Draft Grades: AFC West

Fewer divisions are as historically competitive as the AFC West, and 2018 promises to be much of the same. Each team likely thinks they won the draft, but which teams actually improved and who missed their golden chance?

DENVER BRONCOS: A-

1 (5) Bradley Chubb, Edge, NC State
2 (40) Courtland Sutton, WR, SMU
3 (71) Royce Freeman, RB, Oregon,
3 (99) Isaac Yiadom, CB, Boston College
4 (106) Josey Jewell, LB, Iowa
4 (113) DaeSean Hamilton, WR, Penn State
5 (156) Troy Fumagalli, TE, Wisconsin
6 (183) Sam Jones, G, Arizona State
6 (217) Keishawn Bierria, LB, Washington
7 (226) David Williams, RB, Arkansas

Post draft reports indicate the Denver Broncos were fully prepared to send the number five overall pick to the Buffalo Bills in exchange for a bevy of selections, but called off the trade when defensive end Bradley Chubb became available. The pairing of Chubb and fellow top five pick Von Miller should scare opposing pass rushes for seasons to come, and he has the potential to re-energize a new look Denver defense. Chubb is the crown jewel of an excellent draft class, highlighted by great value throughout the later rounds. Courtland Sutton is a big bodied receiver who projects as an elite red zone threat. He is an excellent athlete with an incredible catch radius, but doesn’t have the quickest feet or run the crispest route. Royce Freeman is a versatile running back who should slide into the starting position from day one. He shined in the up tempo Oregon offense, but his ability in both the running and passing game should make him an impact weapon early in his career. Josey Jewell is a hard-nosed, instinctive linebacker who excels in coverage but lacks the elite athleticism to become anything more than an average starter. He was the Big 10 defensive player of the year, and the reasons for his fall in the draft (age, lack of athleticism, not flashy) may look dumb very quickly. Troy Fumagalli is an threat in the passing game, and his draft stock fell hard after he failed to participate at both the combine and the pro day. His athleticism and ball skills were not truly allowed to flourish in the ground and pound Wisconsin offense, but he has a similar profile to other pass catching tight ends in this class and came at a much lower price. Overall, John Elway landed a deep and talented draft class that should contribute early and often.

Hear more about the Denver Broncos draft class on Sideline Intel’s Two Kids in a Trechcoat: A Football Podcast. 

LOS ANGELES CHARGERS: B

1 (17) Derwin James, S, Florida State
2 (48) Uchenna Nwosu, Edge, US
3 (84) Justin Jones, DL, NC State
4 (119) Kyzir White, S, West Virginia
5 (155) Scott Quessenberry, C, UCLA
6 (191) Dylan Cantrell, WR, Texas Tech
7 (251) Justin Jackson, RB, Northwestern

