The Kansas City Chiefs were the only team in the AFC West to finish the 2019 season with a winning record. This certainly made the path to Miami a lot easier for the Super Bowl champions, but will it be that simple for them in 2020?
Whilst the Chargers and Broncos seemed to have serviceable rosters at the start of 2019 and underperformed as the season progressed, it was the opposite for the Raiders who performed better than their talent would imply.
The difference maker for Oakland was an extremely strong draft that played a lot better than analysts initially thought they would. Their class was headlined by first round picks DE Clelin Ferrell, RB Josh Jacobs, who narrowly missed out on the offensive rookie of the year award, and S Jonathan Abram. However Mike Mayock also found talent in the later rounds with DE Maxx Crosby (fourth round) and WR Hunter Renfrow (fifth round) both having solid rookie campaigns.
In my opinion all of the teams in the AFC West had respectable 2020 draft classes. But which is the most likely to have 2019 Raiders levels of success? Let’s take a look.
- Denver Broncos
|1 (15)||WR – Jerry Jeudy||Alabama|
|2 (46)||WR – KJ Hamler||Penn State|
|3 (77)||CB – Michael Ojemudia||Iowa|
|3 (83)||C – Lloyd Cushenberry||LSU|
|3 (95)||DL – McTelvin Agim||Arkansas|
|4 (118)||TE – Albert Okwuegbunam||Missouri|
|5 (178)||LB – Justin Strnad||Wake Forest|
|6 (181)||G – Netane Muti||Fresno State|
|7 (252)||WR – Tyrie Cleveland||Florida|
|7 (254)||EDGE – Derrek Tuszka||North Dakota State|
I really liked the Broncos’ draft. To keep up with Patrick Mahomes and Co. they needed to load up on offensive talent and that’s exactly what they did. Drew Lock had an impressive 4-1 record in the five games he played in 2019 and this class provides him with all the right pieces to have similar success in 2020.
Their first round acquisition Jerry Jeudy was excellent value considering he’s, who many believe to be, the best receiver in a draft that was loaded with pass catching talent. The Alabama star will be lining up alongside second round pick KJ Hamler and 24-year-old Courtland Sutton, who’s entering his third year in the league. Although their offence may seem young and inexperienced, they’re also incredibly explosive. It’ll be fun watching these guys develop together at the pro-level.
As well as giving Lock some weapons, the Broncos’ front office also made some great value picks to bolster up his trenches. Lloyd Cushenberry out of LSU was a steal in the third round and picking up Netane Muti in the sixth gives the team plenty of depth at offensive line.
As for the other side of the ball, there weren’t many areas of the Broncos’ defence that required urgent attention. They had already addressed the loss of Chris Harris Jr by sending a fourth round pick to the Jaguars in exchange for AJ Bouye. To add to their cornerback depth they also picked up Michael Ojemudia in the third round which seems to complete their secondary.
Although they are a bit weak at ILB I think the decisions they made in the first three rounds addressed bigger needs so waiting until the fifth to select Justin Strnad is understandable.
The Broncos have vastly improved through free agency and this year’s draft. Jurrell Casey will be a nice addition to their defensive line and Bradley Chubb is on the mend. The rest of the AFC West better keep their eyes peeled for the 2020 Broncos who are in a great position to bounce back from an underwhelming 2019 campaign.
- Kansas City Chiefs
|1 (32)||RB – Clyde Edwards-Helaire||LSU|
|2 (63)||LB – Willie Gay Jr||Mississippi State|
|3 (96)||OT – Lucas Niang||TCU|
|4 (138)||DB – L’Jarius Sneed||Louisiana Tech|
|5 (177)||DE – Michael Danna||Michigan|
|7 (237)||CB – Thakarius Keyes||Tulane|
Unless star defensive lineman Chris Jones gets traded before September, the Chiefs will be bringing back 20 of their 22 Super Bowl starters. Kansas City has every intention of running it back in 2020 and their draft class has put them in a better position to do so.
Clyde Edwards-Helaire’s ability to catch out the back field and his lateral agility makes him a perfect fit for Andy Reid’s system and may just take this offence to the next level. The thought of that alone must send shivers down the spines of NFL defensive coordinators. The Chiefs selecting him in the first round means they can exercise the fifth year option on his contract when the time comes which gives them flexibility at a position that is becoming less and less valuable for NFL offences.
Although there were bigger needs to address on the Chiefs’ roster, selecting a running back in the first round adds one more piece to an already impressive offence.
The Lucas Niang pick late in the third round also gives the Chiefs options along their offensive line. He can sit behind reliable tackles Eric Fisher and Mitchell Schwartz before becoming one of their replacements in the near future, or they can slide him inside to one of the guard spots where he has the potential to perform well.
As for the other side of the ball, Willie Gay Jr has the potential to turn into a steal for Kansas City. The athletic Mississippi State linebacker slipped in the draft due to off-field issues but he’s assured the team that it’s all in the past.
“It made me a better man; it made me a better person.” He was quoted saying. “Now, I’ve grown from it and I’m ready to just play ball.”
