Let’s take a look at the 2018 NFL Draft class for all four teams in the AFC West (Denver Broncos, Oakland Raiders, Kansas City Chiefs, and Los Angeles Chargers), giving them each a grade for their selections.
3(t). Kansas City Chiefs
Round 2 pick 14 – Breeland Speaks, DE, Missouri
Round 3 pick 11 – Derrick Nnadi, DT, Florida State
Round 3 pick 36 – Dorian O’Daniel, OLB, Clemson
Round 4 pick 24 – Armani Watts, FS, Texas A&M
Round 6 pick 22 – Tremon Smith, CB, Central Arkansas
Round 6 pick 24 – Kahlil Mckenzie, DT, Tennessee
The Chiefs were left without a first-round pick this year due to the trade they made during the 2017 draft which allowed them to select Patrick Mahomes, their starting quarterback this season.
After five years in Kansas City, Alex Smith was traded to the Washington Redskins, leaving Mahomes to take the reins. There may be growing pains at first, as Mahomes has just one career start to his name, but if he can get up to speed quickly, the Chiefs should have a shot at a Wild Card berth.
Projected as a late-third or early-fourth-round pick, Speaks was a surprise selection at 46th overall. However, the pick does make sense. The Chiefs needed someone to play opposite of Chris Jones on the defensive line, and while Speaks doesn’t have ideal size for a 3-4 DE (6’3″ 283 lbs), his athleticism will allow him to line up at multiple positions and make an impact. He could end up playing the most at outside linebacker, but regardless, he will see the field quite a bit this season.
A true nose tackle, Derrick Nnadi won’t make any flashy plays, but he won’t make mistakes either. Veteran Xavier Williams is currently ahead of him on the depth chart, but Nnadi could quickly change that. He is a very good run stopper who won’t play much on passing downs, as his pass rushing leaves much to be desired. Nnadi should immediately improve the Chiefs’ run defense, which is why he was drafted.
In a deep safety class, Armani Watts fell to the fourth round, where KC was thrilled to take him. He has great speed, range, and coverage instincts, but his tackling is rather poor. Fortunately, Eric Berry is one of the best strong safeties in the NFL and should be able to help out Watts with that. 2017 sixth-round pick Leon McQuay III is currently penciled in as the starting free safety, but Watts has a great chance to open the season as the starter.
With their final pick of the draft, the Chiefs chose Kahlil McKenzie, a defensive lineman with all the physical talent in the world who never turned it into on-field production. McKenzie will move to guard for the Chiefs, where he will sit and learn behind Parker Ehinger and Laurent Duvernay-Tardif.
The interesting thing about McKenzie is that he is the son of Oakland Raiders’ GM Reggie McKenzie, one of Kansas City’s biggest rivals. If the younger McKenzie remains with the Chiefs, Thanksgiving dinner will be a bit different this year.
After a solid past few seasons, the Chiefs are entering a new era as Mahomes takes over the team. Kansas City likely will not be as good as they have been in the past, but they should still be a competitive team that remains in the playoff race through the final weeks.
3(t). Oakland Raiders
Round 1 pick 15 – Kolton Miller, OT, UCLA
Round 2 pick 25 – P.J. Hall, DT, Sam Houston State
Round 3 pick 1 – Brandon Parker, OT, North Carolina A&T
Round 3 pick 23 – Arden Key, EDGE, LSU
Round 4 pick 10 – Nick Nelson, CB, Wisconsin
Round 5 pick 3 – Maurice Hurst, DT, Michigan
Round 5 pick 36 – Johnny Townsend, P, Florida
Round 6 pick 42 – Azeem Victor, LB, Washington
Round 7 pick 10 – Marcell Ateman, WR, Okalhoma State
After a disappointing 6-10 season, Oakland parted ways with head coach Jack Del Rio and hired Jon Gruden in one of the biggest moves of the offseason. Gruden immediately began to change the culture in an attempt to turn things around. No matter how 2018 goes for the Raiders, they will be entertaining to follow.
Oakland’s two biggest needs were cornerback and linebacker. With players like Jaire Alexander and Tremaine Edmunds on the board, the Raiders went with a boom-or-bust tackle prospect. Miller has ideal size and athleticism to play either LT or RT in the NFL, but he lacks the functional strength and technique needed.
Donald Penn has been a great LT for the Raiders for many years, but he is 35, so Miller should be his eventual replacement. For now, Miller may start at RT, which would usually be a difficult transition, but he played both sides of the line in college. This versatility should allow him to contribute early on, but if he doesn’t develop better technique, the pick will go down as a terrible beginning to the Gruden era.
