What to look out for amongst the AFC West in the first round of the 2021 draft

With the 2021 NFL draft just days away, there are plenty of holes around the AFC that need to be filled with talent, some picks will be favorable for KC while others might be a problem for Mahomes and Reid in the future.

The Kansas City Chiefs had two or three main goals to achieve by the preseason opener: restore the offensive line, solidify the defensive edge, and replace Sammy Watkins in the WR2 position to keep teams’ on their toes and away from Tyreek Hill or Travis Kelce.

So far GM Brett Veach has completed two of those goals with the recent addition of OT Orlando Brown finalizing the full rebuild of KC’s offensive line, and the addition of Jarran Reed on the defensive line undoubtedly helping Chris Jones and ‘Sack Nation’ next season.

Right now the Chiefs still need to help the defensive pass rush with an EDGE rusher and a solid inside linebacker to pair with a (hopefully) healthy Willie Gay Jr. But after the Brown trade, the ’21 draft decisions that Veach and KC make this weekend will be extremely different than experts and talk shows have been predicting for the past few weeks.

After Veach and the Chiefs finished reconstructing the offensive line, their main choices in the draft revolve around EDGE, LB, and a dependable WR that can play 17 games and help Mahomes from the slot position, in the flat, and downfield.

The Chiefs’ draft pick at the WR position will have to be able to perform all over the field, and in the backfield due to the creative play-calling Reid and Bieniemy call, because of that, it will be difficult to determine just which college draft pick has the talent to do so, especially so far down in the draft.

These positions are what the Chiefs will need to attack this weekend, but as far as their division rivals go there are plenty more problems that need to be identified, here is what the rest of the AFC West needs and some ideas as to who they can pick up this weekend.

Las Vegas Raiders
8 picks: 17 (1), 48 (2), 79 (3), 80 (3), 121 (4), 162 (5), 167 (5), 200 (6)

Needs: Offensive Tackle, Linebacker, Cornerback, Safety, EDGE, Wide Receiver

So far this offseason Raiders head coach Jon Gruden has not helped himself very much, he blew up one of the best offensive lines in the league last season by trading away 60% (RT Trent Brown, G Gabe Jackson, C Rodney Hudson) and then bringing back seasoned veterans G Richie Incognito and LT Kolton Miller.

With that being said, the offensive line is not Gruden’s main concern. Instead, it is their secondary and defensive pressure makers needing fresh blood to help stop the likes of Patrick Mahomes, Kelce, and Hill. The Raiders could have their pick of the litter considering how many good-to-great players at those positions will be available at the #17 pick.

The main players that Gruden and GM Mike Mayock might look to grab will need to immediately boost their defense which was ranked 29th in sacks (21), 30th in forced turnovers (15), 30th in 3rd-down percentage conversions allowed (48.8%), and dead last in 4th-down conversions allowed (82.4%).

The Raiders’ best choices in the first round will have to bring off-the-chart athleticism and physical abilities like their former star Khalil Mack…someone like LB Jamin Davis from Kentucky, EDGE rusher Kwity Paye from Michigan, or–if he somehow falls to #17–someone like LB Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah from Notre Dame.

If Gruden and Mayock don’t go with pressure makers they will likely fill the holes in their secondary; these CBs or Safeties have to have amazing ball skills and enough speed to keep up with all the speedy WRs in the AFC West.

Those types of secondary players are rare, and not to mention somewhat sparse in this upcoming draft, but if the Raiders do go in this direction they will almost definitely go after S Trevon Moehrig from TCU or possibly CB Patrick Surtain Jr from Alabama if they trade up or he somehow drastically falls past the top-10 picks.

With the glaring problems on the defensive side of the Raiders’ roster there will most likely not be any early surprise leaps for an offensive stud by Las Vegas, especially considering their first-round pick last year, Henry Ruggs III, did not live up to expectations his rookie season with only 26 receptions for two TDs.

Los Angeles Chargers
7 picks: 13 (1), 47 (2), 77 (3), 97 (3), 118 (4), 159 (5), 185 (6), 198 (6), 241 (7)

Needs: Offensive Tackle, Guard, Linebacker, Cornerback, Tight End, Defensive Line

The Chargers seem to have found their heir apparent to the recently-retired Philip Rivers in the likes of Justin Herbert, but now their main goal will be to secure the line that will be protecting their future franchise QB.

The highest graded offensive tackle, Oregon’s Penei Sewell, will almost certainly be gone by #13 but Northwestern star tackle Rashawn Slater and Virginia Tech’s Christian Darrisaw will probably be staring them in the face and Chargers GM Tom Telesco will have to make the choice on which one will protect better and for longer.

Both would be great additions to the line and both would be able to protect Herbert for years to come but there is also the obvious decision to be made on the other side of the line.

