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AFC West projected starters for 2023 NFL season: Chiefs built to contend; playoffs for Broncos?

With the 2023 NFL Draft and most of free agency in the rearview, Gregg Rosenthal is projecting starting lineups for all 32 teams because that's his idea of fun. Check out the AFC West breakdowns below.

Table inside Article
QB Russell Wilson Edge Randy Gregory
RB Samaje Perine DE Zach Allen
WR Jerry Jeudy DT D.J. Jones
WR Courtland Sutton Edge Baron Browning
WR Tim Patrick ILB Josey Jewell
TE Greg Dulcich ILB Alex Singleton
LT Garett Bolles CB Pat Surtain II
LG Ben Powers CB Riley Moss
C Lloyd Cushenberry III CB K'Waun Williams
RG Quinn Meinerz S Justin Simmons
RT Mike McGlinchey S Kareem Jackson
  • This season is about whether Sean Payton can fix Russell Wilson. Payton getting Wilson back to an average starting quarterback would be a big step.
  • If Wilson's struggles continue, it wouldn't be a surprise to see backup Jarrett Stidham play later in the season. The Broncos aggressively signed Stidham to a large backup deal at the outset of free agency.
  • The Broncos spent big in free agency on right tackle Mike McGlinchey and guard Ben Powers. If the line improves, there is enough around Wilson to make his life easier. Payton hired a first-time offensive line coach, Zach Strief, to lead the group.
  • Running back Javonte Williams is coming off a torn ACL, so expect to see plenty from free agent signee Samaje Perine. Williams might not be ready for Week 1 and Payton will probably lean on playing guys he brought to the organization.
  • The starting three wideouts (Jerry Jeudy, Courtland Sutton and Tim Patrick) are promising leftovers from the previous regime. There's another trio behind them (second-rounder Marvin Mims Jr., former Saint Marquez Callaway and KJ Hamler) that can also play.
  • That depth will protect the Broncos from injuries and inspire trade talks. Jeudy and Sutton were reportedly available before the draft, but the Broncos didn't get a price they liked.
  • Jeudy was far more productive than Sutton on a per-route basis. I haven't given up on Jeudy being a true No. 1.
  • Greg Dulcich showed a lot as a rookie tight end. If a good quarterback had these weapons around him and Payton as coach, everyone would expect a top-five offense.
  • The talent is distributed unevenly for defensive coordinator Vance Joseph. There are stars like Pat Surtain II and Justin Simmons in the secondary. But there are also spots like CB2, where I can reasonably project promising third-round rookie Riley Moss to start.
  • The rest of the defense looks average, without huge strengths or weaknesses.
  • I loved the signing of defensive end Zach Allen, especially because the defensive line is thin after him.
  • The Broncos got very little out of Randy Gregory and 2022 second-round pick Nik Bonitto last season. If Gregory isn't healthy, Jonathon Cooper appears next in line at a shaky edge spot.
  • Third-round rookie linebacker Drew Sanders could pass Josey Jewell or Alex Singleton during the season for snaps. I liked all three of Denver's Day 2 draft picks.
  • The offense appears closer to fully formed than the defense, but this roster is solid enough to compete for the playoffs if Payton and Wilson are anywhere near worth the contracts they signed.
Table inside Article
QB Patrick Mahomes DE George Karlaftis
RB Isiah Pacheco DT Chris Jones
WR Kadarius Toney DT Derrick Nnadi
WR Marquez Valdes-Scantling DE Charles Omenihu
WR Rashee Rice OLB Willie Gay
TE Travis Kelce MLB Nick Bolton
LT Donovan Smith CB L'Jarius Sneed
LG Joe Thuney CB Trent McDuffie
C Creed Humphrey CB Jaylen Watson
RG Trey Smith S Justin Reid
RT Jawaan Taylor S Bryan Cook
  • If a different quarterback had these weapons, there would be cries about a lack of talent. With Patrick Mahomes and Andy Reid, it looks like a top-three offense.
  • Don't get it twisted: Mahomes + Reid + Travis Kelce + the NFL's best interior offensive line is enough to expect elite production. 
  • I am concerned about what the receiver group looks like if Kadarius Toney keeps getting hurt and Skyy Moore's poor rookie season is a sign of things to come.
  • At least the Chiefs have bodies, if not a true X receiver. Rookie Rashee Rice is great at the catch point and could replace JuJu Smith-Schuster. Journeyman Richie James figures to have a moment where he randomly breaks the hearts of opposing fans. 
  • Will defenses be better prepared to handle the Chiefs' heavy reliance on two tight end sets this season? Third-year pro Noah Gray is a nice contributor who might prove more valuable than a lot of Kansas City's receivers. 
  • The backfield is the same. Clyde Edwards-Helaire can play better than he did a year ago, but he fits best as a backup along with Jerick McKinnon behind hard-charging Isiah Pacheco
  • I love Jawaan Taylor upgrading the right tackle spot. The Chiefs are strong at four of the five offensive line positions. Donovan Smith will likely start at left tackle. He's a downgrade from Orlando Brown, but that's more about the running game. In Taylor and Smith, the Chiefs signed two tackles much better in pass protection than run blocking, a tradeoff they'll live with.
  • The Chiefs have rebuilt their pass rush with George Karlaftis, rookie Felix Anudike-Uzomah and free-agent signee Charles Omenihu coming aboard in the last two offseasons. Is it enough? 
  • Karlaftis was solid, if unspectacular, as a rookie. It helps all the edge options to be playing next to the team's best pass rusher, Chris Jones, inside.  
  • How many years in a row is Steve Spagnuolo going to take cornerbacks you don't know well and make them extremely productive? This could be one of his better groups with homegrown (mostly late) picks and depth. 
