One of the funnest parts about being a sports fan is making yearly predictions. The beauty of the NFL is that every year something bold always happens. Just take last season, for example. 49ers went from picking second in the draft to playing in the Super Bowl. Gardner Minshew went from a sixth-round afterthought to earning a starting gig. The Antonio Brown saga. Lamar Jackson winning the MVP. As the 2019 season taught us anything is possible. With 2020 being one of the strangest years in recent memory, what does 2020 have in store for the AFC West? Here are my 8 bold predictions.
1. Raiders RB Josh Jacobs will win the rushing title
The Raiders’ second-year back really burst on the scene last year already demonstrating he has all the tools to be the best back in football. A shoulder injury prematurely ended his fantastic rookie season when he rushed for 1,150 yards and forced the most missed tackles as a runner, per Pro Football Focus. The Raiders’ offensive line is mammoth and talented — the unit will provide Jacobs plenty of room to truck the opposition. After averaging 20 touches per game last season, that number should rise to 21 or 22 this year. Jon Gruden has vowed to get Jacobs more involved in the passing game, there is a chance he could see 24-25 touches per game. Expect Jacobs to continue to be a workhorse for the Raiders this season and for him to put up monster numbers in his sophomore season.
2. Clyde Edwards-Helaire will win AP Offensive Rookie of the Year
Chiefs 2019 starting running back Damien Williams made the conscious decision of opting out the 2020 season because the fear of covid. While it is a big loss for the Chiefs it gives Edwards-Helaire more of an opportunity to be the feature back. His head coach Andy Reid is one of those old school coaches that love the running back position. The last rookie running back he drafted with the Chiefs Kareem Hunt led the NFL in rushing yards. At LSU CEH tied for the most receptions that resulted in at least a 10-yard gain (23), and he broke 71 tackles on 214 carries with another 14 broken tackles coming on his 55 receptions. Edwards-Helaire ranked first in PFF rushing grade and averaged an impressive 8.1 yards per carry. Edwards-Helaire should make an immediate impact on an already dynamic offense. Tyreke Hill and Travis Kelce will draw down the field defenders thereby leaving the underneath portion wide open. So I’m expecting Edwards-Helaire to eat.
3. Denver will have a top 10 defense
Denver Broncos Head Coach Vic Fangio has always been one of the most respected defensive minds in all of the NFL so when John Elway hired him last year the hopes were high for Fangio to take a defense anchored by Von Miller and Bradley Chubb to the next level. Denver’s defense last year was just alright they dealt with a lot of injuries and they were still adjusting to a new scheme. However, 2020 is their year after a number of key acquisitions. Denver has enough talent to compete with anyone. The addition of Jurrell Casey allows Denver’s interior pass rush to rotate multiple players in various sub-packages due to the amount of depth they have. In 2020, the Broncos pass rush returns to the form it saw in 2018 as Bradley Chubb returns from injury. Von Miller looks to bounce back from a strange statistical year that saw him generate consistent quarterback pressures and hurries, but one of the lower sack outputs of his career. With a healthy Chubb and Miller, Denver’s edge presence should become a strength for the Broncos defense in 2020. On top of that the Broncos may have one of the league’s best safety duos in Kareem Jackson and Justin Simmons.
4. Justin Herbert will start the last four games of the season
With the departure of Phillip Rivers, Chargers don’t have a clear-cut franchise quarterback for the first time in under 20 years. Chargers coach Anthony Lynn already named Tyrod Taylor starter for week 1. The Chargers drafted Justin Herbert out of Oregon with the #6 pick in the draft. Normally the anticipation of seeing the new guy play over the veteran makes teams rush to see what the future looks like but with the uniqueness of Covid-19 and lack of training starting a rookie might be a recipe for disaster. However, from a talent standpoint Chargers maybe one of the better teams in the NFL. I also believe from a talent standpoint the rest of the AFC West has caught up to them and someone has to finish last in the division I think its the Chargers. If the Chargers aren’t a playoff team midway through the season is it Herbert’s time?
5. The Raiders will make the playoffs in 2020
The 2019 Raiders were not nearly as bad as most people made the team out to be, they made strides and won a lot of big ball games despite a grueling road schedule and tons of injuries. The team had an incredible rookie class, a few bright spots on the team, and Derek Carr played well despite having no weapons. This off-season, the Raiders added the most free agents of any team in the league and really did a nice job of stacking a roster, especially on the defensive side of the ball, fixing needs on all three levels. In the 2020 NFL Draft, they once again had multiple first round selections, adding an explosive wide receiver. It’s hard to think of a team other than the Ravens and Chiefs that have more talent in the AFC than the Raiders. If they can build from last year’s 7-9 effort they can make some noise in the playoffs.
6. The AFC West will have multiple players that will have double-digit sack numbers
In 2019, Joey Bosa led the division with 11.5 sacks and this off-season he was rewarded with a brand new contract extension. We know about the high scoring offenses in the AFC West but not enough attention is given too all the pass-rushers in the division. I think this year we will see the rise of multiple pass rushers in the division. Raiders DE Maxx Crosby had a stellar rookie year with 10 sacks and I certainly believe he is on pace for another big year. Von Miller had a down year as far as his sack total with 8 their is no reason to believe that 8 won’t turn into 10 or more. Bradley Chubb missed last year with a torn ACL. In 2018 his rookie year he had 12 sacks a healthy Chubb he should easily get back to his double-digit mark. The Chiefs also have multiple guys on their roster in Chris Jones and Frank Clark that have broke double-digit sacks in their career and they can do it again. Keep an eye on all the AFC West pass rushers!
7. Drew Lock will play at a Pro Bowl level
Lock really hit his stride toward the end of last season. Lock ended the year with 1,020 yards, seven touchdowns, and three interceptions. Lock put enough on tape to give the Broncos enough confidence to move forward with him in 2020. The Broncos did a solid job of adding weapons around Lock. They upgraded their backfield with former pro bowler Melvin Gordon, Gordon is a versatile runner who can make plays as a receiver. Denver may have landed the steal of the draft in Jerry Jeudy who many experts believe was the best pure route runner and receiver in the draft. Matching speed for speed with the Chiefs is really important and John Elway followed that up with drafting speedster KJ Hamler out of Penn State. I also expect their first round pick of a year ago Noah Fant to have a big year as well. The Broncos added tons of weapons and upgraded their defense. Lock has all he needs to be successful now lets see where he goes in his development.
8.Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes will throw 51 touchdown passes
In his first full year as a starter, he posted the second 50/5,000 season in NFL history and won MVP. Last season, he was the Super Bowl MVP. This off-season, the Chiefs stole Clyde Edwards-Helaire, who has Brian Westbrook like qualities as a runner/receiver. Maholmes missed a few games last year with injury. This year Maholmes will be 100% and with a lack of crowd on the road Maholmes has a longer time to process plays and tear up a defense as he is known to do. At the age of 24, Mahomes is only getting better. Andy Reid is the best offensive play caller in the league. I can only imagine the fireworks.