After chipping away at this series throughout the offseason, the season is upon us so it’s time to wrap it up. Based on a position by position analysis here is how I see the teams in the AFC West stacking up based on talent.
Best offense - Tie: Oakland Raiders/San Diego Chargers
I looked at these two teams from every angle I could find in order to break the tie and I couldn’t find a separating factor. The Chargers have the best quarterback in the division in Philip Rivers, but Derek Carr is next in line for the Raiders. At tackle, the two teams are at opposite ends of the spectrum, with the Chargers duo of Russell Okung and Joe Barksdale bookending a group that gave up the fewest sacks in the league last year (18). The former Raider Barksdale didn’t give up a sack at all. Meanwhile the Raiders tackle situation is the most suspect in the division with rookie Kolton Miller handed the responsibility at left tackle and Donald Penn switching sides for the first time in his long career. Where the Raiders make up some ground is with their elite interior line trio of Kelechi Osemele, Rodney Hudson, and Gabe Jackson. Both offenses also benefit from having offensive minded head coaches.
Second runner-up - Kansas City Chiefs
While the Chiefs are starting a new young quarterback which brings a lot of uncertainties, he will have a couple of elite weapons at his disposal. The Chiefs have the division’s best running back in Kareem Hunt and best tight end in Travis Kelce. They also added wide receiver Sammy Watkins to go along with the lethal weapon that is Tyreek Hill. As for the line, they aren’t all-world, but they may have the most balance of any team in the division, with solid though not elite talent across much of the line.
Dead last - Denver Broncos
I don’t want to underestimate Case Keenum too much. He did some good things with the Vikings last season. He just isn’t on the level of Rivers and Carr and must prove it for more than just one season. What he does have is the division’s top receiving corps. Courtland Sutton is a fantastic young talent who joins Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders. After that, there’s nothing special about the Broncos offense. They are lackluster at running back and tight end and along the line as well. Though guard Ronald Leary and center Matt Paradis are very good, the rest of the line is a bit of a question mark.
Best Defense - Denver Broncos
From worst to first when you switch to the other side of the ball. Even with Aqib Talib gone, they still have the best cornerbacks in the division led by Chris Harris Jr and Bradley Roby. They also have the best nose tackle in Domata Peko. The rest of their defensive line and linebackers are also very good including some guy named Von Miller who is joined by fifth overall pick Bradley Chubb which has the potential to give the Broncos another elite pass rush. Just what we need.
Runner-up - Kansas City Chiefs
They have the best defensive interior, best linebackers, and best safeties in the division. All that has them not far behind the Broncos as the division’s top defense. If they had more than just Justin Houston to rush the passer, that would make all the difference. But they do have a solid interior duo of Chris Jones and Allen Bailey. They were confident enough in Reggie Ragland and Anthony Hitchens to let Derrick Johnson walk. And of course there’s always Eric Berry patrolling the deep part of the field.
Second runner-up - San Diego Chargers
What the Chargers have is the best pass rushing duo in the division. And that’s saying a lot. Melvin Ingram and Joey Bosa are a nightmare around the edges for opposing offenses. What the Chargers don’t have is much else. They may have challenged the Broncos for the best corners, but then they lost Jason Verrett (again) to injury. But Casey Hayward is no slouch. Also pairing rookie safety Derwin James with Jahleel Addae at the safety spot could be quite good.
Dead last - Oakland Raiders
This is a no-doubter. Every part of the Raiders defensive unit is suspect. There was one part that was elite. That was the pass rush. But with the removal of Khalil Mack, that pass rush threat went from rivaling the Chargers and Broncos to the worst in the division. They don’t have a single position on the defense that is the best in the division. The linebackers feature a 35-year-old castoff and a journeyman backup, but Tahir Whitehead could be good. They appear to have upgraded the cornerbacks with Gareon Conley and Rashaan Melvin as the starters, but will be without third corner Daryl Worley for the first four games. And it’s possible the two interior defensive linemen PJ Hall and Maurice Hurst could produce early on. Hard to count on rookies to make the difference right away though.
Most talented overall
1. Kansas City Chiefs
This actually surprised me. But in the end, the Chiefs do what they often do — show themselves to be one of the more balanced teams in the division. And if Pat Mahomes can turn his obvious physical talent into playmaking on the field, they could have something. The Chiefs have hung around for years, mainly because Any Reid is a good coach. But they always seem to choke when it counts. The talent seems to be there, though.
2. San Diego Chargers
The offseason favorite to win the division title. They are often an offseason favorite and then get snakebit by injuries or terrible coaching. Anthony Lynn led this team to a 9-7 record in his first season as head coach. With a little bit of luck going his way, they could make another step forward.
3. Denver Broncos
They stuck with Case Keenum instead of going after a QB in the draft. That may or may not have been the right decision, but what a draft they had. Getting the top pass rusher in Bradley Chubb at five, one of the best receivers in this draft in Courtland Sutton in the second, Oregon All-time leading rusher Royce Freeman in the third and outstanding slot receiver talent Daesean Hamilton in the third. It’s hard to predict how rookies will perform, so they may not make a lot of noise right away. But with the talent they still have on this defense, if they could get some production from the offense, they could make a push. Though the jury is still very much out on if Vance Joseph is the coach who can make that happen.
4. Oakland Raiders
This team is bipolar. They have some great talent on the offense along with an offensive minded head coach in Jon Gruden. Though the tackle situation threatens to be a major issue and the wide receiver corps is not nearly as deep or talented as it seemed back in May. But overall, a good unit returning most starters. Then they have a defense that could end up having just one position with a returning starter — Justin Ellis. Bruce Irvin also returns, having switched to defensive end from outside linebacker. And he will now be without his All-World pass rushing partner, Khalil Mack. The two of them were just about all the defense had going for it the past couple years. Now there’s just serious questions. Bringing in Paul Guenther as the defensive coordinator will help, but he’s only going to be as good as the personnel he has to work with. And that ain’t a whole lot.