However, the draft and the signings of free agents may have leveled the playing field. But which team will use the combination of draft picks and free agents to contend for the AFC West title?
Below are the four teams in the AFC West with an analysis of each team's draft picks and free agent signings, and the impact these players will have on each team in 2010.
Denver Broncos: Denver wrapped up the 2009 season with an 8-8 record.
The Broncos started their season off strong, winning their first six games.
But in week seven, Denver had a bye week, and things started to fall apart.
After the bye, the Broncos lost four straight games by an average of 20 points.
Despite their 8-8 record, Denver had the seventh best defense in the league, only allowing 315 yards per game.
The offense struggled somewhat, ranking No. 15 in the league with only 341.4 yards per game.
Key Draft Picks:
- Tim Tebow : While there is some debate over whether Tebow's throwing motion is suitable for the NFL, head coach Josh McDaniels chose Tebow for his "team-first" mentality. Tebow has great examples in Kyle Orton and Brady Quinn to help him develop.
- Demaryius Thomas : Thomas had a great career at Georgia Tech, with 2,339 receiving yards and 14 TDs. The only problem with Thomas is his route-running skills, as he tends to round off his breaks and occasionally telegraphs his routes. But at 6'3", he has the size of a TE and the speed of a CB.
- Zane Beadles : Originally an OT at Utah, Beadles will likely move to G and help the Broncos' running game, which was 18th in the NFL with 114.8 yards per game. Beadles also adds solid depth to Denver's offensive line.
- Eric Decker : Decker had a phenomenal career at Minnesota with 3,119 receiving yards and 24 TDs. While a broken foot caused him to miss the last four games of the season in 2009, he still has a lot of potential. He possesses great speed and can separate from the defender, but there are concerns that he can't maintain that separation and doesn't have the big-play ability to take all that many passes to the house. Either way, he's a solid receiver.
- Perrish Cox : The CB out of Oklahoma St. gives the Broncos an excellent weapon in the return game, which is where the Broncos will probably use him his rookie season. He has great open field ability as a returner, but struggles shedding blocks when on defense. Cox has great ability to jam receivers at the line, but needs to improve his skills at reading route progression. Overall, a good pick for the Broncos.
Key Free Agents:
- Akin Ayodele : Released by the Dolphins in 2010, the Broncos snatched Ayodele up in April. Ayodele has nine years experience in the NFL, and has played four seasons with the Jacksonville Jaguars, two seasons with the Dallas Cowboys, and two seasons with the Miami Dolphins. Ayodele is a key defensive player, as he has 493 solo tackles, 9.5 sacks, 9 FF and 7 INTs.
- Justin Bannan : Denver looks to bolster its defense with the signing of DL Justin Bannan. Bannan and the Broncos came to terms on March 5. Bannan has 141 solo tackles, 5.5 sacks, 2 FF and 1 INT.
- Nathan Jones : Jones has seven years experience at the CB position, and has 130 solo tackles, 6 sacks, 3 FF, and 3 INT in his career. Along with Ayodele, Jones should help strengthen the Broncos' defense.
- Russ Hochstein : Denver gets an experienced G here in Hochstein. Hochstein has 10 years playing as a G in the NFL, and will help the Broncos' depth along the offensive line.
- Brandon Lloyd : Lloyd brings eight years of experience to Denver, and some considerable talent, too. In his eight years, Lloyd has 164 receptions, 2,370 yards, and 15 TDs.
Kansas City Chiefs: The Chiefs went an abysmal 4-12 in 2009.
The offense was atrocious, coming in at the No. 25 spot in the NFL with 303.2 yards per game.
However, the defense was even worse than the offense, ranking 30th in the NFL with 388.2 yards per game.
Key Draft Picks:
- Eric Berry: The Chiefs picked up what may be college football's best safety in Berry. Out of Tennessee, Berry collected 241 tackles, 2 FF, and 14 INTs in his career as a Volunteer. He's an excellent addition to the Chiefs' shoddy defense.
- Javier Arenas: Kansas City continues to address their defensive issues with Arenas from Alabama. As a CB with the Crimson Tide, Arenas had 148 tackles and 6 INTs in his career.
- Dexter McCluster: Kansas City chose to ignore the obvious need for offensive linemen, but they made for it with the McCluster pick. Out of Mississippi, McCluster has excellent speed in the open field and will excel as either a runner or a receiver.
- Jon Asamoah: While the Chiefs didn't address all their needs along the offensive line, they did get an excellent OG in Asamoah from Illinois. Asamoah is an solid interior player, and will push for immediate playing time.
Key Free Agents:
- Thomas Jones: Released by the New York Jets in 2010, the Chiefs picked up the productive RB. Jones is an excellent rushing attack, and will provide valuable offensive life to Kansas City. In 2009, Jones had 331 carries with 1,402 yards, and 14 TDs.
- Ryan Lilja : While Kansas City didn't address too many of their offensive line needs, they picked up an experienced G in Lilja. Lilja's seven years of experience will prove beneficial for the Cheifs' offense.
