During the month of September, 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 offenses. The breakdown will contain “the best” at each unit followed by “the rest” in descending order.
2021 AFC West Offense Breakdown by Position
The Best: Kansas City Chiefs
There is no question Patrick Mahomes II is the best quarterback in the AFC West. He is likely the best quarterback in the entire NFL. As such, it is clear the Chiefs boast the best quarterback situation in the division. If Mahomes is healthy, there is no better quarterback situation in pro football. Experienced backup Chad Henne solidifies Kansas City for this spot, having proven himself while Mahomes was injured.
The Rest: Los Angeles Chargers, Las Vegas Raiders, Denver Broncos
The Los Angeles Chargers found their franchise quarterback in the 2020 NFL Draft when they selected Justin Herbert sixth overall. While Herbert failed to lead the team to a winning record in 15 games last year, he displayed elite arm talent. He also showed an ability to use his athleticism to keep plays alive behind a weak offensive line. Compared to the quarterbacks for the remaining two AFC West teams, Herbert stands head and shoulders above the rest. This is not just because he is the tallest passer in the division.
Derek Carr is by no means a world-beater for the Las Vegas Raiders. In fact, he has only posted a single season with a winning record in his NFL career. That said, he is more than serviceable and has only missed two regular-season games since entering the league in 2014. His best traits are his availability, comfortability in the system, and the consistency with which he manages games (even in defeat). These traits place the Raiders third within the division for quarterback play.
The Denver Broncos suffer from the age-old adage: “if you have two quarterbacks, you have none.” Incumbent starter Drew Lock recently lost the job to trade acquisition Teddy Bridgewater, who now plays for his fifth team since entering the league in the 2014 NFL Draft.
The so-called competition between the two passers was an example of inefficiency from the Broncos coaching staff. Bridgewater, the winner, nonetheless presents the offense with its best opportunity to protect the football. The Broncos are the clear last-place team in the division as far as the quarterback position is concerned. This is due to the inconsistency of both passers and questions arising from this off-season.
The Best: Las Vegas Raiders
Josh Jacobs is easily the best backfield runner in the division. He is also in the conversation for the best runner in the AFC itself. The recent off-season addition of Kenyan Drake also provides an interesting ‘thunder-and-lightning’-style dynamic for the Raiders offense. This should help ease the workload for Jacobs to keep him churning deep into the longest season in NFL history. Jacobs alone places the Raiders at the top of the division in terms of running backs.
The Rest: Denver Broncos, Los Angeles Chargers, Kansas City Chiefs
The Denver Broncos, however, boast the most interesting backfield in the division. Last year’s starter, Melvin Gordon III, enters his seventh season in the league in 2021. His age and injury history suggest this may be his final season in Denver. As a result, the veteran runner looks to make it his best season yet with a chip on his shoulder. Behind Gordon is rookie Javonte Williams, an intriguing prospect who ‘runs angry’, as some coaches might say. Both backs have some receiving skills, but their running ability between the tackles is their most prominent contribution to the young offense.
The Los Angeles Chargers start fantasy darling Austin Ekeler at running back. His 92 receptions for nearly 1,000 yards and eight touchdowns in 2019 illustrate the young back’s status in the division as a receiving back. This versatility is impressive, but the depth at the position leaves much to be desired. Between Justin Jackson and Joshua Kelley, depth is questionable here. If Ekeler again misses time, L.A.’s rushing attack will likely falter and find themselves at or around the bottom of the league.
Kansas City coming in last may come as a surprise to some AFC West fans, especially those in Missouri. While Clyde Edwards-Helaire is undoubtedly talented and arguably one of the most dynamic runners in the division (and conference), he only has one season under his belt. That one season was fairly impressive, of course, but considering the questionable depth behind the sophomore back? Kansas City hasn’t a truly reasonable claim to a higher slot in this division-wide positional ranking.
The Best: Denver Broncos
Not only do the Denver Broncos have far and away the best receiving corps in the division, but they also have a legitimate argument for the best receiver group in the entire league. Only the Dallas Cowboys can truly compete with Denver for this honor. Courtland Sutton returns from a torn A.C.L. to reclaim his number-one receiver status for the team, while sophomore receivers Jerry Jeudy and K.J. Hamler provide speed and electricity for an offense that has lacked both since the days of Peyton Manning. Tim Patrick also provides incredible depth, a red-zone target, and veteran leadership for an incredibly young position group.
The Rest: Kansas City Chiefs, Los Angeles Chargers, Las Vegas Raiders
Tyreek Hill alone may suffice to place Kansas City second in this positional ranking. Perhaps the faster player in the league—maybe ever—this perpetual home-run threat provides Patrick Mahomes with a consistent security blanket. Since Mahomes took over as quarterback in 2018, Hill has averaged 77.33 receptions, 1,205 receiving yards, and 11.33 receiving touchdowns per season. Mecole Hardman’s elite speed and the rest of the depth at the position make the unit more than adequate, but Hill is the only true elite-level threat.
