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AFC West Wednesday: Early Draft Picks

The AFC West has made plenty of movement this offseason, and they’ve been documented well around league circles. The NFL offseason now turns to its next phase: The NFL Draft. The draft kicks off in Paradise, Nevada, on April 28th. With all of the movement in the West this offseason, it’s clear that it will be among the best (if not the very best) divisions in the NFL next season. With free agency well underway and winners and losers somewhat clear, it begs one question. Who will be the winner of the upcoming NFL Draft?

History can give us some clues, but of course, hindsight is 20-20. We’re going to grade the last five seasons of first, and second-round draft picks to find out which AFC West franchise has been the most successful in acquiring talent in the NFL Draft’s first two rounds.

Las Vegas Raiders

The Raiders drafts since haven’t exactly been huge successes to write home about. In the first two rounds of the previous five drafts, they’ve drafted eight defensive players and four offensive players. Despite the heavy emphasis on defense, the Raiders have not ranked inside the top-20 in points allowed since 2006. They have not ranked inside the top-ten since 2002. Of their 12 picks inside the first two rounds, the Raiders have seen just three pro-bowl selections and not a single First-Team All-Pro selection. Here are the picks:

  1. 2017 First Round – CB Gareon Conley (Pick Grade: D)

  2. 2017 Second Round – S Obi Melifonwu (Pick Grade: D)

  3. 2018 First Round – T Kolton Miller (Pick Grade: B)

  4. 2018 Second Round – DT P.J. Hall (Pick Grade: C)

  5. 2019 First Round – DE Clelin Ferrell (Pick Grade: C)

  6. 2019 First Round – RB Josh Jacobs (Pick Grade: B)

  7. 2019 First Round – S Jonathan Abram (Pick Grade: C)

  8. 2019 Second Round – CB Trayvon Mullen (Pick Grade: C)

  9. 2020 First Round – WR Henry Ruggs III (Pick Grade: D)

  10. 2020 First Round – CB Damon Arnette (Pick Grade: F)

  11. 2021 First Round – OL Alex Leatherwood (Pick Grade: D)

  12. 2021 Second Round – S Trevon Moehrig (Pick Grade: C)

A pretty mixed bag makes up the Raiders’ top picks over recent years, but they’ve been very poor all-around. The two standouts, Josh Jacobs and Kolton Miller, are solid picks but not players that you want as the peak of your team’s early-round draft ability. Of course, Henry Ruggs and Damon Arnette faced off-the-field trouble (and worse for Ruggs), but the grade I’ve given doesn’t take that into account. Before the trouble, Ruggs failed to shine in the NFL as he did at Alabama. Arnette failed to show he belonged in the league at all. If the Raiders want to turn around their franchise struggles, they’ll need to hit on more early-round picks in the next half-decade.

Raiders Overall Early-Draft Grade: C-

Los Angeles Chargers

The Chargers’ early-draft success has been better than their AFC Counterpart, the Raiders, since 2017. They’ve drafted four offensive talents and six defensive players in that span. This has led to a much more balanced roster for the Chargers. Despite their failure to make the playoffs last season, one can’t help but feel more optimistic about the Chargers’ ability to contend over the next five years than the Raiders. This, of course, could be thanks to Franchise quarterback Justin Herbert. The picks:

  1. 2017 First Round – WR Mike Williams (Pick Grade: B+)

  2. 2017 Second Round – G Forrest Lamp (Pick Grade: C)

  3. 2018 First Round – S Derwin James (Pick Grade: A)

  4. 2018 Second Round – OLB Uchenna Nwosu (Pick Grade: C)

  5. 2019 First Round – DT Jerry Tillery (Pick Grade: C)

  6. 2019 Second Round – S Nasir Adderley (Pick Grade: C)

  7. 2020 First Round – QB Justin Herbert (Pick Grade: A)

  8. 2020 First Round – LB Kenneth Murray (Pick Grade: B)

  9. 2021 First Round – T Rashawn Slater (Pick Grade: A)

  10. 2021 Second Round – CB Asante Samuel Jr. (Pick Grade: B)

Despite an average showing in 2019 (that still netted some quality starters), the overall draft haul in the early rounds has been excellent for the Chargers in recent years. This excellence further backs up the optimism surrounding the future outlook of the Bolts. The last two seasons, more specifically, have netted the Chargers a Franchise quarterback and elite-level Tackle. Most NFL teams are happy to find just one of those two in the draft over the course of an entire decade. To find both in back-to-back drafts is outstanding.

