The most anticipated part of the off-season is officially in the rearview mirror, as the 2021 NFL Draft has officially passed. Every team in the league added young talent to their squad, but which teams made the biggest improvements? This installment of the 2021 NFL Draft Grades features an in-depth breakdown of every team in the AFC West.
2021 AFC West NFL Draft Grades
Denver Broncos: B-
After four straight losing seasons, the Denver Broncos needed the 2021 NFL Draft to help fill considerable holes. While they did not explicitly need another cornerback after signing two free agents, the team drafted second-generation athlete Pat Surtain II with the ninth pick. Arguably the best cornerback in the draft (albeit one who doesn’t quite fit head coach Vic Fangio’s scheme), Surtain proved impossible for new general manager George Paton to pass on. By uniting him with Kyle Fuller, Bryce Callahan, Ronald Darby, Justin Simmons, and Kareem Jackson, Paton has built debatably the best secondary in all of football.
New running back Javonte Williams probably would have been available later than 35th overall. However, like Surtain, Williams proved too hard to pass on for Paton to the point he traded up to draft him. This should come as no surprise after a 19-touchdown season in 2020— splitting snaps with another back in the process. After the Broncos moved on from hometown hero Phillip Lindsay, a back adept in pass protection and able to run through cluttered trenches was necessary. Williams might not boast the national media attention of Najee Harris or Travis Etienne, but many considered him the best back in the draft.
After adding D3 and Senior Bowl standout Quinn Meinerz and athletic Ohio State linebacker Baron Browning, Denver’s second day of the 2021 NFL Draft proved as fruitful as day one, if not more. On day three, the team added six other rookies. Paton created depth out of nothing at the safety position by taking safeties Caden Sterns and Jamar Johnson back-to-back. He then added depth at receiver and cornerback by drafting Seth Williams and Kary Vincent, Jr.
While the latter two may not contribute immediately, the safeties should see rotation in practice and possibly even in games. With their final two picks in the 2021 NFL Draft, the Broncos selected edge defender Jonathan Cooper and defensive lineman Marquiss Spencer. Both of these players are more likely to land on the practice squad than the opening day roster. After adding 10 rookies to their squad, the Broncos bring home a middling assessment of their standings in AFC West’s 2021 NFL Draft grades.
Kansas City Chiefs: B+
2020’s runner-up in the Super Bowl, Kansas City, personified the rich getting richer in the 2021 NFL Draft. Not only did they manage to acquire Pro Bowl offensive tackle Orlando Brown, Jr., they also managed to improve the front seven and further improve the offensive line. Second-round pick Nick Bolton should compete for snaps at inside linebacker. His speed will allow the Chiefs defense to match up more effectively with tight ends and pass-catchers out of the backfield. The second of the team’s two second-round picks yielded arguably the most effective pass-blocking center in the draft, Creed Humphrey. Impressive, Humphrey did not allow a sack in his last two collegiate campaigns. This makes him a perfect fit for the pass-happy Kansas City offense.
Kansas City added Joshua Kaindoh in the fourth, helping to bolster their depth at edge defender. With the rest of the division improving their offensive lines this off-season, pass rushers are in high demand in Kansas City. He will require considerable coaching to become a full-time contributor for the Chiefs defense. Likewise, fifth-round selection Noah Gray, a tight end, will find himself low on a depth chart featuring Travis Kelce. His lack of blocking efficiency most likely will hinder his ability to see the field in 2021.
The team’s final two picks in this year’s draft may prove their most important in the class. Wide receiver Cornell Powell and offensive guard Trey Smith should both play meaningful football on the field in 2021. Powell will help reaffirm the depth at receiver, while Smith is poised to turn heads in the trenches. The 2020 Chiefs offense was invariably terrifying, and after additions in this draft, the 2021 offense might be even scarier. Unfortunately for the rest of the AFC West, this draft class appears primed to help the Chiefs capture another divisional crown. Unsurprisingly, this earns the Chiefs the best grade in the AFC West’s 2021 NFL Draft grades.
Los Angeles Chargers: B
Arguably the team in the division with the most to win in the 2021 NFL Draft, the Chargers spent their first five draft picks on players who should contribute much sooner than later. Drafting one of the top offensive tackles in the draft in the form of Rashawn Slater, the team opted to place a premium on protecting the face of the franchise: Justin Herbert. It is hard to foresee Slater not in the starting lineup on opening day.
