Being a mediocre team in any division (minus the NFC East) is tough, but being mediocre in the AFC West is brutal. Unfortunately, that’s where the Broncos sit right now. They haven’t won the division since 2015 and since then they have struggled to consistently beat any division rivals. The 2021-2022 season is an opportunity for the Broncos to end that streak. To understand if they can we first have to take a look at their rivals. Here’s a breakdown of the this year’s AFC west.
The Chiefs have been reigning champions for the last five years and are showing no signs of slowing down this year. They did have a few major shakeups on the offensive line that are worth reviewing. At the beginning of the offseason starting left tackle Eric Fisher and franchise right tackle Mitchell Schwartz were released in a highly questionable move. However, the Chiefs had a plan. They drafted tackle Lucas Niang the year prior and felt confident in him. The Chiefs proceeded to trade the 31st overall pick to the Ravens for stellar tackle Orlando Brown Jr.
That was a huge move but they weren’t done yet. The Chiefs signed guard Joe Thuney who was a highly valued free agent and picked up former Pro-bowler Kyle Long out of retirement. Other additions to this year’s offensive line include center Creed Humphrey who was drafted in 2021 and Austin Blythe another solid center. Laurent Duvernay-Tardif and Kelechi Osemele will also return this year after being out last season.
Other than the major story of the offensive line the Chiefs have had a few more developments. Pro-Bowl defensive end Frank Clark was recently arrested in California for possession of a firearm. He faces up to three years in prison if found guilty. This could be a major blow to the Chiefs who rely on Clark for a majority of their edge rush. Sammy Watkins didn’t end up getting resigned but the recent rise of Byron Pringle should make that a non-factor. Overall the Chiefs have had a net-zero offseason. The offensive line is major ground gained but the potential loss of Frank Clark may really hurts the team.
The Chargers have had a fairly low-key offseason. The mentality seems to be supporting Justin Herbert and his development. The major moves that were made involved their offensive line and secondary. With the 13th pick overall pick the Chargers chose Rashawn Slater. Slater is set to be Herbert’s blindside protector for the foreseeable future. They also added veteran tackle Bryan Bulaga to play on the other side of the line. The Chargers also made some secondary changes cutting longtime fan favorite corner Casey Hayward and drafting corner Assante Samuel Jr. Overall the Chargers are set to slightly improve under their new coaching staff. Another team on the rise with a star quarterback really hurts the Broncos and leaves them in a worse position than this time a year ago.
The Raiders made a few significant changes this offseason to try to improve on last years subpar 7-9 record. The offensive line will look completely different next year as Trent Brown and Rodney Hudson were traded and Gabe Jackson was released. The Raiders didn’t bring in anyone notable to fill those holes at guard and center but they did use their first round pick on a tackle. The tackle who they chose was Alex Leatherwood. This move was so mystifying that most draft experts were stunned. Leatherwood is a solid player but he profiles better at guard because of his length and was a second round talent.
Regardless of that pick the Raiders had a solid draft. Their secondary was a major issue last year but the signing of Casey Hayward should help that. The Raiders didn’t really get any better, if anything they got worse which only helps the Broncos.
How do the Broncos Match Up?
At nearly every position the Broncos are set to improve next season. In his first offseason as general manager, George Paton orchestrated a brilliant draft. While one draft can’t completely change the course of next year it can certainly make an impact. The roster around the quarterback spot is the best it’s been in a few years and while they won’t put an end to the Chiefs dominance they can still make some noise.
The biggest thing holding the Broncos back as everyone knows is the quarterback situation. At this point its safe to say that Drew Lock won’t win you games. That’s not saying that Bridgewater will but with a good roster around him at least there’s a chance. When Bridgewater was surrounded by a good roster on the Saints he put up great numbers and went 5-0. Now the Broncos roster isn’t the Saints but who’s to say they can’t sneak up and grab second place in the division. The Broncos should be labeled as a sleeper team for this year and can match up well in the AFC West.