NFL training camp 2019: AFC West preview

Chiefs to propose OT rule change allowing both teams to get ball

The Chiefs were the stars of the NFL last year. Patrick Mahomes threw for more than 5,000 yards and 50 touchdowns and won the MVP as Kansas City arguably was one coin flip from a Super Bowl berth.

But in 2019, the Chargers are once again very good, the Broncos have added two quarterbacks and the Raiders actually did some good things this offseason.

All of that leads to a belief that this could be a very competitive division, much more so than it was last year when Oakland was a laughingstock and Denver massively underachieved. Still, everyone will be chasing the Chiefs as Mahomes looks to once again excel in Andy Reid’s offense.

Here’s the outlook for the AFC West heading into training camp:

Team on the rise

Oakland Raiders

The team added Antonio Brown, that alone would be enough to turn some heads. But the Raiders also picked up Trent Brown in free agency and drafted some very good players with all of the first-round picks acquired in trades for Khalil Mack and Amari Cooper. It’s undeniable this team looks on paper like it’s on the upswing, but it’s up to coach Jon Gruden to make all the puzzle pieces fit on the field.

Team on the decline

Denver Broncos

The Denver defense is great, and new coach Vic Fangio should make its ability to stop opponents even better, but the offense has serious questions.

As much as adding one-time Super Bowl MVP and first-round pick Joe Flacco to the team’s offense gives the team hope, it’s a move that very well could blow up in Denver’s face. Flacco has been mediocre over the last few seasons. He was injured and lost the Ravens starting job to rookie Lamar Jackson in 2018 after he fell from seventh in the league in passing yardage in 2016 to 21st in 2017.

It appears he really doesn’t present much different than Case Keenum did last year for the Broncos.

One key difference: Flacco’s ability to throw the deep ball could change the offense some, but the Broncos don’t really have a lot of receivers who can stretch the field so Flacco’s arm-strenth might be rendered moot by the team’s personnel.

Rookies to watch

Clelin Ferrell, DE, Raiders: The Raiders were last in the NFL in sacks last season, and Ferrell’s calling card really isn’t sacking the quarterback. But he’s a good all-around player who is a solid foundational piece for the Oakland defense. He should help the defense as a whole, but it remains to be seen if he boosts the team’s pass rush, where the Raiders absolutely need to improve. 

Drew Lock, QB, Broncos: Lock was drafted to be Denver’s quarterback of the future, but Jackson was drafted to be the same thing in Baltimore. Flacco got hurt and Jackson became the team’s QB of the present. If Flacco gets hurt or underachieves with the Broncos, the Lock era could be begin very soon.

Player spotlight

Tyreek Hill

Hill is the most explosive playmaker in football, but he has a lot hanging over him going into the 2019 season. He has a legal issue surrounding an incident with his fiancee and their son. If he is suspended for any portion of the season, the Chiefs offense will suffer. Mecole Hardman could be good as a rookie, but to expect him to match Hill’s production isn’t fair to him. Keep an eye on what happens with Hill leading up to the season.

Key injuries

Travis Kelce, ankle: The Chiefs tight end underwent an ankle procedure earlier this year that was described as a “cleanup.” He has missed a good portion of the offseason program, and it’s unclear if that will affect him going forward, at least in the near term. Odds are it won’t be a big deal. He has excelled in the Chiefs offense for years, so missing practice reps shouldn’t hurt. However, if he has any lingering effects with the ankle going into the season, that could affect his output.