Where do the teams stand now that the draft is over
Everyone is grading the draft and trying to rank the teams where they think is appropriate. So here’s the grueling truth about the draft. It wasn’t great. It was weird. Bottom line, teams picked up players that more often than not had fans scratching their heads. Players that should have easily been first round picks dropped as low as third or fourth round for various reasons. Even draft experts and analysts were wrong about 90% of the mocks they did. OK, that’s being generous. 99%.
Since the draft is over (finally!) and the season is still months away, there’s no time like the present to analyze the Raiders’ draft and see how it compares to the rest of the division as well as the rest of the league. Since there are so many teams and so many picks, we can take it division by division.
Part 1 – AFC West
The Oakland Raiders reside in easily the most difficult division in football. As evidenced by the strength of their schedule and talent levels of the opponents they play multiple times each and every year, the teams in this division are all setting themselves up to look like contenders. Here they are, team by team.
Let’s face it, Oakland had a mediocre draft. Realistically, they didn’t fill some huge holes that desperately needed filling, but they did add lots and LOTS of depth. Their first round pick wasn’t super shocking, as Reggie McKenzie seems to like his secondary players a lot. They did pick up some contenders in later rounds for the right offensive tackle position that is currently devoid of talent. Plus, they were able to add a linebacker and a couple of defensive tackles, but only time will tell whether any of them will compete for a starting job.
If the Raiders can fill the voids on their defense, especially plugging up the run blocking, the team will truly be poised to take the title. They’re a mere few steps away right now, so if that defense rises to even the middle of the pack, which is a huge improvement from last year, they’re in the hunt for the championship from day one.
Kansas City Chiefs
Winners of the division in 2016, the Chiefs really had nowhere to go to improve their roster. They moved up to pick a backup quarterback in the draft, who very well may make himself a big name, if given a few seasons behind Andy Reed and vet QB Alex Smith. Patrick Mahomes is starting his career off in the same manner as several of the greats like Brady and Rodgers, sitting behind a vet for (number of years to be determined). But historically these are the guys that do the best. A young buck has to start small and learn how to deal with the pressure of running his own NFL team. Not every QB gets that opportunity and they don’t all do well.
Joe Flacco, for example, was a rookie starter and he’s done fairly well for himself, but it took time and a lot of fluctuation for him to get his name in the conversation for top quarterbacks. He still isn’t quite there and he probably never will be. Derek Carr, on the other hand, started as a rookie, posting a 3-13 season, and has improved every year since, as has Titans’ Marcus Mariota. Mariota has improved his record each year and is just going into his third year in the league with high expectations for 2017. Common sense says that if Carr hadn’t broken his leg last year, the Raiders would have battled the Patriots for the AFC championship. Mariota met the same fate and will look for some retribution now that he’s healed.
More about that later. Getting back to the Chiefs, they’re still king of the hill and the team to beat to claim the division title.
Denver is lackluster. Say what you will about the great John Elway, but he can’t keep a quarterback or a coach to save his life. The Broncos did better than much of the league last year in a division that proved itself worthy of the top of the heap. But their opponents have all improved, and they haven’t. Their defense is still full of top-notch talent and will continue to wreak havoc on their opponents, but they don’t have a quarterback that’s proven himself to be a game winner. Defense may win games but a quarterback makes the team.
Unless Denver can improve their offensive line and provide some protection for Trevor Siemian, the defenses that they face will bowl over them and rack up sacks. They did sign Jamaal Charles, who is the latest in the run on old running backs in the league to sign with a new team. Charles joins the tandem of C.J. Anderson and Devontae Booker, who posted about 1,000 yards between the two of them last year. With an aging RB and two average runners, the defense is going to have a lot of ground to make up to cover the holes on offense.
Los Angeles Chargers
Still weird to say, the Chargers of Los Angeles are working hard to make themselves a relevant force in the league again. Their defense is on its way to outstanding, picking up the defensive rookie of the year in the 2016 draft, and having a strong secondary, including one of the best young corners in the league in Casey Hayward, who posted the most interceptions of any cornerback last year. With some new weapons on the offense, Phillip Rivers will look to return to his glory and post another 5,000 yard season, this time with winning results.
The Chargers drafted well, spreading their picks across several areas of the roster. They will likely see good production quickly from a few of their new rookies. They might just crawl out of the basement and take over the number 3 spot in the AFC West this year. Or at least give the Broncos a run for their money.
First Place – Oakland Raiders vs Kansas City Chiefs in a dog fight for the top of the heap but youth and vigor will win out over age and experience. Derek Carr is a dynamic team leader who can do more than just “manage a game”, as Alex Smith has been accused of more than a couple times. With a new running back by the name of Marshawn Lynch coming out of the backfield, that Chiefs secondary may be neutralized trying to stop the force that is Beast Mode. Carr and crew have a full year together now, save for a couple of new guys, and they know their opponents better than they did before. Three pro-bowl linemen plus a 2016 MVP candidate equals a difficult task for any team, even the reigning division champ.
Third Place – Los Angeles Chargers will run neck and neck with the Denver Broncos but they probably won’t make it for one more year. Unless the team can gel quickly throughout OTAs and training camp, this will still be a growth year for them. Denver will reign one more year but we’ll expect a new horse to enter the race next season.
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