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2022 AFC West

Published 6/13/2022

Denver Broncos

What hasn’t changed in Denver heading into 2022? Nathaniel Hackett comes over from his position as the offensive coordinator for the Packers to serve as the new head coach. With him, comes Justin Outten from Green Bay in the offensive coordinator position, who served as their tight ends coach last season, and Ejiro Evero in the defensive coordinator position, who previously held a position as the Rams defensive backs coach. 

The Broncos didn’t make a selection until the end of the second round in this year’s draft, taking outside linebacker Nik Bonitto with the 64th pick. Big-bodied tight end Greg Dulcich came off the board for the Broncos next with the 80th overall pick in the third round, followed by fourth-rounders Damarri Mathis (CB) and Eyioma Uwazurike (DE), fifth-rounders Delarrin Turner-Yell (S), Montrell Washington (WR), and Luke Wattenberg (C), sixth-rounder Matt Henningsen (DE), and seventh-rounder Faion Hicks (CB). None of their 2022 draft picks are expected to serve as starters to begin the year.

The Broncos pulled off one of the biggest trades of the previous decade this off-season, bringing in quarterback Russell Wilson from the Seahawks in exchange for Drew Lock, Noah Fant, Shelby Harris, two first-round picks, two second-round picks, and a fifth-round pick. Defensive standouts D.J. Jones and Randy Gregory join 2021’s second-ranked unit in points allowed per game (18.9).

Interpretation

Denver has taken a “draft and develop” approach over the previous four years, building up a stable of young contributors along the way. Every projected offensive starter other than wide receiver Tim Patrick, right tackle Billy Turner, and quarterback Russell Wilson were drafted by the Broncos. The hype for this offense is currently off the charts, with all of running back Javonte Williams and wide receivers Courtland Sutton and Jerry Jeudy going off redraft and Best Ball boards in the first four rounds. My issue, from a season-long perspective, is that there is a ton of assumptions with those draft positions. Melvin Gordon returns to the previously utilized running back tandem alongside Williams and any projections include a laundry list of assumptions. The upside is undeniable, just don’t neglect the risks.

As for the pass-catchers, Jerry Jeudy is the most head-scratching. He played a whopping 337 of a total 412 snaps from the slot a year ago, being out-snapped by perimeter-man Tim Patrick in every healthy game. Jeudy’s ADP currently sits in the fourth round while Patrick’s ADP currently sits in the 10th. Even with the new regime in town, I’d expect Jeudy to remain primarily a slot wide receiver. Tight end Albert Okwuegbunam (Alberto, the real ones know) enters camp with a massive opportunity in front of him with a chance to see a near every-down workload. His athletic profile is definitely one to get excited about, but it remains to be seen how this new-look offense intends to incorporate the position (of note, he was in a route on only 43% of his 400 offensive snaps a year ago – primary Packers’ tight ends Robert Tonyan and Josiah Deguara were in a route 57% and 52% of their snaps in 2021, respectively, which is notable as new head coach Nathaniel Hackett comes over from Green Bay).

Overall, expect the offensive aggression from this team to be dictated by their defense, a unit that allowed the second-fewest points per game and ninth-fewest yards per game in 2021. That being the case, in addition to the fact that this offense is far from concentrated, we’re left with a fairly wide range of outcomes when it comes to projecting individual players. Courtland Sutton brings the most upside, Jerry Jeudy has spike week potential but is currently being over-drafted (in my opinion), Tim Patrick is a nice little value in the latter half of drafts, Alberto brings theoretical upside with a wide range of outcomes, and the backfield should continue to be some form of a tight timeshare. A final note with this team: the upside is tantalizing across the board but it feels a lot like people are viewing this team through a straw.

Kansas City Chiefs

The trio of Andy Reid, Eric Bieniemy, and Steve Spagnuolo return for their fourth full season working together, with Bieniemy seemingly shut out of the head coach market each of the past three seasons. The major continuity with this team ends there as they’ve experienced a fairly significant amount of personnel turnover.

Running back Darrel Williams was signed away by the Cardinals, wide receiver Tyreek Hill was dealt to the Dolphins, safety Tyrann Mathieu left for the Saints, safety Justin Reid was signed as a replacement for Honey Badger, wide receivers Marquez Valdes-Scantling and JuJu Smith-Schuster were brought in to bolster the receiving corps, and running back Ronald Jones was brought in to form a tandem with incumbent Clyde Edwards-Helaire. Corners Charvarius Ward and Mike Hughes are also no longer in town, both of whom played significant snaps a year ago.

The Chiefs were also extremely active in the draft, making a total of 10 selections including four in the first two rounds. First-round selections Trent McDuffie (CB) and George Karlaftis (DE) are more than likely going to serve as starters this coming season. The team continued their draft by selecting wide receiver Skyy Moore in the second (54th overall), safety Bryan Cook in the second (62nd overall), linebacker Leo Chenal in the third (103rd overall), cornerback Joshua Williams in the fourth (135th overall), offensive tackle Darian Kinnard in the fifth (145th overall), and seventh-round selections Jaylen Watson (CB, 243rd overall), Isaih Pacheco (RB, 251st overall), and Nazeeh Johnson (S, 259th overall).

