May 25, 2024

AFC West check-in: Most, least improved position groups post-draft

The 2024 NFL Draft is in the books, meaning teams have mostly completed their most significant roster moves for the season. With that in mind, here’s a look at the most and least upgraded position groups for each AFC West team.

Denver Broncos

Most improved position group: Edge-rusher

Outside of linebackers Nik Bonitto and Jonathon Cooper — who combined for 16.5 sacks last season — the Broncos lack quality pass-rushers. According to Pro Football Reference, Denver generated the fourth-fewest pressures (117) in the league in 2023. 

The Broncos couldn’t afford to sign a premier edge-rusher in free agency, so taking Utah LB Jonah Elliss (pick No. 76) was wise. In 10 games in 2023, the second-team All-American had the seventh-most sacks (12) in the FBS. 

Elliss could immediately push LB Baron Browning for playing time. Browning is talented, but he has durability concerns. In 2023, he underwent knee surgery before the start of the season and logged career lows in sacks (4.5) and tackles for loss (four) in 10 games.

Least improved position group: Quarterback

The Broncos needed an answer at the most important position after releasing QB Russell Wilson earlier this offseason, but taking Oregon’s Bo Nix with the 12th overall pick felt like a reach. 

Per ESPN’s Adam Schefter, Denver head coach Sean Payton sees similarities between Nix and Kansas City Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes, but experts disagree. On “The Ryen Russillo Podcast,” longtime draft analyst Todd McShay said he spoke with several talent evaluators and none had a first-round grade on the 24-year-old QB. 

Nix may have to play right away, as Denver doesn’t have a viable starter on its roster. The Broncos recently acquired former first-rounder Zach Wilson, who went 12-21 in three seasons with the New York Jets. Jarrett Stidham, meanwhile, went 1-1 and completed 60.6% of his passes in two starts with Denver last season.

Kansas City Chiefs

Most improved position group: Wide receiver

The Chiefs won their third Super Bowl in five years last season, but their receiving corps played inconsistently. K.C. led the league in drops (44) last season, and Mahomes only threw for 27 TDs, his lowest figure since 2019. 

The Chiefs signed WR Marquise Brown (one year, $7M) in free agency, but they still needed more firepower entering the draft. Kansas City dealt three picks to the Buffalo Bills to move up to pick No. 28 and select Texas WR Xavier Worthy. 

Worthy — who broke the 40-yard dash record (4.21) at the NFL Scouting Combine — should provide the playmaking ability the Chiefs covet. In three seasons with the Longhorns, he recorded 197 receptions for 2,755 yards and 26 TD catches.

Least improved position group: Cornerback

After dealing CB L’Jarius Sneed to the Titans this offseason, the Chiefs surprised by waiting until the sixth round of the draft to select a corner. That’s where K.C. selected Tennessee’s Kamal Hadden (pick No. 211). In 2023, he had three interceptions in seven games before suffering a season-ending shoulder injury.

CB Joshua Williams has yet to prove he can fill Sneed’s shoes. In two seasons with Kansas City, he has started in six games and allowed seven passing TDs in coverage.

The Chiefs still have first-team All-Pro Trent McDuffie, but if they fail to develop another CB, it could become a weakness offenses exploit.  

Las Vegas Raiders 

Most improved position group: Offensive line

The Raiders already had a solid O-line that allowed the league’s lowest pressure rate last season (15%, per Pro Football Reference). The addition in the draft of Oregon guard Jackson Powers-Johnson (pick No. 44) makes the unit even better. 

Per Pro Football Focus, Powers-Johnson allowed zero sacks and zero hurries in 13 games in 2023. Vegas didn’t re-sign right guard Greg Van Roten, who started in 17 games last season, so the 21-year-old Powers-Johnson should receive plenty of playing time.

A strong O-line is key for the Raiders, who have a new starting running back in Zamir White and haven’t resolved their QB issues.

Least improved position group: Quarterback

Clearly, the Raiders lacked a fallback plan after the Atlanta Falcons took QB Michael Penix Jr. with the No. 8 pick. ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. reported they tried to trade up for the former Washington star but failed.

In his post-draft recap, Raiders general manager Tom Telesco said the team didn’t mull taking another passer on Day 2 or 3. This seems foolish because solid options remained on the board, including South Carolina’s Spencer Rattler. (The Saints selected Rattler with the 150th overall pick.)

QBs Aidan O’Connell and free-agent addition Gardner Minshew will compete for the starting job. Don’t be surprised if both struggle. Fourth-round pick O’Connell went 5-5 in 10 starts as a rookie last season, and Minshew averaged 194.4 passing yards per game in 13 starts with the Colts, below the league average (218.9).

Los Angeles Chargers 

Most improved position group: Wide receiver

This offseason, the Chargers dealt six-time Pro Bowl wideout Keenan Allen to the Chicago Bears and released former first-rounder Mike Williams, who signed with the New York Jets. To help replace them, they drafted Georgia’s Ladd McConkey (pick No. 34) and USC’s Brenden Rice (pick No. 225).

McConkey is fast (4.39 40-yard dash) and could become a Week 1 starter. He won two national championships in three seasons at Georgia, compiling 119 receptions for 1,687 yards and 14 TD catches.
Rice — the son of Pro Football Hall of Famer Jerry — could emerge as a big-play specialist. Per ESPN’s Kris Rhim, in 12 games in 2023, seven of his 12 TD catches came on vertical routes, tied for the sixth most in the FBS. 

Rice and McConkey may face a learning curve, but they could excel with an elite quarterback in Justin Herbert.

Least improved position group: Tight end

In free agency, the Chargers let TE Gerald Everett — who started in 12 games last season — walk. (He has since signed with the Bears.) In the meantime, they signed tight ends Will Dissly and Hayden Hurst. 

Dissly started in 14 games for the Seahawks last season, compiling 17 receptions for 172 yards and one receiving TD. Hurst, meanwhile, had one receiving TD in nine games with the Panthers and missed eight games after suffering a concussion in Week 10. 

During the draft, the Chargers passed on solid TE prospects, including Texas’ Ja’Tavion Sanders and Ohio State’s Cade Stover. L.A. may regret ignoring this position in the draft.