The AFC West could possibly be one of the league's most lopsided. On the one hand, you have the Denver Broncos, with arguably the most talented roster in the AFC. For the three remaining teams, however, simply reaching a .500 record in 2013 would be no small feat.
There's no question that San Diego, Oakland, and Kansas City all have a ton of catching up to do. Can they make up some ground during the offseason?
Year one of the Peyton Manning experiment was by most accounts a success in Denver. Manning may not have the ability to put the same velocity on the ball that he once did, but he's clearly still one of the best quarterbacks in the game. With a couple of key additions to their current roster, the Broncos should be set for a run to the Super Bowl.
The Broncos had a stellar defense in 2012, but when you look closely at their roster there's plenty of ways that the defense can be even better in 2013. Most notably is defensive tackle, where Denver had a very pedestrian lineup this past season. Ty Warren, Justin Bannan, and Kevin Vickerson led the way, however all three players are free agents and neither of them have a long time left in the league.
Malik Jackson might prove to be a solid rotational player for Denver, but there's no guarantee. Even if he does pan out, the Broncos still need to find a defensive tackle that can anchor what should be a ferocious defense in 2013.
Slot Wide Receiver
The pairing of Brandon Stokley and Peyton Manning has been a solid one for years, but while Manning still appears to have several years left in the tank, the same can't be said for his wide receiver. Demaryius Thomas certainly has things under control on the outside, but the Broncos will need to look to find a new threat to play in the slot.
There are plenty of more cost effective ways to address the gap in the roster, but it's difficult to imagine a better scenario than an addition of Wes Welker. Not only would he thrive in Denver's' offense, but taking him away from New England would deal a big blow to one of their biggest threats. If they elect to look to the draft instead, a more dynamic option such as Tavon Austin could give opposing defenses nightmares.
Current starting middle linebacker Keith Brooking is a free agent, and while he didn't detract much from Denver's defense in 2012 he didn't add much to it, either. Age is clearly catching up with him and he just wasn't able to get to the running back. He also proved to be a liability in coverage when he was forced into defending the pass.
Joe Mayes, who was the original starter on the inside before he went down with injury, was mostly invisible when he was on the field. That won't inspire much confidence moving forward. Getting younger and more athletic at inside linebacker could prove to be a huge improvement for the Broncos' defense.
Right guard Chris Kuper's season could be summed up with his poor performance in the playoff loss to the Ravens. He couldn't keep up with the physicality of Baltimore's front seven and was on his heels for most of the game. He was flagged three times in the loss and it's probably time to look to upgrade him.
Kansas City Chiefs
Although they find themselves at the bottom of the league, Kansas City's roster isn't devoid of talent. They could just be a few pieces away from being a playoff team. Will this offseason turn the franchise around?
With weapons like Jamaal Charles and Dwayne Bowe wasting the prime of their respective careers, Kansas City may just be the most quarterback needy team in the league. There's no longer any debating whether or not Matt Cassel can get the job done. Now the only question is who will be replacing him.
It's all but a lock that the Chiefs will be drafting a quarterback at some point in the early rounds, but there's not a quarterback in the draft that's ready to be the opening day starter. It's likely that Kansas City will also have to pursue someone like Alex Smith to bridge the gap until their quarterback of the future is ready for prime time.
All signs seem to indicate that Kansas City's new regime will plan to keep the 3-4 defense as they move forward, and considering the pieces that are currently on the roster, it's a good move. They have some good players on the edge, and avoiding a rough transition from one defense to another is smart.
Sticking with the 3-4 does mean that Kansas City needs to make it a priority to find a player who can anchor the defensive line, though. Dontari Poe will probably be the starter there in 2013, but that's due far more to his draft status than his on the field play. Defensive end is also a need here, and it's very likely that the Chiefs' defense will look very different in 2013.
Aside from finding a new quarterback, the top priority on offense must be to find a way to retain the services of Dwayne Bowe. With the other holes on their roster, finding a top receiver in free agency or the draft would be unlikely.
