AFC West 2020 Draft synopsis

And so we reach the end of the line. The final NFL Division, which this year happens to include the reigning Super Bowl Champion CHIEFS. However, as good as they are, I don’t see them as a clear cut dominant team. The new look Las Vegas RAIDERS under GRUDEN and MAYOCK are coming up fast. The Chargers are a legit contender, if their QB situation is truly set. And if DREW LOCK is for real, then JOHN ELWAY’s recent moves make them a tough out on any given gameday. But, for now, let’s head back to their Draft efforts this year.

DENVER BRONCOS     Somewhat quietly, GM JOHN ELWAY has decisively reshuffled his roster. First, he purged some overpaid and overaged vets. Then with the freed up Salary Cap space, he added some VFA’s to his roster. And finally, he wound his way through the Draft with 10 selections. Much of what he did was to aid in the development of his new QB DREW LOCK, who showed enough last season, (especially the second half of it), to instill confidence in ELWAY that he may now have his best QB since PEYTON retired. In the first three rounds in particular, ELWAY went all in to improve his Offensive talent for LOCK. Their first two Picks were JERRY JEUDY/WR/Alabama and K.J. HAMLER/WR/RS/Penn State. JEUDY had 77 receptions, including 10 TD’s, and was considered the best route runner in college by many. He’s a Receiver-1 in the mold of AMARI COOPER. If you doubt his ability to change a game, go find film of the ‘Bama Bowl game. HAMLER is a little fella, (5’9/178), that is quicker than he is fast, (4.40/40). He’s a bit raw, but the talent is undeniable. In his spare time, he does return work on Special Teams. Add them to emerging star COURTLAND SUTTON, and things look bright for LOCK. It will also be a big boost for LOCK to take snaps from LSU OC LLOYD CUSHENBERRY. Look for him to facilitate the move of VFA GRAHAM GLASGOW out to OG. NOAH FANT showed great promise as a Rookie TE last season, and 4th Rounder ALBERT OKWUEGBUNAM, (ALBERT O to me), reminds some of a very raw GRONK after a mediocre career at Mizzou, but a star performance at the Combine. At 6’6/258 ALBERT O ran a 4.49/40. He has 10 1/4″ hands and 34 1/8″ arms. In Round 6, ELWAY rolled the dice to pick NETANE MUTI/Fresno State. MUTI has played all along the OL in college, having a breakout season at OT last season. However, he’s a walking injury report, having been healthy only often enough to start 19 games in 3 years, despite his talent. At the Combine, he stood 6’3/315 with 10 5/8″ hands, and pushed up 44 reps in the Bench Press. Quite the task for the Broncos Training Staff to try to keep him healthy. If they could, he would likely start at OG eventually. With their initial 7th Round Pick, the team took TYRIE CLEVELAND, another in a long list of talented receivers from Florida. He’s 6’2/209 and ran a 4.46/40 at the Combine. He also posted a 39 1/2″ vertical in Indy. He should star early on Special Teams in coverage units and he also has returned Kicks as a Gator. Despite all 6 of these new guys to help LOCK, with his volume of Picks, ELWAY also added 4 young men for his Defense. In Round 3, the team selected MICHAEL OJEMUDIA, a CB from Iowa. I think he will make a better fit as a pro S. His 6’1/200 frame helped him excel in run support with 52 tackles. He also showed ball skills with 3 INT’s and 9 PBU’s. He looks a bit stiff to me as a CB. At Pick 95 in Round 3, the team added an excellent inside pass-rusher named McTELVIN AGIM from Arkansas. AGIM was at the Shrine venue and was unblockable in one-on-one pass-pro drills. He plays with a high rev motor, with coveted hand size (10 1/8″) and arm length (33 3/4″) for a DT slot. In Round 5, they may have gotten a steal for their LB group in JUSTIN STRNAD of Wake Forest. The 6’3/238 STRNAD was limited to 8 games last season because of a torn bicep muscle, but when healthy he’s a smart, productive LB. His 4.75/40 time scared some teams off, but watching him in game action, he plays faster and has quick change of direction. In those 8 games, STRNAD posted 69 T’s, 5.5 TFL, 4 PBU’s, and 1 INT. He should step in right away on their Special Teams units. In Round 7, they Picked second from last at 254 and took small school star DERREK TUSZKA of North Dakota State. TUSZKA plays like one of the big boys and is very athletic. HIs Combine 40-time was 4.78, with a 1.65 10-yard split. He gets off the snap in a hurry and bends well to get around the OT. He was part of 4 FCS National Championship teams for the Bison. During the 2019 season, he recorded 13.5 sacks. His arms are a bit short (31 3/8″) for an NFL edge-rusher, but size numbers don’t mean everything. He participated in the Shrine Bowl venue and acquitted himself nicely. Speaking of which, nice job GM ELWAY on this Draft group.