Derwin James is probably the steal of the draft, and is a once-in-a-draft type of talent that is typically gone by pick seventeen. James was not, and will he instantly become an important contributor for a Charger defense brimming with talent. Los Angeles’s run defense was atrocious last season, giving up the second most total yards on the ground and the highest average yards per carry in the league. On early downs, James will likely patrol the middle of the box and attack holes in the run game. On later downs, James has the ability to drop into more a traditional safety role and make an impact in the passing game. A secondary composed of Casey Hayward, Jason Verrett, and Trevor Williams at corner plus James, Desmond King, Jahleel Addae and fourth round pick Kyzir White at safety adds up to one of the most talented secondaries in the entire league. The later rounds were defined by scheme rather than overall talent, as it was clear general manager Tom Telesco and head coach Anthony Lynn prioritized fit over best available. Linebacker Uchenna Nwosu played edge in his final season at USC, but with the Chargers he will likely be used as a move outside linebacker. In a role currently occupied by linebacker Kyle Emmanuel, Nwosu will patrol the middle of the defense alongside middle linebacker Denzel Perryman. He will initially be used as a rotational linebacker on early downs to try and improve the porous LA run defense, but must improve in coverage if he wants to evolve into a true every down linebacker. Defensive lineman Justin Jones was the only dud of the draft, and while the need was clear for a pass rushing presence in the middle of the defensive line there were much better prospects available (see Hurst, Maurice). Jones shows a quick first step, but his secondary moves leave much to be desired. He played alongside fellow draft picks Bradley Chubb and B.J. Hill in his time at NC State, and rarely faced the full force of the opposition. At his best, Jones could be an exciting contributor on a talented defensive line that once again benefits from elite talent around him. At his worst, his relatively average athleticism only carries him so far, and he fails to gain a foothold in the league. Kyzir White, safety out of West Virginia was Los Angeles’s fourth round pick, and another effort by the Chargers front office to address their inability to stop the run. White is a strong, physical presence at the safety position, and he will likely play a role more similar to linebacker than safety in the NFL. White isn’t quite fast enough to match up with opposing wide receivers, but has the coverage skills and quickness to blanket opposing running backs and tight ends. White also doesn’t shy away from contact, and will make his presence felt in the run game on later downs. To round out the draft, Los Angeles added depth to their chronically injured offensive line, as Scott Quessenberry can slide into any interior offensive line position. Dylan Cantrell is one of the best athletes in the draft, running a 4.59 forty with a 39 inch vertical and a 130 inch broad jump. Scouts doubted his ability to produce outside of Texas Tech’s high octane offense. Finally, running back Justin Jackson should instantly slot in behind incumbent Melvin Gordon, and see little play time as a rookie. Overall the Chargers left a lot of talent on the board, but took the best available when it mattered. Most of this draft was average, but the selection of Derwin James solidifies its status in Chargers history.

KANSAS CITY CHIEFS: B-

2 (46) Breeland Speaks, Edge, Ole Miss
3 (75) Derrick Nnadi, DL, Florida State
3 (100) Dorian O’Daniel, LB, Clemson
4 (124) Armani Watts, S, Texas A&M
6 (196) Tremon Smith, CB, Central Arkansas
6 (198) Khalil McKenzie, Edge, Tennessee

The Kansas City Chiefs were without their first round pick thanks to the Patrick Mahomes trade from last year, but made their best attempts at retooling their defense. All six of their selections were spent on defensive players, beginning Ole Miss defensive lineman Breeland Speaks. Speaks can play a variety of positions along the defensive end, but will contribute early as a pass rushing edge opposite Chris Jones. He has all the athletic tools necessary to rack up double digit sacks early in his career, but needs to develop a wider array of moves if he is to reach his max potential. Derrick Nnadi provides an intimidating and stout presence in the middle of the Chief defense, and an immediate replacement for current starter Xavier Williams. Nnadi will likely never make much of an impact as a pass rusher, but against the run there were fewer better in this years draft. Dorian O’Daniel has a limited skillset, but the things he did well in college should translate well at the next level. O’Daniel is exceptional in coverage, and should contribute in later downs as a smaller sub packages. At 6’1 and 223 pounds, O’Daniel will likely never be an impact force in the run game, but his ability in coverage and his excellence in special teams more than solidifies his spot on an NFL roster. Armani Watts is an above average athlete at the safety position, and has the speed and fluidity to control the deepest areas of the field. At 5’11, Watts is a little undersized but his 35 inch vertical more than compensates. He tends to shy away from contact, but if Watts can lock down the deep passing game next to superstar Eric Berry, Watts can more than exceed the expectations of a fourth round selection. With the first of their two sixth round picks, the Chiefs dipped into the FCS to take cornerback Tremon Smith. Smith is an impressive athlete, and he dominated against the lower levels of competition. The former high school standout at quarterback, Smith has a nose for the ball rarely seen at the position. If he makes Kansas City’s opening day roster, it will likely be because of his ability to produce in special teams. The same goes for Reginald Khalil Mckenzie, son of Oakland Raiders general manager Reggie Mckenzie and former five star prospect. While he never quite lived up to the hype at Tennessee, Mckenzie offers tantalizing upside as a pass rushing presence off the edge. All in all, Kansas City had an average draft, but lacked the impact prospect that typically accompanies a first round pick. Considering the situations, a pretty solid draft for the new look Chiefs.

