With the offseason now in view for the majority of NFL teams, it’s time to spin forward. While all 32 clubs will spend the next few months searching for every possible way to upgrade their rosters, each team has one major question front and center in their mind. Here, we’ll explore the most pressing question each AFC West team must answer before the 2019 NFL season begins, and how it pertains to fantasy.
Pressing question to answer: How to allocate these resources?
After a miserable 4-12 season in the opening act of the Jon Gruden era, the Raiders find themselves heading out of 2018 flush with resources. Not only does Oakland sit with $71.1 million in cap space (fifth-most in the NFL) they own five picks in the first two days of the NFL Draft, including three first rounders.
At the very least, they’re set to reap a “reward” for their dreadful product last season.
Now the Raiders’ brain trust of Gruden and former NFL Network analyst-turned-general manager Mike Mayock have the task of turning these chips in for cash. As they survey the roster, they’ll find no shortage of projects.
The Raiders defense needs a complete overhaul. The unit predictably suffered after the departure of Khalil Mack, especially against aerial attacks. Oakland ranked dead last in both pass defense DVOA and total sacks. Placing edge pass rusher at the top of their shopping list of needs is an easy case to make.
Pass rusher does not stand alone as a barren position on the Raiders defensive roster, so they’ll have their eye on other areas on that side of the ball even if they need to make multiple additions on the line. The cornerback spot also cries out for reinforcements as the egg to the lack of pass rush’s chicken.
Offensively, the Raiders have plenty of holes as well. While they received fair value from the Amari Cooper trade, he was the lone youthful and promising skill-position talent. Leading pass-catcher Jared Cook is a free agent. Jordy Nelson helped at times during the 2018 season but it’s clear as day his time as a No. 1 receiver is long gone. Oakland will need to hunt for multiple pieces and one potential feature option in the passing game this offseason.
While the passing game needs help on the receiving end, the blocking requires an infusion of depth. The hiring of Tom Cable, rather predictably, took what was one of the team’s clearest strengths coming out of 2017 and sent it to the gutter. The Raiders pass protection was the 30th ranked group by Pro Football Focus last year.
Just spend, baby. The Raiders have so many needs they need to be aggressive in attacking them.
Fantasy gamers the world over have long enjoyed picking on the Raiders pass defense. The team needs to begin cauterizing that wound as soon as the league year begins. The 2019 NFL Draft is a defensive line-heavy class, which comes as perfect timing for Oakland. Nick Bosa and, more realistically, Josh Allen will be options in the top-five. They can look at Quinnen Williams or Ed Oliver if they’re around and want to get a push from the interior.
For the receiver position, Oakland can look to one of their later first rounders (Picks 24 and 27) for their future No. 1 wideout. There is no clear-cut gravitational pull receiver available in free agency. Mike Mayock can use the draft to tab that player to grow with Derek Carr or whoever the team targets as their long-term answer behind center. Whoever this theoretical receiver probably won’t be in line to pile up numbers right away but Carr did improve quietly in the closing months of the season. An electric young wideout would improve his streaming appeal.
Pressing question to answer: Can we finally get the quarterback right?
John Elway has swung and missed on Paxton Lynch, wanted to pay Brock Osweiler and misevaluated Case Keenum as a clear starter following his outlier 2017 season. So far, the one strong move he’s made at the position is signing Peyton Manning for title runs at the twilight of his career.
The 2019 offseason needs to be the course correction moment for Elway and the Broncos brass at quarterback. Keenum will remain on the roster as the 18th highest paid player at the position at $18 million per year. He’ll be in the last year of his deal. Denver can count on Keenum to start for a stretch of the season, even if it’s just for the first month, but they have to look to the future as soon as possible.
Denver has plenty of intriguing young skill position talent on its roster. Phillip Lindsay was a revelation in his first season and became the first undrafted offensive rookie in NFL history to earn a Pro Bowl nod. Rookie receiver Cortland Sutton showed some promise as a vertical threat and fellow first-year DaeSean Hamilton came on strong as a slot receiver to end the year, snaring five-plus catches in each of the last four games.
The Broncos offense certainly has a long way to go before we can call it one of the best ecosystems in the NFL. However, a young quarterback would not find this situation completely bereft of players to grow up with. An upgrade on Keenum, even if this hypothetical rookie doesn’t bloom until 2020, would help us unlock some strong young assets.
While Elway has missed the ball before, he should take another swing in the 2019 NFL Draft. The Broncos sit at the 10th pick and the general manager is said to be smitten with Drew Lock, who is coming off a strong Senior Bowl week.
We know better than to blindly trust Elway’s judgment on this one but if he has conviction on Lock, he needs to make sure he doesn’t leave the top 10 without him. Luckily, teams won’t be clamoring for quarterbacks at the top of the draft as they have been in previous years. Yet, Elway needs to make sure a team doesn’t leapfrog him for whoever his guy is at 10. Aggression is advised.
Elway simply making sure he secures a young option at the quarterback position won’t necessarily answer their pressing question. But there’s only one way to find true love after you’ve been burned: try again.
Los Angeles Chargers
Pressing question to answer: How can we get stronger up front?
