NFL training camp 2019: AFC West preview

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Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes burst onto the scene as a first-year starter last year, but the AFC West looks to be a lot tougher in 2019.

NFL training camp 2019: AFC West preview

Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes burst onto the scene as a first-year starter last year, but the AFC West looks to be a lot tougher in 2019.

The Chiefs were the stars of the NFL last year as Patrick Mahomes threw for over 5,000 yards and 50 touchdowns, winning the MVP as Kansas City were arguably one coin flip from a Super Bowl berth.

But in 2019, the Los Angeles Chargers are once again very good, the Denver Broncos have added two quarterbacks and the Oakland Raiders actually did some good things this offseason.

All of that leads to a belief that the AFC West could be very competitive, much more so than it was last year when Oakland were a laughingstock and Denver underachieved. Still, everyone will be chasing the Chiefs as Mahomes looks to once again excel in Andy Reid's offense.

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Here's the outlook for the AFC West heading into training camp:

TEAM ON THE RISE

Oakland Raiders

The Raiders added Antonio Brown and that alone would be enough to turn some heads. But they also picked up Trent Brown in free agency plus drafted some very good players with all of the first-round picks acquired in trades for Khalil Mack and Amari Cooper. It is undeniable this team looks on paper like it is on the upswing, but it is up to coach Jon Gruden to make all the puzzle pieces fit on the field.

TEAM ON THE DECLINE

Denver Broncos

The Denver defense is great, and new coach Vic Fangio should make its ability to stop opponents even better, but the offense has serious questions.

As much as adding one-time Super Bowl MVP and first-round pick Joe Flacco gives the team hope, it is a move that very well could blow up in Denver's face.

Flacco has been mediocre over the last few seasons. He was injured and lost the Ravens starting job to rookie Lamar Jackson in 2018 after he fell from seventh in the league in passing yardage in 2016 to 21st in 2017. It appears he really does not offer much more than Case Keenum did last year for the Broncos.

One key difference: Flacco's ability to throw the deep ball could change the offense some, but the Broncos do not have many receivers who can stretch the field so Flacco's arm-strength might be rendered moot.

ROOKIES TO WATCH

Clelin Ferrell, DE, Raiders: The Raiders were last in the NFL in sacks last season, and Ferrell's calling card really is not sacking the quarterback. But the number four overall pick is a good all-around player who is a solid foundational piece for the Oakland defense. He should help the defense as a whole, but it remains to be seen if he boosts the team's pass rush, where they absolutely need to improve.  

Drew Lock, QB, Broncos: Lock was drafted to be Denver's quarterback of the future, but Jackson was drafted to be the same thing in Baltimore. Flacco got hurt and Jackson became the team's QB of the present. If Flacco gets hurt or underachieves with the Broncos, the Lock era could be begin very soon.

PLAYER SPOTLIGHT

Tyreek Hill

Hill is the most explosive playmaker in football, but he has a lot hanging over him going into the 2019 season, given he has a legal issue surrounding an incident with his fiancee and their son.

If he is suspended for any portion of the season, the Chiefs offense will suffer. Mecole Hardman could be good as a rookie, but to expect him to match Hill's production - 1,479 yards last season - is not fair. Keep an eye on what happens with Hill leading up to the season.

KEY INJURIES

Travis Kelce, ankle: The Chiefs tight end underwent an ankle procedure earlier this year that was described as a "cleanup." He has missed a good portion of the offseason program, and it is unclear if that will affect him going forward, at least in the near term. 

Odds are it will not be a big deal. He has excelled in the Chiefs offense for years, so missing practice reps should not hurt. However, if he has any lingering effects with the ankle going into the season, that could affect his output.

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