KANSAS CITY CHIEFS    It all begins with the Offense under HC ANDY RIED and young star QB PATRICK MAHOMES, but football is the ultimate team game with 11 players working together at any given moment for each team. Picking 32nd at the end of Round 1, the team got close to the perfect new piece for their Offense: RB CLYDE EDWARDS-HELAIRE/LSU. I say that because REID subscribes to the short dump-pass to a RB as being nothing more than  a long hand-off, and that is what his new player is best at. He’s short (5’7), but not small (207 lbs.) And after securing the catch in his reliable hands, CLYDE explodes upfield. Once under a head of steam, he runs faster than his 4.58/40-time from the Combine would indicate. He had 55 receptions last season at LSU, but he also rushed for 1,414 yards at 6.6 ypc and 16 TD’s. He will make MAHOMES just that much more dangerous! The team drafted just one more player for the Offense in their 6 Picks. LUCAS NIANG/OT/TCU was available at Pick 96 in Round 3 only because of concern for a hip labrum surgery that he had performed just after the start of the 2019 season. When healthy, NIANG should fit REID’s old reference to his big OL being like Elephants on Parade. NIANG is 6’6/315 with 10 1/4″ hands and 33 3/4″ arms. Whether he stays at OT or slides inside to OG, he should battle for a starting job, if 100% healthy. The team may have taken a bit of a personality risk with their 2nd Round selection of WILLIE GAY/ILB/Miss State. However, GAY is more athletic than any ILB that the team has had on their roster in recent years. He’s 6’1/243 and clocked a 4.47/40-time at the Combine. He runs sideline to sideline seeking to inflict damage to opponents’ offenses. He had a few off-field transgressions while in Starkville, but the Chiefs vetted those incidents to their satisfaction. He will be given every opportunity to win a starting job in Training Camp. In Round 4, they got their secondary coaches a player to fight over, relative to his position as a CB or S; L’JARIUS SNEED. He recorded 73 T’s, 6 PBU’s and 1 INT in a really good season for LA Tech after a move from CB to S. But then he ran a 4.39/40 at the Combine, which is CB speed, where he played previously. My guess is he gets a lot of work on Special Teams, while they work to refine his skills at a CB slot. Round 5 saw them select another of the good athletes from Michigan’s roster in MICHAEL DANNA. The skill for DANNA is pass-rush ability, but the question is from where. You see his 6’2/257 frame and 4.74/40-time make his frame less than ideal for the NFL. However, the same issues were present when the team grabbed DEE FORD some years back. FORD did just fine sacking the QB and now plays in San Fran. DANNA needs to show Special Teams ability to buy him time at a true role on Defense. At Pick 237 (Round 7), they took another DB in THAKARIUS KEYES from Tulane. At 6’1, with 32 5/8″ arms, he has the kind of long frame to handle some of today’s big receivers in the NFL. Could we be looking at him switching to S with S/SNEED moving to CB? Only time will tell.

