Our Roster Reset series takes a division-by-division look at where things stand across the league heading into the 2019 NFL Draft. Herbie Teope examines the current makeup of the AFC West below.
Since head coach Andy Reid arrived in 2013, the Chiefs have made the playoffs five of the past six seasons -- and they've also won the last three division titles. Reid's mastery in the AFC West is evidenced by a 26-10 divisional record since he took over, including seven consecutive wins over the Denver Broncos. In his accomplished head-coaching career with the Chiefs and Philadelphia Eagles, Reid is a combined 33-14 against the AFC West.
Still, if there's an immediate threat to the Chiefs' crown, the Los Angeles Chargers certainly qualify. Potentially lost in the Patrick Mahomes hysteria of the past season is the fact that the Bolts were with the Chiefs virtually every step of the way in the race for the division crown. The two teams split the annual series last year, which had been dominated by the Chiefs previously, with K.C. posting an 8-0 record against the Chargers from 2014 to '17. Philip Rivers continues to play at a high level, and it's easy to forget Rivers didn't have tight end Hunter Henry (knee) during the regular season in 2018.
Meanwhile, the Broncos are in transition, with a first-year head coach in defensive-minded Vic Fangio and a new quarterback in Joe Flacco. Fangio, most recently the defensive coordinator in Chicago, is a linebacker guru and has plenty to work with in Von Miller and Bradley Chubb. Fangio is tasked with helping to turn around a Denver organization that has notched two consecutive losing seasons and hasn't been to the playoffs since the Super Bowl-winning 2015 campaign.
In Oakland, the Raiders should be set with Derek Carr as the franchise quarterback. Well, as long as head coach Jon Gruden doesn't change his mind as often as the weather. Gruden's churning of the roster since taking over in 2018 continued during the offseason with the free-agent signings of numerous players, including linebackers Vontaze Burfict and Brandon Marshall, among others. But Gruden and general manager Mike Mayock landed arguably one of the league's biggest game-changing players, who will be covered below.
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Safety Tyrann Mathieu signing with the Chiefs deserves consideration, but the NFL sure loves offense. The Raiders landed one of the league's premier wide receivers in Brown, whose relationship with the Steelers experienced a well-documented deterioration toward the end of the 2018 regular season. Upon the trade, Brown took to social media to express a deep admiration for Carr, who will be tasked with getting the ball to his new wide receiver. Brown is no doubt elite, but the four-time All-Pro selection also had the benefit of playing with talented players around him in Pittsburgh, notably quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, running back Le'Veon Bell and wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster in recent seasons. Brown won't have that luxury from the start in Oakland, with the Raiders in rebuild mode, and he's easily the main guy in the offense. Of course, Gruden has been saying all the right things about Carr -- for now -- but the head coach also had glowing remarks last year for Khalil Mack and Amari Cooper, both of whom were eventually traded away for draft picks. The Raiders have plenty of ammunition to secure wide receivers in the draft to give Brown support in the receiving game, but all bets will be off for Brown if Gruden moves on from Carr sooner rather than later.
The Chiefs ranked 31st in total defense, 31st against the pass, 27th against the run and 24th in points allowed per game in 2018 -- and then they elected to part ways with 22 combined sacks between Ford and Houston in the past season. That's a significant move when considering Kansas City tied with the Pittsburgh Steelers for first in the league in sacks (52). After slapping the franchise tag on Ford, the Chiefs traded him to San Francisco. K.C. then released Houston, who totaled 78.5 sacks in his eight-year tenure with the franchise before signing a free-agent deal with the Colts. The Chiefs are expected to transition from a 3-4 base defense to a 4-3 base under new defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, so cutting ties with Ford and Houston makes sense if they were viewed as bad fits for the scheme. While the Chiefs signed Alex Okafor during free agency and recently traded for Emmanuel Ogbah to bolster the pass rush, replacing a tandem like Ford and Houston won't be easy. As part of the defensive makeover, Kansas City also parted ways with longtime safety Eric Berry, a three-time All-Pro selection.
The Broncos have gone through quarterbacks Case Keenum, Trevor Siemian, Brock Osweiler and Paxton Lynch since Peyton Manning retired following the 2015 season. Flacco, acquired in a trade with the Ravens, now has his turn to get Denver back on the winning track and into the postseason. But unlike the others before him, the 34-year-old Flacco brings plenty of credibility. Before losing out in Baltimore to Lamar Jackson late last season, Flacco helped the Ravens to seven postseason appearances, including an MVP performance in Super Bowl XLVII's 34-31 win over San Francisco. Flacco inherits an offense featuring very capable weapons around him, with running backs Phillip Lindsay and Royce Freeman, as well as wide receivers Emmanuel Sanders and Courtland Sutton. And in a league full of quick turnarounds, Flacco could very well be the reason the Broncos are heavily in the mix for division supremacy late in the regular season.
Denver Broncos: With eight picks in the upcoming draft, the Broncos should look to add depth to the offensive line, especially along the interior, with the free-agent losses of center Matt Paradis and guards Billy Turner and Max Garcia. The Broncos would be wise to also add secondary depth (given cornerback Chris Harris' current contract situation) and bolster depth on the edge behind Miller and Chubb. Inside linebackers could be on the priority list, too, given the departure of Brandon Marshall.
Kansas City Chiefs: The Chiefs have eight total draft picks, including four within the first 100 picks, to inject more talent in the roster. The offensive side is clearly set with a generational quarterback in Mahomes, tight end Travis Kelce and wide receiver Tyreek Hill (though we'll have to see what comes of the ongoing investigation involving Hill). So, Kansas City would be wise to address the clear Achilles' heel of this team in 2018 -- defense. Sure, the Chiefs secured Okafor and Ogbah, but adding another pass rusher wouldn't hurt. The Chiefs should also consider selecting a cornerback or two after the departure of Steven Nelson, who signed with the Pittsburgh Steelers. And center is suddenly an area of concern, with the loss of Mitch Morse to the Buffalo Bills. Also brewing on the horizon: taking care of defensive lineman Chris Joneswith a long-term deal.
Los Angeles Chargers: The Chargers have seven draft picks to add to the roster. Addressing depth on the offensive line, securing an impact defensive lineman to replace Corey Liuget and boosting the secondary should be on the radar. Los Angeles should also consider looking at the quarterback position, either in this year's draft or in the near future. Yes, Rivers remains one of the NFL's top signal-callers, but he's 37 and won't play forever.
Oakland Raiders: Of the four teams in the AFC West, the Raiders have the most fascinating draft with three first-round picks and could go a variety of directions. Nevertheless, at the top of the shopping list should be an impact pass rusher, as the team failed to replace Khalil Mack after trading the 2016 Defensive Player of the Year before the start of the regular season. Oakland could also use some help at tight end, given the departure of Jared Cook, who signed with the New Orleans Saints in free agency. And it wouldn't hurt to strengthen the backfield.