Analysis

AFC West roster reset: Chiefs, Chargers focus on protecting star QBs

Our Roster Reset series takes a division-by-division look at where things stand across the league heading into the 2021 NFL Draft. Jelani Scott examines the current makeup of the AFC West below.

Denver Broncos
Denver Broncos
2020 record: 5-11

BIGGEST ADDITION: Kyle Fuller, cornerback

Old team: Chicago Bears


From cap casualty to prized commodity, Fuller reunites with Vic Fangio in hopes of bolstering a Broncos defense brimming with potential. At age 29, the 2014 first-round pick brings stability, experience and excellent ballhawking skills to a secondary that sorely needs all three. In 2020, Denver tallied 10 interceptions, five of which came from safety Justin Simmons. Fuller, along with fellow notable free-agent signing Ronald Darby, should help increase those numbers and then some.  


BIGGEST LOSS: Jeremiah Attaochu, edge rusher

New team: Chicago Bears


With Von Miller missing the entire 2020 campaign due to injury, Attaochu stepped up and proved to be an impactful pass rusher and run defender. A second-round pick by the Chargers in 2014, Attaochu turned in his best season since 2015, recording five sacks, nine QB hits and 31 tackles in 13 games played (five starts). His energy will be missed.


TOP DRAFT PRIORITY: Quarterback


Drew Lock's spot as the Broncos' starter is far from secure, but with several QB dominos already falling, it seems (for now) that he'll at least have the opportunity to compete for the QB1 job next season. Currently holding the No. 9 overall pick, the Broncos would more than likely need to trade up to draft their QB of the future, namely Justin Fields or Trey Lance. If they miss out or decide to go in another direction, moving the pick for additional draft capital and acquiring a vet to compete with Lock could be a (less appealing) backup plan.


FINAL THOUGHTS:


Denver’s roster looks so promising on paper that the only missing piece seems to be a reliable QB. No disrespect to Drew, but he didn't quite lock up the starting gig long-term with his play in 2020. As I mentioned above, the Broncos could look to bolster the position group by bringing in a vet, such as former QB1s Teddy Bridgewater, Gardner Minshew or Nick Foles. Perhaps they might sign a seasoned signal-caller like Alex Smith to mentor Lock or serve in a Ryan Fitzpatrick-esque role in Pat Shurmur’s offense. Denver's options at this point are somewhat limited, and not all that exciting, but the team does have the means to make something happen.

Kansas City Chiefs
Kansas City Chiefs
2020 record: 14-2

BIGGEST ADDITION: Joe Thuney, guard

Old team: New England Patriots


It’s funny how watching $503 million worth of QB running for his life can inspire a team to overhaul its O-line. Adding a top-notch guard like Thuney was a big step in the right direction. Considering how injuries decimated K.C.’s front five late in the year, Patrick Mahomes must feel some comfort knowing the former Patriot hasn't missed a start in his five-year career.


BIGGEST LOSS: Eric Fisher, offensive tackle

New team: Free agent


If the rules allowed, I would've put Fisher and Mitchell Schwartz in this category, as the Chiefs said goodbye to both of their starting tackles in March. It's worth noting neither player has found a new home. Fisher, the 2013 No. 1 overall pick, turned in a second Pro Bowl season before tearing his Achilles in the AFC Championship Game. A devastating end to the year and, it seems, his Chiefs tenure.


TOP DRAFT PRIORITY: Left tackle


Because it’s a pressing need and options outside the draft are slim, the Chiefs could use the 31st overall pick on a left tackle. Or, rather than take a chance on the likes of NDSU’s Dillon Radunz, Texas’ Sam Cosmi or Notre Dame’s Liam Eichenberg, perhaps the team could trade up in Round 1 to select one of the top-ranked tackles? Either way, K.C. has no clear starting LT for ’21, so adding an option (or two) is crucial.


FINAL THOUGHTS:


Knowing the Chiefs were in on Trent Williams just goes to show how serious they are in re-tooling Mahomes’ protection. Missing out on Williams forced K.C. to continue to explore its options and possibly leave the door open on some old ones. Last month, GM Brett Veach told reporters the team was “hopeful” Fisher and Schwartz would be ready by training camp. Both would be released not long after Veach’s remarks, but those moves appear to have been made in the interest of creating cap space. Could drafting a left tackle while bringing Fisher back on a more team-friendly deal (assuming he's healthy) be an option? Don’t put it past the Chiefs’ creative front office. 

