AFC West Fillability Index

Cold, Hard Football Facts for May 11, 2007



 
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The AFC West had all the makings of a power division last year. Denver began the year looking like a true contender, San Diego cruised to the best record in the NFL and the Chiefs muscled their way into the postseason. But the Broncos fell apart at the end of the year, and the division's two playoff representatives were both one-and-done when it counted. 
 
Whether the division can re-establish itself in 2007 remains to be seen, but here's how it's all playing out so far in the off-season.
 
AFC WEST:
DENVER (last year's record: 9-7)
How they ranked in 2006
Total O
Score O
Rush O
Pass O
Total D
Score D
Rush D
Pass D
23
17
8
       25
14
8
12
21
 
Additions:
QB Patrick Ramsey (N.Y. Jets)
RB Travis Henry (Tennessee)
RB Paul Smith (St. Louis)
WR Brandon Stokley (Indianapolis)
TE Daniel Graham (New England)
G Montrae Holland (New Orleans)
DT Dan Wilkinson (Miami)
DT Alvin McKinley (Cleveland)
LB Warrick Holdman (Washington)
CB Dre' Bly (Detroit)
P Todd Sauerbrun (New England)
  
Subtractions:
QB Jake Plummer (retired/traded) 
RB Tatum Bell (traded to Detroit)
T George Foster (traded to Detroit) 
G Cooper Carlisle (Oakland)
LB Al Wilson (released)
LB Patrick Chukwura (Tampa Bay)
DT Michael Myers (Cincinnati) 
 
Draft choices: 
1 (17) Jarvis Moss, de, Florida
2 (56) Tim Crowder, de, Texas
3 (70) Ryan Harris, ot, Notre Dame
4 (121) Marcus Thomas, dt, Florida
            
The Broncos don't take to losing very well. You just know Mike Shanahan and his beady little dead-shark eyes spent the offseason with that frozen grimace on his face, wondering how a promising start (5-1), powered by an amazing defensive performance, could have ended so poorly.
 
And so, they made decisive and prominent moves to solve their problems. The upgrade from Jake Plummer to Jay Cutler already happened, so they've gotten a jump on things there. The Broncos seemed a bit lost without a prime TE last year, and Daniel Graham adds solidity, blocking prowess and underutilized receiving ability at the position. WR Brandon Stokley, if healthy, should help a mediocre passing game as well (19th in yards per pass in 2006).
 
And although they've been able to plug anyone in at RB and have them succeed, Travis Henry has to be considered an improvement over Tatum Bell. The additions of G Montrae Holland and Graham should make a difference on an O-line that was just slightly below average last year (18th on our Offensive Hog Index). For an organization that has utterly crushed opponents with its ground game over the past decade, finishing 18th feels about as comfortable as a date with the locals on the Cahulawassee River.
 
The defensive line was a problem as well, and the Broncos used their top two draft picks on DEs (Jarvis Moss, Tim Crowder). They also got Dre Bly to play corner opposite Champ Bailey, giving them the highest paid pair of corners in NFL history. This could certainly pose a problem: in the salary-cap era, too much money devoted to a single position is usually a problem. But we'll see how it plays out on the field first.
 
Much of Denver's problem in 2006 seemed to stem from the shattered psyche of Plummer, and  they've made some efficient upgrades in the offseason to start the Cutler Era for good.
 
Yet another AFC team pointed in the right direction. Doesn't anybody in that conference want to hire Matt Millen away from Detroit? 
 
Fillability grade: A
 
KANSAS CITY (9-7)
How they ranked in 2006
Total O
Score O
Rush O
Pass O
Total D
Score D
Rush D
Pass D
15
15
9
22
16
12
18
18
 
Additions:
G Damion McIntosh (Miami)
DT Alfonso Boone (Chicago)
LB Napoleon Harris (Minnesota)
LB Donnie Edwards (San Diego)
S Jon McGraw (Detroit)
LS J.P. Darche (Seattle)
 
Subtractions:
WR Dante Hall (traded to St. Louis)
G Will Shields (retired)
T Jordan Black (Houston)
DT Ryan Sims (traded to Tampa)
LB Kawika Mitchell (Giants)
CB Lenny Walls (St. Louis)
 
Draft choices:
1 (23) Dwayne Bowe, wr, LSU
2 (54) Turk McBride, dt, Tennessee
3 (82) DeMarcus Tyler, dt, N.C. State
5 (148) Kolby Smith, rb, Louisville
5 (160) Justin Medlock, k, UCLA
6 (196) Herbert Taylor, g, TCU
7 (231) Michael Allan, te, Whitworth
 
For a team that made the playoffs in a dominant AFC, the Chiefs had a surprising number of holes heading to the 2007 offseason. No receivers, no defensive line, a fading offensive line and a quarterback controversy.
 
