2021 NFL Draft: Team Needs - AFC West
Andrew Cooper takes a look at the AFC West division and breaks down the needs for each team ahead of the NFL Draft later this month!
Kansas City Chiefs
Picks: 58**, 63, 94, 136, 144, 175, 181, 207
**Since the writing of this article, the Chiefs traded their first, third, and fourth round this year for ofensive tackle Orlando Brown and the Ravens second round pick**
Set: Quarterback, Running Back
The team has all world quarterback Patrick Mahomes and he’s not going anywhere. For now, they have Chad Henne at backup and he’s a free agent next year, but this obviously isn’t a glaring need. Perhaps they could take a future backup QB but then they’d have to carry three on the depth chart. They also just used a first round pick on Clyde Edwards-Helaire last year, Darrell Williams proved serviceable (especially on passing downs as CEH gets acclimated to pass protection at NFL speeds), and they still have Darwin Thompson and Elijah McGuire as well. Running back isn’t something I’d spend on early again.
Immediate: Offensive Tackle, Wide Receiver
This one couldn’t be more obvious. The Super Bowl is the most watched television event in the world and everyone saw Patrick Mahomes literally forced to throw, not only on the run, but on the dive. Bringing in Kyle Long and Joe Thuney at guard was smart and Mike Remmers should be able to hold his own at right tackle. But taking the best remaining left tackle who can potentially start right away would be huge for the Chiefs. When you are the favorite to win, it’s hard to trade up because your future picks are worth less than other teams but it could be worthwhile for the Chiefs to throw together whatever they can to move up and snag someone who can make an immediate impact.
Beyond that, Sammy Watkins does leave a bit of a vacuum at split end. Per basic football rules, you need to have seven guys tethered to the line each play. Travis Kelce is one on most plays, either in-line or in the slot. On the other side it was typically Sammy. People may not realize the importance the value of having a guy like Watkins on the other side, not just because he can beat the jam from a tethered position with no space between him and the cornerback, but because he’s quietly one of the better blocking receivers in the league. The whole idea of that Chiefs offense is that it’s balanced and all the players are so versatile that you have to play it straight each play because they could run or pass it in every direction at any moment. Without having a strong blocker opposite Kelce, you lose that illusion to a certain degree. Guys like Tyreek Hill and Mecole Hardman are not big enough to be tethered and fight the jam. They are far better off at flanker or slot where they have some cushion for a free release or can go in motion. You could roll with Demarcus Robinson and Byron Pringle at split end (Pringle in his limited snaps was actually the highest graded run blocking wide receiver in the league, per PFF) but taking a big split end would make a lot of sense for this team as you can potentially get a guy that can both block AND be a threat in the pass attack.
Potential early round picks: Christian Darrisaw (Virginia Tech), Teven Jenkins (Oklahoma State), Liam Eichenberg (Notre Dame), Samuel Cosmi (Texas), Rashod Bateman (Minnesota), Terrace Marshall Jr. (LSU), Seth Williams (Auburn), Nico Collins (Michigan)
Depth: Secondary, tight end, linebacker
I say “secondary” here rather than just safety or cornerback because they have expiring contracts at both levels and some decisions to make. L’Jarius Snead is under contract until 2024 but Charvarius Ward is a free agent next year and may need to be replaced if he’s not extended. Free safety Tyrann Mathieu and strong safety Daniel Sorenson are also free agents next year so one of these later picks for the Chiefs will likely be dedicated to a defensive back.
Beyond that, Travis Kelce turns 32 this season and they’ve been keeping Ricky Seals-Jones on ice as a backup pass catcher but he’s played so sporadically (often being a healthy scratch) that it’s hard to even tell what you have there. It would be nice to have some options available for pass catching tight end in a worst-case scenario. Or at the very least someone waiting in the wings down the road as Mahomes should be playing long after Kelce has gone on to the Hall of Fame. As far as linebacker, it’s no secret that the Anthony Hitchens ’ contract has not been a great one but they do get out from under that next year so now might be the time to find that replacement. They have expiring contracts at interior and exterior defensive line as well so the late round picks could go a number of ways for KC but I think linebacker would be a better application this year, then address those positions next year via free agency or earlier picks.
Los Angeles Chargers
Picks: 13, 47, 77, 97, 118, 159, 185, 198, 241
Set: Quarterback, Interior Offensive Line
Justin Herbert was the rookie of the year. Enough said there. They have Chase Daniel and Easton Stick as backups so they may even be in a position to cut another QB rather than add one. They just signed former Green Bay stud Corey Linsley to a big deal to play center and, as you will see in the next section, we project them to take a tackle which would then push one of the current tackles inside to play guard. However, if they don’t take an offensive tackle with an early pick, guard would be back on the table in terms of needs and that’s something that’s not quite as expensive in terms of draft capital.