Unfortunately, Bowe is about all they have at the position. Jon Baldwin has yet to look like he was worthy of being a first round selection, and neither Dexter McCluster nor Steve Breaston have shown anything to make Kansas City think they'd be able to survive the loss of Bowe. It might be expensive, but re-signing the wide receiver would be better than the alternative.
Kansas City tried to bolster their pass defense in the last offseason by signing Stanford Routt, but he didn't even last one season with the team. Javier Arenas a reliable player as a nickle corner, but when he was called on to replace Routt it became clear he's not a player who can succed on the outside at this point in his career. Brandon Flowers has one side of the Chiefs' defense under control, now it's time to find an answer on the other side.
You'd be hard pressed to find a roster in worse shape in Oakland. With needs at practically every position, the Raiders' front office will simply have to prioritize and do the best they can with the resources available.
It's likely that cornerback will be the position that the Raiders deem to be most needy. Last season the situation got so desperate that they moved safety Michael Huff to corner for most of the season. Huff is a solid player when he's free to play safety, but playing on the outside is not his strong suit. He'll wisely be moved back to safety.
Ronald Bartell just can't seem to stay healthy, and the free agent Shawntae Spencer was only able to get through two games last season. For all intents and purposes there aren't any starting caliber corners on the roster, and that's a huge area of need.
If cornerback is need #1 for Oakland, getting help across the offensive line is need #1a. Jared Veldheer gives the Raiders a good foundation to build on at left tackle, as does center Stefen Wisniewski. Outside of those two, however, the offensive line is in dire need of rebuilding.
Kalif Barnes and Willie Smith rotated at right tackle last year, and both failed to offer adequate production in the running and passing game. The results were somewhat better at guard, but there's no promises that either Mike Brisiel or Cooper Carlisle will be with the team in the future. It's not a stretch to say that the best case scenario here would include three new faces in the starting lineup.
The absence of a pass rush is nearly always a fatal flaw for NFL defenses, and when you have as many issues in the secondary as Oakland has had, it's been even more magnified. The problems have started on the defensive line. One of their top pass rushers on the line was Richard Seymour, but the team has already parted ways with him. Their other top rusher, Desmond Bryant, is also a free agent.
Aside from those two the line generated only a minimal pass rush and it set the defense as a whole back. The main need here is probably for a tackle that can get to the quarterback, but the Raiders would take a pass rush from anywhere along the line.
Oakland will likely have a new look at linebacker as there is expected to be some significant turnover. Rolando McClain is clearly on his way out, and Phillip Wheeler is the only linebacker that should be counted on as a full time starter.
San Diego Chargers
Just a few seasons ago San Diego was a perennial Super Bowl contender. Now, they've become one of the more dysfunctional teams in the league. With everything from an unhappy quarterback, to rumors of players faking injuries, there's plenty of remodeling that needs to be done if the Chargers want to get back into the playoffs.
There's really no question that the rebuilding project in San Diego has to start at offensive tackle. Jared Gaither and his mystery injuries (as well as the accompanying $25 million price tag) was a toxic influence to the locker room and put the team in a terrible position on the field. His replacement, Michael Harris was completely out of his depth and neither he nor Gaither should be trusted to start in 2013.
Jeromey Clary improved somewhat from a dismal 2011 campaign, but he still offered little in terms of pass protection and put Phillip Rivers in bad positions in pretty much every game. Both left and right tackle need to be a huge priority for the Chargers.
The Chargers need badly to have a new look at offensive tackle, and the same could be said for the cornerback spot as well. Both Quentin Jammer and Antoine Cason were terribly ineffective in 2012, and may have actually been the worst starting duo in the league. Fortunately for San Diego both starters are free agents and the Chargers will be able to start fresh there if they so choose.
San Diego does have two corners heading into their third year that will likely get the first shot at claiming starting roles. Shareece Wright and Marcus Gilchrist both have limited experience but the organization appears to be high on both of them. Even if the Chargers are confident in the both of them, it'd be wise to add at least one corner with experience.
The need for a quarterback in San Diego isn't as pressing as it is in Kansas City, but its' something worth considering. Phillip River's play has dropped off dramatically, and he looks to be no where near the player he used to be. It's time for the Chargers to start planning for the future.
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