Denver Broncos gained ground in our ranking of AFC West offenses

Sep 12, 2021; East Rutherford, New Jersey, USA; Denver Broncos running back Javonte Williams (33) runs the ball against the New York Giants during the second half at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Dennis Schneidler-USA TODAY Sports

The AFC West has looked more like the wild west since free agency began. And really, even prior to that with the Denver Broncos trading for Russell Wilson. Each team in the division has made some savvy moves to keep up with one another in a heated NFL arms race.

In an attempt to stay relevant in what is now the most exciting division in football, trades were made and millions of dollars were spent, all in hopes of taking home the divisional crown.

Kansas City has held court as the dominant team in the division since the arrival of Patrick Mahomes and has done so with an explosive offense. Las Vegas, Denver and Los Angeles have done their best to counter their offensive attack to no avail, but perhaps 2022 is the year that changes.

Paul “Bear” Bryant once said “Offense wins games, defense wins championships.” While that quote still carries significant weight, in today’s pass-first NFL, offense is king.

Here are the AFC West offensive rankings as of today.

4. L.A. Chargers: (QB Herbert, WR Williams, WR Allen, RB Ekeler)

The needle hasn’t really moved much for the Chargers as far as offensive talent is concerned. Their biggest moves consisted of re-signing explosive but oft injured Mike Williams, bringing back veteran quarterback Chase Daniel to back up Justin Herbert, and adding tight end Gerald Everett.

Williams is a playmaker that needed to return for the young talent Justin Herbert. Matched with Pro Bowl regular Keenan Allen, they have a solid 1-2 punch in the passing game. With Herbert seeming to take multiple positive steps in growth the last two years, there is a lot of promise that this core group can be productive. Additionally, Josh Palmer has the trappings of a very nice No. 3 wideout but will need to grow and develop in that offense before he becomes a major factor in opponent’s minds.

Gerald Everett and Donald Parham Jr. are sufficient tight ends that can be creatively deployed but again, they are not exactly striking fear into the hearts of the enemy. They will be able to both block and be productive in the passing game, but the ceiling of meaningful impact is not very high overall.

The versatility in the running game with Austin Ekeler can again be a huge boon for the Chargers. Ekeler accounted for 20 total touchdowns last season (12 rushing, 8 receiving) and if healthy, there is no reason to think he cannot produce similar numbers.

With Herbert seeming to take multiple positive steps in growth the last two years, there is a lot of promise that this unit can be very productive. The offensive line play has been extremely solid with the addition of offensive tackle Rashawn Slater in the 2021 NFL Draft. They should not see a significant regression in 2022. It’s a bit wild to think that this unit may be the worst in the division with the personnel they possess but on paper they seem to be lacking depth compared to their rivals.

Young Herbert will have to trade blows with three extremely talented and veteran quarterbacks. He has shown an ability to keep up so far but will have to take even more steps in his development if he wants to reach the levels of Patrick Mahomes and Russell Wilson.

3. Las Vegas Raiders: (QB Carr, WR Adams, WR Renfrow, TE Waller, RB Jacobs)

When assessing the Raider’s offense, it’s sneakily well-constructed. First thing first, start with the guy throwing the rock, Derek Carr. It’s safe to say that Carr hasn’t been the most electric quarterback but in his eight-year career, he has steadily improved.

Last season, he threw for a career-high 4,804 yards and his second highest completion percentage (68.4%) landing him at fifth-best league-wide. That was easily the best in the AFC West. He did this with arguably the weakest supporting cast as well. This projects well for Carr and his team moving into the 2022 season, having nabbed the best wide receiver in the league in Davante Adams.

Adams will headline a three-headed monster consisting of himself, Darren Waller and Hunter Renfrow which will prove more than challenging for their opposition to slow. Adams is coming off of an electric year and caught more balls last season than ever in his career (123). He is certain to make an immediate impact. Renfrow is returning from a career year as well in just about every statistical category. And Waller should be back to his world beating form of 2020 assuming he will be healthy, which he did not appear to be after hurting his knee Thanksgiving Day.

