And last, but not least, we look at the AFC West, with young star QB PATRICK MAHOMES. The CHIEFS took it on the chin in the Super Bowl, trying to repeat their 2020 title there. But their OL let them down and cagey vet TOM BRADY took apart the CHIEFS secondary. The CHARGERS, led by star Rookie QB JUSTIN HERBERT look to make a run at the West title under new Head Coach BRANDON STALEY. That’s if they can improve the protection and keep Herbert upright. The RAIDERS are rebuilding their OL and still working to plug holes in their Defense. And the BRONCOS have a new GM in GEORGE PATON, who engineered an aggressive roster shuffle, and might yet try to add a guy named RODGERS as his QB.
BRONCOS As mentioned above, the BRONCOS are rumored to be willing to make the PACKERS a substantial offer to acquire disgruntled MVP AARON RODGERS. But for now, that is just cheap bar talk. What is known, is that PATON may have put together an excellent first Draft Class in his debut as the BRONCOS new GM. He made sure to take care of both sides of the ball, but 7 of his 10 Picks were for Defense. And 4 of those 7 went to improve the secondary. Pick 9 went for PATRICK SURTAIN from ‘Bama, who is expected to win a starting job as a Rookie. Pick 152 went for Texas S CADEN STERNS, with Pick 164 used to snatch up another S in JAMAR JOHNSON/Indiana. And finally at Pick 237, PATON chose Nickel CB candidate KARY VINCENT from LSU. Assuming the team keeps 10-11 DB’s, look for all 4 of these guys to make the team, providing a serious talent upgrade and Rookie Cap dollar savings for the position group. The team made a move to get former Tar Heels RB JAVONTE WILLIAMS, a bruising 220 lb. punisher with speed and good hands. WILLIAMS will likely share carries with MELVIN GORDON. To Round out their Top 100 Picks, the team grabbed QUINN MEINERZ for their IOL, after a stellar week at the Senior Bowl. The D3, UW/Whitewater tough guy, may need some time to adjust to the pro level, but I will be surprised if he’s not starting somewhere on their OL by mid-season. When healthy, the BRONCOS have a more than adequate receivers group, but 6th Round WR Pick SETH WILLIAMS/Auburn is a shot at greatness. The big, physical guy never seemed at home at Auburn out on the grass, but he has good hands, above average speed, and a 6’3/211 frame. With the right QB, and pro coaching, he could emerge as a more productive pro player than he was a collegian. Late Round 3 selection, BARON BROWNING/Ohio State, is another excellent athlete and a playmaker at a LB spot. Now he just has to become more of a factor from down to down between his highlight plays. Count on Head Coach VIC FANGIO to make BROWNING a pet project of his in training Camp. In Round 7, the team added DE/ER JON COOPER/Ohio State and DE MARQUISS SPENCER/Miss St. COOPER has natural edge-rush skills, but was constantly banged up during his Buckeyes career. More than a few Draft “experts” have put this Draft group at, or near, the top of Draft rankings for 2021.
CHIEFS The big question is, what have you done to help MR. MAHOMES since the Super Bowl loss? And the answer would be plenty, including keeping all of his receiving weapons except SAMMY WATKINS. But most of all, they revamped their OL during VFA and this Draft. First they waived their two veteran/injured OT’s in FISHER and SCHWARTZ. Then they declined to bring back OC AUSTIN REITER. Then, with that Cap and roster space, they signed OG JOE THUNEY/Pats as an instant starter. They also signed the un-retired KYLE LONG, which gives them 2 new OG’s. Also coming back after a Covid-19 sabbatical is DR. LAURENT DUVERNAY-TARDIF, who might get a look at OT. It is highly likely that Round 2 Draft Pick CREED HUMPHREY/Oklahoma may win the OC job, and keep it for a decade. TREY SMITH/Tennessee was drafted in Round 6. He plays better than Round 6, but blood clot health issues have caused medical concerns. They plugged their LT spot with a trade for ORLANDO BROWN from the RAVENS. And as if that wasn’t enough for the Offense, they drafted DUKE/TE NOAH GRAY in Round 5, and CLEMSON’s late blooming CORNELL POWELL/WR also in Round 5. They did not forget their Defense entirely, drafting Missouri’s NICK BOLTON/LB in Round 2. BOLTON is a tackling machine and an emotional player that may be tough to keep off the field, though why would they want to anyway? To supplement their Edge-Rush, JOSHUA KAINDOH/DE/FSU was taken in Round 4. Nice work to add depth and upgrade some starting positions for GM BRETT VEACH, who I thought was an ANDY REID “yes man” when JOHN DORSEY was let go a few seasons ago. He may work more in concert with REID, and he has engineered a couple of nice recent Draft efforts. This one looks good… again.