Oakland Raiders: The Raiders went 5-11 in 2009, just a hair better than Kansas City.
The Raiders' offense was, well, horrible. Out of the 32 teams in the NFL, Oakland ranked 31st in total yards per game with 266.1.
Oakland's defense was better, coming in at No. 26, allowing 361.9 yards per game.
Key Draft Picks:
- Rolando McClain: McClain will offer the Raiders defense a huge boost. Out of Alabama, McClain can do it all, whether it be blitzing or short-coverage assignments from the LB spot. His only weakness is his lacking ability in man coverage. Look for him on special teams while competing for starting time.
- Lamarr Houston: Oakland is strengthening their defense, especially with DT Houston from Texas. Houston has great strength, and can be useful as an up-field rusher. At times, he's inconsistent with anchoring the middle of the defensive line. All in all, a solid pick.
- Jared Veldheer: Oakland balanced their draft picks with OT Jared Veldheer from Hillsdale. Although from a small school, Veldheer showed immense strength in dominating his opponents and shows a lot of potential at the next level.
- Bruce Campbell: The Raiders also picked up OT Bruce Campbell from Maryland to fortify the offensive line. Campbell has been called one of the most athletic OTs in college football.
Key Free Agents:
- Kyle Boller: Boller spent five seasons with the Baltimore Ravens and one season with the St. Louis Rams. In his five seasons with the Ravens, Boller threw for 7,846 yards, 45 TDs, and 44 INTs. His best season at Baltimore was 2004, where he threw for 2,559 yards, 13 TDs, but he also threw 11 INTs. With Bruce Gradkowski's injury in 2009, the role of starting QB is open between Boller and Jason Campbell.
- Michael Bennett: Released from the San Diego Chargers in 2009, Bennett signed on with the Raiders on May 6. Bennett spent five seasons with the Minnesota Vikings, and only had one breakout season in 2002 where he rushed for 1,296 yards and five TDs. Since then, his numbers have fallen dramatically, only averaging 214.25 yards per season. Oakland also picked up RB Rock Cartwright from the Washington Redskins in 2009. However, Cartwright only has 889 yards and six TDs in his nine year career. His role will strictly be third-and-short situations.
- Jason Campbell: The Redskins did away with Campbell to make room for Donovan McNabb, and the Raiders picked him up to be the new leader of the team. In 2009, Campbell threw for 3,618 yards, 20 TDs, and a disappointing 15 INTs. In his four years as the Redskins' field general, Campbell amassed 10,860 passing yards, 55 TDs, and 38 INTs. His QB rating for those four years was 82.3. Campbell seems to be the obvious choice for the starting QB job in Oakland.
San Diego Chargers: The Chargers were at the forefront of the AFC West, finishing 2009 with a 13-3 regular season record.
The Chargers' offense was very efficient, coming in at the No. 10 spot in the league with 360.1 yards per game.
Defensively, the Chargers struggled somewhat in 2009, giving up 327 yards per game, putting them in 16th place in the NFL.
Key Draft Picks:
- Ryan Matthews: Fresno State RB Ryan Matthews was selected to be the new franchise RB after the Chargers released LaDainian Tomlinson earlier this year. Matthews will combine with RB Darren Sproles to help boost the Chargers' anemic running attack, which ranked 31st in the NFL in 2009.
- Donald Butler: San Diego added depth to their LB corps with the addition of Donald Butler from Washington. Butler's grade wasn't that great (5.0), and he will probably be a season or two away from having major playing time, but look for Butler to make an impact on special teams in 2010.
- Cam Thomas: San Diego looked to bolster their defense with a strong pick, and they got one in Thomas out of North Carolina. Thomas requires double teams, which will allow the LBs to come up and make plays. Good choice defensively for the Chargers.
Key Free Agents:
- Nathan Vasher: San Diego didn't do much in the free market, as Vasher was the Chargers' only free agent signing. The Chargers brought the CB in to give the 16th-ranked defense a hand. Vasher has played all of his seven seasons with the Chicago Bears, so Vasher is experienced and that will translate well onto the field. Throughout his seven year career with the Bears, Vasher had 137 solo tackles, 1 FF, 19 INTs and 2 TDs. Vasher will prove to be a solid defensive player in 2010.
4. Oakland Raiders: Oakland had a good draft, and picked some good free agents, but I just don't see them doing very much again in 2010.
3. Kansas City Chiefs: I'm putting the Chiefs ahead of the Raiders because their use of draft picks and free agency signings are better than Oakland's. I'm thinking the Chiefs go 8-8 in 2010.
2. Denver Broncos: I'm not too sure Denver can improve on their 8-8 season. And if they do, it will probably just be 10-6, which is progress.
1. San Diego Chargers: The Chargers had a good draft, and picked up an excellent CB in Vasher. Look for Philip Rivers and that offense to be on top again in the AFC West in 2010.
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