Chargers Overall Early-Draft Grade: A

Denver Broncos

One of just two AFC West teams not to relocate in the past decade, the Broncos have also failed to make the playoffs since their 2015 Super Bowl Championship. They’ve finished in last place three of the six seasons since. They’ve lost ten or more games four times since 2015. Even with their lack of success, you might be surprised by the Broncos’ early-round draft success in that span. The biggest missing domino (and most important) has been the quarterback. The Broncos have acquired their quarterback of the future in Russell Wilson, and hope he can get the most out of their recent picks:

  1. 2017 First Round – T Garett Bolles (Pick Grade: B)

  2. 2017 Second Round – DE DeMarcus Walker (Pick Grade: D)

  3. 2018 First Round – DE Bradley Chubb (Pick Grade: B)

  4. 2018 Second Round – WR Courtland Sutton (Pick Grade: B)

  5. 2019 First Round – TE Noah Fant (Pick Grade: B)

  6. 2019 Second Round – T Dalton Risner (Pick Grade: C)

  7. 2020 First Round – WR Jerry Jeudy (Pick Grade: C)

  8. 2020 Second Round – WR KJ Hamler (Pick Grade: D)

  9. 2021 First Round – CB Patrick Surtain II (Pick Grade: B)

  10. 2021 Second Round – RB Javonte Williams (Pick Grade: B)

The past five years of early-round draft picks have given the Broncos just two pro-bowl selections: one each for Bradley Chubb and Courtland Sutton. Beyond accolades and awards, the Broncos have acquired good talent in recent years. Since being drafted, Garett Bolles has been an underrated tackle who has started all five seasons for the Broncos. Time will tell after injury to both, but before injuries, both Chubb and Sutton looked like future superstars in the NFL. The Broncos have received good value early in recent drafts, and there remains a higher ceiling to be found.

Broncos Overall Early-Round Draft Grade: B

Kansas City Chiefs

The Chiefs have won six consecutive division titles, the most successful of the division’s four teams. They’ve been to four straight AFC Championship games in the past five seasons, including two Super Bowls, and hoisted one championship banner. Much of this success is a no-brainer. They drafted the NFL’s best young Superstar in Patrick Mahomes. Drafting the best player in the NFL will go a long way towards drafting success. Here are the remainder of the Chiefs’ picks in that span:

  1. 2017 First Round – QB Patrick Mahomes (Pick Grade: A+)

  2. 2017 Second Round – DE Tanoh Kpassagnon (Pick Grade: C)

  3. 2018 Second Round – DE Breeland Speaks (Pick Grade: D)

  4. 2018 Second Round – DT Derrick Nnadi (Pick Grade: C)

  5. 2019 Second Round – WR Mecole Hardman (Pick Grade: C)

  6. 2019 Second Round – S Juan Thornhill (Pick Grade: C)

  7. 2020 First Round – RB Clyde Edwards-Helaire (Pick Grade: D)

  8. 2020 Second Round – LB Willie Gay Jr. (Pick Grade: B)

  9. 2021 Second Round – LB Nick Bolton (Pick Grade: B)

  10. 2021 Second Round – OL Creed Humphrey (Pick Grade: A)

Perhaps the most surprising aspect of the Chiefs’ early-round picks is their lack of first-round selections. The team has selected only Patrick Mahomes and Clyde Edwards-Helaire in the first round, and of course, one of those picks is much unlike the other. Where the Chiefs have capitalized (outside of Patrick Mahomes) has been in recent years.

2018 and 2019 were mostly poor drafts by the Chiefs, although Mecole Hardman and Juan Thornhill have both shown outstanding flashes. Willie Gay and Nick Bolton make up an exceptional young duo of linebackers. Finally, Creed Humphrey looks to be one of the very best centers in the league after just his rookie season.

Chiefs Overall Early-Round Draft Grade: B

We’ve chronicled draft capital and now recent draft history. Tune in to the NFL Draft on April 28th to see the next early-round successes and failures.

Which AFC West team do you think will have the most success in the draft’s early rounds? Leave a comment down below to join the discussion.

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