“The Amateur Ward”: Increasing Competition and Peyton’s Legacy: AFC West
Before I say anything on the AFC West, condolences to the family, friends, and Auburn University as they lost one of their own in Philip Lutzenkirchen early Sunday morning. An upstanding young man and fine football player will be missed.
The AFC West is going to be fun to watch this season. The Chiefs look to be contenders, San Diego revamped their secondary, the Broncos have this fellow named Peyton Manning I hear, and the Raiders are finally learning to draft. Yes, I see a competitive AFC West this season with all three teams jockeying for second behind the Broncos. This division will be fun to watch as it is not as top-heavy as many of the other divisions, and many of the rookies will step in and contribute right away. Unlike the NFC West, the AFC West is going to have some shootouts as secondaries in this division are rebuilding themselves, and aged veterans are returning from injury. Those fans of the AFC West, enjoy the continued production from future Hall of Famer Peyton Manning (unless your team is defending against him), and look forward to some hard-fought, close games as the AFC West never disappoints (outside of the Broncos collective performance in Super Bowl XLVIII). Don’t look now, but the AFC West is returning to prominence in the NFL.
Best Pick: Bradley Roby (CB)– Roby may have some questionable character traits, but with his physicality and ability to stick with receivers, he should make an immediate impact upon the Broncos. Denver finished last season 27th against the pass last season, with 254 yards/game allowed last season, and the Broncos as a whole got obliterated in Super Bowl XLVIII. With the Broncos looking to improve in the secondary this season, don’t be surprised to see Roby be a big contributor this season. Sleeper material as your 3rd corner/IDP play in leagues over 12 teams deep.
Worst Pick: Michael Schofield (OT)– With the continued aging of Peyton Manning, pass protection becomes evermore paramount with the departure of Zane Beadles to the Jaguars. Enter Schofield who is serviceable in the run game, but struggles with quickness off the line, and Manning’s blind side is better served elsewhere. While it’s not fair to bash a rookie right tackle before he’s played a game, with only average foot speed, and a tendency to lunge, Schofield looks more and more the part of a reach. The Broncos will move Orlando Franklin from right tackle to left guard, and get left tackle Ryan Clady back, but will still need help in pass protection this season. Unless Schofield can improve his foot speed and cut back on his lunging propensity, he won’t see the field a ton this season, or possibly going forward. (Photo courtesy of ohio.com)
Sleeper Fantasy Contributor: Cody Latimer (WR)– Latimer, out of Indiana will reportedly be a contributor for the upcoming season. While Latimer is buried on the depth chart behind, Thomas, Welker, Sanders, and potentially Caldwell, it wouldn’t be shocking if Latimer wound up beating Caldwell out for receptions. Latimer likely won’t see many receptions this season, but he should play some on the outside, leaving him to use his physicality against corners. Those looking for a deep sleeper, look this way.
Best Pick: Jason Verrett (CB)– The issue with Verrett is that he needs to stay healthy, and remain confident. Verrett is currently rehabbing from shoulder surgery, but should healthy come preseason and the regular season. Once healthy, the Chargers will likely ease him into the CB2 role to start the season, having him play in nickel packages to start the season. If he can stay healthy, Verrett will help the Chargers secondary which finished 29th in passing defense last season. He may struggle against more physical receivers and blockers, but his ability to use his quickness and elite hands should be his main asset going forward. Grab him late in your drafts and you will get a solid CB3/IDP slot guy if his body holds up. (Photo courtesy of thevikingage.com)
Worst Pick: Marion Grice (RB)– This is not a pick I would have made if I were the Chargers. The Chargers already have a dynamic duo in Ryan Mathews and Danny Woodhead at running back, with the latter more utilized in pass situations, and Grice won’t see many opportunities at backer this season, being relegated to return duties unless Mathews, Woodhead, or free agent signee Donald Brown goes down. His future is a change of pace back, but with the depth in front of him, he’ll be in constant battle for touches, at least in 2014.
Sleeper Fantasy Contributor: Jeremiah Attaochu (DE/OLB)– Attaochu will work this season in a rotation at outside linebacker with Freeney, Johnson and M. Ingram. Both Freeney and Johnson are in their 30s and will need plays off, opening the door for Attaochu and Ingram to make names for themselves. Both Ingram and Freeney missed huge chunks of 2013 due to injury, but going into 2014 OTAs both are healthy, and will contribute in 2014. Attaochu was tabbed as a sleeper by Mel Kiper leading up to the 2014 NFL Draft due to his explosiveness off the line, power, and athleticism. At only 21 Attaochu is far from a complete product, but learning from Dwight Freeney is his gain. Attaochu is definitely worth a late round flier in all dynasty formats, and could post a surprising stat line if given the right opportunity.
