AFC West Primer: Where Do The Chargers Positions Rank Offensively?
Fresh off back-to-back Super Bowl appearances, the Kansas City Chiefs are heavy favorites to win the AFC West division. While they may be favorites, walking away with the division title will not be that easy for them. The Los Angeles Chargers and Denver Broncos both have competitive rosters and even the Raiders have enough quality pieces to steal wins. Here we will be comparing the Chargers offensive position groups to the rest of the AFC West.
QuarterbackEmbed from Getty Images
- Chiefs – Patrick Mahomes | Chad Henne
- Chargers – Justin Herbert | Chase Daniel
- Raiders – Derek Carr | Marcus Mariota
- Broncos – Drew Lock/ Teddy Bridgewater
Patrick Mahomes is the best quarterback in the NFL. Even with Justin Herbert having the finest rookie season of any quarterback in the history of the NFL, Herbert still needs much development to be considered truly elite. His trajectory is pointing toward a possible MVP as soon as next season, but he has to prove it. Does Herbert have what it takes to be considered in the same league as Patrick Mahomes? The short answer is yes and based on what he did behind a broken offensive line last season and questionable coaching, he has what it takes to take that step forward in his sophomore season.
Derek Carr has been an efficient and mostly durable leader for the Raiders, but Herbert was able to statistically outperform him as a rookie and that gap should continue to grow as he gets better and better.
Coming in last is some combination of Drew Lock and Teddy Bridgewater, as they will battle for starter duties during training camp. When you have two players battling for QB1 duties in camp, you tend to have QB none. Both players have the potential to outperform expectations, but neither player really inspires much confidence.
Running BackEmbed from Getty Images
- Raiders – Josh Jacobs | Kenyan Drake | Jalen Richard | Theo Reddick
- Broncos – Melvin Gordon III | Javonte Williams | Royce Freeman | Mike Boone
- Chargers – Austin Ekeler | Justin Jackson | Joshua Kelley | Larry Rountree III
- Chiefs – Clyde Edwards-Helaire | Jerick McKinnon | Darrel Williams
The combination of Josh Jacobs and Kenyan Drake could end up becoming one of the most dangerous running back tandems in the entire NFL. The two combined for over 2,000 yards and 22 touchdowns last season while playing for separate teams. Together, that will be a dominant duo, though Jacobs is in line for a DUI suspension.
Charger fans are fully aware of Melvin Gordon’s bruising running style, but he does have issues holding on to the ball with eight fumbles over the last two seasons. The Broncos drafted Javonte Williams to eventually replace Gordon, and Williams is a very similar type of runner who could be the lead back if Gordon fails to hold on to the ball.
Austin Ekeler is extremely dangerous catching passes out of the backfield and is super efficient with his carries as well. He and Justin Jackson managed to average 4.6 yards per carry last season, despite playing behind the worst offensive line in the NFL. The issue with Jackson is his availability. This would assume Joshua Kelley receives more carries, but the Charger’s 6th-round pick, Larry Rountree III could leapfrog him on the depth chart. Austin Ekeler could finish as a top-10 back next season, but the lack of depth and availability really diminishes their positional standings in the AFC West.
Lastly, Clyde Edwards-Helaire underperformed expectations as a rookie with 803 yards rushing and just four touchdowns. He should improve, and the addition of Jerick McKinnon should help, but the lack of opportunities in the Chief’s passing attack limits their roles as true running backs in the Chiefs offense.
Wide ReceiverEmbed from Getty Images
- Chargers – Keenan Allen | Mike Williams | Jalen Guyton | Tyron Johnson | Josh Palmer
- Broncos – Courtland Sutton | Jerry Jeudy | KJ Hamler | Tim Patrick | Seth Williams
- Chiefs – Tyreek Hill | Mecole Hardman | Demarcus Robinson | Byron Pringle | Cornell Powell
- Raiders – Henry Ruggs III | Bryan Edwards | John Brown | Hunter Renfrow | Zay Jones | Willie Snead IV
The Chargers wide receiver corps is the most varied and highly talented group in the AFC West. They have a top route runner in Keenan Allen, a true X wide receiver who excels at the deep ball in Mike Williams, two speedsters in Jalen Guyton and Tyron Johnson, plus they drafted Josh Palmer in the 3rd-round of the NFL draft. They even have three additional players who could make the final 53-man roster for special teams in Joe Reed, K.J. Hill, and Austin Proehl. The Chargers have a good problem in determining whether to carry five or six receivers on the roster. The question will be who out of those final three offers the most upside.
