AFC West 2019 offseason grades: Broncos' shrewd offseason helps close gap on Chargers, Chiefs
Let's grade all four AFC West teams' moves over the last few months
If singular offseasons automatically dictated records, the Denver Broncos would be as much of a contender for the AFC West crown as the reigning division champion Kansas City Chiefs and Los Angeles Chargers, who both won playoffs games a season ago while Denver went 6-10.
No, the Broncos didn't have an all-time awesome offseason, but they had the most impressive team-building period of any team in the division, and the two favorites had rather blah offseasons for different reasons. The Chargers were essentially stagnant on the free-agent front while they lost some key pieces. The Chiefs made a flurry of moves but lost two of their best players. And who knows how many games -- if any -- Tyreek Hill will play this season.
Here's a breakdown of the entire AFC Wast, with 2019 offseason grades for all four teams.
Grades for all 32 teams can be found.
- Key additions: OL coach Mike Munchak, QB Joe Flacco, OT Ju'Wuan James, DB Kareem Jackson, CB Bryce Callahan
- Key losses: LB Brandon Marshall, OC Matt Paradis, OLB Shaq Barrett, CB Bradley Roby, OL Billy Turner, S Darian Stewart
- Key rookies: TE Noah Fant, OL Dalton Risner, QB Drew Lock, DL Dre'Mont Jones
The most pressing question in Denver that needs answering: How much did the team upgrade by moving on from Case Keenum and trading for Joe Flacco. Consider this chart comparing Keenum in 2018 with the Broncos and Flacco's combined stats from 2017 and last season.
|Completion %||TD %||INT %||YPA||Sack Rate||QB Rating|
Case Keenum's 2018
Joe Flacco's combined 2017 & 2018
Maybe not so much of an upgrade, right? I'm starting with my biggest disagreement regarding the Broncos' otherwise stellar offseason. It was kind of a lateral move that cost a 2019 fourth-round pick. But in looking at the offseason as a whole, the decision to swing a trade for Flacco can't be viewed on its own.
The swap was mitigated by the selection of experienced, rocket-armed quarterback Drew Lock, the team's second pick in Round 2 after super-versatile, steady, high-motor blocker Dalton Risner was drafted. And in the first round, athletic seam-stretching tight end Noah Fant was added after the team traded back in Round 1 and netted a second-rounder and a 2020 third-rounder from the Steelers, top AFC competition.
Dre'Mont Jones, the team's third-round selection, was a steal at No. 71 overall. A poor combine sunk his stock, yet his film at Ohio State was outstanding. At 6-foot-2 and 280-ish pounds with loose hips, a quick first step, and an array of pass-rushing moves, he has the ideal profile for a defensive tackle in today's NFL. After a few disastrous drafts, I think John Elway finally hit a home run with his 2019 class.
As for free agency, Kareem Jackson replacing former first-rounder Bradley Roby at corner represents an upgrade. Roby's younger. Jackson's the better, more disruptive player. Bryce Callahan emerged as one of the league's best slot cornerbacks last season in Chicago and brings more playmaking ability to the secondary.
The offensive line departures of Matt Paradis and Billy Tuner were, in a roundabout way, addressed by drafting Risner and signing Ju'Wuan James in free agency. Denver's blocking group doesn't look tremendous on paper, but newly hired offensive line coach Mike Munchak, who's amazing at what he does, will likely boost the group's reliability as a whole. The Broncos were clearly less capable than the Chiefs and Chargers over the past few seasons. While they still may not be on either team's level in 2019, they significantly closed the gap with the best offseason they've had in a while.
Offseason grade: A-
Kansas City Chiefs
- Key additions: EDGE Frank Clark, S Tyrann Mathieu, CB Bashaud Breeland, EDGE Alex Okafor, EDGE Emmanuel Ogbah, LB Darron Lee, RB Carlos Hyde
- Key losses: EDGE Justin Houston, EDGE Dee Ford, OC Mitch Morse, S Eric Berry, RB Kareem Hunt, CB Steven Nelson, S Eric Murray, CB Orlando Scandrick
- Key rookies: S Juan Thornhill, WR Mecole Hardman, DT Khalen Saunders
Frank Clark is a younger, more well-rounded defensive end than Dee Ford. But simply evaluating those two trades themselves, Kansas City got taken for a ride. The 49ers surrendered a 2020 second-rounder for Ford. The Chiefs gave up a 2019 first and a 2020 second -- along with a swap of 2019 thirds -- to acquire Clark.
And while the acquisitions of Alex Okafor in free agency and Emmanuel Ogbah via trade were reasonable decisions, given that the team was clearly fine with letting Justin Houston walk, those two aren't going to replicate Houston's production as a pass rusher.
Austin Reiter's presence softens the blow felt by consistent center Mitch Morse signing with the Bills in free agency. As for the secondary, especially the cornerback spot, yeah, I'd be very concerned if I was new Kansas City defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo. The depth chart at that position is downright frightening, although Bashaud Breeland does add valuable experience despite the fact he's mainly been maddeningly inconsistent -- and mostly disappointing -- in the NFL.
The safety tandem has a good chance to be superb. Tyrann Mathieu isn't the dynamic, ultimate Swiss army knife he was early in his career, but he's a movable backend defender willing to take risks to generate big plays closer to the line of scrimmage. Juan Thornhill is a long, stupidly explosive center fielder with awesome range not only in coverage but when flying across the field in run support. Creating that duo at safety was the smartest development of Kansas City's offseason.