Interpretation

In 2021, The Chiefs ran an offense based almost exclusively around 11-personnel (67%) and 12-personnel (20%). I expect more of the same this season considering the fact that the position with the most continuity is tight end. This would lead to a likeliest scenario of Marquez Valdes-Scantling and Mecole Hardman on the perimeter, JuJu Smith-Schuster in the slot, Travis Kelce in his standard high-volume role, and a rotating backfield split between Clyde Edwards-Helaire and Ronald Jones for the majority of the offensive snaps available. Things get a little more difficult to project for the heavy personnel sets (12), where it is likeliest we see either Hardman or Smith-Schuster off the field considering Valdes-Scantling is the new field-stretcher of this offense. Quite simply, Hardman’s modest 6.8 aDOT from a year ago isn’t a natural 12-personnel on-field pairing with Smith-Schuster’s 6.1 aDOT from 2021. Rookie Skyy Moore is on hand as an above-average fourth wide receiver, leaving a likeliest scenario where all of JJSS, MVS, Hardman, and Skyy Moore form a wide receiver stable split somewhere in the 85/85/75/60% range. From a season-long perspective, give me the cheapest two of the bunch in MVS and Hardman, while the situation is relegated to dart-throw territory from a prospective DFS perspective.

Clyde Edwards-Helaire was once again towards the bottom of the league in most efficiency metrics in 2021, scoring a positive run rate of only 89.1%, a yards after contact rate of only 49.7%, and a ridiculously low -5.3 air yards per game value. He also ceded primary duties to Darrel Williams during the playoff run, who is now with the Cardinals. His current mid-sixth round valuation in Best Ball drafts feels particularly steep. Current rumblings indicate the plan is to keep CEH and Ronald Jones rotating through, relegating each to “bet on touchdown” pieces for both season-long and DFS formats.

Kansas City’s defense landed in the middle of the pack in most defensive metrics in 2021 including points allowed, red zone touchdown rate allowed, and third-down conversion rate allowed but slipped precipitously in defensive metrics against the pass. They addressed this issue both through free agency (Justin Reid) and the draft (edge rusher George Karlaftis and safety Trent McDuffie), but we could see this unit struggle to start the season. This amount of turnover on the defensive side of the ball typically leads to slow starts as the players work to develop communication and chemistry. Notable findings for early-season DFS purposes.

Las Vegas Raiders

This AFC West division has been a sight to behold this off-season as each team seemingly attempts to one-up the next. New Raiders general manager Dave Ziegler wasted no time in flipping this roster on its head, generating almost a complete overhaul through the month of June. First off, he brings in an all-new coaching staff including head coach Josh McDaniels, offensive coordinator Mick Lombardi, and defensive coordinator Patrick Graham. Lombardi follows McDaniels over from New England while Graham comes over from Giants’ defensive coordinator position.

The free agency period has also been a busy one for the Raiders, who have brought in countless projected starters including wide receiver Davante Adams, defensive end Bilal Nichols, linebacker Chandler Jones, cornerback Rock Ya-Sin, defensive tackle Vernon Butler, wide receiver Demarcus Robinson, and no less than 20 other backup/depth pieces.

The six selections made in this year’s draft started in round three with guard Dylan Parham (90th overall). They continued with running back Zamir White in the fourth (122nd overall), defensive tackle Neil Farrell in the fourth (126th overall), defensive tackle Matthew Butler in the fifth (175th overall), offensive tackle Thayer Munford, Jr. in the seventh (238th overall), and running back Brittain Brown in the seventh (250th overall).

Interpretation

We shouldn’t read too far into Josh McDaniels’ previous offenses when projecting how this Raiders offense will look this season. What we do need to pay attention to is the fact that his offenses have always been rather dynamic and built to suit the offensive personnel at his disposal. We should also not ignore the fact that this offense is suddenly stacked, with a projected 11-personnel grouping consisting of the newly extended Derek Carr, All-World wide receiver Davante Adams, talented slot man Hunter Renfrow, athletic tight end Darren Waller, an above-average running back in Josh Jacobs, solid-yet-unspectacular perimeter wide receiver Demarcus Robinson, and a couple of third-down, pass-catching backs in Kenyan Drake and Brandon Bolden. That said, this offensive line grades out as a bottom-five projected unit, with only left guard Kolton Miller grading out as above average by Pro Football Focus. The off-season additions of left guard Jermaine Eluemunor and right guard Denzelle Good should serve as a slight boost, but the heart of the unit remains from last season. This all comes together to form a likeliest scenario where we see an offense built around the intermediate areas of the field, with a ball-out-quick mentality the primary focus. That means a lot of outs, hooks, curls, and slants, all of which Adams, Renfrow, and Waller excel at.

