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AFC West projected starters: Raiders revival? Chargers led by D?

Gregg Rosenthal will project post-draft starting lineups for all 32 teams, because there's no better way to celebrate the arrival of spring.


» John Elway did a lot of good work on the offense this offseason, but this group will take more than one offseason to overhaul.

» Part of Denver's issue is simply bad luck. Emmanuel Sanders (torn Achilles tendon) and Phillip Lindsay (fractured wrist), the team's two best skill-position players last season, are both recovering from season-ending injuries. The next-most important weapon for Joe Flacco is rookie tight end Noah Fant.

» The Broncos need Fant to step into a significant role immediately, in part because the wideout group is rather thin. Sanders is a 32-year-old rehabbing from a major surgery. Elway has expressed a lot of faith in his second-year receivers Sutton, Hamilton and Tim Patrick. They all flashed at various points late last season, but this is a different offense with a new coordinator (Rich Scangarello) and a new quarterback.

» Rookie quarterback Drew Lock doesn't figure to challenge Flacco for the starting job in camp. Lock will be doing his best to impress in August, however, to show he's an option later in the season, should Denver fall out of playoff contention.

» The Broncos invested a lot in the offensive line by signing Ja'Wuan James and drafting Dalton Risner. This group looks better on paper, but Elway has struck out on remodeling the O-line for more than five years running.

» The defense's biggest addition was coach Vic Fangio, who should have more than enough talent to make this a difference-making crew. Von Miller and Bradley Chubb can rival any pass-rushing duo in the league.

» Kareem Jackson can play safety or cornerback, but he was lining up as a safety in the team's first minicamp. The overhauled secondary also includes Fangio's former Bears slot corner, Bryce Callahan.

Biggest change from a year ago: Another year, another play-caller, another quarterback, another attempt at a new offensive line. Elway has to keep trying, because the previous approaches haven't worked.


» After a disturbing audio clip surfaced, the Chiefs announced Tyreek Hill would not take part in any team activities for the foreseeable future. The following day, Andy Reid confirmed prosecutors had reopened a child abuse investigation involving the All-Pro receiver. In his absence, Sammy Watkins, Demarcus Robinson and Mecole Hardman all move up a spot on the wideout pecking order.

» NFL Network's James Palmer reported the plan is to have a significant role for Hardman come Week 1. Reid talked up Hardman after rookie minicamp, and no coach is better at manufacturing space for playmakers. That will be more challenging with a diminished overall offense, but the Chiefs still have the MVP and a first-team All-Pro tight end.

» I loved watching Damien Williams run down the stretch last season, but he'll face a challenge for the starting job from free-agent pickup Carlos Hyde.

» It's often said that the NFL is about players, not plays. In Patrick Mahomes and Reid, however, Kansas City might have the league's most inventive play caller and the best player.

» K.C. is transitioning to a 4-3 defense with Steve Spagnuolo taking over. While the front office did a solid job replacing Dee Ford and Justin Houston with Frank Clark, Alex Okafor and Emmanuel Ogbah, the secondary still looks like a weakness.

» The Chiefs ultimately didn't go to the Super Bowl because they couldn't cover. This cornerback group will again be a unit that opposing teams attack, although Tyrann Mathieu can ideally cover up some of his teammates' mistakes.

Biggest change from a year ago: A year ago at this time, Tyreek Hill and Kareem Hunt were at the center of the Chiefs' young offensive nucleus.


» The Chargers aren't quite as deep at receiver as in seasons past, following Tyrell Williams' departure. Keenan Allen, Mike Williams and Travis Benjamin have all had their injury issues over the years, and it's a big drop-off after that trio.

» Projecting a third-round rookie tackle from Sioux Falls as a starter is a show of faith and hope, but that's how desperately the team needed an upgrade at the position late last season. As the Chargers learned with Dan Feeney and Forrest Lamp, drafting linemen early doesn't guarantee success. Overall, the offensive line has the potential to short-circuit this team, as it did down the stretch last season.

» With all that said, the return of Hunter Henry is a massive boon. In Henry, Allen, Mike Williams and Melvin Gordon, Philip Rivers has an incredible combination of dynamic and versatile playmakers in their primes around him.

» For the first time in a long time, Rivers' offense might play a supporting role to the defense. It's hard to find a weakness in Gus Bradley's group if rookies Jerry Tillery and Nasir Adderley can contribute from Day 1.

» It was hard to choose the starters from all the linebackers and edge options, with promising young players like Uchenna Nwosu, Jatavis Brown and Kyzir White not even listed here. Bradley can throw waves of players at opponents, with good depth everywhere except defensive tackle.

» As great as Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram are as a tandem, they didn't have the same impact together in 2018 for a variety of reasons. A return to form for them would be massive for the rest of the defense.

Biggest change from a year ago: On a roster that remains loaded overall, the defense now looks like the better side.


» This is undeniably one of the most improved offensive rosters in football. Derek Carr's wideouts are brand new and vastly better. Josh Jacobs gives the team a "foundation back," to use a Mayock-ism. Trent Brown might get paid like a superstar for mid-level play, but he's a huge upgrade on last year's right tackle, Brandon Parker.

» The defense, on the other hand, still appears to be at least a year away. Jon Gruden and defensive coordinator Paul Guenther should be hoping to coach up this group to average, while identifying core young players like Johnathan Abram, Trayvon Mullen, Maurice Hurst, Clelin Ferrell and Arden Key.

» A ton of attention will be paid to Ferrell, the No. 4 overall pick in the draft, because the Raiders are so thin at the edge rusher position. Their top three figure to be Ferrell, Key and Benson Mayowa. It wouldn't be a surprise to see Mayowa beat one of the young guys out.

» Gruden's first pick since returning to the Raiders faces even bigger questions. Oakland will keep Kolton Miller as the starting left tackle after a baptism by fire last year. Miller ranked 76th (out of 80) among tackle qualifiers by Pro Football Focus in 2018. The player the 49ers stole one pick before the Raiders were set to draft, Mike McGlinchey, finished 25th.

» There is an expectation that fifth-round pick Hunter Renfrow will step in immediately and catch a ton of passes out of the slot. Perhaps that will happen, but I'm not a smart enough evaluator of college players to expect someone taken that deep in the draft to beat out veterans like Ryan Grant and J.J. Nelson for a Week 1 job.

Biggest change from a year ago: The offense should be dramatically more watchable.

Follow Gregg Rosenthal on Twitter @greggrosenthal.


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