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AFC West projected starters for 2022 NFL season: Broncos look like contenders

With the 2022 NFL Draft and most of free agency in the rearview, Gregg Rosenthal will project starting lineups for all 32 teams because that's his idea of fun. Check out the AFC West breakdowns below.

Table inside Article
QB Russell Wilson DE Dre'Mont Jones
RB Javonte Williams DE D.J. Jones
WR Courtland Sutton OLB Randy Gregory
WR Jerry Jeudy OLB Bradley Chubb
WR Tim Patrick OLB Malik Reed
TE Albert Okwuegbunam ILB Josey Jewell
LT Garett Bolles CB Patrick Surtain II
LG Dalton Risner CB Ronald Darby
C Graham Glasgow CB K'Waun Williams
RG Quinn Meinerz S Justin Simmons
RT Billy Turner S Kareem Jackson
  • Russell Wilson has never been surrounded by this much skill-position talent. Few quarterbacks have!
  • Some teams have four No. 3 receivers. The Broncos, in a perfect world, could have two No. 1s (Jerry Jeudy and Courtland Sutton), a No. 2 (Tim Patrick) and a sneaky explosive No. 3 (KJ Hamler).
  • Sutton should be more explosive another year removed from ACL surgery. Jeudy could face a suspension after his arrest earlier this month on second-degree criminal tampering charges with a domestic violence enhancer. When he's on the field, few receivers can run routes like him.
  • Bringing back Melvin Gordon keeps one of the best backfields in football intact. Javonte Williams deserves the starting role as a consummate tackle-breaker, but Gordon can still do it all as a 1B option.
  • The offensive line is easily the biggest concern on the team. It's been mediocre for years and is mostly the same as a year ago. Will coaching fix the issues? Wilson makes life hard on linemen by holding onto the ball.
  • I listed the Broncos' six best defensive players up front as starters, even if that exact configuration is unlikely.
  • Nose tackle Mike Purcell and off-ball linebacker Alex Singleton should get 300-plus snaps, too. But the Broncos figure to play a lot of extra pass rushers and cornerbacks on passing downs.
  • It's a team built to rush the passer. Dre’Mont Jones and free-agent pickup D.J. Jones are both versatile and can push the pocket. Malik Reed is a fantastic third edge rusher and second-round pick Nik Bonitto was one of the most productive pass rushers in college football last year.
  • The Bonitto pick is telling. This Broncos roster is almost daring opponents to run before they even line up.
  • The secondary looks awesome again, especially if free-agent pickup K’Waun Williams can stay healthy. He's one of the league's best slot cornerbacks when he's right.
  • The defensive personnel is outstanding. Also, it should fit new defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero's scheme, as he comes from the Vic Fangio coaching tree. Then again, Justin Simmons and Ronald Darby can be rather streaky, and Williams is an injury risk. There is a boom-or-bust element here.
  • This does not look like the roster of a first-year head coach. It looks like a roster ready to compete for a title. There is so much new here that the Broncos could disappoint, but the pieces are in place.
Table inside Article
QB Patrick Mahomes DE Frank Clark
RB Clyde Edwards-Helaire DT Chris Jones
WR Marquez Valdes-Scantling DT Derrick Nnadi
WR JuJu Smith-Schuster DE George Karlaftis
WR Skyy Moore LB Willie Gay
TE Travis Kelce LB Nick Bolton
LT Orlando Brown Jr. CB L'Jarius Sneed
LG Joe Thuney CB Rashad Fenton
C Creed Humphrey CB Trent McDuffie
RG Trey Smith S Justin Reid
RT Andrew Wylie S Juan Thornhill
  • Ranking the Chiefs' receivers 1 through 4 is difficult and probably unnecessary. They will all fill different roles depending on the game, including Mecole Hardman, who isn't listed above.
  • Travis Kelce is the No. 1 receiver here anyhow, if that wasn't obvious enough. There were times last season when he struggled to get open like he once did, although he rounded into form by the playoffs. 
  • Perhaps my Skyy Moore optimism is too high, but he should be a more complete receiver than Hardman as a rookie.
  • Marquez Valdes-Scantling is the X-factor. He can take the top off of a defense, but can he do more? The size of his contract relative to JuJu Smith-Schuster's deal indicates the Chiefs expect a lot from him. 
  • The offensive line is built to run block. But will Andy Reid actually run it and is Clyde Edwards-Helaire the guy to get it done? 
  • Ronald Jones is the backup and is a better pure runner than CEH. Rookie Isiah Pacheco caught my eye in the pre-draft process and is someone to watch.
  • I love the offensive line entering its second year together. Creed Humphrey and Trey Smith will anchor the interior for a long time. They were excellent last season and the group should only improve overall because of age and continuity. 
  • Andy Reid + Patrick Mahomes + a top-shelf offensive line should result in an excellent offense, no matter who is playing receiver. 
  • George Karlaftis was one my favorite picks of the draft. After the ups and downs of Frank Clark's last few years, Karlaftis might be the team's best edge rusher. 
  • Nick Bolton and Willie Gay offer athleticism at linebacker. They could make their share of big plays but also give up too many. 
  • The strength of the Chiefs' defense remains in the secondary and Steve Spagnuolo's coaching. They develop players well, helping Charvarius Ward get paid in San Francisco. Rookie Trent McDuffie should fit right in.
  • Justin Reid was a savvy pickup. He flashed All-Pro potential early in his career in Houston, but has struggled to stay on the field.