Another big piece of this team’s puzzle is the poor red-zone efficiency we’ve seen each of the last two seasons with Derek Carr at the helm. The Raiders have ranked in the bottom five in the league each of the past two years which has led to Daniel Carlson finishing both seasons as the overall top-ranked kicker. Whether that trend has been due to Carr, his supporting cast or the offensive scheme remains to be seen. As in, the assumption around the industry is that the lack of red zone success will change this coming season, but we must consider Carr’s involvement in the offense a potential causal factor. All of that is not to say I’m down on this unit, just that the current cost of its skill position players might be approaching the ceiling in season-long settings, particularly considering Carr already saw a 19% increase to the number of passes in 2021 compared to his career averages (626 compared to 527 yearly average over his first three seasons).

The Raiders defense finished the 2021 season ranked 26th in points allowed per game at 25.8, but as we’ve harped on above, the amount of turnover is stark. In a similar situation to the one the Chiefs find themselves in, we could see this unit start the season slow as they develop their chemistry and communication. Take note early on in the season, particularly for DFS. It just so happens the Raiders play the next team up on the list in Week 1 – the Los Angeles Chargers.

Los Angeles Chargers

Welcome to the team preview of the AFC West team with the least amount of moving parts heading into 2021. The Chargers are coming off a season that saw them score the fifth-most points per game in 2021 at 27.9, and they will be entering their second full season under the guidance of head coach Brandon Staley, offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi, and defensive coordinator Renaldo Hill.

The Chargers used their first-round pick in this year’s draft to bolster their offensive line, selecting offensive guard Zion Johnson with the 17th overall pick, and he should immediately step into a starting role. They continued their draft in the third round with the selection of safety JT Woods with the 79th overall pick, fourth-round selection of running back Isaiah Spiller with the 123rd overall pick, fifth-round selection of defensive lineman Otito Ogbonnia with the 160th overall pick, sixth-round selection of offensive guard Jamaree Salyer with the 195th overall pick, sixth-round selection of cornerback Ja’Sir Taylor with the 214th overall pick, seventh-round selection of cornerback Deane Leonard with the 236th overall pick, and finished up with seventh-round fullback Zander Horvath with the 260th overall pick.

Major off-season signings include tight end Gerald Everett, who is set to take over for free-agent tight end Jared Cook, standout cornerback J.C. Jackson, widely considered the top corner on the market this off-season, edge rusher Khalil Mack, defensive tackle Austin Johnson, and defensive tackle Sebastian Joseph-Day.  

Interpretation

The Chargers already boasted a top-ten offensive line in 2021, and it should only get better after selecting Zion Johnson in the first round of the draft. Current projections have this unit ranked as the sixth-best offensive line entering the season, anchored by former Packers standout center Corey Linsley. It’s clear this team is doing what they can to protect their franchise quarterback, who enters his third year after lighting the league on fire en route to over 5,000 passing yards in 2021. This offense supported two top-12 fantasy wide receivers last year, with Mike Williams finishing the season as the WR12 and Keenan Allen as the WR11, and that’s with one missed game by both Williams (Week 16) and Allen (Week 14). I expect that trend to continue into 2021 as I currently have Williams ranked as my WR12 and Allen currently ranked as my WR 14 heading into the year. We should see a little more involvement from fourth-year wide receiver Jaylen Guyton, who will be pushed for perimeter reps in 11-personnel by second-year wide receiver Josh Palmer. Playing in this new-look division, expect many close games and potential shootouts this year. Newcomer tight end Gerald Everett comes to an offense that just fed 35-year-old tight end Jared Cook 643 offensive snaps and a hefty red zone role (13 red-zone targets), on a solid-for-a-tight-end 8.2 average depth of target.

Austin Ekeler finally took a stranglehold on this backfield, seeing his highest snap count (688), most rushing attempts (206), and second-most targets (94) of his career in 2021. He also scored a whopping 20 touchdowns after scoring five or less in each of his first four years in the league. Although the team drafted Isaiah Spiller in the fourth round, expect this to once again be Ekeler’s backfield this year. He also averaged a healthy 3.9 red zone opportunities per game, which ranked fourth in the league amongst running backs (behind only Jonathan Taylor, Derrick Henry, and, surprisingly, David Montgomery). Joshua Kelley and Larry Rountree III are still on hand to fill complementary roles, but the assumption is that Spiller will fill the change of pace role and that Ekeler will maintain heavy involvement. He will need to maintain his lofty touchdown rate and heavy red zone usage in order to pay off his current first-round ADP in season-long formats. The Chargers defensive unit was one of the most-hyped units leading up to last year but things never fully came together as most had hoped. They ranked slightly above average in opponent completion rate allowed at 63.86% but they were all the way down at 21st in the league in yards allowed per pass attempt and struggled with giving up big plays. The additions of J.C. Jackson, edge rusher Khalil Mack, and two standout defensive linemen should come together to suppress passing against them this year. Expect more pressure on opposing quarterbacks in the backfield and less time to throw in the pocket (the team only generated 35 sacks in 17 games in 2021). Overall, consider the off-season additions a significant boost to this defensive unit.


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