Couple that with a strong running attack with bruiser Brandon Jacobs and solid line play, the Raiders will not be a fun offense for opposing defensive coordinators to solve. The Raiders just barely got the edge as the No. 3 offense because of their high top-end talent and depth, with secondary options like receiver Brian Edwards, receiver DeSean Jackson and tight end Hunter Moreau.

Denver’s top-end talent may not be as dynamic from a pass-catching standpoint, but they have the better top-end quarterback giving them the edge over the Raiders.

2. Denver Broncos: (QB Wilson, WR Sutton, WR Jeudy, WR  Patrick, RB Williams)

The Broncos were easily the worst offensive group in the AFC West last season, and it wasn’t close. If it weren’t for the super-human efforts of running backs Javonte Williams and Melvin Gordon this team may have seen far less success in the win/loss column. However, 2022 means a fresh start with a new offensive-minded coaching staff and a revolutionary change at the quarterback position with longtime Seattle Seahawks QB now with the Denver Broncos, Russell Wilson.

The addition of Wilson to this offense already brings this unit to a new level. The Broncos have proven playmakers in Pro Bowler Courtland Sutton, first round draft pick Jerry Jeudy, and one of the most underrated receivers in the game, Tim Patrick. This trio of receivers have enormous upside and now that they have a quarterback capable of making throws down the field, they will undoubtedly be exponentially more productive than in 2021.

Denver saw Melvin Gordon leave in free agency, but this clears room for the second year phenom Javonte Williams to emerge as one of the hardest-running, young backs in the NFL and the best in the division. Williams was not afforded much opportunity in the receiving game but his increase in snaps will show a reliable pass catching back who can move the chains through the air as well. He is a 3-down back and will be expected to carry that load for his team.

The depth pieces on offense, tight end Albert Okwuegbunam and receiver K.J. Hamler, have tremendous upside. Hamler has been injured but has the speed needed to stretch the field and complete some electric plays deep. Okwuegbunam is a special athlete with toughness and playmaking ability across the middle of the field.

Wilson is the tide that lifts all boats and is by far the biggest reason the Broncos offense projects so well moving into 2022 and beyond. This roster was already built for success and only needed a talented quarterback to fill it out.

1. Kansas City Chiefs: (QB Mahomes, WR Hill, WR Smith-Schuster, TE Kelce, RB Edwards-Helaire)

Though every team has made positive improvement through the trade market and free agency, nobody has completely closed the gap on the Kansas City Chiefs.

It’s difficult to gain ground when week after week they get the pleasure of toting out the best young quarterback in the league in Patrick Mahomes. At 26 years old, he has thrown for nearly 20,000 yards and has 151 passing touchdowns in only four years as a starter. That is more than Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers in the same stretch of time. An expert improvisor and deadeye marksman, Mahomes is still the best quarterback in the division.

For the most part, the pass catchers will be the same for Mahomes with Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce. Amazing talents in their own right, they have both withstood the test of time and continue to put up impressive numbers season after season. The biggest addition to this group though, is receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster, former Pittsburgh Steelers wideout.

Smith-Schuster will add another extremely reliable pass-catcher that this unit desperately could have used last year. Aside from Hill and Kelce there were concerns about pass catching depth, but now that fear is mitigated. His addition doesn’t completely put that depth concern to bed, but it certainly helps.

The Chiefs also focused on beefing up their offensive line in free agency in an attempt to keep Patrick Mahomes upright and healthy, an issue that has reared its head at times over the previous two seasons.

Kansas City’s rushing attack is not overly impressive on the whole, but they are deployed well, and all are very versatile. With the stable of backs they possess, the Chiefs should still be able to find success on the ground even if it’s just to give defenses varied looks and take the heat off Mahomes. Clyde Edwards-Helaire may not have lived up to his first-round draft status yet, but when healthy, he just adds one more tool to the tool belt.

To be the best, you have to beat the best. Until Denver can gather some wins against their hated rival the Chiefs, they can only be considered second best.

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