AFC West projected starters: Raiders look loaded


With the 2016 NFL Draft in the rearview mirror, Around The NFL will project starting lineups with tasty position battle nuggets for all 32 teams. The AFC West is below.

Denver Broncos

Broncos Projected Starters
  Offense Defense
  QB: Mark Sanchez DE: Derek Wolfe
  RB: C.J. Anderson DT: Sylvester Williams
  WR1: Demaryius Thomas DE: Vance Walker
WR2: Emmanuel Sanders OLB: Von Miller
  WR3: Jordan Norwood ILB: Brandon Marshall
TE: Jeff Heuerman ILB: Todd Davis
LT: Russell Okung OLB: Demarcus Ware
LG: Ty Sambrailo CB1: Aqib Talib
C: Matt Paradis CB2: Chris Harris
RG: Max Garcia S: Darian Stewart
RT: Donald Stephenson S: T.J. Ward

» I'm in the camp that believes Paxton Lynch won't start right away as a rookie. But John Elway's recent comments mean it wouldn't be a surprise if Lynch starts sometime around Week 7. That's when the Broncos have 10 days to prepare for a Monday Night game against Houston that will inevitably be dubbed the Hunt for Red Brocktober.

» Third receiver is a total mystery. Give Jordan Norwood the slight edge over Bennie Fowler and Cody Latimer because Norwood had the most snaps of the three in the playoffs last year, including the Super Bowl.

» Combine the receiver question with an open tight end competition, and Mark Sanchez only has two proven outlets in the passing game. Consider second-year player Jeff Heuerman as a small favorite in a competition with Virgil Green and Garrett Graham, although Heuerman is a wild card after missing his rookie year with a torn ACL.

» C.J. Anderson should start, but will he be a bell cow or split snaps with fourth-round pick Devontae Booker? Ronnie Hillman figures to be the forgotten man.

» It's weird that the only returning offensive line starter from the Super Bowl is 2014 sixth-round pick, center Matt Paradis.

» The Broncos have a few big position battles on defense too. Todd Davis, an unproven 2014 undrafted player that started his career in New Orleans, leads a shaky group trying to replace Danny Trevathan. This could be a big problem for a defense that relies plenty on its inside linebacker.

» Vance Walker, second-round pick Adam Gotsis and Texans import Jared Crick will battle to replace Malik Jackson.

» That's the bad news. The good news is that the depth of Denver's pass rushers and cornerbacks rival any team in football. Shane Ray, Shaq Barrett and Bradley Roby are quality players not listed above.

Kansas City Chiefs

Chiefs Projected Starters
  Offense Defense
  QB: Alex Smith DE: Jaye Howard
  RB: Jamaal Charles DT: Dontari Poe
  WR1: Jeremy Maclin DT: Allen Bailey
WR2: Albert Wilson OLB: Tamba Hali
  WR3: Chris Conley ILB: Derrick Johnson
TE: Travis Kelce ILB: Josh Mauga
LT: Eric Fisher OLB: Dee Ford
LG: Laurent Duvernay-Tardif CB1: Marcus Peters
C: Mitch Morse CB2: Phillip Gaines
RG: Jah Reid S: Eric Berry
RT: Mitchell Schwartz S: Ron Parker

» The receiver shortage doesn't bother me that much. Jeremy Maclin and Travis Kelce should be 1,000-yard receivers. The backfield is deeper than any team in football with Jamaal Charles, Charcandrick West and Spencer Ware. Plus, Albert Wilson and Chris Conley are both ascending players who can play a role.

» The Chiefs upgraded at right tackle with Mitchell Schwartz. But Kansas City lost two quality starting guards and have a four-way battle for two spots. Fourth-round pick Parker Ehinger could win a spot.

» Second-round pick Chris Jones adds to an underrated defensive line that the Chiefs did well to mostly keep intact with Allen Bailey and Jaye Howard signing long-term deals.

» With Justin Houston's status for the entire season in doubt, pressure is on underwhelming 2014 first-round pick Dee Ford to become a difference maker. Frank Zombo should get plenty of snaps.