RAIDERS This was Draft number 3 for the inimitable duo of GRUDEN/MAYOCK. And as usual, MAYOCK sticks to his Board when recommending Picks. Then we are left to figure out which are really his guys, and which ones were a GRUDEN preference. The team was clearly in need of OL and Defensive help. So that is what they got, though we may debate the relative value of some of these choices. ALEX LEATHERWOOD from ‘Bama was a surprise for many, being selected as early as Pick 17, but he will start somewhere and likely have a solid pro career. He will get a look at OT first and then OG if needed. In Round 7, the team took JIMMY MORRISSEY/OC, who started for 4 seasons at Pitt. He gained some draft points by getting a Friday call-up to the Senior Bowl when injuries decimated the American team’s OL group. MORRISSEY played a lot of snaps all along the OL in the Saturday game. Scouts noticed. I bet he wins a job as a versatile back-up for now. The remainder of their Draft, 5 Picks, was spent on defensive players. TREVON MOEHRIG/TCU should fight for a starting job at S and was a good value Pick at 43. TYREE GILLESPIE/S/Missouri, in Round 4, will buy time to develop if he stands out early to claim Special Teams work. CB/NATE HOBBS/Illinois started 4 seasons for Lovie Smith and was exposed to some NFL-style Zone coverage scheme work. In Round 3, Buffalo’s MALCOLM KOONCE excelled at something the RAIDERS need a lot more of… Edge Rush. For now that will be his role, but they will likely try to develop him as an OLB as well. If he gets some sacks, it’s a good gamble Pick. I am fascinated to watch what happens with Round 3 selection DIVINE DEABLO from VA Tech. He looks like one of those hybrid-LB/S’s at 6’3/226. He runs well and has good ball instincts in coverage. He should pressure 4-year vet NICHOLAS MORROW, who seems to have stalled in his development in that kind of role. He also gives them a very “fun” name to work some PR for. This Draft is a winner if the team gets contributions from it’s first 4 Picks. If not, the pressure may start on GM MAYOCK.
CHARGERS As I stated above, the name of the game now for this team is to protect and supply their new Franchise QB HERBERT with more weapons and guardians (OL) to facilitate his growth. This team always has to handle their roster decisions based with finances in mind. The SPANOS family, which owns the team, is not filthy rich like a JERRY JONES, and their move to L.A. has cost them a pretty penny, at a time when the team has had next to no income while waiting for their new stadium digs and a ravaging pandemic to end in California. Their biggest task was rebuilding their OL, and they went all-in! Gone are all their 2020 season starting OL except for BRYAN BULAGA, who was a VFA last year. So, with their first Pick they selected RASHAWN SLATER/Northwestern, who was ranked by some as the best OL available in the whole draft class. He starts somewhere immediately. The question is where? He will likely get a look at LT first, though some feel his 6’4″ frame is a bit small for an NFL OT. He is very athletic, and carries a high FBI. In Round 5, the team selected BRENDEN JAIMES/Nebraska, who started for 4 years in college and may make a very solid back-up at almost every line position. Several journeymen OL were brought in, including MATT FEILER & ODAY ABOUSHI. The crown jewel was signing VFA COREY LINSLEY, who like BULAGA, came from the PACKERS roster. TRE’ McKITTY/TE/Georgia was taken in Round 3. Potential is the key word with TRE’. He’s very athletic, with nice blocking size (247) and 11″ hands. With HUNTER HENRY having moved on to New England, developing McKITTY will be a primary objective in Training Camp. JOSH PALMER/WR/Tennessee was also added in Round 3. The team already has a loaded WR room, but several of the vets have been injury prone. LARRY ROUNTREE/RB/Missouri, added in Round 6, will make a solid, versatile addition to the RB group. ASANTE SAMUEL/CB/FSU was their top addition on Defense in Round 2. His dad, of the same name, had a solid NFL career as a CB, and this SAMUEL is a bit more athletic than his dad. He had 6 PBU’s and 3 INT’s in the abbreviated 2020 schedule. I say he gets a shot at a starting job in Camp. The team has not re-signed MELVIN INGRAM, and hope they have drafted his replacement in CHRIS RUMPH/LB/ER/Duke. RUMPH is not quite as big as INGRAM at 6’3/235, nevertheless, he has quickness and explosion off the edge. He produced 8 Sacks for the Dukies last season. He’s a player to watch in Camp this Summer. Another “sleeper” to watch is MARK WEBB from the overloaded DB group at Georgia the past couple of years. WEBB played S, CB, and NB while at UGA. I think they see him as a back-up S and solid Special Teamer. He has some nice measurables including 32 1/8″ arms and 10 1/8″ hands. I have seen some pretty harsh evaluations of the CHARGERS Draft effort, but I tend to disagree. The team got value with most of their Picks, and got the kind of players that fit their player profiles.
That’s a wrap for this division and for the 2021 NFL Draft. There was plenty of talent to go around for 32 teams, and clearly a lot of variance in player evaluations by team Personnel Departments. My final take is to say “job well done” for teams that paid the price and got themselves much needed potential Franchise QB’s in Round 1. For those still waiting… good luck. Some QB’s on the college front this season will have to really step it up to come close to what was available this year, IMO.