In the second round, the Chargers drafted second-generation cornerback Asante Samuel, Jr. The rookie’s father is known best for his time in New England and Philadelphia. If Junior can produce anywhere near the level his father did, the Chargers will have found themselves a lockdown corner. With several bigger-name corners already ahead of him on the depth chart, Samuel might have an uphill climb to seeing the field. Thankfully for the rookie, the veterans in the cornerback room should help him develop quite quickly.
Despite ineffectual quarterback play throughout his collegiate career, Josh Palmer earned himself a place with Los Angeles. For whatever reason, the Chargers seem perennially plagued by the injury bug, and the receiver room is often a victim of this. Palmer is likely to see more snaps than expected as a result, which should prove fruitful for his development. Like Palmer, Los Angeles’s second third-round pick, Tre’ McKitty, did not reach his potential in college. The tight end brings the Chargers offense a massive frame, which should work perfectly for a quarterback like Herbert, who is quite tall in his own right. The size and athleticism of both of these pass-catchers should flash in off-season activities with the team.
With the 13th pick in round four, the Chargers selected underrated edge defender Chris Rumph II. He combines serious upside as a pass rusher and a seemingly inherent ability to play the run from the outside linebacker position. These traits make Rumph one of the most pivotal picks of the year for Los Angeles. In a division featuring the passing offenses like you will find in the AFC West, the importance of a player like Rumph cannot be understated.
Outside of a sixth-round running back, the remainder of the draft selections for the Chargers require significant coaching to become contributors. Larry Rountree III, however, might see more playing time than rookies drafted ahead of him. Sixth-round pick Nick Niemann should be able to learn behind an otherwise impressive inside linebacker room. On the other end of the spectrum, seventh-rounder Mark Webb might not even make the team. While the Chargers started the 2021 NFL Draft stronger than almost any other team, they fizzled out at the end. As such, they ride the middle of the AFC West’s 2021 NFL Draft grades.
Las Vegas Raiders: C
The Las Vegas Raiders once again left fans and pundits alike scratching their heads. Becoming a noticeable trend for the current regime, the Raiders reached for multiple players. That said, first-round pick Alex Leatherwood only allowed two sacks in his senior year at Alabama. Drafted as a tackle to likely replace Trent Brown, Leatherwood admittedly does project better as an offensive guard. The Raiders deserve credit for identifying the player they wanted and drafting him regardless of how the fanbase or analysts perceive it.
In the second round, the Raiders managed to steal arguably the best safety in the draft, Trevon Moehrig. His athleticism and upside in coverage were obviously too exciting to pass on for Las Vegas. The 2020 Jim Thorpe Award winner should contribute immediately to the Raiders defense if healthy. He would offer the team a true centerfield-type of safety who could make a serious difference against the pass-happy offenses in Kansas City and Los Angeles. After earning 19 deflections over the last two years, Moehrig presents the team with a reasonable, if not preferable alternative to the oft-injured Johnathan Abram and Karl Joseph.
It is after the Moehrig selection the team ran into trouble. Their next pick, a third-round edge defender named Malcolm Koonce, was projected by many as a late-round selection. Perhaps Vegas hopes to recapture the same success as when they last drafted an edge defender from Buffalo? Based on the current depth chart in Vegas, Koonce will likely struggle to see the field in 2021. The team most likely would hope a third-round pick would crack the starting lineup sooner than later, however. As such, this draft selection is almost inarguably a reach. Sadly for Raiders fans, the remaining picks—outside of one in the third—all fall in line with this.
Third-round pick Divine Deablo brings one of the best names in sports to Vegas. That said, the Raiders appreciate his safety play most. The depth at the position went from barren before the draft to seemingly complete after the fact. It is true the team did advertise the selection as a linebacker addition. Nonetheless, Deablo’s size and athleticism suggest he will thrive more as a hybrid player. Expect to see him filling the dimebacker role. If the current regime does not want to face justifiable criticism for their ineffectual drafting practices, they must hope the selections they made this year not only reach their potential but surpass it thoroughly. In the meanwhile, theirs is the worst of the division’s NFL Draft grades.
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