All eyes in the AFC West are once again on Kansas City, but collectively this division is making some of the most interesting decisions in the NFL. Denver is deciding whether their collection of highly drafted skill position players is enough, while the Chargers are trying to solve the puzzle of capitalizing on a rookie-deal QB. The Chiefs have a collection of league-defining stars, but can they piece together an offensive line still hurting from a Super Bowl demolition? Maybe they should ask the Raiders, who are selling their offensive line like they have the next Jim Otto waiting in the wings. It’s never boring in the AFC West.
Kansas City Chiefs
Offensive Snaps Retained: 64.64% (29th in NFL)
Defensive Snaps Retained: 77.40% (12th in NFL)
The Chiefs were last seen failing to repeat as champions, but nobody in the building is panicking. That’s good, because the 2018 Patriots are the only team since the Buffalo Bills of the early ‘90s to return to the big game the season after falling just short. Whether or not Kansas City can replace the offensive line is absolutely the story here, with starters in OT Eric Fisher (95.19%), C Austin Reiter (78.68%) and OT Mitchell Schwartz (32.40%) all leaving, joined by backups of OG Kelechi Osemele (25.59%) and C Daniel Kilgore (21.42%). This is an horrific exodus that has already seen a trio of free agent signings and will still be bolstered through the draft. There’s been a few skill-position players escaping as well, specifically WR Sammy Watkins (47.82%), RB Le’Veon Bell (17.42%) and FB Anthony Sherman (5.72%), but the team is surely happy to just have Patrick Mahomes, Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce as the focal point. The defense has improved enough to escape the every-game shootouts of 2018 and now looks to fill in some holes where DE Tanoh Kpassagnon (66.79%), CB Bashaud Breeland (64.00%) and LB Damien Wilson (49.12%) used to be. A pair of DL could still return in Mike Pennel (29.77%) and Alex Okafor (26.33%), but the defensive continuity is in fairly good shape. The 2021 season will all come down to how quickly a new offensive line can gel, and whether Mahomes can compensate for breakdowns.
Las Vegas Raiders
Offensive Snaps Retained: 68.30% (24th in NFL)
Defensive Snaps Retained: 82.38% (8th in NFL)
Although they’re in the same boat as Kansas City with a huge offensive line need with a majority of the defense coming back, Las Vegas has seemingly jumped in willingly. C Rodney Hudson (100% of snaps), OG Gabe Jackson (98.06%) and OT Trent Brown (25.95%) were each traded away while OT Sam Young (35.27%) remains a free agent and returning RT Kolton Miller got a massive extension that unnecessarily added almost $10 million to their 2021 cap. WR Nelson Agholor (67.50%) and RB Devontae Booker (21.98%) are two of the only other players who won’t be back next year, but the line turnover alone pushes this offense to one of the least-stable in the league. Curiously enough, a defense that hasn’t finished even top-half of the league for scoring since their 2002 Super Bowl appearance is almost entirely back behind re-signed LB Nicholas Morrow, DT Johnathan Hankins and CB Nevin Lawson. The secondary will take some flack without safeties Erik Harris (66.48%) and Lamarcus Joyner (61.52%), while the front-seven lost only DT Maliek Collins (46.28%) and LB Raekwon McMillan (15.52%) of note. It’s an interesting move to retain so many players with a new defensive coordinator, but nobody has ever accused head coach Jon Gruden or his staff of being conventional.
Los Angeles Chargers
Offensive Snaps Retained: 54.74% (32nd in NFL)
Defensive Snaps Retained: 65.79% (25th in NFL)
Some teams just have it better than others. After getting the underrated Philip Rivers for 16 years in a trade-down packaged with Shawne Merriman and Nate Kaeding, newly-drafted Justin Herbert was outstanding in his rookie season and now gives the team four more years of affordable quarterbacking with which to make a run. New head coach Brandon Staley is wasting no time turning over this roster and trying to strike gold. With a strong WR room, once again we see an AFC West team turning over enormous amounts of their offensive line. Losing three starters in OG Forrest Lamp (100% of snaps), C Dan Feeney (100%) and OT Sam Tevi (87.23%) could cripple some teams alone, but the Chargers have continued to sift, allowing OG Trai Turner (45.62%), C Cole Toner (25.11%) and OG Ryan Groy (23.06%) out the door as well. Neither RB Kalen Ballage (20.77%) nor TEs Hunter Henry (77.70%) and Virgil Green (12.00%) won’t be back to help out in Pass Pro either, putting it on new acquisitions Corey Linsley, Matt Feiler and Jared Cook. Defensively, the old core is moving on and letting new head coach Brandon Staley work his magic on the youth movement, with S Rayshawn Jenkins (82.93%), CB Casey Hayward (76.08%) and LBs Melvin Ingram (34.91%) and Denzel Perryman (30.67%) going their separate ways. Rotational defenders in DE Isaac Rochell (42.14%), LB Nick Vigil (30.09%), DT Damion Square (24.30%) and S Jahleel Addae (20.25%) are leaving lots of snaps up for grabs in a very new team next year. QB Justin Herbert appears to be the real deal, but he’ll be heavily tested in 2020 to get his team moving in the same direction.
Offensive Snaps Retained: 84.29% (6th in NFL)
Defensive Snaps Retained: 83.61% (8th in NFL)
With all the hectic moves around the rest of the AFC West, Denver has decided to go against the grain and run it back. The defense is almost entirely unchanged, with LB Jeremiah Attaochu (38.05% of snaps), CB A.J. Bouye (37.68%), and DE Demarcus Walker (35.29%) the highest-profile subtractions, but none cracking even 40% of snaps. Depth defenders in S Will Parks (18.38%), DT Sylvester Williams (15.90%), LB Anthony Chickillo (15.07%) and DT Jurrell Casey (14.34%) are veterans who can be replaced mostly through the draft. The offense is a similar story even through whispers of a new QB, with RTs Elijah Wilkinson (46.75%) and Demar Dotson (41.91%) splitting time at the position in 2020 and a potential area for upgrade. TE Nick Vannett (33.55%), RB Phillip Lindsay (25.09%) and OG Austin Schlottman (25.00%) are each slated to move on, but this is a highly stable team around whoever ends up throwing the ball. If the offseason ends up getting shortened, the Broncos could be a sneaky pick to pick up a few more games on cohesiveness alone, especially with six losses in one-score games in 2020.