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AFC West Roster Reset: Chiefs' changes open up division race

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Our Roster Reset series takes a division-by-division look at where things stand across the league heading into the 2018 NFL Draft. Chris Wesseling examines the current makeup of the AFC West below.

Before the new league year even began, the AFC West's reigning champions left the division wide open by starting over at quarterback and cutting ties with several big names on defense.

After years of settling for Alex Smith's seemingly limited ceiling, the Chiefs traded up to draft his replacement, only to witness a career year from their veteran starter. Can Andy Reid continue his streak of playoff appearances with a raw but talented quarterback?

Should Patrick Mahomes stumble in his first season at the helm, the Chargers might finally reach their potential. With a loaded offense and few holes on defense, Los Angeles boasts the strongest roster in the division. The question is whether Anthony Lynn's team can avoid injuries to key players, stop blowing fourth-quarter leads and convert kicks with the game on the line.

If the Bolts are ascendant, John Elway's Broncos are the inverse. Toeing the fine line between contending and rebuilding, Denver is trying to avoid back-to-back losing seasons for the first time since 1972. To pull off that feat, the Broncos are going to need Case Keenum to represent a major upgrade on Trevor Siemian -- a prospect that would have seemed silly prior to Keenum's breakout 2017 season.

With Jon Gruden returning to the sidelines after a decade in the broadcast booth, the Raiders are the division's true wild card. Can Gruden resurrect Derek Carr's career while turning around a doormat defense?

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BIGGEST ADDITION: Case Keenum, quarterback.
Old Team: Minnesota Vikings. New Team: Denver Broncos.

New Chiefs receiver Sammy Watkins might offer the marquee name, but Keenum is the division's most important acquisition. Does the $25 million in guarantees over two years mean Elway plans to bypass a quarterback in the draft, attempting instead to pull off the juggling act of fixing the ground attack, improving the offensive line and injecting much-needed youth on defense in one offseason? As esteemed as Elway has been over the past half-decade, his recent quarterback decisions -- the last-ditch attempt to keep Brock Osweiler from Houston, drafting Paxton Lynch to replace Peyton Manning, bypassing Keenum at a bargain rate last offseason and bringing Osweiler back for another go-round in 2017 -- have left the organization in a bind. Is Keenum the right man to pull Elway and the Broncos out of that tailspin?

BIGGEST LOSS: Alex Smith, quarterback.
Old Team: Kansas City Chiefs. New Team: Washington Redskins.

One of the league's most valuable quarterbacks in 2017, Smith led the NFL in TD-to-INT ratio (26:5), adjusted yards per pass attempt (8.6) and passer rating (104.7). After years of frustrating fans, coaches and analysts with his penchant for throwing short of the sticks and leaving plays on the field, he blistered secondaries with big-time throws as one of the most lethal deep passers in the game. Second-year signal-caller Patrick Mahomes' golden arm offers a higher long-term upside on paper, but Smith's ability to avoid back-breaking mistakes, his mastery of Andy Reid's offense and his savvy pre-snap adjustments will be missed in 2018.

SLEEPER ADDITION: Marquette King, punter.
Old Team: Oakland Raiders. New Team: Denver Broncos.

Surprisingly jettisoned by Jon Gruden's Raiders after a series of Pro Bowl-caliber campaigns, King cited the "revenge factor" when he joined Oakland's long-running rivals. If Rams maestro Johnny Hekker is the most skilled punter of his generation, King boasts the biggest leg. Given a chance to boom kicks in the thin air of Denver's Sports Authority Field at Mile High, the Broncos' new punter has a chance to take down Sammy Baugh's nearly 80-year-old record for yards-per-punt average (51.4) in a single season.

WHAT'S NEXT?

Denver Broncos: What to do with the No. 5 overall draft pick? And what does that crucial choice say about the current state of the franchise? Will one of the top quarterbacks fall into Elway's lap? If so, will he decide to pass in favor of a potential stud such as Penn State running back Saquon Barkley, Notre Dame guard Quenton Nelson or N.C. State pass rusher Bradley Chubb? This will be one of the most fateful decisions in Dallas later this month.

Kansas City Chiefs: The Chiefs pushed the reset button on defense, ditching big names such as Marcus Peters, Tamba Hali and Derrick Johnson. To this point in the offseason, the replacements have been underwhelming, necessitating an infusion via the draft in the secondary as well as the front seven.

Los Angeles Chargers: The Bolts did well to pick up Mike Pouncey in an effort to retool the offensive line. Now it's time to bolster the defensive line. As fearsome as Melvin Ingram and Joey Bosa might be, that pass-rushing tandem needs new hog mollies up front to occupy blockers and stuff the run.

Oakland Raiders: Gruden has acknowledged the porous defense as his top priority. That should mean a new contract for 2016 Defensive Player of the Year Khalil Mack, as well as reinforcements at all three levels of Paul Guenther's defense. Even if the Raiders get improvement from key young players such as Gareon Conley and Obi Melifonwu, they still need to hit on impact talent in the draft.

Follow Chris Wesseling on Twitter @ChrisWesseling.

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