Best Pick: Phillip Gaines (CB)– With the loss of Brandon Flowers through release, the Chiefs entered the Draft with a need for a corner, and Gaines will be given every opportunity to grab a starting gig this season in the Chiefs press-cover scheme. With good height for a corner (6’0), good hands (including a school record 38 pass break ups at Rice, and athleticism, Gaines has all the attributes new GM John Dorsey and the Chiefs were seeking for. Given his advanced understanding of routes and his ability to go up and challenge, Gaines will be an instant impact on the Chiefs, and should help contain (somewhat) the receivers in the AFC West. His biggest challenges will be Demaryius Thomas, Keenan Allen, and the other top receivers in the AFC West.
Worst Pick: Dee Ford (DE)– Yeah I can already see the Redditers lining up to bash this label now, but Ford was a bad pick in the sense that they could have addressed their need for a second receiver in the first round and gotten Ford in the second. There’s no question he’s unrefined, but two areas of concern stand out. First, he does have some injury questions of his own. He had back surgery in 2011 and missed 10 games of Auburn’s season, and he has also dealt with abdominal issues. Second, his liability in the run game needs to be addressed. He is fine in the pass game, and is a superb edge rusher (he dominated at Auburn when healthy), but also was exposed in the run game. If the Chiefs rush Ford into a starter’s gig, his deficiencies will be exposed by strong running teams, and upper echelon QBs. Currently, the Chiefs have been starting Ford at OLB with Justin Houston holding out, which is a situation worth monitoring as it may signify the Chiefs willingness to see what Ford can bring them. Some have Ford as a steal, some as a reach, I’ll take the middle road and say he could be a nice system fit, but could benefit from some conditioning. (I hear the words War Damn Eagle coming from Tiger fans now). (Photo courtesy of nfl.com)
Sleeper Fantasy Contributor: Aaron Murray (QB)– The Chiefs got one helluva steal on Murray, but they will have to wait until 2015 to see him play most likely as he continues recovering from a torn ACL. The SEC’s all-time leading passer, and the only QB to pass for 3,000+ yards in all four of his college years, Murray has all the makings of a quality starting QB. He is accurate, has good arm strength, an advanced understanding of defensive schemes, and ice in his veins when the game is on he line. The Chiefs will work with him on his arm angle and footwork to aid him in achieving a higher release point, but Murray will be the Chiefs QB starting in 2015. Now they just need to get him weapons to throw to other than Dwayne Bowe
Best Pick: Khalil Mack (OLB)– Mack is the player the Raiders needed to come out of the Draft with, and they did. Already a virtual lock to start at strong side for the Raiders, Mack will be a handful for defenses this season. His explosiveness, great first move, strength, and athleticism make him an idea candidate for potential Defensive ROY. His advantage over Clowney is he’ll rack up more tackles, albeit with a few fewer sacks. YOu could do far worse than having Mack as one of your linebackers in Dynasty leagues as he’ll rack up the points.
Worst Pick: Keith McGill (CB)– As great as the Mack pick was, this pick reminded me of the Raiders olden days of drafting. McGill is slow, lacks physicality, doesn’t contribute in the run game, and is underdeveloped in his understanding of football. Fortunately, for the Raiders they will be given the year to develop him and refine his football approach, but with so many questions, it may not come together for him. He has shades of Brandon Browner to him, and would be a prototypical Al Davis pick (all respects due to Davis, however).
Sleeper Fantasy Contributor: Derek Carr (QB)– His relationship to David Carr (No. 1 pick, 2002 HOU) gives him a rough spot to start his career in. He had the best arm of any QB in the Draft, but has the tools to be better than Big Bro. His main competition this season, another former Texan, Matt Schaub who was dismal at best last season in Houston, should be surpassed by the midpoint of 2014, and Raider fans should get their first glimpse of Carr by week 11. Matt McGloin will also factor into the mix, but with a QBR of 49.5, an 8 TD:8 INT ratio and 2 lost fumbles, Carr will easily surpass McGloin. Many don’t like Carr, but he’s a good QB; he should just work on his footwork some, and get used to being popped in Oakland.
Analyzing the drafts from this division, while I don’t think they were top-tier, I see them more as needs-met drafts as all the teams improved in areas where they lacked (outside of the Chiefs at receiver), and see some potential beasts emerging this season. While I’m not an advocate of the Chiefs selection of Ford in the first round, I can understand why they took him and think he could be a sack artist in the future. Latimer is a name to keep tabs on in Denver as he could emerge in the Broncos offense, and Mack is going to lay some hurt on QBs this season and the Raiders are righting the ship and could contend for a wildcard spot within the next few seasons.
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