AFC West projected starters: K.C.'s makeover; Chargers stacked


Gregg Rosenthal will project post-draft starting lineups for all 32 teams -- because that's his idea of fun.

Denver Broncos

QB: Case Keenum
RB: Royce Freeman
WR: Demaryius Thomas
WR: Emmanuel Sanders
WR: Courtland Sutton
TE: Jake Butt
LT: Garett Bolles
LG: Ronald Leary
C: Matt Paradis
RG: Connor McGovern
RT: Jared Veldheer

DE: Derek Wolfe
DT: Domata Peko
DE: Adam Gotsis
OLB: Von Miller
ILB: Brandon Marshall
ILB: Todd Davis
OLB: Bradley Chubb
CB: Chris Harris Jr.
CB: Bradley Roby
S: Justin Simmons
S: Darian Stewart

» No one knows if the Broncos can get back to the playoffs this season, but I can see why general manager John Elway believes he's done enough to make it happen. Case Keenum should stabilize the quarterback position. Rookie wideouts Courtland Sutton and DaeSean Hamilton add depth to a receiver group that needed it. Rookie runner Royce Freeman has a shot to win the starting job. NFL Network's James Palmer reported Tuesday that the team believes tight end Jake Butt, who spent his rookie year on injured reserve, will make a big impact. This offense needed meaningful change.

» Don't hand the slot wideout job to Sutton just yet. Hamilton, the team's fourth-round pick, was a favorite of draft analysts like NFL Network's Daniel Jeremiah and Rotoworld's Josh Norris, who saw Hamilton as a player who could contribute right away.

» The offensive line still has issues, but there is some argument for improvement here. Last year's first-round pick, Garett Bolles, should improve in his second season. Ronald Leary moves to his natural position at left guard. Jared Veldheer is an upgrade at right tackle, although he had a lot of rough moments last season in Arizona.

» The Broncos are flush with edge rushers, as Bradley Chubb's arrival moves Shaq Barrett and Shane Ray to roles off the bench. If Chubb pans out, there might not be a better outside linebacker position group in football.

» The edge presence is reminiscent of the team's Super Bowl championship team. The defensive line and cornerback spots, however, are both thinner. Clinton McDonald and last year's second-round pick, DeMarcus Walker, will rotate on the line. The trade for former Redskin Su'a Cravens could give the secondary more pop, but the team didn't come close to replacing Aqib Talib.

» It's on head coach Vance Joseph and offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave to come up with solutions this year. For all the focus on Elway, the biggest downgrade in Denver last season might have come from the sidelines.

Kansas City Chiefs

QB: Patrick Mahomes
RB: Kareem Hunt
WR: Tyreek Hill
WR: Sammy Watkins
WR: Demarcus Robinson
TE: Travis Kelce
LT: Eric Fisher
LG: Laurent Duvernay-Tardif
C: Mitch Morse
RG: Parker Ehinger
RT: Mitchell Schwartz

DE: Allen Bailey
DE: Chris Jones
OLB: Justin Houston
ILB: Anthony Hitchens
ILB: Reggie Ragland
OLB: Dee Ford
CB: Kendall Fuller
CB: Steven Nelson
CB: David Amerson
S: Eric Berry
S: Daniel Sorensen

» Mahomes is in position to have immediate success because of his immense skill set, the talent around him and, most importantly, Andy Reid's system.

» If Mahomes' Week 17 start was any indication, he has great rapport with Demarcus Robinson. With Tyreek Hill and Sammy Watkins providing deep threats, there should be plenty of room for Travis Kelce and Robinson to operate underneath.

» The team speed on offense is striking. Kansas City is set up to turn Sundays into a track meet. There was also a concerted effort by the Chiefs to get younger and faster on defense. Tamba Hali and Derrick Johnson are gone. Linebacker Anthony Hitchens was awarded a big contract to play every down, and the team believes in Reggie Ragland as a thumper.

» The nose tackle spot isn't listed above because it's not an every-down position and figures to be shared by Xavier Williams and third-round pick and Derrick Nnadi.

» The key to the defense could still be the biggest names. Justin Houston always has the capability to put together a Defensive Player of the Year type of season. The same holds true for Eric Berry, if he's all the way back from his torn Achilles. Peak seasons from both players would make this defense dangerous.

» Three of the top four Chiefs cornerbacks from a year ago are gone, in addition to longtime safety Ron Parker. The acquisition of Kendall Fuller will help re-stock the shelves, but not enough. This team will miss Marcus Peters.