After a largely successful season, the Chargers were sent packing from the AFC playoffs thanks to a thorough thumping by the New England Patriots. The clear theme of that game was that New England was far and away the more physical team, blowing past Los Angeles with ease on both sides of the ball.
For the most part, Los Angeles was a strong team out of the backfield in 2018. Melvin Gordon posted a career-high 5.1 yards per carry and scored double-digit touchdowns for the third-straight season. However, the ground game flickered down the stretch after Gordon suffered an injury. He didn’t clear 45 yards rushing in any of his last four games (including playoffs).
Few talked about it going into the playoffs, but the entire offense began to slip when Gordon slowed down late in the year.
The Chargers’ two worst run blockers were guards Dan Feeney and Michael Schofield. An upgrade over one or both would help Gordon enjoy an encore on what was, by far, his most efficient season. The running back crop in fantasy is so stocked that Gordon could come at a mild discount as he heads into a contract year.
What the Patriots exposed to a national audience as a far more long-term weakness was the Chargers run-stopping unit. While their season-long metrics look fine, it became a problem by the end of the year. The Chargers gave up over 140 rushing yards to the Bengals, Ravens and Patriots down the stretch.
Losing Denzel Perryman to another injury dealt a blow to the front seven and he’ll be a free agent after this year. Without him, there are no blue-chippers in the linebacker group. The personnel can improve on the defensive line between Melvin Ingram and Joey Bosa coming off the edge. If Los Angeles wants to take the next step in 2019 and topple some of the Tier 1 teams, they need to set their eyes on a more physical approach up front.
Bringing back Denzel Perryman at a likely discounted rate would be a fine first step in rebuilding the linebacker corps. Late in the first round, they could look at a potential every-down backer like Alabama’s Mack Wilson as a possible defensive cornerstone.
On the offensive line, guard options won’t be plentiful or strong values in Round 1. Los Angeles could look to the open market, as they sit near the middle of the league at $25.9 Million in cap space. The Chargers could attempt to pluck veterans from contenders like Ramon Foster and Rodger Saffold to straight up replace their 2018 starters. If those players don’t jump aboard, the team could look to Rounds 2 to 4 for competition.
Kansas City Chiefs
Pressing question to answer: How can we make this defense at least average?
Kansas City will run the offense back another year with Patrick Mahomes on a rookie contract. While the team will make some additions to their high-flying attack — especially to an offensive line that let them down in the AFC Championship — most of their focus must be on the other side of the ball.
The Chiefs aren’t without strengths as a stop unit. The team led the NFL in sacks with 52, paced by Chris Jones, who enjoyed one of the quietest dominant pass rushing seasons in NFL history. Dee Ford led all edge defenders in pressures with 77, per Pro Football Focus, while Justin Houston chipped in with 48.
Of course, there’s a chance at least one of them isn’t on the roster next year. The former is a free agent who could draw the franchise tag. Houston has the highest cap figure on the team ($21.1 million) and is clearly the third-best player of this group at this point. He could be in line for a pay cut or restructure.
Once Kansas City decides how to deal with its edge-rushing tandem, they’ll turn their sights to the secondary. After shipping off Marcus Peters last offseason, the Chiefs were left with a bit of a mess at the corner position.
Slot corner Kendall Fuller was a strong addition as part of the Alex Smith deal but the Chiefs spent most of 2018 rolling out two other prototypical slot corners outside in Orlando Scandrick and Steven Nelson. A top-flight cover corner will be high on the wish list as the team searches for someone to take advantage of the chances afforded from a great pass rush.
Kansas City can also use some help up front against the run. They allowed the second-highest yards per carry in the NFL and were 32nd in run defense DVOA. In a defensive line-heavy draft, the Chiefs could look to add a presence alongside Jones and up front. If they’re ready to throw in the towel on 2018 free agent addition Anthony Hitchens, we could see them target a linebacker late in Round 1.
The Chiefs aren’t dying for cap space with $35.9 million heading into 2019 but will need to begin thinking about their future. They could afford to overpay for Sammy Watkins because true star Tyreek Hill is still playing on a Day 3 rookie deal. Expect Hill to start pushing for a new contract. Patrick Mahomes is probably at least another year off from what could be a league-changing deal, but that’s coming.
With the clock running out on Mahomes’ rookie contract window, the Chiefs could make an aggressive, title-chasing free agent push with what room they have. Veterans like Pierre Desir or Kareem Jackson would make for fine Tier 2-type signings. Ravens linebacker C.J. Mosley could hit the open market after clearing 100 tackles in four of five seasons. He could make for a featured piece next to fellow Alabama product Reggie Ragland. Should they search for a run-stuffer in free agency, they could explore being the next contender to pay NFL mercenary Ndamukong Suh on a rental deal.
The Chiefs can also look to the draft for defensive enforcements. They’ll miss out on the top-tier of talent in this defensive line-stacked class but late first rounders will be there.
Hulking Clemson tackle Dexter Lawrence would add beef to the line. Secondary help should be plentiful late in Round 1, with names like Byron Murphy and Greedy Williams making sense for Kansas City.