  • The Chiefs have a similar profile to previous years, despite the departure of Tyreek Hill. Their defense should be good enough, not great. We should expect the offense to be among the league's best. They remain one of the AFC favorites.
Table inside Article
QB Derek Carr DE Bilal Nichols
RB Josh Jacobs DT Johnathan Hankins
WR Davante Adams OLB Chandler Jones
WR Hunter Renfrow ILB Denzel Perryman
TE Darren Waller ILB Jayon Brown
TE Foster Moreau OLB Maxx Crosby
LT Kolton Miller CB Trayvon Mullen
LG Denzelle Good CB Rock Ya-Sin
C Andre James CB Nate Hobbs
RG Dylan Parham S Trevon Moehrig
RT Brandon Parker S Duron Harmon
  • On paper, Derek Carr and Josh McDaniels are a perfect match. McDaniels prizes quick decision-making and shapeshifting an offensive attack each week. That suits Carr's strengths.
  • Carr will have three incredible third-down options in Davante Adams, Hunter Renfrow and Darren Waller, who can all get open quickly.
  • The lack of quality depth at receiver will only become a major problem if there is an injury. But it's anyone's guess who emerges between Demarcus Robinson, Mack Hollins and Keelan Cole to get snaps here.
  • Backup tight end Foster Moreau should have a bigger role than any of the wideouts filling out the depth chart. McDaniels loves him some versatile two tight end sets.
  • The offensive line is the biggest question mark here, like it is for so many teams. Kolton Miller and Andre James are locked into starting jobs. After that, the new staff could shake up this group. It wasn't great last year and they didn't add a lot of talent.
  • The Raiders' defense figures to be flexible, but they brought in 3-4 defense personnel. They look a year away from having enough bulk up front, but Bilal Nichols and Johnathan Hankins were both smart signings (a re-signing, in Hankins' case) for the price.
  • Kyler Fackrell is the third edge rusher behind the awesome duo of Chandler Jones and Maxx Crosby. The edge rushers need to be special for this defense and they should be.
  • Give the edge in position battles to players acquired by the current staff. That's why Jayon Brown is projected to start over Divine Deablo at linebacker. That's why Duron Harmon is projected over incumbent Johnathan Abram at safety.
  • The young cornerback group could be a strength. Trayvon Mullen has flashed quality starter traits. Rock Ya-Sin was good for the Colts last year. Nate Hobbs is a very promising young nickel back. This Raiders defense isn't fully formed yet, but the team can build around the cornerback position.
  • McDaniels is in a tricky spot, taking over an overachieving playoff team with holes in the roster. The Raiders have premier talent, but they have more depth chart dilemmas than the rest of the squads in the division.
Table inside Article
QB Justin Herbert DL Sebastian Joseph-Day
RB Austin Ekeler DT Austin Johnson
WR Keenan Allen OLB Joey Bosa
WR Mike Williams ILB Drue Tranquill
WR Josh Palmer ILB Kenneth Murray
TE Gerald Everett OLB Khalil Mack
LT Rashawn Slater CB J.C. Jackson
LG Matt Feiler CB Asante Samuel Jr.
C Corey Linsley CB Michael Davis
RG Zion Johnson S Derwin James
RT Storm Norton S Nasir Adderley
  • Justin Herbert was one of the best rookie quarterbacks in decades, then refined his game in Year 2. He doesn't even need to improve to be an MVP candidate.
  • The Chargers surprisingly drafted Isaiah Spiller as yet another option to back up Austin Ekeler. Running back depth is not a problem.
  • The wideout room is in even better shape. Josh Palmer should develop in his second season. Jalen Guyton is a quality fourth wideout who can get deep.
  • Retaining Mike Williams was such a big transaction. The best part of this receiver group is that they all have differing and complementary skill sets.
  • Gerald Everett is replacing Jared Cook as the stopgap veteran who will probably drive Chargers fans crazy late in games too often.
  • Give general manager Tom Telesco credit for steadily fixing the offensive line. Rashawn Slater is a star. Corey Linsley is a rock. Zion Johnson should be a bedrock for this line, too. The big question remains at right tackle.
  • Storm Norton was the biggest reason the Chargers lost in Week 18 last season and they are no better at the position. Could they squeeze in a veteran signing before training camp?
  • The Chargers' defensive overhaul has been complete after a rough first season with Brandon Staley.
  • Sebastian Joseph-Day could be just as integral a pickup as Khalil Mack. It's not like the edge position was a big problem last season for the Chargers. The interior line was far more problematic and the Chargers addressed it with Joseph-Day, Austin Johnson and Morgan Fox.
  • Mack should enjoy opposing offensive lines sliding protection toward Joey Bosa. That will be a first for Mack in his career.
  • Kenneth Murray is a barometer for this defense. He hasn't lived up to his draft stock and the Chargers could wind up missing Kyzir White, who left in free agency.
  • This is a secondary built for turnovers. J.C. Jackson and Derwin James are two of the best playmakers in the league. Asante Samuel Jr. has great hands like Jackson.
  • If the only weakness in the secondary is at the safety spot opposite James, where Nasir Adderley showed improvement last year, then it's a strong group.
  • If not for Staley's defense, the Chargers could have made a long playoff run last season. If the defense improves to its top-10 potential, this is a title-contending roster.

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