Top billing in the AFC West has run through Kansas City for the last few seasons. However, the Chargers were up to the challenge last season and nearly stole the division at the final hour. The Broncos and Raiders are attempting to rebuild from major struggles in 2018, and have talent on both sides of the football. Today we take a look at the players who could flip the switch in the AFC West, and catapult one team to the playoffs. With the preseason officially beginning on Thursday, we take our last trip down Feast or Famine lane to focus on the rookies of the AFC West.
AFC West Rookies
Another Iowa tight end is making waves across the league. In 2018, the 49ers found themselves blessed by the talent of their tight end, George Kittle. The former Hawkeye broke the single season record for receiving yards by a tight end. He nearly broke the single game record against the Broncos. Is it any surprise then, that Denver found themselves an athletic tight end out of Iowa, in last April’s NFL draft?
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What makes Fant an important part of the Broncos offense is his ability to help in the run game. Iowa runs a traditional pro-set which focuses on running the football. It should be of little surprise then, that their tight ends are above average run blockers. Fant has the size and agility to engage with a defender and keep his feet moving throughout the play. There are a multitude of receiving-focused tight ends, but a talented pass catcher who can block is much more valuable. Fant benefits from a lack of serious passing catching options in the Broncos offense.
Offensive coordinator, Rick Scangarello, spent the last two seasons in San Francisco as the quarterbacks coach. He worked first hand with Kyle Shanahan’s offense and witnessed the impressive displays of Kittle. Shanahan and his offensive coaches identified Kittle’s strengths and designed plays specifically focused on their tight end. While Scangarello may not yet be on the same level of his former boss, the experience working on a game plan for a talented tight end, will undoubtedly come in handy.
Ferrell’s inclusion here has a lot to do with the expectations surrounding the fourth overall selection than the player himself. The rookie out of Clemson was a force in college. However, he was a surprise selection so early in the first round. The media primarily viewed Ferrell as a mid-to-late first round selection, possible even slipping to the second round. However when it comes to drafting talent, if the best available guy on your board is available, take him. That is just what the Raiders and their new general manager did.
Ferrell is a physically imposing player, standing at 6’4″ and nearly 270 pounds. He has excellent length which helps in both rushing the passer and defending the run. While he is an adequate enough pass rusher, he does struggle with finishing his rushes and likely won’t see consistently high sack numbers. Ferrell will need to develop more as a pass rusher. He struggles to get separation once engaged, and seems to struggle against angled blocks. In the long run, it will not be surprising to see Ferrell grow into a solid to very good, defensive end. However, the lack of big numbers as the fourth overall selection will be difficult to ignore.
The AFC West have two offensive minded head coaches, and two defensive minded head coaches. However, the pairings feature stark contrast with their respective rosters. The Chiefs have the explosive offense but a suspect defense. Oakland has young talent on both sides of the football, but looked anemic on offense and porous on defense. Denver brings a stout defense but leaves much to be desired offensively. The only team who can legitimately boast above average units, the Chargers. Each team’s deficiencies speak to the selections made during the draft. Oakland and Los Angeles added beef along the defensive line. Denver added offensive pieces and the Chiefs bolstered their defense. The rookies will play a major role in who reigns supreme.