Keenan Allen of the Los Angeles Chargers has been one of the most consistent receivers in the league since joining L.A. in 2013. He has averaged 78 catches, 924.63 receiving yards, and 5.25 touchdowns per season over the last eight years (including the 2016 season, when he missed 15 games). His route-running prowess pairs well with Justin Herbert’s arm. Mike Williams has yet to break out fully but has more than enough talent and skill to do so, especially now that Herbert has more completely settled into his starting role. While the depth behind these two is suspect, these two should have a great year.
The Las Vegas Raiders have no truly proven or credible receiving threats at the wide receiver position. Their number-one receiver is a tight end. Henry Ruggs III has yet to deliver on his draft position, while Bryan Edwards has some serious potential. Hunter Renfrow, their slot receiver and third on their depth chart, is their most polished receiver. Unless one or more of these three receivers have a breakout year in 2021, there is no question the Raiders have the worst receiving unit in the division.
The Best: Kansas City Chiefs
Travis Kelce is the reigning standard-bearer for the tight-end position in the NFL. Boasting multiple records and combining a unique blend of elite athleticism and potent run-blocking, Kelce alone is enough to place Kansas City first among their division in terms of tight ends. Backup Blake Bell is not going to turn any heads, but he is more than serviceable enough to bridge any gaps Kelce might ostensibly miss.
The Rest: Las Vegas Raiders, Denver Broncos, Los Angeles Chargers
For Vegas, Darren Waller is their top pass-catcher regardless of position. Over the last two years with the Raiders, Waller has posted 197 receptions, 2,341 yards, and 12 touchdowns. The only tight end in the league who can compare to these numbers is the aforementioned Kelce. Foster Moreau is the second tight end for Vegas. The depth is certainly not as impressive as Waller himself, but the star tight end alone warrants the Raiders appearing on this AFC West offense breakdown at second for this position.
The Denver Broncos have the most intriguing depth at tight end in the division. However, the elite level of play from Kelce and Waller prevents the Broncos from overtaking either in 2021’s AFC West offense breakdown. First-round pick Noah Fant is the obvious and undisputed starter, poised for a breakout season in 2021 regardless of who is under center. Behind Fant is Albert Okwuegbunam and Eric Saubert. The former is an impressive athlete with great receiving skills as evidenced last season before he was lost to injury. The latter is an underrated receiver while boasting the best blocking skills of any tight end on the roster.
Many fans might not even know who the Los Angeles Chargers have at tight end. With almost nonexistent depth behind starter Jared Cook, the team has strayed considerably far from the days of Antonio Gates or even Hunter Henry. Cook, however, is an underrated tight end with a vast amount of experience under his belt. His veteran savvy should pay dividends for both Justin Herbert and Jared Cook himself. Nonetheless, the Chargers are quite clearly the fourth-best team in the division when it comes to tight ends.
The Best: Kansas City Chiefs
A year ago, this portion of the list looked completely different. This off-season, however, the Kansas City Chiefs invested heavily in the offensive line. Their off-season acquisitions are elite starters capable of not only keeping Mahomes safe but also leading Edwards-Helaire to a career year. Almost completely devoid of weaknesses for the first time in many years, this offensive line unit is tops in the division.
The Rest: Los Angeles Chargers, Denver Broncos, Las Vegas Raiders
Surprisingly, the Los Angeles Chargers appear the second-best team in the division as far as the offensive line is concerned. After an abysmal performance from the unit last year, L.A.’s front office also invested in the trenches this off-season. Their first-round pick slates in as a rookie starter responsible for protecting Herbert. Additionally, more than one former Green Bay Packers help round out the position group. With Herbert’s inevitable growth as a passer and the return of Austin Ekeler, this offensive line is poised for their best season in years.
Unfortunately for Broncos Country, the Denver offensive line is a mixed bag of inconsistency, great coaching, and injury issues. Garett Bolles suddenly got his act together last year and was paid handsomely for it. The right tackle position has continued to be a revolving door of backfield tour guides since Orlando Franklin’s departure. Along the interior, left guard Dalton Risner looks to bounce back from a slight regression in 2020.
Veteran Graham Glasgow looks to defend his starting job at right guard. A repeat of his play in 2020 likely would not be enough to keep the job. At center, sophomore Lloyd Cushenberry III hopes to learn from his many struggles last year. If the five starters can stay healthy, they have the potential to overtake Los Angeles on this portion of 2021’s AFC West offense breakdown.
This off-season, the Las Vegas Raiders moved on from some of the more effective players in their offensive line. Rookie Alex Leatherwood should fill the right tackle role for the entirety of the season, barring injury or ineptitude. Kolton Miller has yet to deliver on his draft position, much like many other young Raiders. Along the interior, veteran (and notoriously cancerous personality) Richie Incognito is the best lineman the Raiders have. Denzelle Good and Andre James are nothing to write home about at the present time, but all have serious potential to shed these reputations and become prominent blockers for Vegas. Until then, however, Vegas comes in last for offensive line in the 2021 AFC West offense breakdown.