Analysis  

 

AFC West holes to fill: Health will be Chiefs' biggest concern

Ed Zurga/Associated Press
Entering his fourth season with the Chiefs, Matt Cassel might be playing for his job during the 2012 campaign.

With the 2012 NFL Draft and the bulk of free agency in the rearview mirror, NFL.com analyst Elliot Harrison is examining each team's offseason activity and identifying remaining holes to fill.

Denver Broncos

Draft Grades & Team Holes
NFL.com analysts Bucky Brooks and Chad Reuter graded the draft classes for each team from the 2012 NFL Draft, and analyst Elliot Harrison addressed what holes remain.

NFC East: 2012 Draft Grades | Remaining Holes
AFC East: 2012 Draft Grades | Remaining Holes
NFC North: 2012 Draft Grades | Remaining Holes
AFC North: 2012 Draft Grades | Remaining Holes
NFC South: 2012 Draft Grades | Remaining Holes
AFC South: 2012 Draft Grades | Remaining Holes
NFC West: 2012 Draft Grades | Remaining Holes
AFC West: 2012 Draft Grades | Remaining Holes

Free agency: Peyton Manning. Now that we've covered that ad nauseum, how about the other guys? John Elway was very active, picking up tight end Jacob Tamme, wide receiver Andre Caldwell, cornerback Tracy Porter and safety Mike Adams, all of whom should contribute immediately. The sleeper addition here might be second tight end Joel Dreessen, who had six touchdown catches last season.

Draft: Denver traded out of the first round, picking up another second-round pick in the process. Derek Wolfe was selected out of Cincinnati in a real "need" move, as the Broncos' defensive line required a boost in the worst way. The other second-round pick, Brock Osweiler, represents the quarterback of the future. Third-round running back Ronnie Hillman gives the team another cog in its running-back-by-committee approach, while fourth-round pick Omar Bolden could see the field a lot in an average secondary.

Holes to fill: Manning has to stay healthy. That much is obvious. Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker face a learning curve, but the guess here is that they will be OK. All three will benefit from a productive running game, where coach John Fox will rely on eight-year vet Willis McGahee again. The issue? Whether the 30-year-old can be as effective as he was in 2011, when he gained 1,199 yards and averaged 4.8 yards per crack. If you watched the playoffs, you saw the Denver secondary get chewed up left, right and center. That will be a concern in 2012. While Adams and Porter were brought in, cornerback Champ Bailey will be entering his 14th season. Second-year safety Quinton Carter needs more seasoning. Again, if Bolden can bring it in his rookie season when he gets on the field, the Broncos won't be behind the 8-ball when teams spread the field like the New England Patriots did back in January.

Kansas City Chiefs

Free agency: The Chiefs plugged a few holes after the season, picking up offensive tackle Eric Winston, running back Peyton Hillis and cornerback Stanford Routt. Tight end Kevin Boss and quarterback Brady Quinn were also signed as insurance for Tony Moeaki and Matt Cassel, respectively.

Draft: Dontari Poe was the heavy hitter here, as the Memphis product will probably start opening day at nose tackle. Though the Chiefs drafted for depth in several cases, two key picks were offensive guard Jeff Allen and offensive tackle Donald Stephenson, who at the very least will give the Chiefs bench strength and more injury insurance. Considering how snake-bitten this team was health-wise last year, that's no small thing.

Holes to fill: Jamaal Charles is coming off a major injury, and Hillis just had a hamstrung campaign in Cleveland. Until either plays fast, running back is an area of concern. Moeaki and Cassel, also key cogs, finished the season on injured reserve. Basically, there are medical and speed questions to be answered all over the offense. How recovered are these guys? Defensively, the Chiefs hope to get back a healthy and impactful Eric Berry. Routt has a tall order replacing the departed Brandon Carr at corner. Romeo Crennel will be going with third-year player Kendrick Lewis at safety again. If this group can ball out in 2012, there's no reason the Chiefs can't pull off the upset in winning the AFC West. Although, it sure would help if defensive end Tyson Jackson would take a step (any step) this season.

Oakland Raiders

Free agency: The Raiders signed a number of mid-tier players in an effort to cover some gaps, starting with Shawntae Spencer and Ron Bartell at corner. Veteran Mike Brisiel, formerly of Houston, will start at right guard. Linebacker Philip Wheeler might also start. And of course, Matt Leinart gets one more chance to make something of his pro career (or be Carson Palmer's caddy again).

Draft: Oakland didn't pick until the third round, selecting offensive tackle Tony Bergstrom. Fourth-round pick Miles Burris could push Aaron Curry at weakside linebacker. In fact, four of the Raiders' six picks, albeit in later rounds, were used on the front seven.

Holes to fill: If you watched any Raiders games last year, you saw a secondary that got picked on early and often. Oakland's defensive backs gave up 31 touchdowns in 2011, tops in the AFC. Perhaps the additions of Spencer and Bartell, as well as new coach Dennis Allen's expertise on the defensive side of the ball, will fix that, but it's difficult to imagine the Raiders being able to completely turn around that kind of performance. The defensive line has to do its part. Having defensive end Matt Shaughnessy back for the whole year will help, but considering the Raiders allowed a league-worst 5.1 yards per carry, spending a high pick on the front seven in 2013 is likely. The biggest question mark offensively is whether running back Darren McFadden can stay healthy for a full season. Michael Bush isn't around to pick up the slack anymore. Either Mike Goodson or the explosive Taiwan Jones would have to really step up in McFadden's absence.

San Diego Chargers

Free agency: The Chargers bought some ancillary parts for quarterback Philip Rivers and the offense, including a slew of wideouts: Robert Meachem, Eddie Royal, Roscoe Parrish and Micheal Spurlock. Offensive guard Rex Hadnot was also acquired to provide depth on the offensive line, while Le'Ron McClain is (in theory) Mike Tolbert's replacement. Two potential starters were signed on the defense in linebacker Jarret Johnson and safety Atari Bigby.

Draft: San Diego took linebacker Melvin Ingram with its first pick, defensive tackle Kendall Reyes with its second and safety Brandon Taylor with its third. Late in the draft, general manager A.J. Smith went for some offensive line depth, but the Bolts really did themselves a favor early. A further infusion of talent was needed in the front seven, and Ingram and Reyes could help make the AFC West go through San Diego once again.

Holes to fill: Tackle is a suspect position. It will be interesting to see how Jared Gaither plays in a full season in San Diego. Here's hoping "interesting" doesn't mean Rivers gets pummeled or the Chargers suffer through a penalty fest, which Gaither has been known to create. On the subject of Rivers, he now has more receivers, but that doesn't mean better. This team might really end up missing Vincent Jackson's big-play ability. Is this is the year all Antonio Gates' injuries and some added weight catch up to him? While Gates isn't getting any younger, neither are Shaun Phillips, Takeo Spikes and Quentin Jammer. All are over 30, yet coach Norv Turner is leaning on them to start. One wonders if Bigby is the answer at safety. Even if he does start, expect Eric Weddle to have a new running mate in 2013.

Follow Elliot Harrison on Twitter @Harrison_NFL

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