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AFC West rookie grades: Denver upgraded both sides of the ball

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The 2018 NFL season is in the books, meaning the 2019 NFL Draft is coming down the pike. But before we completely shift focus to the next crop of prospects entering the league, let's take full stock of the rookies who just finished up Year 1. In this division-by-division Rookie Grades series, we're evaluating each team's 2018 draft class and spotlighting areas to address this offseason. Nick Shook examines the AFC West below.

RANK

A-

DENVER BRONCOS

Round 1: (No. 5 overall) Bradley Chubb, DE, 16 games/16 starts.
Round 2: (40) Courtland Sutton, WR, 16 games/9 starts.
Round 3: (71) Royce Freeman, RB, 14 games/8 starts; (99) Isaac Yiadom, CB, 13 games/1 starts.
Round 4: (106) Josey Jewell, LB, 16 games/9 starts; (113) DaeSean Hamilton, WR, 14 games/5 starts.
Round 5: (156) Troy Fumagalli, TE, 0 games/0 starts.
Round 6: (183) Sam Jones, OG, 5 games/0 starts; (217) Keishawn Bierria, LB, 16 games/0 starts.
Round 7: (226) Dave Williams, RB, 6 games/0 starts (with Jacksonville).
Notable rookie FA signings: Phillip Lindsay, RB, 15 games/8 starts.

A year after Denver's draft netted the team exactly one legitimate contributor (Garett Bolles), the Broncos came away with a solid haul. Chubb was lost in the shuffle of the season, but he was an impact player opposite Von Miller, racking up 60 tackles and 12 sacks as a rookie. Sutton is the new jump-ball winner Denver sorely needed, and Freeman was one half of a rookie backfield that looks to be set for years to come. Lindsay was the best addition of the entire class, and he came via free agency. Jewell was a great find in the fourth round, starting nine games and appearing in all 16 contests while growing into a starting linebacker. Hamilton found success in spots and Bierria is a solid depth linebacker. Yiadom had an up-and-down season, as a player you noticed more for his mistakes than his positive contributions. The Lindsay pickup, combined with the Chubb selection, carries this grade.

Combine/free agency focus: Missouri QB product Drew Lock is shooting up the board (because of course), and he could find a match with John Elway, as Case Keenum has only one year left on his deal and is clearly a bridge quarterback. Offensive line still needs to be addressed, starting with right tackle. Much of Denver's defense is good to go, but Bradley Roby's underwhelming play opens the door for the Broncos to at least consider the cornerback position. Receiver Emmanuel Sanders, a personal favorite of mine, is entering the last year of his contract and could be a candidate for a salary-related cut (even though he's still more than productive) -- though Denver has a good amount of space to work with, even if they keep him on the roster.

RANK

B+

LOS ANGELES CHARGERS

Round 1: (No. 17 overall) Derwin James, S, 16 games/16 starts.
Round 2: (48) Uchenna Nwosu, OLB, 16 games/3 starts.
Round 3: (84) Justin Jones, DT, 15 games/0 starts.
Round 4: (119) Kyzir White, LB, 3 games/3 starts.
Round 5: (155) Scott Quessenberry, C, 15 games/0 starts.
Round 6: (191) Dylan Cantrell, WR, 0 games/0 starts (practice squad for most of season, promoted Dec. 3).
Round 7: (251) Justin Jackson, RB, 13 games/1 start.
Notable rookie FA signings: Mike Badgley, K, 10 games.

This draft class was stocked with instant contributors, with James landing All-Pro honors as a rookie in a loaded defensive backfield, making plays all over the field. Nwosu was quietly one of the better edge-defending rookies, making timely plays for the Chargers, and he has a bright future. Jones' best game came in the playoffs, and he carries plenty of promise moving forward. White transitioned to linebacker and helped Los Angeles' defense after it lost Jatavis Brown to injury. Quessenberry was a depth player with room for growth. Cantrell spent the majority of the season on the practice squad, but Jackson became of use in key games late (due to an injury to Melvin Gordon) and did a solid job. Badgley was a revelation for a team burned by bad kickers in recent years.

Combine/free agency focus: The Bolts have two younger linemen at guard, so they could still use some time to develop, but that was clearly the weakest part of the offense (right tackle Sam Tevi wasn't great, either). The loss of Brown exposed Los Angeles' lack of depth at linebacker (though I'm a fan of Kyle Emanuel). The defensive backfield is loaded, so that won't be an area the Chargers need to address. Hunter Henry's health needs to be monitored, as does the future of Antonio Gates, who had a close call with retirement before returning to contribute in his 16th season.