OAKLAND RAIDERS: C+

1 (15) Kolton Miller, OT, UCLA,
2 (57) P.J. Hall, Edge, Sam Houston State
3 (65) Brandon Parker, OT, North Carolina A&T
3 (87) Arden Key, Edge, LSU
4 (110) Nick Nelson, CB, Wisconsin
5 (140) Maurice Hurst, DL, Michigan
5 (173) Johnny Townsend, P, Florida
6 (216) Azeem Victor, LB, Washington
7 (228) Marcell Ateman, WR, Oklahoma State

The Oakland Raiders were in prime position to alter the course of this draft. With the tenth overall selection, the Raiders had the option of either trading the pick to the highest bidder or selecting a game changing talent for their ailing defense. Oakland selected the former, but only obtained an additional third and fifth round picks for moving back five spots. The Green Bay Packers, albeit moving a far more substantial fourteen picks back, were able to squeeze a future first round pick out of the New Orleans Saints. Nevertheless, the Raiders acquired two additional picks and now had the fifteenth pick. Instead of addressing their many holes on the defensive side of the ball and drafting the many exceptional prospects available (Tremaine Edmunds, Derwin James, Josh Jackson, Harold Landry) Oakland decided to focus on a different area with the selection of offensive tackle Kolton Miller. Miller stands at an intimidating 6’9, and possesses many of the natural gifts needed to succeed at the tackle position. He lacks though much of the technical precision necessary to combat the most disruptive of pass rushers, and his consistency wavered in his time at college. In stretches during his final season, Miller looked dominant as he protected fellow first round pick Josh Rosen’s blindside. But, there was times throughout his three seasons at UCLA Miller looked lost out on the field, and overmatched against future NFL players. His ceiling may be higher than any other tackle prospect in the draft, but his floor is certainly lower than most other players taken in the first three rounds. Despite a disappointing first day, the Raiders rebounded nicely with a solid group of selections. P.J. Hall was utterly dominant in his time with the FCS, using his unique blend of speed and power to overwhelm inferior competition. Across his four years with Sam Houston State, Hall racked up 42 sacks and 86.5 tackles for loss. It is safe to say his incredible production won’t be exactly replicated in the NFL, but scouts see the potential for Hall to contribute double digit sacks within his first few seasons. The greatest concern facing Hall’s ability to succeed is his height. Standing barely over six feet tall, there are worries that Hall could be swallowed up by bigger, equally physically gifted offensive lineman. If his pass rushing abilities can translate, the Raiders have a scary option opposite Khalil Mack. Oakland’s next selection, offensive tackle Brandon Parker is another small school prospect bursting with potential. Similar to Miller, Parker is another tall tackle who stands at 6’8 and weighs 305 pounds. He has quick feet and fluid hips, but his hand placement and technical refinement must improve. Parker faces many of the same struggles Miller does, but doesn’t face the same pressures as a first round pick. Oakland’s second selection of the third round was LSU pass rusher Arden Key. In 2016, Key stayed healthy and thrived as a ferocious pass rusher off the edge with first round pick potential. But, his 2017 season was defined by injury, and the mobility and strength that made Key so dominant appeared nonexistent. Yet if Key is at full strength he has the skills to become the steal of the draft. Even at 6’5, Key has the flexibility and fluidity to get underneath opposing tackles and drive them towards the quarterback. He has long arms and quick feet, and if given the opportunity could blossom into one of the drafts most talented pass rushers. In the fourth the Raiders finally addressed their porous secondary with the selection of corner Nick Nelson. The logic was sound, but in my opinion there were better corner prospects available. Nelson has no major deficiencies, but also doesn’t really possess one standout skill. He has average height (5’11), good straight line speed, fine feet and hips. He was third in the nation in pass deflections with 21, but was unable to pull down any interceptions. Nelson only played one season for the Badgers, but was named to first team Big-10. He will probably never become a true shut down corner, but the likelihood he contributes on special team and in nickel and dime packages is high. In the fifth Oakland stopped the slide of potential first round talent Maurice Hurst, who fills a massive need for the Silver and Black as a disruptor in the middle of their defensive line. Hurst was one of my favorite prospects to scout this offseason, and getting a player of his caliber in the fifth round is highway robbery. The former Wolverine showed consistent production from the defensive tackle position throughout his college career, as he possesses the quickness to attack the quarterback and the strength to make his presence felt in the running game. Hurst is a little undersized at 6’1 and 292 pounds, but similar to current LA Rams superstar Aaron Donald Hurst is able to gain ridiculous leverage and use his advanced hand placement to get quick inside pressure. If just the Key and Hurst picks hit like I anticipate, this draft could revolutionize the entire makeup of this Raiders defense. If they are able to get pressure by just rushing four, their inadequacies in the secondary won’t quite be as glaring. With their next pick, Oakland selected punter Johnny Townsend to replace the departed Marquette King. In the sixth, the Raiders nabbed Azeem Victor, a one time promising linebacker prospect who’s junior and senior season was derailed since he broke his leg late in his junior year. The potential is still there for Victor to be an impact player as a plus athlete with strong instincts, but it remains to be seen if he can stay on the field. Oakland’s final pick was wide receiver Marcell Ateman, who is a tall and long-limbed pass catcher who can go up and get any ball. His speed is nothing special, and his route running could be much more effective, but there are only so many players who possess his combination of height and jumping ability. As a draft class, the Raiders bet big on their ability to develop physically enticing prospects. If their plan succeeds, they could have drafted future stalwarts at crucial positions. If their plan fails, they managed to miss out on the bevy of possible franchise altering defensive talent their team desperately needs. My money is on the latter. All hope is not lost though for the Silver and Black, as the picks of Key and Hurst in the third and fifth rounds respectively may save this draft class from total embarrassment.

