by Nick Link
Kansas City Chiefs:
2018 record: 12-4 First place in AFC West; Lost in AFC Championship
Key additions: DE Frank Clark, S Tyrann Mathieu
Key subtractions: LB Justin Houston, S Eric Berry, LB Dee Ford
Players to watch in camp: Safety Juan Thornhill, 2019 second round pick #63 overall
Thornhill, a rookie out of Virginia comes to camp looking to fill the void left by fan favorite and long-time Chief Eric Berry. The Chiefs added play-making strong safety Tyrann Mathieu to give the youngster a security blanket as he adjusts to the pro game. The learning curve is a shallow one in a conference like the AFC West which showcases top tier talent at wide receiver and tight end on the rosters of all three divisional rivals.
Key Training Camp battles: Defensive Line. Chris Jones and Frank Clark are locks to start in new Defensive Coordinator, Steve Spaguolo’s base 4-3 defense. Beyond those two, Emmanuel Ogbah, acquired in a trade with the Cleveland Browns, and third-round selection, Khalen Saunders figure to challenge incumbent starters Alex Okafor and Derrick Nnadi for starting spots.
Los Angeles Chargers:
2018 record: 12-4 Second place in AFC West; Lost in Divisional playoff round
Key additions: LB Thomas Davis
Key subtractions: WR Tyrell Williams, DT Corey Luiget, S Jahleel Addae, TE Antonio Gates
Players to watch in Camp: Melvin Gordon
Standout running back Melvin Gordon publicly stated he intends to hold out of training camp and possibly the season if the Chargers do not come to terms on a new contract. This could be a huge blow to a team many figure prime for Superbowl contention this coming season. Gordon is key to a deep playoff run and the Chargers would be wise to lock him down quickly.
Key Training Camp battles: Free Safety. Jaylen Watkins is penciled in as the starter after the release of Jahleel Addae. However, second-round selection Nasir Adderley has other plans. The four-year starter at Delaware wrapped up an impressive college career in which he totaled 178 tackles (117 solo) seven interceptions and 17 pass breakups. His high football IQ and play-making abilities earned him the highest rating at the Safety position in this year’s draft according to Pro Football Focus. Defensive Coordinator Gus Bradley will have a tough time keeping Adderley off the field.
2018 record: 6-10 Third place in AFC West; missed playoffs
Key additions: QB Joe Flacco, T Ju’Wan James, DB Kareem Jackson
Key subtractions: LB Brandon Marshall, LB Shaq Barrett, CB Bradley Roby, S Darian Stewart
Players to watch in camp: the Quarterbacks.
Since Peyton Manning retired in 2016, the Denver Broncos started 5 different players at the most important position on the field. Brock Osweiler, Mark Sanchez, Trevor Seimian, Paxton Lynch and Case Keenum had little success. Enter Joe Flacco, the longtime Ravens signal-caller will be asked to regain his Superbowl MVP form to fill the void left by Manning. The Broncos also selected Missouri QB Drew Lock in the second round. Lock has yet to sign his rookie deal instead holding out for a “quarterback premium”. If Flacco struggles and Lock’s holdout continues into the regular season, the Broncos could again be looking at a disaster at the Quarterback position.
Key training camp battle: Tight end. Jake Butt vs. Noah Fant. Conventional wisdom would suggest the Broncos will operate out of a two tight end system. However, the speed of the NFL game and high scoring nature of the AFC West may force the Broncos to play three or more receivers and only one tight end. Butt, is known for his blocking in the run game but is not a great pass catcher. Fant is the better all-around athlete and if he can improve his run blocking during training camp he could force his way into the starting lineup. Either way, do not expect the first round play-maker from Iowa to be on the sidelines very often.
2018 record: 4-12 Last place in the AFC West; missed playoffs
Key additions: WR Antonio Brown, WR Tyrell Williams, T Trent Brown, LB Brandon Marshall, S Lamarcus Joyner, LB Vontaze Burfict, G Richie Incognito
Key subtractions: G Kelechi Osemele, WR Jordy Nelson, TE Jared Cook, RB Marshawn Lynch, T Donald Penn, S Marcus Gilchrist
Players to watch in camp: Derek Carr, Antonio Brown, Tyrell Williams.
Carr’s first season under Jon Gruden was a tumultuous one at best. Mainly due to his lack of reliable receivers. Amari Cooper struggled early and was traded to Dallas. Jordy Nelson and Jared Cook also had issues in the new system. As a result, both were let go. Cook’s departure will hurt as he had developed a great rapport with Carr during their time together. Former Steelers superstar Antonio Brown and ex-Chargers deep threat Tyrell Williams look to solidify a receiving group in flux. The trio will need to gel quickly if they plan to keep pace with the Chargers and Chiefs.
Key camp battles: Running back. Oakland’s running back group is stacked with talent. Veteran Doug Martin is penciled in as the starter, but with over 1300 carries during his career, Martin’s bell cow days are behind him. Rookie first-rounder Josh Jacobs from Alabama is a dual-threat runner/receiver and will immediately challenge Martin for the starting spot. The Raiders also have change of pace backs Jalen Richard and DeAndre Washington filling out this balanced and dangerous group. One thing is certain, Jon Gruden has no shortage of talent within this group.