The AFC West this off-season should be nicknamed the million dollar conference. This off-season alone we have seen Patrick Mahomes get broke off as he received the richest contract in the history of the NFL when he signed a 10-year extension that could end up being worth $503 million. The Chiefs also handsomely rewarded Chris Jones with a new contract. The Chiefs confidence is at an all time high after hauling off nine straight games including a Super Bowl victory over the San Francisco 49ers a year ago. Now they have stability with locking up their best offensive and defensive players. The Chiefs are so confident going into 2020 that Chris Jones went into full Lebron James mode predicting multiple championships. “We plan to have another parade and another parade and another parade. We’re going to make sure we bring not one, not two, not three, not four, but five-plus rings to Kansas City.”
The Chiefs are a favorite to repeat as Super Bowl champions. However, I wouldn’t sleep on the rest of the AFC West because every team made strides to get better. That theory of the AFC west being the million dollar conference continues as the newly branded Las Vegas Raiders came into the off-season with well over 50 million in salary cap and they used all of it by retooling and reshaping their defense and adding to their wide receiver corp. The Las Vegas Raiders appeared to be a playoff contender at one point in 2019. After reeling off three straight wins, they were sitting pretty at 6-4. Unfortunately, Jon Gruden’s squad lost five out of their last six games. Going into the 2020 year the Raiders will have a brand new stadium and a brand new set of confidence. The Raiders added linebackers Nick Kiwatkowski and Cory Littleton both aggressive, tackling machines capable of covering a lot of ground. The keyword for the Raiders this off-season was versatility and they achieved that goal in a multitude of ways. Raiders added Carl Nassib, Damarious Randall to name a few solid rotational pieces on defense, while Nelson Agholor and Jason Witten should provide some help to the receiving corps.The Raiders desperately needed a No. 1 wide receiver, and with the 12th pick in the NFL Draft, they went for the fastest player they could land and that was 4.27 burner Henry Ruggs III.
Like the Raiders, the Denver Broncos only won seven games in 2019, but rookie quarterback Drew Lock went 4-1 as a starter. He appears to be the future under center in Denver, and the Broncos’ front office did a great job working to surround him with talent this off-season. The Broncos, upgraded their backfield with former pro bowler Melvin Gordon, Gordon is a versatile runner who can make plays as a receiver. Denver made two trades, securing AJ Bouye and Jurrel Casey. Bouye replaces Chris Harris, while Casey gives the Broncos a steady interior pass-rush threat. Denver also added Jerry Jeudy who many experts believe was the best pure route runner and receiver in the draft.
The Los Angeles Chargers are entering a new era with Philip Rivers now gone, but they have plenty of talent on both sides of the ball and are finally back healthy after a miserable 2019 campaign. The Chargers did a great job of retooling their offensive line with the signings of Brian Bulaga and Trai Turner. The addition of Chris Harris solidifies the Chargers as one of the best secondaries in all of the league. The most important thing for the Chargers is consistency and staying healthy.
Each one of the four AFC West teams possess many talented players. Here are some of the ones I consider big time sleepers going into the 2020 season. Let’s take a look at each AFC West player that will help each respective franchise reach their full potential.
Kansas City Chiefs: Rashad Fenton, CB- In limited action a year ago the primary slot corner Fenton surrendered a passer rating of just 57.7. He’s versatile with the ability to excel outside as well as on special teams. Fenton’s role will become increasingly more important due to the uncertainty of Bashaud Breeland‘s punishment from the league. It’s very likely that he misses time to start the year, which will open the door for Fenton to see more playing time. The Chiefs also lost Kendall Fuller via free agency. Cornerback maybe one of the denser areas for the reining champs.
Las Vegas Raiders: Lynn Bowden Jr, RB- Jon Gruden already nicknamed Bowden Jr “The X-Factor” so if the head coach says that I got to put stock in those words. He is really a position-less player in college he played quarterback, he played wide receiver, he played running back, was the punt returner. Mr. Everything. He reminds me of a guy that was drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers and threw a touchdown pass to Hines Ward in the Super Bowl in 2005 which is Antwaan Randle El. Bowden Jr led Kentucky in receptions (30) and receiving yards (348) over the first five games, Bowden was forced into action at quarterback, where he offered up one of the most prolific offensive seasons in school history, leading the nation in yards per carry (7.9) and leading the SEC in rushing yards (1,468) to go along with 13 touchdowns. He may have been the most electric player in all of college football a year ago. We have seen how Sean Payton has used Tayson Hill and now Jon Gruden has got his version in Silver and Black.
Denver Broncos: Bradley Chubb, OLB- Normally Chubb wouldn’t be listed as a sleeper because his rookie year he stepped right in as a worthy tandem with Von Miller in 2018, with 12 sacks, 60 total tackles, 14 tackles for loss and 21 quarterback hits in a terrific rookie season. But he played just four games last year before suffering a torn ACL, and registered just one sack. The Broncos’ team sack total didn’t fall far from 2018 (44) to 2019 (40), and the addition of Jurrell Casey to the defensive line will be good. But a healthy Chubb makes Denver one of the better defenses in all the NFL.
Los Angeles Chargers: Justin Jackson, RB- This off-season Melvin Gordon left the Chargers and stayed within the division signing with the Broncos. Which leaves a void in the running back room in LA. Austin Ekeler will carry the torch as the lead back. However, the Chargers want to be more of a dual back system. Chargers OC Shane Steichen said it himself. “All three of Austin Ekeler, Justin Jackson, and Joshua Kelley are going to share the load.” To start his career Jackson was buried on the depth chart behind Melvin Gordon and Austin Ekeler. In the following season when he had the opportunity to break out, Jackson was held back by an injury, limiting him to just seven games. Jackson has done remarkably well as a runner in limited action. In 20 games played, the former Northwestern product has averaged 5.1 yards per carry on 79 touches. He even has a glowing endorsement from Anthony Lynn. “Justin is a good 1-2 punch, before Melvin came back, Justin was running the ball and doing a good job. He has probably the best instincts in the backfield right now. I have a lot of confidence in Justin, he’s just got to stay healthy.” If Jackson stays healthy he may get a lot of opportunities since Chargers like to split Ekeler out wide a lot.