2016 AFC West Breakdown by Position: The Offense

During the month of August, the Last Word On Sports NFL department will be breaking down every division in the league by position. This article contains a position-by-position breakdown of the AFC West’s offenses. The breakdown will contain “the best” at each unit followed by “the rest” in descending order.

2016 AFC West Breakdown by Position: The Offense

Quarterback

The Best: San Diego Chargers

The Rest: Oakland Raiders, Kansas City Chiefs, Denver Broncos

Despite being the worst team in the division, the San Diego Chargers have the best quarterback in the AFC West with Philip Rivers. Albeit leading a mediocre Chargers team, Rivers still managed to throw for 4,792 yards and 29 touchdowns last season. Rivers didn’t have an Amari Cooper or a Demaryius Thomas to throw the ball to, but he still carried the team.

Derek Carr‘s 32 touchdowns were the most by any quarterback in the division last year, but he had a little help. Cooper, Clive Walford, and Michael Crabtree are talented weapons, and running back Latavius Murray was sixth in rushing. While Carr and the Oakland Raiders may be one of the elite teams in the coming years, they’re at least a season away from dominance.

Alex Smith didn’t turn the ball over often for the Kansas City Chiefs last season, but he didn’t do much else either. He only threw for 3,482 yards and 20 touchdowns last season, and he is nothing more than a game manager. Smith does what is asked of him by Andy Reid and the Chiefs, and he does it well. Unfortunately, he didn’t play well enough to earn the top spot on this list.

The quarterback situation for the Denver Broncos is uneasy. Rookie passer Paxton Lynch is an unknown commodity for the Broncos, and veteran Mark Sanchez is on his third NFL team. Sanchez has never had a great statistical season, and it has been a long time since he started a playoff game. Lynch has a ton of talent, but how much of it will translate to the NFL remains to be seen.

Running Back

The Best: Kansas City Chiefs

The Rest: Denver Broncos, Oakland Raiders, San Diego Chargers

Regardless of missing most of the 2015 campaign–and turning 30 this season–Kansas City’s Jamaal Charles is still the best back in the AFC West. No running back in the history of the NFL averages more per carry (5.5 yards) than Charles. His exceptional speed, paired with good hands, makes him a dangerous weapon for the Chiefs. After Charles, the Chiefs also have Charcandrick West, a rusher who had 624 yards on 160 carries last season.

The Denver Broncos do have plenty of talent in the backfield, but Gary Kubiak‘s run-game genius comes at a price. While Ronnie Hillman, C.J. Anderson, and rookie Devontae Booker could all have success, it’s a success that will be shared. While the Chiefs have an established starter, the Broncos will depend on a committee.

The Oakland Raiders boasted a running back in Murray that was sixth in rushing last season. Outside of that, they were 28th on the ground. The addition of rookie rusher DeAndre Washington brings a quiet optimism to the Raiders backfield. If Washington is able to immediately impact the running game, the Raiders could achieve great success at the position.

The San Diego Chargers will hope that Melvin Gordon plays well in 2016. Appearing in 14 games, the former first-round pick only rushed for 641 yards and failed to find the end zone once. Danny Woodhead isn’t a starting running back, and the breakout game that Branden Oliver had was two seasons ago.

Wide Receiver

The Best: Denver Broncos

The Rest: Oakland Raiders, San Diego Chargers, Kansas City Chiefs

The Denver Broncos are very lucky to have a pair of exceptional receivers. Any team would be lucky to have one player like Emmanuel Sanders or Demaryius Thomas. The Broncos offense will look drastically different next season at other spots, but these two will remain stars.

The Oakland Raiders also boast two very solid wide receivers, but that’s about it. While Seth Roberts and Andre Holmes fight for the third receiver slot, neither of them are really exceptional. Michael Crabtree and Amari Cooper give Derek Carr two big targets, but a lack of depth is definitely limiting the offense.

The San Diego Chargers have a decent receiving corps headlined by Keenan Allen. The off-season addition of Travis Benjamin gives the Chargers a little depth, but beyond that it’s not pretty. James Jones is 31 years old and will be on his third team in three years.

The Kansas City Chiefs don’t have much to write home about at wide receiver. Outside of Jeremy Maclin, there’s not a bunch of talent. Albert Wilson was good at points last year, but it remains to be seen whether he can become a true starter in the NFL. Off-season addition Rod Streater showed flashes of potential with the Raiders, but hasn’t seen the field in two years.

Tight End

The Best: Kansas City Chiefs

The Rest: San Diego Chargers, Oakland Raiders, Denver Broncos

Frankly, this is the least competitive of the groups. Kansas City’s Travis Kelce is easily the best tight end in the division. Often compared to New England‘s Rob Gronkowski, Kelce has a rare combination of strength, size and speed. Kelce’s numbers have been stymied by the conservative Chiefs offense. However, he has still managed to be the number-one target on the offense.

A few years ago, San Diego’s Antonio Gates would’ve been the obvious favorite. Gates is one of the greatest tight ends of all time, and paired with Philip Rivers, he has had a great career. If Gates can play well for another couple of years, he’ll be able to pass Tony Gonzalez for the most touchdowns by a tight end in a career. Unfortunately, Gates is 36 and a shadow of the player he used to be.

What Oakland lacks in star-power, they compensate in potential. Youngsters Mychal Rivera and Clive Walford are phenomenal athletes with tons of upside. The two could end up being lost in the shuffle behind the wide receivers, but they’re bound to make some big plays for Oakland during the 2016 season. The only question is whether they’ll be able to make the jump from potential to Pro Bowl.

The Broncos lack a serious threat at tight end. Virgil Green is penciled in as the starting tight end, but he hasn’t really made an impact so far in his career. Many analysts actually have him projected to play fullback for Denver.

Offensive Line

The Best: Oakland Raiders

The Rest: Kansas City Chiefs, Denver Broncos, San Diego Chargers

A strong off-season gave the Oakland Raiders one of the best offensive lines in the NFL. The addition of Kelechi Osemele, paired with the re-signing of left tackle Donald Penn, will give Derek Carr and the offense hope–and time to operate–for 2016. Osemele and Penn join Rodney Hudson, Gabe Jackson, and Austin Howard in forming arguably the best offensive line in all of football.

The Kansas City Chiefs struggled mightily with changes along their offensive line last year. The additions of Parker Ehinger and Mitchell Schwartz will help the Chiefs, but they’re still not the best offensive line in the division by a long shot. The unit will be better this year, but not quite as good as Oakland.

Much like the rest of the offense, Denver’s front five will look drastically different in 2016. Free agents Russell Okung and Donald Stephenson should help, but this unit has a lot to prove. If Denver wants to repeat as Super Bowl champions, holes along the offensive line will have to be addressed.

The San Diego Chargers have a Frankenstein’s monster of an offensive line. Failed tackle D.J. Fluker is starting at guard, and journeyman Joe Barksdale is shoring up the right side of the offensive line. Orlando Franklin and King Dunlap are adequate players with questionable ability against elite pass rushers.

Check out the AFC West defensive breakdown.

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