AFC West inside intel: Vital rookies, key position battles, juicy subplots

Charley Casserly spent three decades in the NFL, starting as an unpaid intern and ultimately serving as general manager of the Washington Redskins and Houston Texans, snagging three Super Bowl rings along the way. During his rise up the scouting ranks and eventual entry into the front office, Casserly made connections across the league -- lasting connections that extend to this day and provide rare access to the team-building process.

In the Inside Intel series, our resident GM mines his sources across the league to relay the inside word on impact rookies, prominent position battles and remaining questions. You'll find the AFC West below.

Denver Broncos
Denver Broncos
2019 record · 7-9

IMPACT ROOKIES


Jerry Jeudy, wide receiver: Jeudy is a polished, pro-ready receiver. Look for him to be a starter and make an immediate impact.


KJ Hamler, wide receiver: Hamler gives the Broncos the speed they were looking for at the receiver position. Expect the Penn State product to get plenty of big-play opportunities deep.

KEY POSITION BATTLES

Table inside Article
Position
LT Garett Bolles Elijah Wilkinson
C Lloyd Cushenberry Austin Schlottmann Patrick Morris
DE Shelby Harris Christian Covington Dre'Mont Jones
ILB Josey Jewell Todd Davis
CB2/NCB Bryce Callahan Michael Ojemudia De'Vante Bausby Davontae Harris Isaac Yiadom

A.J. Bouye, who was acquired from the Jaguars in a trade this offseason, will man one of the starting corner spots on the perimeter, while the other two CB positions are wide open.

ONE ADDITIONAL STORYLINE

How does Drew Lock take the next step? Lock finished strong last season, winning four of his five starts. His biggest issue has been his accuracy, but he can improve in that area if he works on getting his feet set before throwing instead of fading back in the pocket and releasing the football before resetting. In addition, like all young quarterbacks, Lock needs to develop his film study of opponents, his understanding of pass protections and -- above all -- he needs more game experience. The Broncos did a good job of significantly upgrading the personnel around him with the additions of RB Melvin Gordon, Jeudy and Hamler.

Kansas City Chiefs
Kansas City Chiefs
2019 record · 12-4

IMPACT ROOKIE


Clyde Edwards-Helaire, running back: Look for the rookie to share playing time with Damien Williams. CEH will thrive as a runner and as part of the Chiefs' passing game because he's more of a threat than Williams after the catch. Last season, defenses focused on getting Patrick Mahomes to check down and pass the ball to Williams, who wasn't feared as a pass catcher. That strategy won't work with Edwards-Helaire in the backfield. He's a threat from anywhere on the field.

KEY POSITION BATTLES

Table inside Article
Position
RG/LG Andrew Wylie Laurent Duvernay-Tardif Mike Remmers Lucas Niang
OLB Willie Gay Jr. Ben Niemann

TWO ADDITIONAL STORYLINES

How will the Chiefs approach the season as defending champions? After winning the Super Bowl, teams often deal with battling overconfidence and contract issues. I think the Chiefs are in good shape to handle the former but contract issues are another matter, and it's hard to predict how they will affect the team. For the Chiefs, it all starts with the workmanlike attitude of head coach Andy Reid. His business approach of being steady -- never getting too high or low in his emotions -- will set the tone. The way this offseason has gone -- with no celebratory tours or banquet circuits for players -- has probably kept everyone from getting overconfident in their chances to repeat. The key to keeping the right attitude rests in the hands of leaders Patrick Mahomes and Tyrann Mathieu. They set a high standard with their work ethic and passion for the game. They will hold others accountable. The team could use that Tom Brady mentality of one title is NOT enough.

Chris Jones' contract situation. This is a huge concern for the defending Super Bowl champions. Jones received the franchise tag in March and hasn't signed his tender as of the publishing of this piece. He and the Chiefs have until July 15 to work out a long-term deal, but my colleague Mike Garafolo recently reported that Jones views himself as a $20 million-per-year player and that there is "a lot of work to be done" for these sides to reach any sort of agreement. Jones has indicated he won't play if his contract demands aren't met, which wouldn't be an unprecedented move (SEE: Le'Veon Bell in 2018). Jones is a crucial piece on this defense: The Chiefs allowed six fewer points per game with Jones on the field than they did without him last season (he missed four games, including the Divisional Round of the playoffs). He's a dominant player when he wants to be, and in my opinion, was the key player in the defense's success down the stretch and in the postseason.

One factor that hasn't been discussed here is Patrick Mahomes' looming contract extension. How much does that influence Jones' contract situation, especially when you consider planning future cap numbers?

Las Vegas Raiders
Las Vegas Raiders
2019 record · 7-9

IMPACT ROOKIES


Henry Ruggs III, wide receiver: Expect Ruggs to make an immediate impact as a starting receiver with his deep speed. He'll likely loosen up the secondary, helping Josh Jacobs and the run game. 


Damon Arnette, cornerback: Another first-round draft pick, Arnette is set to compete for the starting CB job opposite Trayvon Mullen.


Lynn Bowden Jr., running back: Bowden is a versatile player who made waves at quarterback, running back and receiver in college. His impact could be felt as a third-down running back and punt returner this season.

KEY POSITION BATTLES

Table inside Article
Position
SAM LB Nicholas Morrow Marquel Lee
CB2 Prince Amukamara Damon Arnette Isaiah Johnson
FS Damarious Randall Erik Harris

Amukamara, Arnette and Johnson will compete for a starting spot alongside CB1 Mullen and nickel back Lamarcus Joyner.

ONE ADDITIONAL STORYLINE

Will the Raiders be more dynamic on offense? The first key to giving the offense a jolt is getting their rookie playmakers (Ruggs and Bowden) involved. Bowden could end up being a huge asset on third downs because he'll be a mismatch for linebackers on passing routes. The second key for this offense is Derek Carr. It will be his third year in Jon Gruden's offense, so he's expected to improve across the board, especially on deep throws downfield with the addition of Ruggs.

Los Angeles Chargers
Los Angeles Chargers
2019 record · 5-11

IMPACT ROOKIES 


Justin Herbert, quarterback: Herbert has all the physical skills you want in a quarterback: strong arm, athletic ability and he can make all the throws. He has a high football IQ, too. Being a four-year starter at Oregon should shorten the learning curve, but the areas he needs to improve upon most are his anticipation and touch on the ball. 


Kenneth Murray, outside linebacker: Look for Murray to start as the defense's Will linebacker, where he'll help in coverage with his speed and athletic ability.

KEY POSITION BATTLES

Table inside Article
Position
LT Sam Tevi Trey Pipkins
SLB Kyzir White Emeke Egbule
MLB Denzel Perryman Malik Jefferson Drue Tranquill
S Rayshawn Jenkins Nasir Adderley

ONE ADDITIONAL STORYLINE

How will the playing time at QB shake out? Right now, I expect Tyrod Taylor to begin the season as the starter. To win the QB1 job, Herbert must have a great camp and clearly outplay Taylor, which will be a tall order for the rookie. In college, he was taught to wait until the receiver gets open to throw the ball, so he must now learn to anticipate the receiver's move. In addition, Herbert knows how to throw the fastball but must learn how to show more touch on his passes. It's entirely possible that Taylor doesn't take a snap in preseason games, with playing time going to Herbert and Easton Stick.

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