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Broncos expected to sign Case Keenum

It may not be who everyone was expecting, but the Denver Broncos found their QB in free agency.

Despite being linked to former Washington QB Kirk Cousins even before the regular season ended, ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported Monday night that when free agency starts on Wednesday, the Broncos are expected to sign the man who engineered the Minnesota Miracle to stun the New Orleans Saints in January. Denver landed Case Keenum.

Benjamin Allbright reported the details early Tuesday morning:

The signing may come as a surprise to many, seeing as the Broncos were a favorite to land Cousins. This could also end the possibility of the Broncos drafting a quarterback with the fifth overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, considering how much money the team will be committed to paying Keenum.

Keenum, who will be joining his fifth different team since 2014, has never been one of the game’s elite quarterbacks.

Not until 2017, that is.

After going 4-5 with the Los Angeles Rams in 2016, Keenum joined the Minnesota Vikings last season and led them to an 11-3 record, and into the NFC Championship Game against the Philadelphia Eagles. He threw for 3547 yards and 22 touchdowns against only 7 interceptions, and had a 67.6 completion percentage.

Keenum obviously did enough in 2017 to raise his stock, but there are always question marks surrounding big signings such as this one.

Keenum was helped by a defense that ranked first overall in the NFL, according to ESPN.com. The Broncos, on the other hand, came in at third overall in those rankings. With the loss of veteran cornerback Aqib Talib, though, the Denver defense will only get younger this year, and could regress.

There is still hope for Broncos fans, though. Keenum presents a significant upgrade over the quarterback carousel made up of Brock Osweiler, Trevor Siemian and Paxton Lynch that Denver had to utilize last season.

Keenum brings proven postseason experience and success to a young and relatively inexperienced corps. He could be a valuable mentor to the younger players, as well as serving as a rock at an unsteady position for the Broncos since Peyton Manning retired.

Broncos’ No-Fly Zone takes hit as Talib traded to Rams

Another crucial piece of the Denver Broncos’ dominant defense that won the team its third Super Bowl is on its way out of the Mile High City.

NFL Network’s James Palmer reported Thursday evening that the Broncos traded cornerback Aqib Talib to the Los Angeles Rams. The return to Denver is a fifth-round pick in the upcoming 2018 NFL Draft.

