Around the NFL

AFC West projected starters: Raiders look loaded

*With the 2016 NFL Draft in the rearview mirror, Around The NFL will project starting lineups with tasty position battle nuggets for all 32 teams. The AFC West is below. *

Denver Broncos

» I'm in the camp that believesPaxton Lynch won't start right away as a rookie. But John Elway's recent comments mean it wouldn't be a surprise if Lynch starts sometime around Week 7. That's when the Broncos have 10 days to prepare for a Monday Night game against Houston that will inevitably be dubbed the Hunt for Red Brocktober.

» Third receiver is a total mystery. Give Jordan Norwood the slight edge over Bennie Fowler and Cody Latimer because Norwood had the most snaps of the three in the playoffs last year, including the Super Bowl.

» Combine the receiver question with an open tight end competition, and Mark Sanchez only has two proven outlets in the passing game. Consider second-year player Jeff Heuerman as a small favorite in a competition with Virgil Green and Garrett Graham, although Heuerman is a wild card after missing his rookie year with a torn ACL.

»C.J. Anderson should start, but will he be a bell cow or split snaps with fourth-round pick Devontae Booker? Ronnie Hillman figures to be the forgotten man.

» It's weird that the only returning offensive line starter from the Super Bowl is 2014 sixth-round pick, center Matt Paradis.

» The Broncos have a few big position battles on defense too. Todd Davis, an unproven 2014 undrafted player that started his career in New Orleans, leads a shaky group trying to replace Danny Trevathan. This could be a big problem for a defense that relies plenty on its inside linebacker.

»Vance Walker, second-round pick Adam Gotsis and Texans import Jared Crick will battle to replace Malik Jackson.

»That's the bad news. The good news is that the depth of Denver's pass rushers and cornerbacks rival any team in football. Shane Ray, Shaq Barrett and Bradley Roby are quality players not listed above.

Kansas City Chiefs

» The receiver shortage doesn't bother me that much. Jeremy Maclin and Travis Kelce should be 1,000-yard receivers. The backfield is deeper than any team in football with Jamaal Charles, Charcandrick West and Spencer Ware. Plus, Albert Wilson and Chris Conley are both ascending players who can play a role.

» The Chiefs upgraded at right tackle with Mitchell Schwartz. But Kansas City lost two quality starting guards and have a four-way battle for two spots. Fourth-round pick Parker Ehinger could win a spot.

» Second-round pick Chris Jones adds to an underrated defensive line that the Chiefs did well to mostly keep intact with Allen Bailey and Jaye Howard signing long-term deals.

» With Justin Houston's status for the entire season in doubt, pressure is on underwhelming 2014 first-round pick Dee Ford to become a difference maker. Frank Zombo should get plenty of snaps.

» Kansas City's exceptionally deep secondary took a hit this offseason with Sean Smith, Tyvon Branch and Husain Abdullah moving on. Phillip Gaines should be a starter, while three rookie cornerbacks led by KeiVarae Russell will battle for snaps. Top-to-bottom, the Chiefs have a rock solid roster without a ton of flash.

Oakland Raiders

» It's crazy how settled this Raiders team is, especially on offense. They return nearly all their starters and they are young. It's an exciting blend of continuity and upside that should have Raider Nation dreaming big.

» Right tackle could be the only spot truly up for grabs on offense, where Menelik Watson takes on Austin Howard. The addition of Kelechi Osemele adds to one of the best offensive lines in football.

» We love Clive Walford's chances of making the leap this season if his offseason ATV accident isn't too serious.

» The Raiders mix up their defensive fronts, playing plenty of 3-4 defense and 5-2 defense. Bruce Irvin will only add to that flexibility.

»Ben Heeney, a fifth-round pick last year, is the biggest unknown among the front seven starters. He impressed in spot starts late last year. Malcolm Smith has the flexibility to play inside and Heeney won't necessarily be on the field every down.

» The re-made secondary looks a ton better on paper. The Raiders need Karl Joseph to make the quick impact D.J. Hayden never did.

» Oakland's starting 22 rivals any team in the league outside of the top-five teams. If there is any criticism of this roster by general manager Reggie McKenzie we would call it top heavy. There are fewer experienced or promising backups than most playoff teams, making the Raiders more susceptible to injuries than most.  

San Diego Chargers

»Melvin Gordon's microfracture surgery is a concern. But the Chargers don't need to panic and add a veteran like Arian Foster. Branden Oliver and Danny Woodhead could handle things just fine and Gordon should be ready for the season. The backfield won't be the deciding factor in the Chargers bouncing back or not.

» It wasn't that shocking to see the Chargers mostly ignore the offensive line in the draft. This is actually a solid-looking group if they can stay healthy. But the injuries last season were catastrophic beyond all understanding. Still, it's rare to see so much continuity on offense for a team coming off a 4-12 season.

»Brandon Mebane's contention that this roster is more talented than the Seahawks is hogwash. With that said, this is not a typical "rebuilding" team. All four teams in the AFC West have legitimate reason to believe they can make the playoffs, including the Chargers. There aren't a lot of huge holes on the defense.

» Safety is the biggest concern for the Chargers in the post-Eric Weddle era, although Jahleel Addae has shown enough to believe in him.

» A rebound by Corey Liuget combined with a big rookie season by Joey Bosa would improve the Chargers' shaky pass rush greatly. They also need Melvin Ingram to maintain his gains from the second half of last season.

»Denzel Perryman was a revelation late last season at inside linebacker. We didn't list Manti Te'o as a starter because he figures to be taken off the field more this season in sub-packages. The addition of Casey Hayward gives the Chargers another nice cornerback trio.

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