Even though LA’s first-round pick last season, Kenneth Murray, is still the hopeful future of the defense, alongside Joey Bosa, even though Murray’s play last season did not reflect his status in the draft and when Bosa was not dominating the field by himself it was almost impossible to pick out great defensive performances by the middle-of-the-field protectors in LA.

While the Chargers have upgraded their line already this offseason with the additions of C Corey Linsley and OT Matt Feiler there is still a strong chance they take another tackle or guard early but with the Chargers new head coach, Brandon Staley, being a defensive coordinator and defensive-minded individual there could be some overstepping for a star linebacker or defensive lineman.

With their 13th overall pick, the Chargers could shock the likes of experts like Mel Kiper Jr and Todd McShay by going for a big, strong LB like Penn State’s Micha Parsons or possibly even Owusu-Koramoah from Notre Dame, both of which would pair nicely with Murray and with Bosa who just signed a five-year, $135 million extension last summer.

Either of those LBs could help the Chargers raise their sack count next season considering they were ranked 27th overall last season but they will still probably go with an offensive lineman or someone to help protect Herbert for the long run.

The best possible option that might also still be on the board, by some sort of crazy Aaron Rodgers-like anomaly, could be Florida’s TE Kyle Pitts which would replace the massive hole leftover from Hunter Henry, and with Pitts’ talent, the job could his to lose on day one even though LA just recently signed TE Jared Cook.

No matter which way the Chargers lean on Thursday night it will be interesting and most likely deemed as ‘poor’ or ‘overrated’ by analysts everywhere because they could honestly go in so many different directions, including a star WR like Devonta Smith or Jaylen Waddle.

Denver Broncos
9 Picks: 9 (1), 40 (2), 71 (3), 114 (4), 152 (5), 191 (6), 237 (7), 239 (7), 253 (7)

Needs: Quarterback, Linebacker, Offensive Tackle, Running Back, Safety, Cornerback, Tightend

The Broncos definitely have their work cut out for them this weekend with the most vital needs all glaringly obvious but also looked at as controversial because of the ‘talent’ that is already on the roster in the respective position.

Take Drew Lock for instance, who consistently shows signs that he is not able to carry the team like Broncos President of Football Operations John Elway and head coach Vic Fangio thought he would be when they drafted him 42nd overall in 2019.

There will be plenty of talented QBs at the #9 pick but the Broncos are one of the only teams that might actually trade up–possibly to #4 with Atlanta–in order to ensure they get the guy they want.

If Elway gets his way the Broncos would likely go after someone like BYU’s Zach Wilson or possibly Mac Jones from Alabama, both are tall, white, undervalued, and pretty accurate with the ball which seems to be the M.O. for every QB drafted by Elway since he entered the front office.

If the Broncos don’t go for a QB, which they very well might, they will need to patch up the backfield on both ends of the ball (RB and CB/S) which can easily be done without trading up, and possibly even through trading down, but first, they must address the inconsistent pass rush from last season if they plan on applying any pressure on Mahomes and his brand new offensive line next season.

The first player that they might look at would be LB Micah Parsons, who would enter Fangio’s defense seamlessly and could become the future face of the defense that might be letting go of the aging, recently-injured Von Miller after next season.

The best possible trade-down scenario that the Broncos might actually attempt would end with RB Najee Harris from Alabama in order to fill the shoes of Phillip Lindsay who left to go to Houston earlier this offseason.

The only way they don’t get a QB and instead get an RB or a defensive stud would be if the organization is confident in Lock to be “the guy” in his 3rd season even though he has more losses (10) than he does wins (8) in his career as a starter.

With all these ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’ being thrown around it’s easy to think that Denver could come out of left field and pick someone random that nobody expects to go so early (like they did with QBs Tim Tebow and Paxton Lynch) but they will almost definitely go with QBs Trey Lance, Justin Fields, or Mac Jones. The choice is just dependent on who is still on the board after the first eight (or possibly three) picks in the draft.

The NFL Draft will certainly be interesting all over the league, but in the AFC West where every coach and GM knows they have to play against Mahomes and company for the next decade and a half understands that they have to start bringing bigger, better defenses as well as high-flying offenses and unstoppable special teams.

With that being said, each team in the Chiefs’ division has piping holes on their respective defenses and no matter who they get to fill those holes there will always be the magic that is Patrick Mahomes to find ways to exploit the defense’s newer, weaker links in the chain.

If the Chiefs draft the positions that obviously need better depth (OL, DL, LB, WR) then the rest of the division’s picks will not make much of a difference, and knowing how GM Brett Veach and head coach Andy Reid like to attack the draft it will almost certainly be a fun weekend for Kansas City.