Immediate: Offensive Tackle, Cornerback, Safety
Like their division rivals, the Chargers could also use a big, franchise left tackle on Justin Herbert’s blind side. In fact, their new head coach pretty much told everyone that’s the most important thing they need.
Unlike the Chiefs who pick at 31 and may need to trade up, the Chargers have the luxury of already being at pick 13 with the option to potentially trade up and take an even higher level tackle. I think that’s the direction they go in round one though they may need to move up if they want Sewell or Slater.
Like any defensive coordinator becoming a first-time head coach, Brandon Staley is going to want to implement his defense, his way. He should be able to cobble together his 3-4 fronts with the pieces they have but the league is trending toward a lot of nickel these days and he needs pieces for his 3-3-5 looks. The Charger sreleased Casey Heyward Jr. to free up cap space and neither Michael Davis nor Chris Harris Jr. graded out inside the top 80 CB’s per PFF last year so it would make a lot of sense to invest in corner. Despite the injury last year, Derwin James has lived up to expectations, but they lost Rayshawn Jenkins to the Jaguars in free agency so they may need another safety for two high looks as well. I could see them going tackle first round then simply taking the highest quality defensive back available at pick 47.
Potential early round picks: Penei Sewell (Oregon), Rashawn Slater (Northwester), Christian Darrisaw (Virginia Tech), Asante Samuel Jr. (Florida State), Elijah Molden (Washington), Jamar Johnson (Indiana), Jevon Holland (Oregon), Aaron Robinson (UCF)
Depth: Front Seven, Tight End, Wide Receiver, Running Back
As we mentioned before, anytime you bring in a new defensive minded head coach that opens up the possibility of them seeking out guys to fit their specific mold. You have some great pieces in Joey Bosa and Linval Joseph so perhaps not necessarily urgent, but they do have four linebacker contracts expiring in 2022. I could see Staley potentially handpicking some guys in the later rounds that he thinks fit his scheme.
The goal in taking over a team that already has a franchise quarterback should be protecting said quarterback which is why we had tackle as the priority but they will eventually need to start addressing weapons as well. Hunter Henry is gone and Jared Cook is a stop gap there but he’s 34 years old and the former Dallas Renegades tight end Donald Parham might not be the long term solution either. They also currently only have eight wide receivers under contract (compared to a team like Washington which has 13) so some depth at either pass catching position wouldn’t hurt. Keenan Allen is signed long term which is nice, but Mike Williams is on his fifth year option so he’s a free agent after this year along with Jalen Guyton, Tyron Johnson, and Jason Moore. As far as runners, they took Josh Kelley last year and have receiving back extraordinaire Austin Ekeler but they only have four RB’s on the depth chart and Justin Jackson becomes a free agent next year so maybe a late running back that can also play special teams could be in the cards.
Las Vegas Raiders
Picks: 17, 48, 79, 80, 121, 162, 200
Set: Running Back, Wide Receiver, Quarterback
People thought they were pretty set at running back already with Josh Jacobs but then they went out and added Kenyan Drake too so now they are double set. They also not only just spent a bunch of draft capital in a first and two thirds last year on Henry Ruggs, Bryan Edwards, and Lynn Bowden Jr. (who is already gone) but they also signed Willie Snead and John Brown to go along with Hunter Renfrow. None of them are quite stars as of now but I think this team should at least see what they have before going back to the well on pass catchers, especially since wide receiver-turned-tight end Darren Waller handles a huge chunk of the pass work anyway. If they’ve already deemed Ruggs and Edwards to be busts I’m not sure I would trust Mike Mayock and Jon Gruden to use high draft capital on another pass catcher anyway.
Derrek Carr at this point is pretty locked into the starting gig and he has two years left on his deal. They basically told Marcus Mariota he needed to restructure or be released and he opted to restructure so they are set at backup as of now as well.
Immediate: Offensive Tackle, Safety, Cornerback
The whole division (and most of the league for that matter) could use a good offensive tackle and the Raiders are no different. They have Kolton Miller at left tackle, the No. 15 pick from 2018 who they just extended, but they traded Trent Brown back to the Patriots so they could use another right tackle. Offensive line coach Tom Cable is capable of getting them ready to start right away so I would not be surprised to see them use an early pick on a guy they think is NFL ready.
On top of that, Gus Bradley’s defense, like most modern NFL defenses, utilizes a lot of nickel so they need help both in the box with the run and with slot coverage. Hybrid safety Lamarcus Joyner is now with the New York Jets so there is an obvious need for some strength in this territory but also cover skills. Rather than using two later picks bringing in a primary run stopping safety and a slot corner, I think the Raiders attempt to cover both of these deficiencies by drafting a single player who can play a hybrid version of safety/linebacker/slot corner like Mark Barron did for many years with the Rams. That’s the direction I see them inevitably going in the first round then they come back and take a tackle at 48 overall (or trade back up). Some possibilities in the first round for this hybrid safety/LB would be Trevon Moehrig out of TCU or Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah out of Notre Dame.