LAS VEGAS RAIDERS   Year 3 of the new GRUDEN era for Raiders, Year Two of the MIKE MAYOCK GM tenure, and Year One of the new VEGAS Raiders and their sparkling new stadium. Things certainly seem to be looking up for the Silver and Black. The Raiders had an impressive Draft class in 2019, with MAYOCK clearly proving that what he sees in the film room, and in practices, translates to the playing field. They took a slightly different approach to the Draft this time around. The stated goal was to add some speed to the roster, as well as more hard nosed players. With their Round 1, Pick 12 selection, I thought the ghost of AL DAVIS was walking the deserted halls of the team’s facilities. With every wideout in the Draft to choose from, and with a touch of AL in mind, they selected the fastest receiver available in HENRY RUGGS of Alabama. RUGGS ran a 4.22/40 at the Combine,  at 5’11, 188 lbs. He caught just 40 balls in a very crowded ‘Bama receiver group in 2019, but he has nice big 10 1/8″ hands, which dropped only one pass during the 2019 season. The team also had another first round pick, and with this one MAYOCK/GRUDEN surprised the experts with the selection of DAMON ARNETTE from the new DB-U at Ohio State. The 3-year starter is a very physical Corner, fitting another Raiders tradition. He plays with a very high FBI and understanding of what receivers are trying to do to him on the field. I think he gets every chance possible to win the LCB job from NEVIN LAWSON. For those who pay attention to the detail surrounding the Draft, there was an interesting call when the team made their first of 3 3rd Round Picks. The team selected LYNN BOWDEN of Kentucky at Pick 80. BOWDEN played QB for most of the 2019 season when things got desperate for the Wildcats Offense. He ran the ball for 1,468 yards after catching 30 balls for 348 yards early in the season before being asked to play QB. When the Pick was read by Commissioner GOODELL, the Raiders card listed BOWDEN as a RB. Pay attention here boys and girls. The Raiders added RB/JACOBS and FB/INGOLD last year and both worked out very well, thank you. However, depth is questionable in their RB group and BOWDEN may indeed be targeted for service in their RB room. I took a look at the roster at the RAIDERS official website, and BOWDEN is indeed listed as a RB, not a wideout. It seems like GRUDEN/MAYOCK have a Plan A in place on this guy, but they did go back to the WR well with the very next Pick at 81 by selecting BRYAN EDWARDS/WR/South Carolina. EDWARDS is a physically dominating player and was having his best year for the Gamecocks until a knee injury kept him off the field for their final 2 games. Edwards stands 6’3/216 and with 32 1/4″ arms, he provides a very large catch radius for his QB to throw to. He caught 71 balls, including 6 TD’s last Fall. He may require a bit of patience to allow for skills refinement, but his pro future would appear promising. With their final Pick of the 3rd Round, they dipped into the Clemson program, taking versatile defender TANNER MUSE, who will surely play a diverse role as both a LB and a S depending upon the scheme employed. Some have questioned MUSE’s speed for a S slot, but his 4.40/40 at the Combine put him well in the range of many CB’s. He’s a little stiff for that kind of talk, but he will clearly provide a very versatile defender with some of the overall athleticism that the RAIDERS D has been missing in recent years. He should play a key role on Special Teams right away, with the chance to compete for additional playing time in their defense as well. A stat of note was his 4 INT’s in 2019. In Round 4, MAYOCK went to the DABO well once again and took a big bruising OG in JOHN SIMPSON. SIMPSON is 6’4/321 with 34 1/8″ arms. He’s a two year starter with very good functional play strength. He pressed the bar 34 times at the Combine Bench press station. He’s a traditional run blocker that will need some help in pass-pro from those on either side of him. He may be the heir apparent to vet GABE JACKSON, who may be on the downslope of his career and makes perhaps too much against the Salary Cap. With their final Pick of the Draft in Round 4, the team took the short but feisty Nickel Corner AMIK ROBERTSON of LA Tech. He’s only 5’8/187, but is surprisingly physical. He also shows top notch ball skills. In 2019, he had 60 T’s, 16 PBU’s and 5 INT’s, turning two of those into Pick-6’s. This young man plays with a large chip on his shoulder and plays way above his measurements. I luv the fact that MAYOCK got a concentration of Picks early and eschewed the late rounds. I have no doubt that he’ll find some gems in the Undrafted Rookie market to fill out a competitive roster. In MIKE we trust, Raiders Nation.