RANK

B

KANSAS CITY CHIEFS

Round 2: (No. 46 overall) Breeland Speaks, OLB, 16 games/4 starts.
Round 3: (75) Derrick Nnadi, NT, 16 games/11 starts; (100) Dorian O'Daniel, LB, 16 games/1 starts.
Round 4: (124) Armani Watts, S, 5 games/0 start.
Round 6: (196) Tremon Smith, CB, 14 games/1 start; (198) Kahlil McKenzie, OG, 0 games/0 starts.

Speaks appeared in all 16 games and did a decent job as a rookie, but he was overshadowed by better teammates. He has room for growth. A similar tale existed for Nnadi, though his contributions don't necessarily show up in the stat sheet. O'Daniel contributed in spots and is better against three-receiver sets, due to his athleticism. Watts saw his season end early due to injury and was missed in a secondary that desperately needed help on the back end. Smith made his contributions in the return game, being voted to the Pro Football Writers of America All-Rookie Team for his special teams efforts. McKenzie, a defensive tackle in college, transitioned to guard in his first season and is a developmental prospect.

Combine/free agency focus: Safety. Get some help for the back end of the secondary, which was an exploitable weakness all season. Running back is also a clear need after the end of Kareem Hunt's time with the Chiefs. If Nnadi develops, the interior defensive line only needs some depth. Chris Jones was a revelation, but the opposite defensive end is in need of a fresh face, because Allen Bailey is headed toward free agency. Justin Houston is 30 years old (his birthday was just a couple weeks ago), meaning that position will need to be filled sooner than later.

RANK

C

OAKLAND RAIDERS

Round 1: (No. 15 overall) Kolton Miller, OT, 16 games/16 starts.
Round 2: (57) P.J. Hall, DT, 14 games/6 starts.
Round 3: (65) Brandon Parker, OT, 15 games/12 starts; (87) Arden Key, DE, 16 games/10 starts.
Round 4: (110) Nick Nelson, CB, 10 games/3 starts.
Round 5: (140) Maurice Hurst, DT, 13 games/10 starts; (173) Johnny Townsend, P, 16 games/0 starts.
Round 6: (216) Azeem Victor, LB, 0 games/0 starts.
Round 7: (228) Marcell Ateman, WR, 7 games/6 starts.
Notable rookie FA signings: Daniel Carlson, K, 10 games (drafted by Vikings in fifth round, then cut).

What a tumultuous year for the Raiders. Oakland followed this class by dealing away Khalil Mack and Amari Cooper for future first-rounders, adding emphasis on future drafts, but this one landed a few contributors who have the chance to blossom into good players. Miller was thrown into the fire and did a decent job (he was playing through a knee injury), and Key played slightly above expectations, showing flashes of the potential that once had him projected as a first-rounder. Hurst slid because of concern related to a heart condition, but he played well, recording 31 tackles, four sacks, three passes defensed and one forced fumble. His future is promising. Townsend adequately replaced Marquette King. Parker was another rookie thrown into battle nearly immediately, but he wasn't as effective as Miller. Victor, who was an effective player at Washington when he wasn't in trouble, didn't make it to the final 53-man roster. Ateman found opportunities as a result of a thin receiving corps, while Nelson's season is incomplete, due to a slow return from injury. Carlson, the first of just two kickers drafted in 2018 (Round 5, No. 167 by the Vikings), almost immediately flared out in Minnesota. But the Raiders picked him up off the scrap heap, and the former Auburn standout went 16-for-17 in field goals and 18-for-18 in PATs with Oakland.

Combine/free agency focus: Jon Gruden, Mike Mayock and Co. must hit on the first-round picks gathered by the Mack and Cooper trades. Where they go depends on where the Raiders see Derek Carr in their plans. Receiver is a massive need -- and Jared Cook is likely gone, so tight end is a need, too. Right tackle still needs to be addressed ( Donald Penn isn't getting any younger), while the running back group could use a bell cow ahead of Jalen Richard (one of my favorite jitterbug backs) and DeAndre Washington. Defensive end could use young talent opposite Key, linebacker needs help, and Nelson's uncertain future opens the door for a pick at CB, too. Simply put, there are holes all over this roster.

Follow Nick Shook on Twitter @TheNickShook.

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