and 62.9 yards per game. Again, a very respectable season for an AFC West running back. Booker, on the other hand, played in 13 games but wasn’t a starter in a single one last season. He only managed 299 yards on 79 attempts, meaning he had a yards per attempt average of 3.8 and a yards per game average of 23.0 as well as only one touchdown compared to Anderson’s 3. Therefore it raises the question: can Booker handle the extra workload in the 2018 season after the departure of Denver’s number 1 guy? It’s a lot of pressure for a RB only in his third year, especially after not putting up incredible numbers the season before.

Wide Receivers

1st – Kansas City Chiefs (B+)

If you’re considering depth at the position then the Chiefs are the best in the division. With Tyreek Hill at WR1, as the fastest player in the league, of course he’s an asset. Hill had 75 receptions last season for 1183 yards and 7 touchdowns, improving off of his impressive rookie season where he had 593 yards and 6 touchdowns. However the biggest adaption of Hill as a player is his evolution from gadget player and return specialist to a consistent threat for opposing defences. Hill had an incredible 15 receptions of 20+ yards and 9 receptions of 40+ yards this season. His speed and threat as a deep receiver forces defenders to give themselves more of a cushion when covering him, meaning that he can easier turn streaks into comebacks and catch shorter passes with much larger space than your average receiver would have.

Beyond this stand-out player, the Chiefs also has consistent receivers in Chris Conley, another return-man in De’Anthony Thomas as well as free agent acquisition Sammy Watkins. I haven’t even mentioned elite TE Travis Kelce yet, I’ll bring him into the equation later. Now that is a receiving core to be scared of.

Tyreek Hill vs Chargers

2nd – Los Angeles Chargers (B)

I believe that Keenan Allen is the best receiver in the division, however the reason why I put the Chiefs first is because of Kansas City’s depth at the position. Allen went down for the entire season with an ACL injury in week 1 of the Chargers’ 2016 campaign and therefore when he had such a tremendous 2017 performance it was only right he win the ‘Comeback Player of the Year’ award. Racking up 102 receptions for 1393 yards and 6 touchdowns may be slightly less than Hill however his large frame and height advantage made meant that Allen didn’t necessarily need to make distance between him and the defender to come down with the ball. Allen was also selected into the 2017 pro-bowl for his performance in the season. Alongside the pro-bowl receiver is Travis Benjamin who also had a consistently good season. Averaging 16.7 yards per reception Benjamin was always a reliable first down target. However his one downside was his target to reception percentage; only catching 54.8% of his 62 targets last season. So whenever he caught the ball, he would take it a good chunk of yards however he shouldn’t be trusted to catch every ball thrown his way. Overall however, as a duo, one receiver with a strong catch percentage (64.2%) in Keenan Allen alongside another who can get big RAC yards makes for quite a lethal receiving core (however it lacks of the depth of the Chiefs, hence it being second on my list).

3rd – Denver Broncos (B-)

Denver Broncos have two Super Bowl winning receivers on the team, so why are they ranked third? Simply due to the lack of production since then. In 2016 Peyton Manning led the Denver Broncos to a Super Bowl 50 win over the Carolina Panthers and Emmanuel Sanders and Demaryius Thomas both had impressive performances. Sanders averaged 75.7 yards per game whilst Thomas had 81.5; meaning both had over 1000 yards in total over the course of the season and racked up a total of 12 touchdowns between them. However in the most recent season, 2017 they only had 7 touchdowns, Sanders had 29.3 yards less per game whilst Thomas had 22.2 yards less. This could be put down to the quarterback issue they’ve been facing over the past 2 years with the retirement of Manning; however the pair still aren’t as consistently reliable as the other two teams above them on the list.

One factor which may sway the ranking is the introduction of 2nd round rookie Courtland Sutton. In my opinion Sutton was the 2nd best receiver in the draft behind Calvin Ridley who went to Atlanta in the 1st round. So time will tell for the Broncos, but there’s not certainty in their receiving core, hence the placing at 3rd.

4th – Oakland Raiders (C+)

I think this has been the hardest position group to compare so far. Therefore to try to rank them I aimed to balance quality as well as depth. That’s why we end up with the Raiders. Amari Cooper is a fairly inconsistent receiver, dropping 50% of his targets, however he also doesn’t have the RAC capabilities of Travis Benjamin as Cooper only had 14.2 yards per catch. It seems that the Raiders WR1 had issues catching simple balls which would easily bump his stats through the roof therefore making him an untrustworthy receiver.

Jordy Nelson has had great career at Green Bay however 2 factors make me skeptical about the continuation of his success: the quality of the quarterback and the length of his team in the league. In my opinion Nelson’s been in the league for 9 years and therefore his best days may start to be behind him. Over the past 3 seasons he averaged 85.2 yards per game; however drastically his average dropped a mere 32.1. His touchdown receptions also dropped from 14 in 2016 to only 6 in 2017. As well as this going from Aaron Rodgers throwing balls to you to Derek Carr there must be a question of how well he’ll perform.