Las Vegas Raiders
Las Vegas Raiders
2020 record: 8-8

BIGGEST ADDITION: Yannick Ngakoue, edge rusher

Old team: Baltimore Ravens


Ngakoue’s whereabouts made more headlines than his play in 2020, but make no mistake about it: Dude is still a quality player. The twice-traded edge rusher tallied 23 tackles, four forced fumbles and eight sacks in 15 games with the Vikings (6) and Ravens (9). Who knows what those numbers might've looked like had he spent the entire season with one team. Not to mention, the added morale boost of playing somewhere he wants to be should bring about a return to form.


BIGGEST LOSS: Nelson Agholor, wide receiver

New team: New England Patriots


Eagles fans must have watched every Agholor highlight last season with gritted teeth, as the former first-rounder formed an impressive bond with Derek Carr en route to a career year. The 27-year-old pass catcher exploded for career highs in receiving yards (896), yards per reception (18.7) and yards per game (56.0). Las Vegas signed John Brown and Willie Snead to help account for the missing production next to second-year WR Henry Ruggs, but losing Agholor undoubtedly stings.


TOP DRAFT PRIORITY: Offensive line


Perhaps the Raiders' most glaring point of emphasis involves finding several quality O-linemen after the purge they initiated in March. The team signed veteran center Nick Martin, re-signed Denzelle Good and Richie Incognito and extended Kolton Miller, but there's still plenty of work to do. Selecting an offensive lineman at No. 17 overall should further help offset at least some of the hit sustained by the team trading away three of its 2020 Week 1 starters last month.


FINAL THOUGHTS:


Over the last two drafts, the Raiders have invested three top-40 picks on their secondary. But after finishing 2020 with one of the league's most suspect pass defenses, it's clear the unit needs veteran help. The team has yet to address the back half of its defense in free agency, leading one to wonder who they'll add to help bring Trayvon Mullen and Damon Arnette along. Richard Sherman, who played under new defensive coordinator Gus Bradley in Seattle, would be a great fit.

Los Angeles Chargers
Los Angeles Chargers
2020 record: 7-9

BIGGEST ADDITION: Corey Linsley, center

Old team: Green Bay Packers


Judging by the 177 pressures Justin Herbert faced last season (fourth-most, per Next Gen Stats), it doesn't seem that any of the eight O-line group combinations the Chargers deployed were particularly effective. Now the NFL’s highest-paid center, Linsley -- a first-team All-Pro with the Packers in 2020 -- gives Herbert a trustworthy anchor in pass protection to help solidify the line. Linsley finished the year as PFF’s highest-graded player at the position (89.9), playing 734 snaps and allowing just one sack.


BIGGEST LOSS: Hunter Henry, tight end

New team: New England Patriots


Henry traded in sunny L.A. for the frigid temps of Massachusetts during free agency, a decision the Bolts will feel throughout the 2021 season. A solid 60-reception, 613-yard, four-TD campaign seemingly pointed to the Chargers locking up the 26-year-old on a long-term deal, or, at the very least, with the franchise tag. But Henry's injury history (he's missed 25 games over his five-year career, including the entire 2018 season) possibly deterred L.A. from making a significant financial commitment to the former second-round pick. The ageless Jared Cook should be a serviceable, short-term replacement until the Chargers find a more sustainable solution at the position.


TOP DRAFT PRIORITY: Left tackle


With a pair of talented ex-Packers (Linsley, Bryan Bulaga) at center and right tackle, and free-agent signings Matt Feiler and Oday Aboushi at the two guard spots, L.A. is in prime position to round out its front by drafting a starting-caliber left tackle at No. 13 overall. Northwestern’s Rashawn Slater and USC’s Alijah Vera-Tucker are two prospects who might still be available when the Chargers are on the clock. Tom Telesco clearly demonstrated during free agency that protecting Herbert is his main focus; why not stick to that theme in Round 1?


FINAL THOUGHTS:


It’s fair to be excited about the Chargers' offense, but to think defensive-minded coach Brandon Staley isn’t eyeing some upgrades on the other side of the ball would be a mistake. Re-signing standout Michael Davis was key, but there’s still a noticeable void at the opposite corner spot created by Casey Hayward’s release, a hole that could be hard to fill at this stage of free agency. Considering the importance the secondary plays in Staley’s scheme, the Chargers could focus on shoring up that group early in the draft. If the offensive tackle they covet isn’t on the board in Round 1, it would make sense for the Bolts to pick a prospect like Alabama’s Patrick Surtain Jr. or South Carolina’s Jaycee Horn. Outside of the draft, Staley will have to hope he can find any remaining answers in-house.

Follow Jelani Scott on Twitter.

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