NFL Draft 2020: AFC West teams add depth and hope on Day 3

MOBILE, AL - JANUARY 25: Runningback Joshua Kelley #2 from UCLA of the North Team on a running play during the 2020 Resse's Senior Bowl at Ladd-Peebles Stadium on January 25, 2020 in Mobile, Alabama. The Noth Team defeated the South Team 34 to 17. (Photo by Don Juan Moore/Getty Images)
MOBILE, AL - JANUARY 25: Runningback Joshua Kelley #2 from UCLA of the North Team on a running play during the 2020 Resse's Senior Bowl at Ladd-Peebles Stadium on January 25, 2020 in Mobile, Alabama. The Noth Team defeated the South Team 34 to 17. (Photo by Don Juan Moore/Getty Images) /

Days one and two saw loads of offense infused in to the rosters of the Chiefs’ AFC West rivals. And on day three, the trend continued.

The AFC West has been dominated by the Kansas City Chiefs for the last five seasons, and their division rivals entered the NFL Draft needing to make big, effective moves to work towards catching up. Given that they gave up an average of 33.1 points per game to Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs last year, most believed they’d enter the draft looking to bulk up on defense.

Instead, the AFC West has turned in to a track meet. The Raiders, Broncos and Chargers have focused much of their attention on the offensive ball in the draft, targeting speed and weaponry in an apparent attempt to outscore, rather than stop, the Chiefs’ “Legion of Zoom.” It’s a bold strategy, really, and you have to credit the division’s coaches and general managers for the courage to do so. Mahomes owns nearly every passing and scoring record for a starting quarterback through two years as a starter, and the 2018 NFL MVP and 2019 Super Bowl MVP still has an unknown ceiling.

Time will tell if the strategy pays off for the Chiefs’ western division rivals, but for now, let’s evaluate their day three selections.

Las Vegas Raiders

The Raiders have been active moving up and down draft boards throughout the draft, and were no different on day three. They ended up making two selections on the day.

They began the day with a trade up to the 109th pick, where they made an investment in a big talented offensive lineman: John Simpson, a guard from Clemson. Simpson is a 6-foot-3, 310 pound athlete who moves well—pulling, shifting, picking up second level defenders. He’s a little raw on pass protection but in the Raiders offense, likely contributes at a high level for Las Vegas. The Raiders gave up a late fifth round pick (172 overall) to move up.

Pick 139 was a solid one for the Raiders. The Chiefs selected one spot ahead of him and took secondary man L’Jarius Sneed. At the time, many Chiefs fans and analysts were clamoring instead for cornerback Amik Robertson from Louisiana Tech. The Chiefs chose Sneed for speed (4.37, 40-yard dash) and size (6-foot-1); and the Raiders opted for the smaller (5-foot-8) and slower (untimed 40 due to groin surgery in January) Robertson.

In Robertson, the Raiders get a physical, athletic nickel corner. He’s incredibly physical and aggressive and not afraid to lay a hit. He’s not as fast as many, and will struggle to cover faster receivers downfield, but he’ll excel in zone coverage in the nickel. He also often struggles in tackling due to aggressiveness and tendency to hit rather than tackle. It’s hard to be too critical of this pick, given how enamored Chiefs fans were with this prospect. He will struggle to cover Chiefs receivers downfield, but is an excellent addition to the Raiders defense.

Denver Broncos

The Broncos were slated with five selections on day three of the NFL Draft.

They were first on the clock with pick 118, and they continued selecting offensive weapons for Drew Lock by taking Missouri tight end Albert Okwuegbunam. As a 6-foot-5, 248 pound tight end with a sub-4.5, 40-yard dash, it’s not hard to see what people like about the former Tiger as a prospect. He should make a nice complement to 2019 rookie Noah Fant.

Okwuegbunam is not a perfect prospect by any stretch; he has difficulty running a crisp or efficient route tree, and as a tight end, suffers from being a below average blocker. The Broncos will maximize his current skills with deep/over routes when he’ll lose most linebackers with speed, and with jump balls in the end zone where he uses his size, athleticism and hands to win often. It may be prudent that Okwuegbunam and Lock were teammates at Missouri.

