AFC West Roster Holes: Optimal Landing Spots for the 2021 Rookie Class

Matthew Bevins looks at roster situations that could produce impactful rookies in 2021 fantasy football leagues.

If you’re at all similar to me, football season ends and immediately you start to pull yourself into offseason hobbies to get your time filled for what seems like a “forever” period of time. Helicopter rides out to some ice fishing? Extreme golfing? Please, give me any amount of things to stuff a calendar full, until we can get back to draft prep. Now, we’re just a week away from the 2021 NFL Draft, a year removed from a strange pandemic season marred with injuries, COVID protocols, and names changing locations. The AFC West is a division packed with some up-and-coming talent, and arguably the number one (or number two?) most talented squad in all of football. Of course, we are most interested in the amazing fantasy football talent entering the league, so looking into what may top off a potential jackpot location in the Chargers, or who could add themselves to a fine-tuned machine like the Chiefs is something we could learn a lot from.

 

Denver Broncos: QB, RB2

 

Denver is a very interesting location, because they’re a situation that could likely be filled with upper-echelon talent, or could be a perennial disappointment as their drafting could hamstring them for decades to come. Since the loss of Peyton Manning, the Broncos have attempted repeatedly and failed to find a quarterback to lead their offense, and have now settled in hoping that Drew Lock is their answer. I know, not ideal. What’s potentially even harder for them is the first pick of their draft ended up at nine, so they’re not looking at Trevor Lawrence or likely even Justin Fields at that spot, so rumors have been swirling that they’re likely trading for a quarterback instead of drafting one. Either way, this team needs a quarterback. OurLads.com projected Lock as a stop-gap starter or lifetime backup, and that might be generous. Lock has a pretty large arm for passing deep, but his accuracy leaves much to be desired and he makes plenty of mistakes. After drafting Jerry Jeudy and Noah Fant very early over the past couple of years (Fant at 20 in 2019, Jeudy at 15 in 2020), this squad has attempted to draft some high flying talent, while having arguably one of the five worst ringleaders under center to run it. If it’s a trade for QB, that works, but at nine the Broncos could do worse than kicking tires on a quarterback.

Not for lacking depth, the Broncos also lost Phillip Lindsay to free agency, and with Melvin Gordon no longer a spring chicken, the need for depth at running back is also real. Look for this squad to check out the running back talent within the top three rounds in the high hopes that they can spell Gordon and get more out of him. I’m admittedly a large Gordon fan, but upon diving into this overall yearly stats, I audibly gasped at the fact that in his six seasons in the league he’s cleared 1,000 rushing yards just once. In four of those same six seasons, he’s averaged under 4 yards per carry.

This team has an opportunity to step into primetime as a team in the league’s best conference in football, but unfortunately, they’ll be hamstrung until Lock is no longer behind center.

 

Kansas City Chiefs: WR

 

Kansas City doesn’t need help with coaching or personnel to be competitive in 2021. Since the arrival of Patrick Mahomes onto the scene, this team has been a hot rod, finely tuned and with consistency across the board. The offseason for Kansas City was a louder process than some may have anticipated as they moved on from some offensive lineman early, but they signed Joe Thuney to a deal that will give Mahomes more time in the pocket and also help the running game.

Shortly thereafter, they resigned consistent if unsexy stat compiler Darrell Williams, while also releasing Damien Williams, a year removed from his opt-out season due to COVID-19 to take care of his mother with cancer. Damien Williams was not anticipated to be such a huge part of KC’s initial offense but returned huge value for them to finish off their amazing 2019 Super Bowl run, and the team will now likely rest their rushing on the early drafted shoulders of Clyde Edwards-Helaire. CEH was a darling for many in last season’s fantasy drafts but ended the season with pretty average overall production, playing in 13 games and compiling 803 yards. Helaire has immense upside, and coming out of LSU was a huge favorite of Andy Reid and the coaching staff. With that in mind, I’m inclined to believe with an offense that is this potent, the Chiefs will be willing to give Edwards-Helaire some time to come into his own and attempt to find rushing rapport alongside the speed predicated game of Mahomes.

