The AFC West made its selections in the first round of the draft, but mostly what they showed was that they’re trying to keep up, not stop, Patrick Mahomes.
The Kansas City Chiefs are 27-3 against the AFC West since 2015, so the presumption should be that every one of those teams—the Denver Broncos, L.A. Chargers, and Las Vegas Raiders—should be drafting with an eye towards stopping the kings of the West. As a result of that record, the Chiefs have won the division in four consecutive seasons.
Coming in to the NFL Draft, every AFC West general manager should have their eye focused on building a roster that can beat the Kansas City Chiefs. To do that, the team must be able to score points ( the Chiefs averaged over 33 points per game last year against the AFC West), and slow down Super Bowl LIV MVP, and 2018 MVP, Patrick Mahomes. The Chargers have had a fair amount of success scoring points, and the Broncos have done more to slow down Mahomes than most. But, neither of them (nor the Raiders) have been able to conquer Andy Reid and the Chiefs.
Through the first round of the 2020 NFL Draft, what have those teams done to catch up?
Los Angeles Chargers
After weeks of speculation that the Chargers may attempt to leapfrog the Miami Dolphins for their pick of the top quarterback in the draft, Los Angeles instead stood pat at No. 6 overall and selected Oregon’s Justin Herbert. With little drama in the top five, even after all of the smokescreens by the Miami Dolphins, the Chargers stuck where they were and got their quarterback.
With Philip Rivers leaving for Indianapolis, the Chargers were left with a quarterback room led by 31 year old veteran Tyrod Taylor. Taylor is a fine backup quarterback and in all likelihood will be given an opportunity to start in 2020, but the future now belongs to Herbert in Los Angeles.
This demonstrates that the Chargers are well aware that Taylor will not get it done in a division featuring All-World quarterback Patrick Mahomes.
Herbert is a workout wonder who certainly would not have been pegged for the sixth overall selection, and perhaps not a first round selection, when the college season ended. However, he excelled in the pre-draft process including interviews, virtual workouts, and the NFL Combine. Chargers fans will hope that the Pac 12 Quarterback of the Year can develop in to the type of signal caller they had with Rivers for so long, but keeping up with Mahomes is a tall order for a rookie quarterback.
The Chargers made a huge move to get back in to the first round, trading their second (37th overall) and third (71st overall) to the Patriots for the 23rd overall pick in the first round. With that selection, the Chargers have drafted Kenneth Murray, an inside linebacker from Oklahoma.
While Murray is a great piece to add to an already talented defense, what it is unlikely to do is help cover any of the speed on the Chiefs offense, which is what has cost the Chargers defense in the games that they’ve lost recently. They also gave up a ton of draft capital to make the pick, which will hurt the overall depth of a team that struggles with injuries. They have taken themselves completely off the board from one of the deepest drafts in recent NFL history. A rough night for the Bolts.
Las Vegas Raiders
The Raiders, by virtue of their 2018 trade of All-Pro Khalil Mack to the Chicago Bears, were the only AFC West team with two first round selections in this year’s draft.
With the 12th overall pick in the draft, the Las Vegas Raiders selected pre-draft Chiefs (supposed) darling, wide receiver Henry Ruggs III from Alabama. Ruggs was the third receiver on most draft boards heading in to the draft, so while Ruggs is a talented, and ultra-fast receiving prospect, he’s more raw as a route runner and with his hands than either college teammate Jerry Jeudy or Oklahoma’s CeeDee Lamb.
The Raiders are prepared to have a quarterback battle between less than average rosterees Derek Carr and newly signed veteran Marcus Mariota. Neither is likely to inspire much fear in the hearts and minds of Chiefs fans, but they certainly have a new weapon, after selecting Ruggs, that the Chiefs defense will have to be prepared for.
With the 19th pick in the first round, the Raiders selected a defensive piece, cornerback Damon Arnette. Arnette is a fine defensive piece, but what he’s not is a corner that can compete with Tyreek Hill or Mecole Hardman‘s speed. He ran a 4.56, 40-yard dash at the combine. So while Arnette will improve the Raiders defense, it is unlikely to do much to improve their ability to slow down Mahomes.
Last year, the team traded its best receiver in sending Emmanuel Sanders to San Francisco for a third and fourth round draft pick. Since that time, it has been obvious that receiver was the number one need in Denver, and their first round selection reflected that reality. With the 15th pick in the draft, the Broncos selected Jerry Jeudy, a wide receiver from Alabama. Most thought Jeudy was the top receiver in the draft, and was a better prospect than his teammate, Ruggs, who the Raiders selected.
Jeudy is a legitimate top tier wide receiving threat who has legitimate potential as a Pro Bowl caliber threat for the Broncos. Jeudy will pair with second year tight end Noah Fant, young receiver Courtland Sutton, and a stacked Broncos backfield featuring two form Pro Bowlers in Phillip Lindsey and newly acquired Melvin Gordon to give Drew Lock all the opportunity to succeed in the NFL.
What’s clear from this pick is that the Broncos believe that they must outgun division rival Patrick Mahomes, and be content with giving up nearly 30 points per game to the young superstar.
What did we learn?
What we learned from the first round of the NFL Draft, in terms of the AFC West, is that the Chiefs rivals have given up on stopping Super Bowl LIV MVP Patrick Mahomes. Through their heavy focus on offense, the teams have shown that they’re focused on catching up to Mahomes, Andy Reid, and the Chiefs offense, much more than they’re trying to slow them down.
Consider this: the Chiefs averaged 33.1 points per game against their AFC West opponents in 2019—compared to their average of “only” 29.9 points per game throughout the season. The Chiefs averaged more points per game against their rivals than any team averaged throughout the season by more than a point per game. (Baltimore averaged 31.9 points per game in 2019.) Despite that reality, each of the Broncos, Chargers and Raiders first round draft picks was focused on offense, not defense.
The people who play him the most of have given up on trying to stop the greatest quarterback in Chiefs’ history, and the division is building towards shootouts. Mahomes, Reid and their offensive unit will continue to roll through defenses of the West with little resistance in 2020 and likely beyond.