With pick No. 178, Denver selected Justin Strnad, a linebacker from Wake Forest. A strong, quick athlete who appears likely to play well in run defense but may struggle to cover faster tight ends and running backs when asked to do so. Chalk this one up as a bit of a project for the Broncos.

The Broncos went back on the clock three picks later at No. 181 and selected guard Netane Muti from Fresno State. Muti is an athletic lineman who possesses many gifted traits, but fell in the draft relative to preseason expectations due to injury and subsequent lack of testing at the Combine and other pre-draft activities. A member of Terez Paylor’s All-Juice team, Muti has potential, if healthy, to be a steal for Denver as some had him rated as a second round prospect.

The Broncos rounded out the AFC West Draft with two compensatory selections at the end of the seventh round. With the 252nd pick, Denver selected a third wide receiver in this year’s draft with Florida’s Tyrie Cleveland. He’s a 6-foot-2, 210 pound prospect who ran a fast 4.46, 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine.

The second to last pick in the draft, number 254, was also owned by Denver, their 10th of the weekend. With it they chose North Dakota State linebacker Derreck Tuszka. He’s not as quick as many EDGE rushers, but he is a big man at 6-foot-4 and 250 pounds. Tuszka is a good athlete and a strong football player, but may be destined for the practice squad in Denver in 2020.

Los Angeles Chargers

After going without picks on the second day of the draft, the Chargers were back on the clock four times in day three.

With pick No. 112, the Chargers selected Joshua Kelley, a running back from UCLA coming off of back-to-back 1,000 yard seasons. He has not been terribly prolific in passing situations, and will need to improve as a blocker to contribute signficantly. But he should be a nice backup to Austin Ekeler in L.A and is a great value pick in the fourth round.

With the 151st selection in the draft, the Chargers selected another speedster, another offensive piece in wide receiver Joe Reed from Virginia. Reed ran a nice 4.47 second time in the 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine and led the ACC in return yards and all-purpose yards in 2019. He was also named to the conference’s 1st Team as a result. He’s a little smaller as a receiving prospect than fellow Charger pass catchers Keenan Allen and Mike Williams, but that may push the shifty burner into a slot receiving roll where he’s likely to excel.

The No. 186 pick was used to select safety Alohi Gilman from Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish have struggled to develop quality secondary pieces at the NFL level for the last several years, and Gilman possesses many of those question marks, as he’s inconsistent in coverage, tackling and pursuit. You like his speed (4.6, 40-yard dash) and his overall athleticism, but its hard to see Gilman making meaningful contributions for the Charger defense.

The Chargers went on the clock for their final time in the 2020 draft in the seventh round with pick 220 and used it to select KJ Hill, another wide receiver, this time from Ohio State. Hill is another shorter, faster receiver in the same vein as Reed. He’s 6-feet tall, 196 pounds and posted a 4.6, 40-yard dash at the combine. He is Ohio State’s all time leader in receptions (201) and is a steal in the seventh round of the draft. I had him ranked ahead of Reed, who they took early in the fifth.

What did we learn?

The track meet is on and the Chiefs may have some legitimate competition in a 4X100 relay with their AFC West counterparts. In total, Kansas City’s three Western division rivals drafted eight wide receivers this weekend (Denver 3, Las Vegas 3, and Los Angeles 2) and used 14 of 23 selections on the offensive side of the ball. Perhaps more prudently for 2020, seven out of 11 picks in the first three rounds were committed to the teams’ offenses.

Despite that (over-) focus, each and every team in the division got better somewhere this weekend, and on first glance it would seem that at least two of the three will be better when (or if) the 2020 season kicks off.

The Chargers have to prove they have an adequate Philip Rivers replacement, and that Ekeler can step in to a full-time, full-season Melvin Gordon role before I’m ready to say they’re a better team now than they were in December; but the addition of Kenneth Murray makes the defense better.

The Raiders added athletes and certainly got faster, and team speed was an important component to getting better in 2020. They added weapons for Derek Carr and, coupled with 2019 rookie Josh Jacobs, should have few excuses for not executing offensively this year. The defense is a question mark, but it is improved.

The Broncos had one of the best drafts in the NFL. They addressed positions of need and gave their young quarterback every opportunity to be successful.

None of the other teams in the West can be anointed the team to beat, since that title still firmly belongs to Chiefs Kingdom. But it is evident that all appear to be making strides in the right direction.

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