Thursday, August 02, 2007

NFL SWOT Analysis: AFC West

By: Armin Mohajeri

Denver Broncos
Bailey (Image courtesy of the Denver Broncos)

Strengths: On defense, the Broncos have strength in numbers. At every line of defense, they are two-deep at nearly every position with decent players as backups. While their defense (outside of Champ Bailey) may not strike fear in opponents, a fresh defense in the 4th quarter has the potential to cause fits for the opposing offense. A healthy rotation at defensive line will pay the largest dividends. Offenses will not be able to do their usual plan against Champ Bailey by throwing away from him. With Dre' Bly manning the other corner position, offenses may have to second guess their strategy. Bly is a proven playmaker with 33 interceptions over his 8-year career.

Weaknesses: Shanahan could have his patience tested all season. Travis Henry has issues with holding onto the ball. By his averages, Henry fumbles about 8 times every 16 starts. Bell has shown that problem in the past as well. If those problems persist, this could be a long season. While every coach hates turnovers, Shanahan has shown that he’ll make a knee-jerk reaction and pull a player who is having issues protecting the ball.

Opportunities: Middle Linebacker, D.J. Williams could fulfill some of that promise that made him a rookie sensation in 2004. Built a lot like college teammate Jon Vilma, Williams is somewhat stalky yet has that speed that takes him sideline to sideline (and then some). He will have to show that he can attack the line of scrimmage from the middle, and that he is adept at the read/react game. Tight End, Daniel Graham gives Cutler a big target to work with in the red zone. Graham has an opportunity to get a share of the TD passes.

Threats: Three members of the offensive line are 33 years or older. While they have projects in place to replace Nalen and Meadows, they do not have an option at the most important spot on the line, at left tackle where Lepsis has been a mainstay. Cutler did great last year in five starts. However, he still has a lot to prove. Look no further than his backup, Patrick Ramsey, and the last four games he started in his rookie year. We all see how he panned out.

Passing/Receiving the Torch: While it would be easy to put Cutler here, one cannot overlook Brandon Marshall. Rumors out of camp are that veteran wide receiver Rod Smith may not even make the roster, let alone start. Marshall, dubbed "Baby T.O." due to his size, athletic ability and physical style of play at the wide receiver position, would be in line to take that starting position. If he excels, look for him to be a fixture at WR in Denver for some time.

Camp Battle: Travis Henry and Mike Bell, Starting Running Back. As mentioned before, fumbles will be a big deal with these two. It could come down to who shows that they are better at protecting the ball. While they are built differently, and can serve different purposes, one of the two will get the majority of the carries in any given game.

Rookie Contributor: In this case, it could be one of two. Rookie Defensive Ends, Jarvis Moss and Tim Crowder (1st and 2nd rounders respectively) have a shot at contributing a lot this season. Kenard Lang and John Engleberger will see their fair share on running downs, leaving Ekuban, Dumervil, Moss and Crowder opportunities to attack on pass downs.

Kansas City Chiefs

Johnson (Image courtesy of CNN)

Strengths: This team lives and dies by running back Larry Johnson. Behind Tomlinson, he is the most feared back in the league. He has that rare combination of power and finesse. He’ll run over a defender and he is a weapon in the passing game. Look for Johnson to carry the load again,. Between Johnson and tight end Tony Gonzalez, the QB can find some comfort in the passing game. An aging offensive line will be on the hook to perform at a high level again, while a defense full of veterans looks to keep the defense on track.

Weaknesses: By far, the biggest weakness on the team is a quarterback. Brodie Croyle and Damon Huard are not an impressive combo at QB. Why the team was so eager to trade Trent Green for a low draft pick was a little strange, unless the team is ready to rebuild. Problem is, the team has enough talent in place to make a playoff run.

Opportunities: Wide receiver, Samie Parker can display his speed and stretch the field. He failed miserably last year, only scoring one touchdown, but luckily has another opportunity. Defensive End, Tamba Hali can feed off the attention offenses will give to Jared Allen and chase down opposing quarterbacks.

Threats: While the offensive line is a strength on this team and has been for years, all starters and two key backups are 30+ years of age. The team shows a lack of effort to bring in some young faces. While this doesn’t mean that the offensive line will be under par, the threat of old age and the complications that come from that exist.

Passing/Receiving the Torch: Rookie wide receiver, Dwayne Bowe, from Eddie Kennison. Though Kennison is more of a speedy wideout, for the most part, he has been playing more of a possession role. Bowe, however, is built for the possession role. His impressive size gives Chief quarterbacks another large target to go with Tony Gonzalez.

Camp Battle: Croyle and Huard for the starting quarterback position. Huard looked good last season, however Croyle has the upside.