LOS ANGELES CHARGERS     The Chargers rely on the annual Draft to find a couple of immediate contributors and then some part time players that will add quality depth to the overall roster. They also use it to control their Salary Cap situation. With PHILIP RIVERS moving on as a VFA from the Chargers, the heir apparent to the starting QB job is vet TYROD TAYLOR, who is more of a valuable career back-up than a legit long term starter. So when JUSTIN HERBERT/QB/Oregon was still available when they used their first Pick at 6, they jumped at the chance to get him. Now the question is how soon he wins the QB job. The big (6’6/236) HERBERT had an excellent 2019 season, followed up by a Senior Bowl Game MVP week and an impressive Combine. He’s incredibly smart, with perhaps the best arm talent in this year’s QB group. In his final season as a Duck, he completed 66.8% of his passes, with 32 TD passes and only 6 INT’s. He reminds me a bit of ANDREW LUCK coming out of Stanford some years ago. HERBERT ran a 4.71/40 at the Combine, with a 35.5″ vertical. GM TOM TELESCO turned around and put together a trade package to jump back into Round 1 and snatch up Oklahoma LB KENNETH MURRAY, arguably the best all-around LB in this Draft. The 6’3, 241 lb. MURRAY clocked an impressive 4.53/40 at the Combine, after totaling 102 Tackles for the Sooners in 2019. He’s smart and athletic. He should be a plug and play ILB that improves in pass coverage and will be an every down player. With the team failing to reach a contract number of mutual agreement for the value of MELVIN GORDON, he moved on as a VFA to division rival Denver. To find some help for AUSTIN EKELER, TELESCO took UCLA RB JOSHUA KELLEY from UCLA in Round 4. KELLEY had a breakout season for UCLA, even though his team struggled again. KELLEY gained just over 1,000-yards, including 12 rushing TD’s. He proved himself a good receiver as well. He runs with some power at 212 lbs. and has the speed (4.52/40) to get to the edge and turn upfield. He had a very good week in Mobile, even rushing for 105-yards in the Senior Bowl game. During the practices, he showed good hands catching multiple passes. He should make a very solid addition to a very thin RB group. In Round 5, the team selected JOE REED/Virginia, who is a good Kick Returner and had a breakout 2019 as a receiver for the Cavaliers with 77 receptions, including 7 TD’s. He seems a bit stiff, but has explosion in his lower body as evidenced by his 38″ vertical jump. To compliment REED, the team took Ohio State WR K.J. HILL, who lacks speed (4.61/40) but is a good possession receiver, (probably out of the slot), and also gets yards after the catch downfield. He also could serve as a Punt Returner. ALOHI GILMAN/S/Notre Dame is a nice sub-package S that will earn his roster spot based on Special Teams play. He showed his competitiveness at the Senior Bowl. He began his football career for the Naval Academy before transferring to South Bend.

Overall, it was a strong Draft from all the teams in the division, but for my money, the overall winner may be the Raiders for the second year in a row. MIKE MAYOCK is showing what we all knew when he left broadcasting to be JON GRUDEN’s right hand man. MAYOCK has an eye for recognizing football talent, being able to sift the fly shit from the pepper much of the time. And he doesn’t just Draft based on college stats or Combine numbers. He watches game film and understands what he is seeing, much like TED THOMPSON in his prime.

Pigskin

Thats it folks. All 32 teams in eight divisions. It was indeed a strong, talented class in the 2020 Draft. There will be some hits, and some puzzling misses. Now it’s time to see what Covid-19 allows, as far as the 2020 NFL season is concerned. I want to once again thank GBN Chief Scout Larry Parker for his scouting info, detail work, and proofing ability. His input adds more accuracy and makes for easier reading in my reports.