Potential early round picks: Trevon Moehrig (TCU), Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah (Notre Dame), Samuel Cosmi (Texas), Alex Leatherwood (Alabama), Jackson Carman (Clemson)
Depth: Linebacker, Interior Offensive Line
Unlike the secondary, they have spent quite a bit of money this offseason for Bradley’s front seven. Corey Littleton just had back-to-back 125+ tackle seasons for the Rams and they paid him almost $12 million per year. They brought in pass rusher Yannick Ngakoue for even more than that at $13 million per year. They are also paying Nick Kwiatkoski, Clelin Ferrell, and Carl Nassib all over $7 million a year. What they lack is depth (and contracts like Nick Morrow expire next year) so they could use some later picks here. For the interior offensive line, they traded Rodney Hudson and replaced him with Nick Martin but only on a one-year deal. Richie Incognito is solid but he’s also 37 years old so some depth pieces in this territory wouldn’t be surprising either.
Picks: 9, 40, 71, 114, 152, 191, 237, 239, 253
Set: Tight End, Wide Receiver
The Broncos took the hyper athletic Noah Fant with their first-round pick in 2019 and then doubled down with another super athletic tight end in Albert Okwuegbunam so they are good to go there. As for wide receivers, they have first round pick Jerry Jeudy in the slot, second round pick Courtland Sutton at split end, and second round pick KJ Hamler as a field stretching flanker. Considering Melvin Gordon ’s pass catching chops, the Broncos have invested plenty in weapons for their quarterback, whether that ends up being Drew Lock or someone else.
Immediate: Offensive Tackle, Linebacker
As I said before - the whole division could use a good offensive tackle. Left tackle Garrett Bolles has been rock solid since being selected in the first round in 2017 though right tackle Ja’Wuan James has been a bit more controversial. He signed a record setting deal as a free agent with Denver then missed a lot of 2019 with an injury and opted out for 2020. Now teammates like fellow tackle Bolles say that he needs to earn their trust back. He becomes a free agent in 2022 and, if they don’t necessarily trust him or want him back, they may be wise to take an offensive tackle in the draft even if they stick him at guard for a year before moving him over to tackle. It’s no secret that some of the best guards in the league were tackles in college anyway.
The Broncos have two top tier outside linebackers in Von Miller and Bradley Chubb (though they both have contracts coming up). What they could use is a better linebacker in coverage - especially in this division where they play Travis Kelce and Darren Waller a minimum of twice each year. If somehow Peneii Sewell, Rashan Slater, and Micah Parsons were all there at the ninth pick they would have a decision to make but there are a number of tackles and no other linebackers quite like Micah Parsons in the draft. Trading back a little also wouldn’t be out of the question.
Potential early round picks: Micah Parsons (Penn State), Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah (Notre Dame), Jamin Davis (Kentucky), Penie Sewell (Oregon), Rashawn Slater (Northwestern), Alex Leatherwood (Alabama)
Depth: Quarterback, Running Back, Cornerback, Safety
The Broncos were reportedly in the mix for guys like Matthew Stafford and Sam Darnold so it’s pretty clear they at least want some competition for Drew Lock for the starting job. Maybe they even take a QB with their first pick if one they really like falls to them; GM George Paton has been making his rounds at some pro days. But in a deep year at quarterback my feeling is they wait a little bit and potentially grab someone that falls to 40 or even possibly 71. If you read what our own Joey Cartolano has to say about guys like Kellen Mond or Kyle Trask, you could wait and still potentially get this year’s Dak Prescott .
The Broncos lost Phillip Lindsay to the Texans in free agency and Melvin Gordon just turned 28 so some might say help at running back is a priority. However, don’t underestimate the quality of Mike Boone as a backup option. He didn’t get to play much behind one of the best backs in Dalvin Cook and arguably one of the best backups in Alexander Mattison but he should see more daylight in Denver and be a solid contributor.
Another popular early pick for the Broncos is cornerback and some Broncos fans could find it a little controversial that I have CB down here in the “depth” section but I don’t view this as an immediate need. They just signed Ronald Darby to a three-year deal as well as giving recently released Chicago Bear Kyle Fuller one year, $9.5 million. Same goes with safety. They brought back Justin Simmons and brought in the older yet stout Kareem Jackson so the starters are pretty much set. What they really need is depth which is why these two positions are in the depth section for me. That said, not every team drafts for need every year so I also wouldn’t be surprised if the Broncos did go “best available” and take a Patrick Surtain or Jaycee Horn in the first roundif things play out a certain way. It’s just not what I would do.
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