Roster Reset: Denver Broncos still best in AFC West?


For the fourth consecutive year, the Broncos will enter the season as the heavy favorites due to a stacked roster.

Around The NFL's Roster Reset

They aren't without question marks, however, foremost of which is Peyton Manning's ability to recapture the form he showed in the first half of the 2014 season.

Should Manning falter, the Chargers and Chiefs are strong enough to take advantage.

The Raiders are finally building a nucleus of young talent, but are still years away from serious contention.

Our Roster Reset series will rank each team by the strength of their roster.

1. Denver Broncos

What's changed: Despite a wildly impressive 46-18 record over four years, coach John Fox was dumped in favor of Gary Kubiak, who brought along long-time defensive coordinator Wade Phillips.

The offense that broke a slew of records in 2013 will have a different look, as veteran Owen Daniels and second-year wideout Cody Latimer are slated to replace Pro Bowl tight end Julius Thomas and slot machine Wes Welker, respectively.

Outside of the losses of run-stuffer Terrance Knighton and free safety Rahim Moore, the defensive personnel remains largely intact. The big change is the shift from Jack Del Rio's 4-3 defense to Phillips' 3-4 scheme. Unlike most teams, the Broncos' personnel is already well-suited to the new system.

Broncos' moves
  Re-signings Arrivals Departures
  TE Virgil Green TE Owen Daniels TE Julius Thomas
  DT Antonio Smith WR Wes Welker
  DT Vance Walker DT Terrance Knighton
    S Darian Stewart T Orlando Franklin
    C Gino Gradkowski S Rahim Moore

What's next:

» Stabilize the offensive line: Who wins the right tackle job between Chris Clark, Paul Cornick and Michael Schofield? Who plays center and left guard between Manny Ramirez, Shelley Smith and Gino Gradkowski? Is Louis Vasquez going back to right guard? Do the Broncos need to bolster the position early in the draft? There are a lot of moving parts right now.

» Demaryius Thomas' contract: Assigned the franchise tag, Thomas plans to skip the Broncos' offseason program. The two sides have until mid-July to work out a long-term deal, which would secure Thomas' future in Denver.

» Execute Manning-Osweiler plan: Even with the division's strongest roster, the Broncos' Super Bowl chances rest on Peyton Manning's body surviving the season. They must flawlessly execute an unusual plan to keep Manning fresh via more practice and playing time for backup Brock Osweiler.

2. San Diego Chargers

What's changed: The prospect of a franchise move to Los Angeles has Philip Rivers spooked, leaving the Chargers with one of the offseason's most intriguing decisions. Although the team's stated preference is to secure Rivers' future via a long-term deal, Oregon's Marcus Mariota looms as an interesting alternative.

If Rivers stays, he will be throwing to a pair of new targets in veteran wide receivers Stevie Johnson and Jacoby Jones.

Even with the addition of jumbo guard Orlando Franklin, pass protection remains a question mark following the retirements of veterans Nick Hardwick and Jeromey Clary and the release of guard Chad Rinehart.

The backfield is similarly in turmoil after early-down hammer Ryan Mathews landed in Philadelphia.

Chargers' moves
  Re-signings Arrivals Departures
  CB Brandon Flowers T Orlando Franklin RB Ryan Mathews
  T King Dunlap WR Stevie Johnson WR Eddie Royal
  CB Jimmy Wilson C Nick Hardwick
    WR Jacoby Jones LB Jarret Johnson
    CB Patrick Robinson CB Shareece Wright

What's next:

» Rivers or Mariota?: San Diego is suddenly the team to watch leading up to the 2015 NFL Draft. If they are truly enamored with Mariota, Rivers could be dealt to Tennessee for the No. 2 overall pick.

» Draft a running back: For all of the front office's outward confidence in Branden Oliver and Donald Brown, the Bolts still seem likely to address the position early in the draft, with Todd Gurley and Melvin Gordon as possibilities at No. 17 overall.