Los Angeles Chargers

QB: Philip Rivers
RB: Melvin Gordon
WR: Keenan Allen
WR: Mike Williams
WR: Tyrell Williams
TE: Hunter Henry
LT: Russell Okung
LG: Dan Feeney
C: Mike Pouncey
RG: Forrest Lamp
RT: Joe Barksdale

DE: Joey Bosa
DT: Brandon Mebane
DT: Darius Philon
DE: Melvin Ingram
MLB: Denzel Perryman
OLB: Jatavis Brown
CB: Casey Hayward
CB: Jason Verrett
CB: Desmond King
S: Derwin James
S: Jahleel Addae

» In this best-case scenario, speedster Travis Benjamin would line up as the No. 4 receiver in addition to performing his return duties. The development of last year's first-round pick, Mike Williams, could transform this passing attack from good to great.

» Hunter Henry was one of the better tight ends in the league last season, but he only saw 596 snaps. Look for that number to rise significantly with Antonio Gates not returning to the team.

» On paper, this is the best offensive line Philip Rivers has enjoyed all decade. That's damning with faint praise, however, and the Chargers' best-laid plans on the line are usually crumpled up and tossed away by November. It's a boom-or-bust group with a lot of injury risk, starting with free-agent pickup Mike Pouncey.

» The unit lacks hype, but the Chargers might still have the best secondary in Los Angeles, if not the entire NFL. Trevor Williams, who was excellent playing 1,000 snaps after replacing Verrett last year, isn't even listed here. Casey Hayward is a star. Jason Verrett can be as well, if he returns to health. Desmond King was a revelation in the slot as a rookie and could possibly play some safety. Derwin James should start on Day 1 after surprisingly sliding in the draft.

» Rookie second-round linebacker Uchenna Nwosu will likely be competing for a starting job on the outside against incumbent Kyle Emanuel. (Neither are listed here, as they aren't likely to see as many snaps as a nickel cornerback.) As much potential as the offense has, the Chargers' defensive personnel might be better after a defense-heavy draft.

» Darius Philon is listed as a starter largely because Corey Liuget is suspended four games to start the season.

Oakland Raiders

QB: Derek Carr
RB: Marshawn Lynch
WR: Amari Cooper
WR: Martavis Bryant
WR: Jordy Nelson
TE: Jared Cook
LT: Donald Penn
LG: Kelechi Osemele
C: Rodney Hudson
RG: Gabe Jackson
RT: Kolton Miller

DE: Khalil Mack
DT: Justin Ellis
DT: Maurice Hurst
DE: Bruce Irvin
OLB: Tahir Whitehead
MLB: Derrick Johnson
CB: Rashaan Melvin
CB: Gareon Conley
CB: Daryl Worley
S: Karl Joseph
S: Reggie Nelson

» The acquisition of Martavis Bryant should allow Jordy Nelson to play primarily from the slot, where he will be more effective at this stage of his career. The larger question at wideout is whether Nelson will play on the outside in two-receiver packages. Bryant is the far more explosive player.

» Marshawn Lynch's starting job is locked in after the Raiders guaranteed his 2018 salary in exchange for him taking a small pay cut. But one of the most interesting position battles in August will be to decide who backs him up. Doug Martin has the name, but DeAndre Washington and Jalen Richard deserve some run.

» Jon Gruden says that he sees first-round pick Kolton Miller as a "prototype" left tackle long-term. If not for the guaranteed money in Donald Penn's contract, Miller might be viewed as the team's likely starter this year. Penn is 35 years old, a mountain of a man coming off foot surgery. There's a scenario in which Penn doesn't get healthy and Miller is thrown into the fray, with third-round pick Brandon Parker an option to start on the right side.

» I included three cornerbacks here for three reasons: 1) Nearly every team plays with five (or six) defensive backs on the field, more than any other alignment. 2) It's unclear who the Raiders' second outside linebacker will be, although Nicholas Morrow is a strong guess. 3) It's worth pointing out how shaky and thin this cornerback position is for Oakland. Gareon Conley barely played last year and is coming off a major injury. Rashaan Melvin is a journeyman coming off a career year. Daryl Worley was only available because he had legal trouble and two teams gave up on him. Veteran Leon Hall is another option.

» The transition to a 4-3 defense will have Bruce Irvin lining up as a defensive end, although he's likely to be standing up in some alignments.

» I gave rookie fifth-rounder Maurice Hurst the edge for a starting job over second-year pro Eddie Vanderdoes, who is coming off a torn ACL, and P.J Hall, a second-round pick who is a lot more raw than Hurst.

Follow Gregg Rosenthal on Twitter @greggrosenthal.



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