Talib will now join a good, young Los Angeles team coming off of a 2017 postseason appearance. The Rams have also already acquired former Chiefs cornerback Marcus Peters earlier this offseason.

Last season, Talib picked off one pass in 15 games, a pass that he returned 103 yards for a touchdown against the Dallas Cowboys in Week 2. The pick-6 capped off a 42-17 beatdown in front of the Broncos’ home crowd. He also forced one fumble, recorded one sack and deflected seven passes.

The trade shouldn’t come as a surprise, as Denver was rumored to have been shopping Talib, according to a piece published by 9News’ Mike Klis, and Talib reportedly wanted to sign with the New England Patriots if he were released. Now that Talib is out of the picture, more opportunities should arise for younger members of the Broncos secondary, like Justin Simmons and Bradley Roby.

The Rams appear to be following in the footsteps of recent title-winners, such as the Broncos in Super Bowl 50 and the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XLVIII, by assembling a dominant defense to complement a powerful Jared Goff-led offense that ranked 7th in the NFL last season, according to NFL.com. Their current defensive coordinator, Wade Phillips, occupied a pivotal role in Denver’s success in 2015.

Draft Overview: Denver Broncos

After a 5-11 2017 season filled with terrible quarterback play, the Denver Broncos hold the fifth overall pick in the NFL Draft.

Coach Vance Joseph was thought to be on the hot seat, but general manager John Elway is keeping him around for at least another year.

Joseph is a defensive-minded coach, but he should probably turn his scouting focus (at least in the first round) to quarterback.

Denver started three different quarterbacks last season. Trevor Siemian was the only one of those to win a game. He went 5-5 as a starter, throwing for 12 touchdowns and 14 interceptions.

Elway was said to be impressed by Wyoming’s Josh Allen at the Senior Bowl, but there are many questions surrounding him.

Allen had average, at best, senior season. He threw for 16 touchdowns, which was significantly less than the 28 he tossed in 2016. Not only did he drop off statistically, he only brought home Honorable Mention All-Mountain West honors. A quarterback slated as a top ten NFL Draft pick shouldn’t be the third best quarterback in that conference.

Allen does have a lot of qualities, and with some time to develop, could turn into a reliable NFL starter. But who will he learn from? Definitely not Trevor Siemian.

Von Miller said earlier this offseason that he had spoken to free agent Kirk Cousins about coming to Denver, but that was before the Jets said they would shell out a lot for Cousins. Unless the Broncos can match that, they might want to start looking elsewhere for a veteran.

Journeyman Case Keenum is coming off of a career year, in which he led the Vikings to a 13-3 record and an NFC Championship appearance. He’s expected to hit the open market next month. Keenum is the perfect short-term, veteran guy to mentor Allen for a year or two.

If Keenum ends up being awful, the Broncos can toss Allen in, but the approach makes sense as they could potentially set themselves up to win now and in the future.

Miller: Cousins could take Broncos “over the edge”

Denver Broncos linebacker Von Miller said he has spoken to Kirk Cousins during the offseason this morning on the Dan Patrick Show.

‘Kirk could take us over the edge,” Miller said.

Cousins is set to become a free agent when the new league year begins.

The Redskins, who franchise tagged Cousins before each of the past two seasons, traded for Alex Smith last night. Smith and the Redskins agreed to a four-year contract extension shortly after.

With Smith presumably becoming the starter in Washington, Cousins is more than likely to leave in free agency.

Cousins finished the 2017 season with 4,093 yards and 27 touchdowns. He is one touchdown short of 100 over his six-year career.

Denver is in desperate need of a quarterback after a 5-11 season, during which they sent out three different starting quarterbacks, including prodigal son Brock Osweiler, Paxton Lynch and Trevor Siemian. The Broncos will have the option to choose from variety of highly touted quarterbacks with the fifth pick in the NFL Draft.

Other potential landing spots for Cousins include Cleveland and Jacksonville, but each of those teams have the potential to create controversy by signing Cousins. The Browns are expected to draft a quarterback with on of their two top five draft picks, and Blake Bortles had a successful season for the Jaguars.