They've filled some of the gaps, probably, but ignored what might be the most important one – the offensive line. The Chiefs have had one of the best lines in the NFL for most of a decade, but losing future Hall of Famer Will Shields and starting T Jordan Black is a killer. They signed journeyman Damion McIntosh, but drafted no one until the sixth round (TCU's Herbert Taylor). That means in the last two seasons they've lost two all-time greats (Willie Roaf and Shields) and two left tackles (Roaf and Black).
 
The Chiefs went from 4.58 yards per carry in 2005 (with Roaf, Black and Shields) to 4.18 per carry in 2006 (with Black and Shields). It's hard to imagine that downward trend will do anything but continue with two new starters on the line in 2007.
 
However, the Chiefs have done a nice job of bolstering their defense, something they desperately needed to do when Herm Edwards came on board before the 2006 season (the Chiefs never finished better than 22nd in total defense in the five previous years under Dick Vermeil). The transformation from the Vermeil offensive attack to the Edwards defensive focus continued with the addition of LBs Napoleon Harris and Donnie Edwards – both starters in 2006, both sought-after in free agency. Edwards has consistently been among the most productive tackling machines in the NFL, with over 100 takedowns every single year since 1997. He's also picked off 27 passes and forced 21.5 sacks. Add it all up, and those are Hall of Fame-caliber numbers. Of course, at 34, age for Edwards may soon be an issue.
 
The Chiefs also drafted DTs in the second- and third-round, Turk McBride and Tank Tyler, to go with free agent Alfonso Boone.
 
The Chiefs needed the help up front – they were 20th in yards per rush allowed (4.18, identical to their offensive output) and 22nd in negative pass plays forced. Adding a Turk and a Tank can't hurt.
 
And they did pick up a WR with their No. 1 pick (LSU's Dwayne Bowe), which could add a nice dimension to their respectable passing attack (13th in yards per attempt). 
 
Kansas City never managed to get over the hump with the all-offense, no-defense approach. But now, it seems like they're going to the other extreme. The end result, more than likely, will be the same: mediocrity.
 
Fillability grade: C
 
OAKLAND (2-14)
How they ranked in 2006
Total O
Score O
Rush O
Pass O
Total D
Score D
Rush D
Pass D
32
32
29
31
3
18
25
1
 
 
Additions:
QB Josh McCown (Arizona)
FB Justin Griffith (Atlanta)
RB Dominic Rhodes (Indianapolis)
WR Mike Williams (Detroit)
TE Tony Stewart (Cincinnati)
C Jeremy Newberry (San Francisco)
G Cooper Carlisle (Denver) 
G Cornell Green (Tampa Bay) 
DE Fred Wakefield (Arizona)
 
Subtractions:
QB Marques Tuiasosopo (Jets) 
QB Aaron Brooks (released)
WR Randy Moss (Patriots)
T Langston Walker (Buffalo)
 
Draft choices:
1 (1) JaMarcus Russell, qb, LSU
2 (38) Zach Miller, te, Arizona St.
3 (65) Quentin Moses, de, Georgia
3 (91) Mario Henderson, ot, Florida St.
3 (99) Johnnie Lee Higgins, wr, UTEP
4 (100) Michael Bush, rb, Louisville
4 (110) John Bowie, db, Cincinnati
5 (138) Jay Richardson, de, Ohio St.
5 (165) Eric Frampton, db, Washington St.
6 (175) Oren O'Neal, rb, Arkansas St.
7 (254) Jontahan Holland, wr, Louisiana Tech
  
You kind of have to hand it to the Raiders. After a 2006 season where they had one of the worst offenses in recent memory (or just memory, period) the Raiders went absolutely shithouse with their overhaul.
 