The Broncos also have a strong core of young wide receivers who have also impressed. Courtland Sutton will return as the team’s number one, but Jerry Jeudy is also a star in the making. KJ Hamler was drafted in the second round last season to play in the slot and offers returner ability. Even Tim Patrick had 742 receiving yards with six touchdowns last season.
Tyreek Hill and Mecole Hardman offer game-changing speed, but the loss of Sammy Watkins will hurt the Chiefs to some degree. Demarcus Robinson has been a serviceable backup, but filling the shoes of Sammy Watkins isn’t likely.
The Raiders upgraded their receiving room with John Brown, but they are lacking a true number one receiver. Henry Ruggs III was drafted last season to be the guy, but only had 452 yards and two touchdowns last year. He was little more than a speed decoy. The Raiders have quality depth with Hunter Renfrow and Bryan Edwards, but the lack of a star to the position group should be a prime concern.
Tight EndEmbed from Getty Images
- Chiefs – Travis Kelce | Blake Bell | Noah Gray
- Raiders – Darren Waller | Foster Moreau | Derek Carrier
- Broncos – Noah Fant | Albert Okwuegbunam | Eric Saubert
- Chargers – Jared Cook | Donald Parham Jr. | Tre’ McKitty
Travis Kelce might be the best Tight End in the NFL. He broke a record last season of most receiving yards by a tight end in a single season with 1,416 yards and he added 11 touchdowns.
Darren Waller isn’t far behind where he had 1,196 yards receiving and nine touchdowns. The NFL only had two tight ends catch more than 1,000 yards receiving and both players play in the AFC West.
Noah Fant looks like a future star in the making. He has progressively gotten better over his two years in the league and his future is bright.
The Chargers brought in Jared Cook to replace Hunter Henry which is a massive downgrade. Cook is not an every-down player, but he is a dangerous red-zone threat and situational pass catcher. At 34 years old, Cook will likely play a rotational role and be a mentor to Donald Parham and Tre’ McKitty. Parham looks like a younger Jared Cook who plays best split out and can be a dangerous red-zone threat at 6’8. The Chargers will also look to see Tre’ McKitty develop fast and he could be the team’s primary inline blocker next year. The Chargers fall last in tight end rankings due to the fact that their tight end room is a developmental core.
- Chiefs – Orlando Brown Jr. | Joe Thuney | Austin Blythe | Kyle Long | Mike Remmers
- Chargers – Rashawn Slater | Matt Feiler | Corey Linsley | Oday Aboushi | Bryan Bulaga
- Broncos – Garett Bolles | Dalton Risner | Lloyd Cushenberry III | Graham Glasgow | Bobby Massie
- Raiders – Kolton Miller | Richie Incognito | Andre James | Denzelle Good | Alex Leatherwood
The Chiefs blew up their offensive line this offseason. They let go of Eric Fisher, Mitchell Schwartz, Austin Reiter, and Kelechi Osemele. They may have gotten better overall trading for Orlando Brown Jr. and signing Joe Thuney, Austin Blythe, and Kyle Long. The offensive line typically takes time to build chemistry, but they added bonafide stars after injury to the position group that led to their Super Bowl loss.
The Chargers completely changed their offensive line in a similar fashion. Rashawn Slater was a top offensive tackle in the NFL draft and Corey Linsley was the best center in the NFL last year. Signing Matt Feiler and Oday Aboushi could be real difference makers in the run game and a healthy Bryan Bulaga could pay dividends. The Chargers may not have a top-10 offensive line quite yet, but they are definitely trending in the right direction.
The Broncos signed Garett Bolles to a 4-year/ $68M deal after finally breaking out. He didn’t allow a single sack last year. Dalton Risner and Graham Glasgow offer upside, but neither player is truly dominant. Lloyd Cushenberry was the worst graded center in the NFL last season according to PFF, behind Dan Feeney somehow. They drafted fan-favorite Quinn Meinerz to push for the starting Center spot. The Broncos also signed away Bobbie Massie from the Bears, but he hasn’t been able to stay on the field the last two seasons.
Lastly, the Raider’s once strong offensive line was completely demolished. They let go of Rodney Hudson, Gabe Jackson, and Trent Brown and replaced them with Andre James, Denzelle Good, and drafted Alex Leatherwood in the first round. They also lack depth on the offensive line and could be a bottom 20 unit next season.
The Chiefs are still the team to beat, at least offensively. They have the best quarterback and tight end in the league. They also have the best offensive line in the AFC West. The Chargers roster is close and can compete with the AFC Conference Champions. Stay tuned to see where the Chargers rank defensively.