Tight End(s)

1st – Kansas City Chiefs (Travis Kelce – A+)

How could I not put Travis Kelce as number one? All biased aside, and from a pure analysis point of view, there’s no one better in the division, or arguably the league, at the tight end position than Kelce. Number 87 came 18th in receiving yards across the regular season (which doesn’t seem like a lot but that’s including wide receivers and running backs). This also placed him 2nd amongst the TE’s; just behind New England’s number 1 target Gronk. However the aspect of Kelce’s game that gives him that extra wow factor is his ability to run routes and make moves like a receiver; whilst maintaining the physical size and ability of a TE.

This was especially shown in the Chiefs’ week 2 matchup against the, Super Bowl winning, Eagles. Two plays come to mind in that game, the first coming early in the 1st where Travis Kelce put a move on the defender on the line of scrimmage, whilst lined up on the sideline, and brings in a ball for a good 34 yards down the field. There’s not many tight ends in the league with the agility to pull off a move like that. The second came late in the 4th quarter, with about 6 minutes left on the clock and the game tied, Kelce took a shovel pass for 15 yards; flipping over three defenders into the endzone.

This is a bit of a side-track but that entire game has so many amazing moments for the Chiefs, especially against the Super Bowl winning team of that season, I’d highly recommend going back over the highlights when you get a minute.

Kelce dancing

2nd – Oakland Raiders (Jared Cook – C+)

This category was a bit of a two horse race between the Chiefs and Raiders, I’ll explain why later, for now let’s see why I put Cook behind Kelce. The Oakland TE enters his 10th year in the NFl after spending 4 years at the Titans, 3 at the Rams, 1 at the Packers and the last season at the Raiders; meaning he’s a seasoned veteran in the league without ever being able to find a permanent position in a team. Although what should be seen as a positive having more exposure to the nature of the NFL; it hasn’t paid off for Cook in comparison to Kelce. Having no pro-bowl appearances in 10 years whilst Kelce has had 3 appearances in his 5 year career as well as a first-team all-pro selection in 2016. On top of this, Cook also had 688 receiving yards in 2017, with a catch percentage of 62.8% which, with nearly 90 targets that season, is pretty impressive for a tight end. However Kelce had 350 more receiving yards with a higher catch percentage of 69.2% (which is why I put him above Cook in terms of stats). As well as this, from watching some tape from a couple of the Oakland games, the veteran just doesn’t possess the agility, like Kelce, to be as a good as a catching tight end as him. Despite this Cook does seem to have a strong run-blocking talent as he showed off in the week 16 game of the 2017 season; also against the Philadelphia Eagles. His strength really makes up for what he lacks as a receiving target as he was able to get up into the second level and create some powerful blocks for the ball carrier.

3rd – Denver Broncos (Jeff Heuerman – D)

This is the number 1 guy at the TE position in Denver at the moment. With only 2 years in the league it’s not the most confident position for the Broncos. Last season Heuerman only had 9 receptions for 142 yards and only started in 6 games. This was mainly because their main starter for the last 7 years, Virgil Green, was shipped off to the division rival LA Chargers in the off season. However I still put the Broncos in at third simply due to the depth of starting potential they have at the position. It seems as though they’ll balance out snaps between Heuerman, sophomore Jake Butt and rookie Troy Fumagalli. The young players on this roster should help them to have plenty of options.

4th – Los Angeles Chargers (Virgil Green – D)

It was a close call between the Broncos and Chargers at this position. Chargers had a very reliable player in Hunter Henry until he went down with a knee injury during the early days of training and could now be out for the entire 2018 campaign. It’s such a shame seeing a great player like Henry go down to injury, especially when it occured in training. But that’s the cruel world we live in unfortunately and now the Chargers are left with Virgil Green, who I assume will be the starter after the loss of the sophomore TE. The reason why the Chargers are last, even with the acquisition of Green from the Broncos, is simply because of his lack of stats as a receiver. Although this isn’t the be all and end all of being a tight end in the league; it is becoming increasingly important to have a TE who can effectively play as a lineman and have the ability to go downfield and catch the ball. Green hasn’t been targeted much in his career (in his 8 seasons so far, his highest number of targets in one season was 37 in 2016). Green’s in fact had less receiving yards in his 8 year long career than Kelce has had in 2014 alone. Kelce in fact has over 3000 more receiving yards than Green and has been in the league for 2 less years. Therefore the Chargers lack of ability to trust their new number one guy forced me to drop him to the bottom of the tight end hierarchy. Similar to Cook, however, Green does have strength on his side and therefore could come alive as a run and pass blocker for Philip Rivers and Melvin Gordon in 2018.