Hall lacks desired size to play DT in the NFL, but he has everything else coaches look for. He has a high motor, good strength, solid technique, and fluid athleticism. He should be able to carve out a spot in the rotation for himself early on.
At 6’8″ 305 lbs, Parker has the size that NFL teams covet. He wasn’t fantastic in college (even against poor competition), but his athletic and physical traits make him a good project. If everything goes according to plan, he will take over the RT position after Miller slides over to LT once Penn retires.
Miller and Parker weren’t the only risks that Oakland took this draft. Arden Key absolutely dominated the SEC in 2016, posting 11 sacks, but he only had nine in his other two seasons, including just four in 2017. A lack of consistent effort, off-field concerns, and a thin frame (6’5″ 238 lbs) made NFL teams wary of taking him high. Key is not a fantastic athlete either, which could limit his potential. However, if the Raiders can get him back to his 2016 form, Key will be at worst a good situational pass rusher.
Nick Nelson was one of the Big 10’s best defensive backs in 2017, but his 5’11” height and tendency to commit pass interference penalties threatened to drop his draft stock. Then, during a private workout, Nelson tore his meniscus, which was the primary reason why he fell to the fourth round. If he heals completely, Nelson could be a very nice slot corner for the Raiders.
Arguably the best interior pass rusher in the entire draft class, Maurice Hurst was a projected first-round pick who fell all the way to the fifth due to a heart condition which threatened to end his career. The Raiders felt comfortable with the situation and selected him on day three. If Hurst’s heart doesn’t give him any trouble and he is able to play, he will be the biggest steal of the draft. His first step inside is extraordinary, and his technique is incredibly refined. He will be an immediate starter on the line barring anything unforeseen.
The 2018 draft was filled with risks for Oakland, and while the Miller pick could end up hurting them later on, getting Hurst was a huge win for the front office. The Raiders should finish second in the division if they aren’t able to take the top spot.
2. Los Angeles Chargers
Round 1 pick 17 – Derwin James, S, Florida State
Round 2 pick 16 – Uchenna Nwosu, LB, USC
Round 3 pick 20 – Justin Jones, DE, North Carolina State
Round 4 pick 19 – Kyzir White, S, Virginia
Round 5 pick 18 – Scot Quessenberry, C, UCLA
Round 6 pick 17 – Dylan Cantrell, WR, Texas Tech
Round 7 pick 33 – Justin Jackson, RB, Northwestern
Despite finishing 9-7 and second in the division last year, the Chargers should be a legitimate playoff contender this season. Even at the age of 36, Philip Rivers is still one of the better QBs in the NFL, and if LA can stay healthy, they will be difficult to beat.
Tre Boston was one of the best safeties in the league last season, but the Chargers opted not to bring him back, as he was allegedly asking for too much money. Los Angeles not only replaced Boston with a younger and cheaper player, but they significantly upgraded as well. James is one of the most versatile prospects to enter the NFL in recent history.
At 6’2″ 215 lbs, he has the size of an elite WR. With a 4.47 40-yard dash, he has the speed of a #1 cornerback. He has the ball skills of a free safety, the physicality of a strong safety, and the instincts of a linebacker. He was so dynamic that he lined up at both safety positions, slot corner, boundary corner, outside linebacker, and even defensive end during his collegiate career.
However, James’ versatility was seen by some teams as a negative. Where should he be played? Where does he fit best? Is he being wasted playing one position and not the other? Can he learn the nuances of one specific position?
These were questions that the Chargers answered for themselves, and they were thirlled when James fell to the 17th selection. Who better to utilize James than defensive coordinator Gus Bradley, who engineered Seattle’s ‘Legion of Boom’ by getting the most out of Earl Thomas, Kam Chancellor, Richard Sherman, Brandon Browner, and many others.
Whether James plays a moneybacker-type role, box safety, deep safety, or cornerback, he will have a huge impact on the Chargers’ defense, and opposing offenses will need to specifically gameplan for him, which will allow pass rushers Melvin Ingram and Joey Bosa to get after the the QB more often.
Uchenna Nwosu made 9.5 sacks in 2017; his addition along with Justin Jones will add even more depth to one of the best front-sevens in the NFL. Los Angeles should easily have a top-ten defense next year as long as everyone remains healthy.
The brother of Chicago Bears WR Kevin White, Kyzir will be a depth player for his rookie season, as he will have Derwin James and Jahleel Addae ahead of him on the depth chart. White isn’t great in deep coverage, but he can help out against tight ends and provide support against the run.