Rookie Contributor: Look for defensive tackles Turk McBride and Tank Tyler to get some time in the rotation. While McBride was the higher pick, many have their eyes on Tyler, who was one of the strongest players in the draft, however he fell down the draft and could prove to be a steal by the Chiefs.

Oakland Raiders

Russell (Image courtesy of FoxSports)

Strengths: The Raiders don’t have much to be proud of. They have a young, deep offensive line that comes back intact. Barry Sims will once again anchor the line, while Robert Gallery continues his attempt to realize his potential. Both guards started as rookies and come into their second year with some valuable experience. Grove will QB the line as all line calls will start at the center. They have a deep set of wide receivers, however they have a lot to prove after Moss’s departure. Once Domenic Rhodes is back from his suspension, the Raiders backfield is deep. LaMont Jordan needs to regain his form though.

Weaknesses: The defensive tackle position is very limited. Warren Sapp is way past his prime. Terdell Sands was okay last season. However, the depth is almost literally non-existent. The Raiders will have to keep their eyes open during cuts. Maybe they’ll get lucky and land a serviceable player.

Opportunities: Cornerback, Fabian Washington comes off a decent year (his first as a starter). He has the opportunity to take his game to the next level. Where he is lacking, he can be coached, but you can’t teach that kind of speed.

Threats: Implosion. The Raiders are a team that have historically hurt themselves more than anyone. Wide Receiver, Jerry Porter cannot pull the same antics as last year, or else the team will be back where it was, with too many distractions. For their sake, Daunte Culpepper had better not become a headache as well.

Passing/Receiving the Torch: Fullback Justin Griffith, from Zach Crockett. At 34, Crockett has little left in the tank. He was productive as a part time blocker and a part time runner. In steps Griffith, who will be missed in Atlanta. Griffith brings a similar style as Crockett, yet he is more of a blocker.

Camp Battle: With four Quarterbacks on the roster who all “know” they are starting material, this could get interesting. JaMarcus Russell is the team’s future (and present, as he is penciled in as the starter). Josh McCown, Daunte Culpepper and Andrew Walter could all make a half-decent case for themselves.

Rookie Contributor: Quarterback, JaMarcus Russell, for obvious reasons. However, keep an eye on Tight End, Zach Miller. He is currently in the starting lineup. Some scouts had him listed as a low first rounder. Defensive End Quentin Moses could get some time and show off his pass rushing skills.

San Diego Chargers

Tomlinson (Image courtesy of the San Diego Chargers)

Strengths: One of the most talented offenses in the NFL, from LaDainian Tomlinson to Phillip Rivers to Antonio Gates. Lorenzo Neal returns for his 15th NFL season as one of the top blocking backs in the game. The offensive did wonders last season. Every starter on that line could start on most teams in the NFL. Coming off the year he just had, Tomlinson could very easily claim back-to-back MVPs. On defense, Shawne Merriman and Shaun Phillips will wreak havoc on opposing offenses.

Weaknesses: The defense lost two of its leaders in Donnie Edwards and Randall Godfrey. Filling in for them will be the barely tested Stephen Cooper and the untested Matt Wilhelm. Over the years, the Chargers have not been able to get the defensive backfield right. This year is no different. Adding Paul Oliver in the supplemental draft will not be enough.

Opportunities: Wide Receiver Vincent Jackson has the opportunity to fulfill the promise that made him a 2nd round draft pick. He is a huge target who goes about 6’5”, 240 pounds. Last season, he started showing signs of greatness. The third wide receiver spot is wide open. Kassim Osgood seems to be penciled in there for now, but look out for the rookie, Craig Davis. If Shawne Merriman can play a full season, we could see a 20-sack season out of him.

Threats: The defense needs to mature quickly in all the spots where starters moved on. Both Inside Linebacker spots, Strong Safety and Nickel Back have new faces.

Passing/Receiving the Torch: Inside Linebacker Stephen Cooper, from former Charger, Donnie Edwards. Cooper has few starts under his belt, however he scratched and clawed his way into the league as a rookie free agent in 2003. He sat behind Edwards and Godfrey, soaking up knowledge, preparing for his turn. He could prove to be a diamond in the rough.

Camp Battle: Antonio Cromartie and Paul Oliver, Nickel Back and next in line to start after the departure of Drayton Florence. Cromartie has the edge, being the former first rounder. However, Oliver has a lot of upside. If neither produces, and the free agent mix is thin at cornerback, Florence could end up back in San Diego next offseason.

Rookie Contributor: Wide Receiver, Craig “Buster” Davis has an opportunity staring him square in the face. The Chargers lack deep speed, and Davis brings that dimension to the table. If he clicks with Rivers, he could be in decent shape for a bid at the Offensive Rookie of the Year.

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