Offensive Line

1st – Los Angeles Chargers (22nd in consistency – 18 sacks given up – B+)

Alright I’m going to hold my hands up and say I’m not the most finely attuned person for analysing offensive lines (yet) I’m new to this whole thing. However, I took into account the fact that a consistent offensive line is a good offensive line. Lineman that hold their place as a starter without constant reshuffling means that they’re trustworthy and solid in that role. Therefore I looked at the ‘consistency points’ (CP) of each team (thanks to a website called ‘FootballOutsiders.com’) and combined this with the number of times the QB(s) of each team were sacked and then made a judgement based on those two factors. I ranked the Chargers first due to being ranked 2nd in the division for consistency (with 26 CP) and lowest in the league for sacks given up. With only 18 sacks the Chargers did a great job of giving Philip Rivers as little pressure as possible. This was also achieved without rookie LG Forrest Lamp who missed the entire season due to a ACL tear. He’ll be back next season to make that line even more scary as usual.

2nd – Oakland Raiders (23rd in consistency – 20 sacks given up – B)

The Oakland Raiders actually had the same number of CP as the Chargers with 26 and only gave up two more sacks than them. Both Kelechi Osemele and Rodney Hudson started in all 16 games in the 2017 season. However, other than that, the rest of the line was particular flakey. Donald Penn, at the tackle position, played in 14 games and appeared in the pro-bowl, however at the moment he is questionable for the week 1 start against the Rams due to his recovery from foot surgery.

3rd – Kansas City Chiefs (26th in consistency – 37 combined sacks given up C+)

The Chiefs were both last in consistency and last in the number of sacks on a QB in the division; Alex Smith was hit a lot. However one reason this could be is because of his tendency to bail out of the pocket despite there being no pressure; which would then lead to a sack being given up by no fault of the offensive line. He was a jumpy player when standing still and constantly felt like there was something that he needed to get away from. Trusting your line is half the solution to the Chiefs problem last year in terms of sacks. The other half came from injuries such as starting C Mitch Morse, who missed 9 games due to a season-ending ankle injury. Zach Fulton stepped up as his replacement for a lot of games as well as Cam Erving (when Fulton was needed elsewhere on the line). With Mitch Morse back for 2018, and a QB who seems more steady in the pocket, I feel more confident in this line and what they’ll be able to do next season.

West vs Steelers 2015

4th – Denver Broncos (15th in consistency – 52 combined sacks given up – D)

Wow, 52 sacks given up, now that is something. The Broncos faced problems with multiple starters (changing the starting line-up 5 times across the season. Notable injuries to the starters on their line included RT Menelik Watson who missed 9 games and RG Ronald Leary who missed 5 games). One possible reason for the high number of sacks could also stem from the lack of consistency of quarterback across the season. With Trevor Siemian, Paxton Lynch and Brock Osweiler all starting in at least 4 games last season there are bound to be problems with keep them protected. However the positives were the consistency of starting C Matt Paradis who played all 16 games as well as the signing of 6-foot-7 OT Cyrus Kouandjio from the Bills who filled a gap on the line for 1 game and is developing on the team. Despite having the highest amount of consistency, that number of sacks speaks for itself, hence why I put them in 4th for this category.

Overall

1st – Kansas City Chiefs (B+)

I really like the Chiefs offense this season. Patrick Mahomes has been praised through the roof by analysts and the Chiefs’ front office, he has plenty of weapons at his disposal with Kareem Hunt, Sammy Watkins, Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce and the offensive line is on the repair. If Mahomes lives up to expectations and the o-line stays healthy, I don’t see why the Chiefs can’t be a top 5 offense in the league next season.

Celebration

2nd – Los Angeles Chargers (B)

Close second are the Chargers. They have a elite veteran QB, some great playmakers as receivers, a reliable back in Melvin Gordon and a decent offensive line. If Lamp comes back strong from injury and live up to his rookie expectations then that decent line can become a good, if not great, one. Their TE situation is very questionable and I feel like the Chiefs just have that more ‘WOW’ factor to them which is why I put them in first.

3rd – Oakland Raiders (C+)

Quarterback Derek Carr and newly acquired veteran receiver Jordy Nelson need to prove themselves; as well as another receiver, Amari Cooper, who needs to brush up on his fundamentals. Their o-line is consistent, with a strong TE in Jared Cook to help out, as well as Marshawn Lynch still being a solid player at the RB position so I feel like they have some potential but the lack of knowing has stopped me from putting them higher.

4th – Denver Broncos (C-)

At the beginning of last season I thought that the Broncos were a quarterback away from being a contending team. Now however, with the loss of a decent RB CJ Anderson, injuries plaguing their o-line and two WR’s who slumped slightly since their big Super Bowl 50 season, Case Keenum has a lot of work to do to bring life back to this offence and team.

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