They added young offensive mind Lane Kiffin as the head coach, and well-respected Greg Knapp as his offensive coordinator. Two steps up, offensively, over the rusty combination of Art Shell and coordinator Tom Walsh, the duo that gave us an offense that averaged an unimaginably awful 4.36 yards per pass attempt last season (nine teams averaged more per rush attempt).
 
At QB, Oakland added a No. 1 overall draft pick (JaMarcus Russell) and a former rising star (Josh McCown). At RB, they added a Super Bowl hero (Dominic Rhodes), a college kid who was a Heisman favorite before injury (Michael Bush) and a bruising fullback (Justin Griffith).
 
In the receiving corps, they got a first-round reclamation project (Mike Williams) and two first-day rookies (Zach Miller, TE, and WR Johnnie Lee Higgins). They lose Randy Moss, but re-acquire Jerry Porter from Shell's throwback doghouse.
 
And finally, on the line – where they were a disaster in 2006 (29th in our Offensive Hog Index) – they added three veterans and a third-round rookie.
 
Whew! That's a lot of bodies. So, will the Raiders have a good offense in 2007?
 
Hell no!
 
But it's hard to imagine that they could have done more to overhaul the worst team in football than they did – and even if some of the moves (Rhodes and Williams, in particular) look like busts, there is at least reason for hope.
 
And the defense, which was playoff caliber a year ago (7th in defensive passer rating), returns in spotless condition, along with quality coordinator Rob Ryan. 
 
The Raiders made a giant leap back toward respectability this offseason, and if Russell plays to his lofty draft status, they might just win before too long.
 
Baby. 
 
Fillability grade: B-plus
 
SAN DIEGO (14-2) 
How they ranked in 2006
Total O
Score O
Rush O
Pass O
Total D
Score D
Rush D
Pass D
4
1
2
16
10
7
7
13
 
 
Additions:
None.
 
Subtractions:
WR Az Hakim (Miami)
WR Keenan McCardell (released)
TE Ryan Krause (Cleveland)
LB Donnie Edwards (Kansas City)
 
Draft choices: 
1 (30) Craig Davis, wr, LSU
2 (37) Eric Weddle, db, Utah
3 (96) Anthony Waters, lb, Clemson
4 (129) Scott Chandler, te, Iowa
5 (172) Legedu Naanee, wr, Boise St.
7 (240) Brandon Siler, lb, Florida
  
What do you give the team that has everything? In San Diego's case, nothing. They will field essentially the same team in 2007 that they did in 2006 – not a bad bargain, considering that they went 14-2 with the two losses both by three points.
 
One thing they will lack, courtesy of their choke-a-licious loss to New England in the playoffs and dysfunction that would make Michael Jackson proud, is Marty "200 Wins" Schottenheimer. His replacement? Norv ".415 Winning Percentage" Turner. This while both of Schottenheimer's coordinators, Cam Cameron and Wade Phillips, got head jobs elsewhere. The sloppiness shown by GM A.J. Smith in firing Schottenheimer AFTER letting Cameron go is at direct odds with San Diego's front-office brilliance over the past half decade. Remember, this is the team that traded down to get LaDainian Tomlinson, probably the best player in football right now.
 
So, much like the Steelers, the Chargers will be a good test case for whether talent wins games or coaches win games. Few coaches in NFL history with a track record as poor as Turner's have gotten a chance to coach such a well-balanced team – and that balance was ensured by the offseason moves.
 
With the exception of coach, the Chargers filled their needs economically. Their weakness, as seen in the AFC divisional round loss, was at WR, and they added LSU's Craig Davis in the first round while cutting aging warhorse Keenan McCardell (37 years old). They added Utah S/CB Eric Weddle in the second round, cutting starting S Marlon McCree. And they added LB Anthony Waters in the third round, while saying goodbye to Donnie Edwards.
 
So, the Chargers did what a good team is supposed to do – they got a little younger while keeping their proven core intact. But the overall lack of movement in the free-agent market may cost them in a league where passivity usually means losses.
 
And then there's Norv Turner??? That's 10 points off the final grade, in bold red ink. 
 
Fillability grade: C-plus
 
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