AFC West: Needs filled, unfulfilled

The AFC West had a lot of free agent movement and plenty of talented playmakers drafted. Which teams in the AFC West made the most progress between free agency and the draft and what are the positions still in question?

The AFC West had a lot of free agent movement, even between its own teams, but some important offensive playmakers were grabbed in the first round that could help last year’s bottom two teams in the division.

Oakland needed help at receiver and got the draft’s best one in Amari Cooper. San Diego needed a running back and got perhaps the safest of two first-rounders at the position in Melvin Gordon.

Those two moves should help the two teams that finished third and fourth in the division, while the top two teams, the Broncos and Chiefs, addressed defensive needs.

So who got better between free agency and the draft in the AFC West, and who still has concerning needs heading into organized team activities?


AFC WEST


Denver Broncos
Last year’s record: 12-4
Vegas over/under on 2015 wins: 10
Top free agent signings: Trading for Gino Gradkowski at least gave the Broncos some flexibility in that they didn’t have to force their pick to center, and signing tight end Owen Daniels will heal the loss of Julius Thomas to Jacksonville if Daniels can stay healthy, along with re-signing Virgil Green to add some degree of insurance. However, the Broncos weren’t terribly active in free agency with surefire starting free agents. Darian Stewart can help at safety and Shelley Smith might win a starting job at guard.
Needs entering draft: NT, RT, LG, DE, ILB
What’s left at need areas: The Broncos seemed to double up on needs in free agency and the early rounds of the draft. After taking care of a major need at defensive end with the drafting of Shane Ray, they took G Ty Sambrailo (after signing Smith), TE Jeff Heuerman (who is now hurt, after signing Daniels), and C Max Garcia (after trading for Gradkowski). They waited until the sixth round to take a nose tackle, Darius Kilgo, so the defense could still be vulnerable up the middle after losing Terrance Knighton.

Kansas City Chiefs
Last year’s record: 9-7
Vegas over/under on 2015 wins:
Top free agent signings: The Chiefs lost more than they gained in free agency, including C Rodney Hudson and WR Dwayne Bowe. WR Jeremy Maclin will replace Bowe effectively enough and S Tyvon Branch should be an upgrade over Kurt Coleman. G Paul Fanaika could battle for a starting role and G Ben Grubbs in a trade helps mask the loss of Hudson in the middle of the offensive line.
Needs entering draft: C, WR, ILB, CB, S, DE, RT
What’s left at need areas: The Chiefs filled needs early, taking two cornerbacks in the first three rounds, including one of the best in the draft in first-rounder Marcus Peters. Wide receiver was addressed with Chris Conley in the third round, as well as inside linebacker Ramik Wilson in the fourth round. The key will be giving QB Alex Smith time with tackle Donald Stephenson not starting any games last year and Eric Kush (one career start) at center. Can second-round offensive lineman Mitch Morse take over starting duties at center?

Oakland Raiders
Last year’s record: 3-13
Vegas over/under on 2015 wins:
Top free agent signings: The Raiders upgraded at center, getting Rodney Hudson in free agency in place of Stefen Wisniewski and allowed RB Darren McFadden to bolt to Dallas. They also added WR Michael Crabtree and ILB Curtis Lofton, but there were plenty of losses on defense, too. Safeties Tyvon Branch and Jaiqawn Jarrett are gone, and so is LaMarr Woodley. CBs Tarell Brown and Carlos Rogers are still free agents. Adding NT Dan Williams should help some with the 22nd-ranked run defense from 2014.
Needs entering draft: WR, DE, OG, DT, ILB, SS
What’s left at need areas: Oakland filled a lot of needs in the draft, starting with WR Amari Cooper in the first round and DE Mario Edwards Jr. in the second round. Both should be immediate starters. TE Clive Walford in the third will give Derek Carr another needed target. Can Ben Heeney (fifth), Neiron Ball (fifth) or Max Valles (sixth) find a starting role among the linebackers and further shore up the run defense? On offense, the biggest question is who replaces McFadden.

San Diego Chargers
Last year’s record: 9-7
Vegas over/under on 2015 wins: 8
Top free agent signings: Besides losing RB Ryan Matthews, the Chargers retained most of their top free agents, including CB Brandon Flowers, and added CBs Patrick Robinson and Jimmy Wilson, G Orlando Franklin, WR Stevie Johnson, T Chris Hairston and DL Mitch Unrein. All the way around, that has to be considered a win, especially in the secondary. Wilson could be looked at to compete for a starting job at safety.
Needs entering draft: RB, OG, OLB, NT, C, DE, WR, S
What’s left at need areas: The Chargers addressed their top need with RB Melvin Gordon in the first round and he should be an upgrade from Matthews. The selection of CB Craig Mager almost seemed like overkill after the free-agent additions at the position, especially with every pick being precious with only five draft selections for the team. Their linebacker corps added depth with Denzel Perryman in the second round and Kyle Emanuel in the fifth, and another need was addressed late with DT Darius Philon in the sixth round. The free-agent addition of Franklin will help on the offensive line, but that unit still has to be a concern in San Diego after posting the 30th-ranked running game in 2014.

Other divisions: AFC EAST


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