The Chargers elected to shore up their defense in this draft, and things could not have gone better for them in the first round as James is almost the perfect player for their scheme. Injuries prohibited LA from reaching the playoffs last season, but if they can avoid any key players getting hurt in 2018, they should be in the playoff hunt deep into the year.
1. Denver Broncos
Round 1 pick 5 – Bradley Chubb, DE, North Carolina State
Round 2 pick 8 – Courtland Sutton, WR, SMU
Round 3 pick 7 – Royce Freeman, RB, Oregon
Round 3 pick 35 – Isaac Yiadom, CB, Boston College
Round 4 pick 6 – Josey Jewell, LB, Iowa
Round 4 pick 13 – DaeSean Hamilton, WR, Penn State
Round 5 pick 12 – Troy Fumagalli, TE, Wisconsin
Round 6 pick 9 – Sam Jones, OL, Arizona State
Round 6 pick 43 – Keishawn Bierria, LB, Washington
Round 7 pick 8 – David Williams, RB, Arkansas
Super Bowl Champions just three seasons ago, the Broncos have fallen victim to the oldest flaw in the NFL: not having a franchise quarterback. A carousel of Trevor Siemian, Brock Osweiler, and Paxton Lynch led Denver to a 4-12 record, giving the team the fifth pick in the draft.
The vaunted defense that almost single-handedly led the Broncos to the 2015 championship is being slowly dismantled. Gone are T.J. Ward, Malik Jackson, and Aqib Talib. But, the team is not in a rebuilding stage, as they proved when they signed former Vikings QB Case Keenum to a huge contract.
In most mock drafts, Notre Dame’s Quenton Nelson was the popular Denver pick. It made sense, as the Broncos’ porous offensive line was a big issue last season. Nelson ended up being available at 5, but Denver chose to pass on him, as a prospect that wasn’t expected to fall to them was still on the board.
Bradley Chubb was thought to be the Cleveland Browns’ best option at 4, but Cleveland instead chose Ohio State CB Denzel Ward, as the need at CB was greater than DE for the Browns. The Broncos were fine with this, and selected Chubb.
While Chubb is not an ideal 3-4 DE, he has both the size and athleticism to adjust to his new role. He can also play outside linebacker if needed. He has good strength, technique, and burst, and should immediately make a big impact.
In order to increase his pass rush effectiveness, he needs to learn more counter moves and must learn how to string them together. In college, if his first move didn’t work, he was almost completely taken out of the play.
Chubb’s lack of elite hip flexibility will limit his potential at the next level, but since he’ll be playing opposite of Von Miller, he won’t need to become a dominant player. While not the top-tier defensive prospect that Myles Garrett or Jadeveon Clowney was, Chubb will instantly improve the Broncos’ run defense and has the ability to develop into a good pass rusher.
With Demariyus Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders on the wrong side of 30 and possibly becoming cap casualties soon, the Broncos’ WR room needed a facelift. Sutton may have the most potential of any receiver prospect in this class, and while he is still incredibly raw, he should at least be a good red zone target in his rookie season.
At 6’3″ 215 lbs, Sutton has ideal size for a #1 WR, and his athleticism is also fantastic. At SMU, he put up great numbers, but some talent evaluators were worried that his competition in college wasn’t great and that Sutton will struggle in the NFL. While that may be true at first, Sutton has the physical tools to dominate in the league, and if he can get the finer technicalities of the position down, he could do just that.
Oregon’s bell cow for four seasons, Royce Freeman rushed for over 5,600 yards and 60 touchdowns during his collegiate career. With C.J. Anderson departed for Carolina, Freeman will compete with Devontae Booker for carries. Denver’s offensive line is injury-prone and porous, but Freeman’s vision will allow him to gain yards in spite of his blockers’ performance. In a deep RB draft class, Freeman became a bit of a forgotten name, but he could end up being one of the better backs taken this year.
The Broncos took Michigan tight end Jake Butt last year, but they added another Big 10 TE from this class. Fumagalli is a solid blocker who has an innate ability to get open. He is a dependable reciever, which is impressive given the fact that he has no left index finger. Butt should be the starter, but the coaching staff won’t be able to leave Fumagalli on the bench.
Denver filled in some holes and continued to build their team for the future while equipping themselves to be competitive now. A lethal pass rush will put their offense in good spots, and if Case Keenum can replicate his 2017 performance, the Broncos should contend for a Wild Card berth.
While the AFC West will be competitive as always, it won’t be nearly as good as it has been recently. If injuries are kept to a minimum, the Chargers should win the division, but even the worst team will be solid compared to the rest of the league. For the Broncos and Chiefs in particular, quarterback play will make or break their seasons.