Each team in the AFC West will be hoping for more in the 2021/22 season.
After the Broncos finished bottom of the division, the Chargers finished below .500, the Raiders defense choked their way to merely breaking even, and the Chiefs were decimated on the big stage, each team has amends to make in the new season.
And what better way to begin making improvements, than in the annual NFL draft. In this article, The Sports Wave takes a look at each team’s biggest draft needs, as they prepare for big things way out west.
Kansas City Chiefs (14-2)
Team draft picks:
Round 1: No. 31
Round 2: No. 63
Round 3: No. 95
Round 4: No. 137, No. 145
Round 5: No. 176, No. 182
Round 7: No. 259
Team needs: T, G, ED, WR
After allowing 29 pressures on Patrick Mahomes versus Tampa – a Super Bowl record – the Chiefs have been ruthless in restoring their offensive line, releasing Eric Fisher, Austin Reiter and Mitchell Schwartz. They added Joe Thuney and Kyle Long shortly after, and both Lucas Niang and Laurent Duvernay-Tardif are expected to return for next season. Nevertheless, bolstering their line and keeping their $503 million man protected by taking a tackle and guard in the first few rounds couldn’t hurt.
But as well as allowing so many pressures in the Super Bowl, Kansas’ own defense managed only four pressures on Tom Brady, and was ranked 22nd by PFF – no doubt underwhelming for a side that lost just three games all season. Drafting an edge rusher would be of great benefit to Frank Clark and Chris Jones, who are carrying the Kansas pass rush.
After addressing these major needs, the Chiefs could look to replace Sammy Watkins at receiver, or take a cornerback with the departure of Bashaud Breeland.
Potential targets at 31: ED Azeez Ojulari, OT Liam Eichenburg, OT Samuel Cosmi
Las Vegas Raiders (8-8)
Team draft picks:
Round 1: No. 17
Round 2: No. 48
Round 3: No. 79, No. 80
Round 4: No. 121
Round 5: No. 162, No. 167
Round 6: No. 200
Team needs: T, LB, G, DL
As could be expected after finishing dead last since in sacks since 2018, the Raiders have already addressed their major pass rush needs this offseason, signing Yannick Ngakoue and building depth at tackle with the additions of Solomon Thomas and Quinton Jefferson.
Unexpectedly, however, the Raiders deconstructed their offensive line in the process, trading away Rodney Hudson, Gabe Jackson and Trent Brown. Having re-signed Richie Incognito and Denzelle Good, and added FA centre Nick Martin, most of these gaps have been plugged. But, finding a reliable tackle to start across from Kolton Miller is still very much on the Raiders to-do.
Drafting for depth at guard could be wise also, with Incognito on a 1-year, and a good number of their current backups being young and unproven. While tackle is undoubtedly a huge need, this draft class is chock full of trench talent, and the Raiders may wait until the second round to find their guy as a result.
Despite bringing back Karl Joseph following his stint in Cleveland to assist PFF’s worst ranked safety, John Abram, the Raiders still appear in need of defensive help. Considering the inexperience in Vegas’ secondary, it would make little sense to add more youthful defensive backs early on – besides, the only highest ranked safety is projected to be off the board by 17. Vegas will likely wait until after the draft to add an experienced corner.
As a result, Vegas may choose to draft a linebacker after an underwhelming year from Cory Littleton, and injuries to Nick Kwiatkoski. If Micah Parsons falls, or Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah remains, expect Vegas to pounce.
As for the later picks, adding another defensive lineman in the rotation could be useful, and follows with what DC Gus Bradley seems to be planning for. Add in another tackle for depth and maybe even a third day QB to backup Derek Carr once Mariota’s contract expires, and Vegas has themselves a successful draft.
Potential targets at 17: LB Jeremiah Owosu-Koramoah, T Rashawn Slater, DL Kwity Paye
Los Angeles Chargers (7-9)
Team draft picks:
Round 1: No. 13
Round 2: No. 47
Round 3: No. 71, No. 97
Round 4: No. 118
Round 5: No. 160
Round 6: No. 200, No. 206
Round 7: No. 235
Team needs: T, G, CB
The Chargers offensive line had the worst PFF ranking in the league in 2020, thanks to their veteran additions being plagued with injuries. After Justin Herbert took 32 sacks in his rookie year, the Bolts will make sure to continue their efforts to keep the new face of their franchise protected. Having signed centre Corey Linsley in free agency, the Chargers finish their line rebuild by day two, taking a guard and tackle by as early as the second round.
However, they may delay this process a little, and instead choose to take a cornerback. Similar to the tackle situation, the upcoming draft is not short of talent at corner, and the Chargers are in need of one after allowing Casey Heyward to hit free agency.
Expect the Chargers to find their young QB a new target at receiver on day two, to act as understudy for elite duo Mike Williams and Keenan Allen. LA may also find a replacement for Melvin Ingram in these rounds, before drafting for more depth on the line.
Potential targets at 13: CB Patrick Surtain II, T Christian Darrisaw, T Alijah Vera-Tucker
Denver Broncos (5-11)
Team draft picks:
Round 1: No. 9
Round 2: No. 40
Round 3: No. 71
Round 4: No. 114
Round 5: No. 152
Round 6: No. 191
Round 7: No. 237, No. 239, No. 253
Team needs: QB, T, LB
After a disappointing season which saw them finish bottom of their division, the Broncos sit at ninth overall. Though with an opportunity to turn things around, it is unclear what they will choose to do in the early rounds.
Despite throwing for only 2,594 yards and throwing for more interceptions (15) than touchdowns (14), many fans are still backing Drew Lock heading into 2021.
However, the Broncos could look to move on as early as the first round, if a top five passer falls to nine, or in the event that they trade up. However, solid options at QB will remain by the second and third rounds and could be preferred if they are to start Lock going forward.
Whether Denver chooses to go forward with Lock or not, they will need to invest in a tackle to keep their QB protected. The great number of tackles in this draft still fall short of meeting the needs of every team looking to take one come late April. Therefore, sitting at nine with their pick of the linemen, the Broncos may wish to take a lineman first.
Alternatively, the Broncos may go defense in the first. Denver’s outside linebacker core is revered, with Bradley Chubb coming off a 7.5 sack season, and Von Miller returning for 2021. But, they are in need of a coverage linebacker. With JOK, Micah Parsons and Zeven Collins viable options, this seems the best way to go, and with little need to pounce early on one of these guys, Denver could trade down, and secure themselves another second rounder, and in doing so address all three major needs early on day two.
After addressing their primary needs, a running back could be on the agenda after parting ways with Phillip Lindsay. Denver would be smart to begin replacing those such as CB Kyle Fuller and S Kareem Jackson – both of which are expected to become free agents in 2022.
Potential targets at 9: LB Micah Parsons, QB Trey Lance, T Rashawn Slater