As well as making an improvement at linebacker, the Chiefs also added depth to their secondary in the later rounds with safety/cornerback hybrid L’Jarius Sneed. The Louisiana Tech defender provides Kansas City with even more flexibility even though GM Brett Veach has since announced that they plan to play Sneed at corner in 2020. This may be crucial, especially at the start of the season, as it looks like they’ll be without six-year pro Bashaud Breeland for the first four games for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy.
Because they managed to retain the vast majority of their 2019 starters, the Chiefs didn’t have many glaring needs to focus on in the draft. Having said that, they still did a good job of making improvements to two of the weakest parts of their game: the ground attack and the linebacker position.
- LA Chargers
|1 (6)||QB – Justin Herbert||Oregon|
|1 (23)||LB – Kenneth Murray||Oklahoma|
|4 (112)||RB – Joshua Kelley||UCLA|
|5 (151)||WR – Joe Reed||Virginia|
|6 (186)||S – Alohi Gilman||Notre Dame|
|7 (220)||WR – K.J. Hill||Ohio State|
The Chargers were at a crossroad before the 2020 draft. Philip Rivers left for Indianapolis and Tyrod Taylor wasn’t a long-term solution. They were on the hunt for a new franchise quarterback but, with an almost complete roster, they also couldn’t afford to invest in a long-term project as it would waste the young talented core they already have.
So will Justin Herbert be the solution to their dilema? Only time will tell. Before the draft I would have ranked him third out of the quarterback prospects and it seems like the Chargers had a similar thought process. A quote from GM Tom Telesco made it sound like they could have easily taken Tua over Justin if the Alabama signal caller was on the board at six.
It’ll be interesting to see how they use Herbert in 2020. If I had to guess I would say that Tyrod Taylor takes the reins in week one and it’ll be his job to lose, much like Joe Flacco and Drew Lock in Denver last season.
The Chargers were extremely active on day one of the draft as they also traded away their second and third round picks to the Patriots to grab linebacker Kenneth Murray 23rd overall. The Oklahoma defender will be a nice addition to a defence that’s already loaded with talent.
As a result of the trade they had to wait a whopping 89 picks before they were on the clock again. Joshua Kelley in the fourth round should help to fill the void left behind by Melvin Gordon’s free agency departure and Joe Reed and K.J. Hill will add nice depth to an already solid group of receivers.
I’m not sold on Alohi Gilman’s value in the sixth round but, much like their pass catching additions, he will help to add depth behind Derwin James, who’s coming back from injury, and Nasir Adderly.
The Chargers had a pretty strong roster heading into the draft, aside from a couple gaps at quarterback, running back and linebacker. With that being said, they have done a nice job of filling those holes. However the true success of this draft class won’t be clear until we see Justin Herbert take the field.
- Las Vegas Raiders
|1 (12)||WR – Henry Ruggs||Alabama|
|1 (19)||CB – Damon Arnette||Ohio State|
|3 (80)||RB/WR – Lynn Bowden||Kentucky|
|3 (81)||WR – Bryan Edwards||South Carolina|
|3 (100)||LB – Tanner Muse||Clemson|
|4 (109)||G – John Simpson||Clemson|
|4 (139)||CB – Amik Robertson||Louisiana Tech|
The Raiders draft was… interesting. It’s clear that they had a similar gameplan to the Broncos in that they wanted to bolster up their offence to try and keep up with the Chiefs. However I just don’t think they executed it as well.
Henry Ruggs was the first receiver to be taken in a draft class that was absolutely loaded with pass catching talent. With CeeDee Lamb, Jerry Jeudy and Justin Jefferson also available I think Las Vegas should have gone in another direction.
That’s not to say that Ruggs isn’t a good prospect, because he’s more than that, it’s just that the other guys were higher on almost everyone’s boards. The Raiders have a habit of drafting against the current so maybe they saw something in the Alabama pass catcher that the rest of the league didn’t, only time will tell.
Bryan Edwards was much better value in the third round and should flourish into a nice receiver if he can stay healthy. With those two joining the likes of Nelson Agolohor, Zay Jones, Hunter Renfrow and Tyrell Williams, all of the attention will be on Derek Carr to see what he can do with all of that talent.
Their other two offensive additions, RB Lynn Bowden and G John Simpson, are both decent pick ups and should add some nice rotation to keep the Raiders’ offence fresh.
As for the defence, Damon Arnette was a bit of a reach at pick 19 as he was seen as more of a second or even third round talent on some people’s boards. I think they could have traded away the 19th pick and still found Arnette later in the draft but they pulled the trigger early to make sure they got their guy.
The Raiders didn’t have any selections after the fourth round and used their last pick on cornerback Amik Robertson. I think he might turn into a bit of a steal for Las Vegas as I pictured him going a lot earlier.
Mike Mayock and coach Jon Gruden have a history of finding talent with their later picks and it seems like they did it again by grabbing both Bryan Edwards and Amik Robertson. Even though they got some steals in rounds three and four, I’m not sold on their day one decisions.