The old saying goes, “To make the playoffs, you first have to win your division” and there is no better example of this philosophy currently in the NFL than the arms race going on in the AFC West. Over the past few seasons, all four teams have stockpiled resources on the offensive side of the ball with mixed results.
The Broncos’ numerous misses in the draft on guys like Carlos Henderson, Garrett Bolles and Jake Butt all in one season have led them to fall behind the pack. But now, with a new quarterback and young receiving core with sky-high potential, can the Broncos gain on their division rivals?
Los Angeles Chargers
The Chargers not only have some of the best top-end talent in the division, but they also have even better depth than the Broncos. While the Raiders and Chiefs both have two elite receivers, their third receiver leaves much to be desired.
Despite losing their No. 3 receiver from a season ago, the Chargers still have the best wideout in the division in Travis Benjamin. Benjamin can take the top off defenses and be a danger underneath thanks to his elite speed and elusiveness which pairs excellently with the Bolts’ other two top receivers Mike Williams and Keenan Allen.
Allen has been the one of the league’s most underrated receivers since he was drafted in 2013’s third round. Allen consistently gets the job done, has numbers that rival the league’s best, and has some of the most reliable hands in the league. Yet he’s never mentioned among the NFL’s elite receivers even though he deserves to be.
Williams had a breakout season in 2018 but should be even better this year as his role expands thanks to Tyrell Williams‘ departure. Mike Williams was the Chargers’ seventh overall pick in the 2017 draft but had a limited role in his rookie year due to the Chargers’ depth at receiver. In Year 2, Williams caught 44 passes for almost 700 yards and 10 touchdowns. Williams should continue to improve in Year 3 as he becomes one of the Chargers’ starting receivers.
Kansas City Chiefs
At the season’s start, the Chiefs had a chance at being fourth on this list as Tyreek Hill was facing possible suspension for his second case of domestic violence. This time he allegedly broke the arm of his three-year-old son and then was recorded threatening the mother of his son (who was the victim in Hill’s first case, where he plead guilty to punching her in the stomach, face, and choking her, while she was pregnant with the victim of this most recent case). “You need to be terrified of me too, b—h.”
Despite what you may think of Tyreek Hill as a human being, there is no denying the element he provides to the Chiefs’ offense when he is on the field. Hill’s unmatched speed and acceleration forces opposing defenses to spread out, allowing Kansas City’s other weapons to take advantage and tear through the secondary. There’s a reason why even with his off-the-field issues, the Chiefs were planning on making him one of the league’s highest-paid receivers earlier this offseason.
Behind Hill, the Chiefs have Sammy Watkins, Demarcus Robinson and the talented rookie speedster Mecole Hardman. Watkins has never lived up to the pro potential he exhibited to become the fourth overall pick but he is coming off one of the best seasons of his career thanks to Patrick Mahomes and Andy Reid‘s system. Robinson and Hardman provide good depth, but asking them to be the second and third receiver early in the season could be a stretch.
No team transformed their receiving core over the past 12 months more than the Oakland Raiders did by moving on from Amari Cooper and Jordy Nelson and acquiring arguably the league’s best receiver Antonio Brown, and the aforementioned Tyrell Williams.
While the contract the Raiders signed Brown to following his trade from the Steelers will look ugly in the long run, it won’t be a problem his first year with the team. Over the past several seasons in Pittsburgh, Brown has had record-shattering seasons that made many compare him to the great Jerry Rice.
To complement Brown, the Raiders have deep threat Tyrell Williams who has become a key part of the Chargers’ offense in recent years. Last season Williams caught 41 passes for over 650 yards and five touchdowns, the longest of which went 75 yards. Surprisingly enough, that’s not an outlier for Williams, who has had a touchdown of at least 75 yards in three of his four years in the league.
Beyond Williams on the depth chart things get dicey for the Raiders. They will have to rely on either Ryan Grant or undrafted rookie Keelan Doss to be their third receiver. If the Raiders had more depth, they could find themselves atop this list, but as of now, they’re lacking.
Yet again, the Broncos find themselves near the bottom of the offensive position rankings. Across the entire offense, the Broncos are a young team with great potential but they aren’t quite ready just yet.
Emmanuel Sanders has consistently been one of the league’s top receivers, but now at age 32 and rehabbing from a torn achilles, the Broncos will need to lean heavily on the young guys. Fortunately for them, they have plenty.
Courtland Sutton is as likely as anyone from last year’s draft to have a breakout season in 2019, thanks to an expanded role, upgrade at quarterback, and most importantly a better schematic fit.
Following Sanders’ torn achilles last season, both DaeSean Hamilton and Tim Patrick stepped up in a big way for the Broncos. Hamilton was viewed as the best pure slot receiver in the 2018 draft and should move into that role this season.
Tim Patrick is possibly the most underrated receiver in football right now and showed the ability to start opposite of Sutton once Sanders moves on. The Broncos also have sixth round pick Juwann Winfree who has looked stellar so far in training camp.
As of now, the Broncos have the best depth in the division with the Chargers as the only remotely close team. But the Broncos’ top-end talent isn’t close to that of their division rivals. Given more time to develop and a solid starting quarterback, the Broncos should see themselves slowly climb their way up this list in coming seasons.