With that in mind, the Chiefs have a glaring hole in an upside wide receiver two to slot in behind Tyreek Hill. In the offseason, the team has worked to bring back Byron Pringle and Demarcus Robinson, and while both have shown that at times, they can break off some immense single game marching orders, there is also a huge opportunity to build a reliable tandem receiving crew to complete the Cerberus that Hill and Travis Kelce have already started to build up. The signings of returning players Pringle and Robinson, alongside the off of the street move to get Tajae Sharpe to tell me that either KC is completely content treating Kelce as a wide receiver two in theory, or that they have their eyes on talent in the draft that could line up down the hash marks next to Tyreek Hill, and I for one am here for it.

 

Las Vegas Raiders: QB, WR

 

The Raiders had their moment in the sun, and have not since been able to truly remake what made them the darling of many California silver-covered space pirates, and have been mostly relegated to obscurity since then. While I haven’t passed on opportunities to knock Derek Carr, after both need and general intrigue of statistical research, I’m giving up the ghost on disliking him. Not likely the quarterback to bring the franchise over the hump, he’s hardly the issue that he is made out to be, where he finished 11th in passing yards, 10th in completion percentage, and 11th in touchdowns. This still doesn’t spell the fact that Carr will likely be the sacrificial lamb, as Gruden and Co. will likely see the ascension of Justin Herbert in their division and the perennial scorched earth statistics of Patrick Mahomes and look for a quarterback that can put them over the top more than consistently “not lose” them a game.

Henry RuggsDarren Waller, Bryan Edwards, and John Brown deserve a quarterback that is less “game manager/average signal-caller”, and more someone that can bring this team out of the dark ages. It’s also entirely possible the team looks for a mixture of linemen to hold Carr some more time, and give him an additional year to fully mesh with an insanely talented Ruggs and an otherworldly behemoth in Waller.  The sad truth for Raiders fans is that the latter is likely what this squad will do, as their draft filling holes is likely more advantageous to go away from the quarterback and instead install some strong offensive lineman and some defensive talent to use against their talent-filled division.

 

Los Angeles Chargers: TE1, WR2

 

This Los Angeles Chargers team has so much promise and would be one of the few teams in the AFC I think could legitimately be in the championship game, but with the caveat that they address a couple of key areas. Justin Herbert was anticipating a backup role for last season, as we likely were for him as well until a freak injury caused by training staff to Tyrod Taylor thrust Herbert into the spotlight, and he lived up to his end of the bargain. That’s a relief, but it wasn’t without issues in LA. Austin Ekeler caught the injury bug, and then for most of the remainder of the season, their running backs traded off injury tags.

While backup running back is a sore spot (literally, and figuratively), I’d lean towards it being less of an issue than the fact that Hunter Henry took his bumps while awaiting a starter’s role until Antonio Gates retired, only to leave just a year after getting the chance to take said role. It certainly seemed amicable, as the Chargers let him leave almost immediately into free agency, and it’s more than likely the Chargers will go with some combination of a high tight-end pickup in the draft and the other half cobbled together by 482-year-old Jared Cook and Donald Parham.  Cook has been the true definition of reliable, ranking as the tenth to twentieth tight end in fantasy for what most would assume is the last decade, but there’s not a true upside to that expectation. So I wouldn’t find myself shocked if the Chargers at least kick the tires on a tight end within the first four rounds to bloom on the practice squad or second or third in line until Cook’s inevitable retirement.

There’s also the issue at wide receiver that while a personal favorite of mine, I can openly admit that Mike Williams has done nothing to earn his excitement received in dynasty league circles, as his season in 2019 where he just barely eclipsed 1,000 yards receiving seems more like an outlier than an expectation. With Keenan Allen quietly entering his ninth NFL season, I’m sure the team wants a partner to pair him up with for maximum production. The best bet would be the Chargers’ attempt to round the edges with a tight end for some depth and bolster their team with an extra-wide receiver or two.

 

(Photo by Cliff Welch/Icon Sportswire)

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