» More playmakers on defense: Dwight Freeney and Jarret Johnson are gone, leaving San Diego absent a single player with at least 20 career sacks. Top edge rusher Melvin Ingram has never posted more than four sacks in a season.

3. Kansas City Chiefs

What's changed: Shortly after conceding that a historically inept receiving corps needed to be reconstructed, general manager John Dorsey dumped the trio of Dwayne Bowe, Donnie Avery and A.J. Jenkins. He succeeded in recruiting Jeremy Maclin as Bowe's replacement, reuniting the former Eagles receiver with Andy Reid.

Now that veteran Anthony Fasano has been released, promising third-year tight end Travis Kelce is expected to play a featured role in the revamped aerial attack.

The offensive line has a new look as well. After center Rodney Hudson defected to Oakland, the Chiefs responded by trading for guard Ben Grubbs and signing Paul Fanaika. It remains to be seen if this unit is an upgrade on last year's, which struggled to maintain consistency.

Chiefs' moves
  Re-signings Arrivals Departures
  S Ron Parker WR Jeremy Maclin C Rodney Hudson
  LB Josh Mauga G Ben Grubbs WR Dwayne Bowe
  TE Richard Gordon S Tyvon Branch WR Donnie Avery
  WR Jason Avant G Paul Fanaika TE Anthony Fasano
  LB Dezman Moses LB Joe Mays

What's next:

» Draft a No. 2 receiver: The overhaul at wide receiver isn't complete, as the Chiefs have yet to replace Donnie Avery as the second fiddle. This is the Chiefs' top need entering a draft which features a strong receiver class.

» Justin Houston's contract: Averaging more sacks per game than any player over the past two seasons, Houston deserves to surpass Clay Matthews as the NFL's highest-paid outside linebacker. The Chiefs have until July 15 to reach a long-term extension with their franchise player.

» Eric Berry's future: By all accounts, Berry is doing well in his battle with Hodgkin lymphoma, a highly curable disease. It's not yet known if the three-time Pro Bowl safety will resume his career. If he continues to progress, perhaps the Chiefs will have a better idea by summertime.

4. Oakland Raiders

What's changed: Gone are interim coach Tony Sparano, offensive coordinator Greg Olson and defensive coordinator Jason Tarver, replaced by Jack Del Rio, Bill Musgrave and Ken Norton Jr.

The high-dollar signings of center Rodney Hudson and blocking specialist Lee Smith suggest Musgrave plans to run a smash-mouth attack to complement second-year quarterback Derek Carr.

One year after the Raiders signed a bevy of over-the-hill veterans to bolster the defense, the majority were jettisoned in favor of another batch of free-agent additions headlined by nose tackle Dan Williams, middle linebacker Curtis Lofton and safety Nate Allen.

General manager Reggie McKenzie desperately needs a second consecutive strong draft haul so he can put a halt to Oakland's annual parade of free-agent disappointment.

Raiders' moves
  Re-signings Arrivals Departures
  S Charles Woodson C Rodney Hudson RB Darren McFadden
  DE C.J. Wilson WR Michael Crabtree LB LaMarr Woodley
  LB Curtis Lofton S Tyvon Branch
    DT Dan Williams RB Maurice Jones-Drew
  RB Trent Richardson QB Matt Schaub
      DT Antonio Smith

What's next:

» Add speed on offense: An offense that struggled to make big plays last season has added Trent Richardson and Michael Crabtree, two of the slowest at their respective positions over the past two years. Derek Carr needs a wideout capable of separating from coverage and taking the lid off a defense.

» Draft a pass rusher: LaMarr Woodley, Antonio Smith and Justin Tuck were signed to bring the pass rush last offseason. The first two are already gone. Impressive second-year edge rusher Khalil Mack needs a young running mate.

» Address the secondary: Charles Woodson is the oldest defensive player in the league, and there's no successor lined up. The Raiders also need depth at cornerback with a pair unproven starters in D.J. Hayden and T.J. Carrie.

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