  • The Chiefs' linebacker group is dynamic after adding Drue Tranquill, who can be a super sub. Nick Bolton has earned a second contract offer and each player in the linebacker trio has different strengths to tap into.
  • The defense has a better chance to be above average, which it wasn't for most of the last two seasons. 
  • Mahomes and great coaching is a powerful formula. This is not the most complete roster in football, but there's every reason to believe the Chiefs will compete for another title.
Table inside Article
QB Jimmy Garoppolo DE Maxx Crosby
RB Josh Jacobs DT Bilal Nichols
WR Davante Adams DT Jerry Tillery
WR Jakobi Meyers DE Chandler Jones
WR Hunter Renfrow OLB Robert Spillane
TE Michael Mayer MLB Divine Deablo
LT Kolton Miller CB David Long Jr.
LG Dylan Parham CB Nate Hobbs
C Andre James CB Duke Shelley
RG Alex Bars S Marcus Epps
RT Jermaine Eluemunor S Tre'von Moehrig
  • Jimmy Garoppolo's surrounding talent isn't that much worse in Las Vegas than it was in San Francisco. He has a first-team All-Pro running back, a Hall of Fame-caliber receiver, two more wideouts who are great at getting open and a rookie tight end who has never seen a contested catch he couldn't make. 
  • If ever there was a rookie tight end who could contribute immediately, Michael Mayer is that guy. He won't make explosive plays like Darren Waller, but he could develop into a more consistent player. 
  • Head coach Josh McDaniels loves players that can line up in a variety of ways. In Davante Adams, Jakobi Meyers and even Josh Jacobs, this group has excellent versatility. 
  • It's a little concerning that Brian Hoyer and rookie fourth-rounder Aidan O’Connell are next up if Garoppolo gets hurt. Jimmy G, coming off March foot surgery, has started more than 10 games in a season twice in his career.
  • The difference between Las Vegas and San Francisco is the offensive line and the scheme. Can McDaniels provide an edge? He'll need to because the Raiders barely touched the offensive line.
  • McDaniels fans could fairly point out the Raiders scored well enough in both PFF’s grades and ESPN’s pass/run block win rates last season. They were better as a unit despite a lack of standouts up front. 
  • The Raiders could have a top-10 offense if things go right. The defense has many more questions. 
  • The good news: Vegas' edge rushing trio of Maxx Crosby, Chandler Jones and No. 7 overall pick Tyree Wilson could be elite if Jones rebounds after a sluggish season. 
  • The defensive tackle spot, however, could be among the league's worst. The Raiders figure to struggle to stop the run.
  • Nate Hobbs is a nice nickel back if the Raiders leave him there rather than forcing him outside. Duke Shelley and David Long Jr. were rotation pieces elsewhere who will be asked to step up as starters. 
  • It doesn't look much better at linebacker. Based on pure talent and proven production, there's an argument to be made that this is a bottom-five defense. Don't blame coordinator Patrick Graham if it doesn't work and give him a ton of credit if they are average. 
  • I could see the Raiders surviving in some other divisions, but their defensive liabilities make them the AFC West team that is least likely to make the playoffs.
Table inside Article
QB Justin Herbert Edge Joey Bosa
RB Austin Ekeler DT Sebastian Joseph-Day
WR Mike Williams DT Austin Johnson
WR Keenan Allen Edge Khalil Mack
WR Quentin Johnston ILB Eric Kendricks
TE Gerald Everett ILB Kenneth Murray
LT Rashawn Slater CB Asante Samuel Jr.
LG Zion Johnson CB Michael Davis
C Corey Linsley CB J.C. Jackson
RG Jamaree Salyer S Derwin James Jr.
RT Trey Pipkens III S Alohi Gilman
  • Justin Herbert thrived despite his coaching staff often making life difficult with failed early down runs. Hopefully new offensive coordinator Kellen Moore adds creativity and leans more into Herbert's downfield strengths. 
  • The Chargers pacified Austin Ekeler by adding incentives to his contract. In a perfect world, Joshua Kelley or Isaiah Spiller would emerge as a second option to take some of the load off Ekeler after he received a career-high 311 touches in 2022. 
  • First-round pick Quentin Johnston landed in a perfect spot as the team's No. 3 receiver, while Joshua Palmer is now a quality No. 4.
  • So much of the Chargers' success depends on how much Mike Williams and Keenan Allen stay on the field. If they do, this is easily the deepest wideout group of the Herbert era. 
  • This offensive line looks ... excellent? Like many positive things about the Chargers, I'm afraid to say it out loud because of past letdowns. 
  • Jamaree Salyer was a revelation as a swing tackle last year and should stay in the starting lineup as a guard. 
  • The Chargers have spent capital and draft picks on getting stouter up front without a lot of hits. I like the Morgan Fox re-signing, but this team's interior defensive line is a weakness until proven otherwise. 
  • Khalil Mack helped the Chargers, but his pass rushing has slipped somewhat over the years. A healthy Joey Bosa should help give Mack more matchups to exploit. Bosa has missed significant time in four of his seven seasons. 
  • I could see this linebacker group getting cooked in coverage. 
  • Ja’Sir Taylor might be the team's slot cornerback, but I had a hard time leaving J.C. Jackson off this list. Jackson might not be ready for Week 1, however, coming off a torn patellar tendon
  • Entering Year 3 of the Brandon Staley era, the defensive roster doesn't look much better. Staley needs to get this group to average and hope the offense dominates, much like the Chiefs. 
  • I will always trust in offense first and the Chargers have every reason to believe they have a top-five offensive roster.

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