Then there's the Tyreek Hill saga. If he's on the field in 2019, the Chiefs can be nearly unstoppable on offense again. If not, second-round selection Mecole Hardman can present some of the same matchup advantages for the Chiefs, but is very unlikely to produce as many splash plays as Hill. Hardman has a similar athletic profile to Hill, but isn't as twitchy nor as refined as a route runner.
I'll end by saying I liked the low-risk trade to add Darron Lee to the roster. Thumping linebackers are out. Reggie Ragland is a liability in coverage, and Anthony Hitchens was arguably the biggest free-agent bust last season. Don't be surprised when Lee and 2018 third-rounder Dorian O'Daniel are on the field most often at the linebacker spot because their speed and athletic traits allow them to make plays in space. I still wouldn't call linebacker a defensive strength for Kansas City at all. Even with the major trade for Clark, because of the losses of Ford, Houston -- likely Eric Berry -- and no reinforcements added at cornerback, along with the Hill situation, the Chiefs had the most lackluster offseason of any team in the AFC West.
Offseason grade: C
- Key additions: WR Antonio Brown, OT Trent Brown, LB Brandon Marshall, WR Tyrell Williams, S Lamarcus Joyner, LB Vontaze Burfict, OG Richie Incognito
- Key losses: OG Kelechi Osemele, WR Jordy Nelson, TE Jared Cook, S Marcus Gilchrist, RB Marshawn Lynch, OT Donald Penn, CB Rashaan Melvin
- Key rookies: EDGE Clelin Ferrell, RB Josh Jacobs, S Johnathan Abram, CB Trayvon Mullen, EDGE Maxx Crosby
What an whirlwind of an offseason for the Jon Gruden-led Raiders. From the hiring of Mike Mayock as GM to the blockbuster trade to acquire Antonio Brown, all the way to their rather stunning selection of Clelin Ferrell at No. 4 overall, Oakland added a lot of high-profile players and lost a fair amount from their 4-12 season of 2018.
Brown's probably already left the prime of his career, but even if Oakland gets 80% of what Brown provided to the Steelers in 2018, you're looking at a Pro Bowl caliber stat line. The addition of Trent Brown will work wonders at right tackle, especially when in pass protection for Derek Carr.
Tyrell Williams' size and speed should push Carr to let it rip downfield much more than he did last season, when he averaged 6.7 Intended Air Yards per Next Gen Stats, which tied for the lowest figure in the league among qualifying passers. Brandon Marshall is still a good, rangy linebacker but has lost at least a half step. Then again, Oakland's linebacker group desperately needed at least one upgrade and got one. Vontaze Burfict and Richie Incognito are enigmas in that they were low-risk signings that theoretically have upside, but each have well-documented character issues and saw their play slip over the past few seasons. Heck, Incognito wasn't in the NFL last year.
The loss of Kelechi Osemele will hurt. The same goes for Jared Cook. Really, the rest of the losses are negligible, not shocking nor unusual for a team that had a pick inside the top 5.
Ahhh, the draft. I was one of the few people who actually liked the selection of Ferrell at No. 4 overall. I liked him more than Josh Allen and understood that concerns about Montez Sweat's reported heart condition could've scared Gruden and Mayock. The rest of Oakland's first round? Woof. Josh Jacobs is a good back. He's not a first-round ball-carrier. Those are extremely rare anyway. Johnathan Abram is a big hitter. But he's a box safety, not as capable in coverage as he is close to the line. Not exactly the type of safety you should pick in Round 1 today.
It's hard to dislike the free-agency/trade transactions Oakland made. The draft wasn't terrible, but left a lot to be desired for a team that went in with three first-round picks.
Offseason grade: B-
Los Angeles Chargers
- Key additions: LB Thomas Davis
- Key losses: WR Tyrell Williams, DT Corey Liuget, S Jahleel Addae, DT Darius Philon, TE Antonio Gates
- Key rookies: DT Jerry Tillery, S Nasir Adderley
The Chargers had the opposite record (12-4) to that of the Raiders (4-12), and basically had the opposite offseason. Minimal losses. Minimal splashes. Stay the course. That doesn't mean Los Angeles crushed the past few months building its roster. There's a caveat though. The Chargers are trying to do something exceedingly difficult: Go from a playoff team to a Super Bowl team.
I'll start with what I liked, which was the signing of Thomas Davis. Why? Because Los Angeles has a young, athletic collection of linebackers, yet that position represented a weak spot on the roster as none of those defenders had really emerged as a star. Davis can still play, and his role as a mentor can't be ignored.
Losing Williams without finding a legitimate replacement was puzzling, although 2017 first-rounder Mike Williams came on late in 2018, slowing deep threat Travis Benjamin was re-signed, and tight end Hunter Henry is set to return from a serious injury that caused him to miss all of last year.
After a dull and probably a net negative free-agency period, the Chargers knocked one out of the park with Jerry Tillery in Round 1. While he's nearly 6-7, he's the refined, athletic, high-motor interior pass rusher the team desperately needed. Nasir Adderely was a flashy selection in Round 2, and he'll make plays across the field in coverage as a replacement for Jahleel Addae.
The Chargers didn't have a bad offseason. Not in the least. I just don't know if they did enough to get over that playoff hump and advance to a Super Bowl. But maybe all they need is a relatively healthy season to get there.
Offseason grade: C+
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