» Kansas City's exceptionally deep secondary took a hit this offseason with Sean Smith, Tyvon Branch and Husain Abdullah moving on. Phillip Gaines should be a starter, while three rookie cornerbacks led by KeiVarae Russell will battle for snaps. Top-to-bottom, the Chiefs have a rock solid roster without a ton of flash.

Oakland Raiders

Raiders Projected Starters
  Offense Defense
  QB: Derek Carr DE: Khalil Mack
  RB: Latavius Murray DT: Justin Ellis
  WR1: Amari Cooper DT: Dan Williams
WR2: Michael Crabtree DE: Mario Edwards
  WR3: Seth Roberts OLB: Bruce Irvin
TE: Clive Walford MLB: Ben Heeney
LT: Donald Penn OLB: Malcolm Smith
LG: Gabe Jackson CB1: Sean Smith
C: Rodney Hudson CB2: David Amerson
RG: Kelechi Osemele S: Karl Joseph
RT: Austin Howard S: Reggie Nelson

» It's crazy how settled this Raiders team is, especially on offense. They return nearly all their starters and they are young. It's an exciting blend of continuity and upside that should have Raider Nation dreaming big.

» Right tackle could be the only spot truly up for grabs on offense, where Menelik Watson takes on Austin Howard. The addition of Kelechi Osemele adds to one of the best offensive lines in football.

» We love Clive Walford's chances of making the leap this season if his offseason ATV accident isn't too serious.

» The Raiders mix up their defensive fronts, playing plenty of 3-4 defense and 5-2 defense. Bruce Irvin will only add to that flexibility.

» Ben Heeney, a fifth-round pick last year, is the biggest unknown among the front seven starters. He impressed in spot starts late last year. Malcolm Smith has the flexibility to play inside and Heeney won't necessarily be on the field every down.

» The re-made secondary looks a ton better on paper. The Raiders need Karl Joseph to make the quick impact D.J. Hayden never did.

» Oakland's starting 22 rivals any team in the league outside of the top-five teams. If there is any criticism of this roster by general manager Reggie McKenzie we would call it top heavy. There are fewer experienced or promising backups than most playoff teams, making the Raiders more susceptible to injuries than most.  

San Diego Chargers

Chargers Projected Starters
  Offense Defense
  QB: Philip Rivers DE: Corey Liuget
  RB: Melvin Gordon DT: Brandon Mebane
  WR1: Keenan Allen DE: Joey Bosa
WR2: Stevie Johnson OLB: Melvin Ingram
  WR3: Travis Benjamin ILB: Denzel Perryman
TE: Antonio Gates OLB: Jeremiah Attaochu
LT: King Dunlap CB1: Brandon Flowers
LG: Orlando Franklin CB2: Jason Verrett
C: Matt Slauson CB3: Casey Hayward
RG: DJ Fluker S: Jahleel Addae
RT: Joe Barksdale S: Dwight Lowery

» Melvin Gordon's microfracture surgery is a concern. But the Chargers don't need to panic and add a veteran like Arian Foster. Branden Oliver and Danny Woodhead could handle things just fine and Gordon should be ready for the season. The backfield won't be the deciding factor in the Chargers bouncing back or not.

» It wasn't that shocking to see the Chargers mostly ignore the offensive line in the draft. This is actually a solid-looking group if they can stay healthy. But the injuries last season were catastrophic beyond all understanding. Still, it's rare to see so much continuity on offense for a team coming off a 4-12 season.

» Brandon Mebane's contention that this roster is more talented than the Seahawks is hogwash. With that said, this is not a typical "rebuilding" team. All four teams in the AFC West have legitimate reason to believe they can make the playoffs, including the Chargers. There aren't a lot of huge holes on the defense.

» Safety is the biggest concern for the Chargers in the post-Eric Weddle era, although Jahleel Addae has shown enough to believe in him.

» A rebound by Corey Liuget combined with a big rookie season by Joey Bosa would improve the Chargers' shaky pass rush greatly. They also need Melvin Ingram to maintain his gains from the second half of last season.

» Denzel Perryman was a revelation late last season at inside linebacker. We didn't list Manti Te'o as a starter because he figures to be taken off the field more this season in sub-packages. The addition of Casey Hayward gives the Chargers another nice cornerback trio.