With the 2017 NFL Draft in the books, it’s time to look back at who stood out in the class with our grades for the AFC West. Mind you, draft grades this early on are merely a way to analyze and contextualize how a team did while selecting. We’ll see who the true winners and losers are in a couple seasons.
However, based on our rankings, here’s how we felt the best value picks, riskiest selections, and best fits were for each team. Of course, consistency is important here, so we’re not just going to change our player evaluations based on how high they were selected or what team they went to. For our final draft big board, which we’ll be citing several times here, you can click here.
Grades here are based on value – which is where our rankings come into play – based on where teams were picking. Also, top 50 players are projected to be immediate contributors with top level upside, while the top 110 players were graded with third-round or better grades, meaning projected starters. That’s why those two thresholds are important.
Denver Broncos: B-
Value Grade: C (One top-50 player, three top-110 players)
Need and Fit grade: B+
The draft is like life; there are times when you go skydiving or get married to your quarterback of the future, and there are days when you have to file your taxes, answer emails, take out the trash and vacuum. The Broncos had a draft in which they had some errands to take care of, and they did.
More playmakers with speed were added to the offense as was a tight end who should be an immediate contributor when he’s healthy. They also added some interior pass rush on defense, so teams will be punished when they double Von Miller and friends. Finally, they added a much needed potential starting left tackle. Seems like Denver didn’t forget much at the store.
The interior linebacker position didn’t get addressed as it doesn’t seem to be a priority for the team. Ultimately, though, the Broncos managed to navigate the draft well in day three and addressed all their other big needs. The value isn’t great on our board, as Garett Bolles was the third best tackle available in the class and DeMarcus Walker was far from the best player available at pick 51. But things took shape after that, with picks like Carlos Henderson, Jake Butt, De’Angelo Henderson, and Isiah McKinzie adding juice to the skill position group.
Fit wise, Walker’s ability as a run stopper in a three man front is questionable, which lowers the grade a little bit. How will he help win against the Raiders when they use six offensive line formations? that’s a question that’ll need answering, but generally speaking, it was a responsible draft even if unspectacular at the top.
Branden Langley is a risky pick, as he’s full of potential but still very raw. There’s lots of projection in him, and guys like that don’t always pan out. With some of the best defensive backs and defensive back coaches in the NFL, though, Denver clearly has a plan in place for his development.
The Broncos first-round pick likely won’t have the luxury of being developed, as Bolles will be thrown into the fire immediately at left tackle. In the AFC West, he’ll be tested quickly, and it’ll be sink or swim time. He also seems perfect for a zone blocking scheme, but he’ll have to jive with guys like Ronald Leary who are more power based. There’s some bust potential there as Bolles is an older rookie and won’t have as much time to develop as most other young players.
Jake Butt at the top of the fifth round was a real steal. Even after his injury Butt was our sixth-best tight end in a loaded class. He’s also, outside of O.J. Howard, the most complete of the top-tier tight ends as he can catch, has some nice ability to get open and on contested catches, while also being able to block. He fits the mold of a do-it-all in-line tight end, and that’s a rare luxury these days. If he can get healthy and back to full form this is a home run pick and a potential high-level starter for the next 10 years.
Carlos Henderson also merits mention as he’s exactly the explosive playmaker that Denver needs but Butt was a different level of value.
Kansas City Chiefs: D+
Value Grade: D (Zero top-50 players, two top-110 players)
Need and Fit Grade: C
The Chiefs needed more help on the defensive line, at inside linebacker, and cornerback. They ignored corner completely, despite 2017 offering one of the best classes in years and took two huge projects at ILB and on the d-line. Depth at edge rusher and at offensive tackle would have been nice as well, but nothing was done by the Chiefs, who instead went heavy on the offensive skill positions. This is a team that’s been winning, but there are lots of developmental pieces that won’t help right away out of this draft and are real risks.
They also paid a steep price by trading a future first rounder to move up and draft their quarterback of the future in Patrick Mahomes 10th overall. That could prove to be a costly move.
The Chiefs draft is an all out gamble which could pay off in a big way but could also set the franchise back.
Mahomes is an easy choice here as they’re taking a huge gamble on him. He couldn’t be in a better position, but he’ll have some major adjustments to make. Tanoh Kpassagnon is another huge gamble on upside.
This one’s a tie between Jehu Chesson and Kareem Hunt. The Michigan receiver can fly and has the talent to immediately compete for a job in the top-three receiving rotation. He came into the season with some hype and didn’t live up to it, but there’s still plenty of upside. Hunt instead is a complete back and can push the already strong rotation in KC. He runs with nice balance and power while also being a weapon as a receiver out the backfield.
Los Angeles Chargers: B+
Value Grade: B+ (Two top-50 players, four top-110 players)
Need and Fit Grade: B+
A third corner would have helped, and a future QB might have been necessary, but for the most part, the Bolts addressed their primary needs. When drafting in the top 10, there’s always the potential for big things and while the Chargers didn’t exceed expectations they did what was expected of them drafting that high. Mike Williams ended up in a perfect situation to succeed with a great quarterback to throw to him. The additions on the offensive line where much needed and great value picks.
This seemed like a draft made to fix the offense so that this team can put up points and be entertaining in their first year in LA.
They did a nice job picking up a pair of safeties as well, Desmond King especially was a great value, and it’s telling that they’re listing him at safety. Nothing too flashy but a very efficient draft class that addressed their main needs.
The Chargers third-round pick Dan Feeney is a very solid guard prospect. He might not have the greatest upside but promises to be a starting guard for several years. So how’s he risky? Injuries are his biggest concern as he missed four games due to the effects of a concussion last year and has been rumored to have suffered multiple throughout his career. In this day and age, that’s very concerning for his longevity. He also missed all of 2013 due to a foot injury. So injuries are a big concern for him. Without much upside, that’s lots of risk to take on.
Second-round pick Forrest Lamp was great value at the beginning of the round as he has first-round talent, is versatile, and a very safe pick. I actually had Lamp ranked higher than their first-round pick Williams who like Fenney has some injury concerns of his own. Even if Lamp doesn’t work out at tackle for them – though he’ll likely get a shot at least on the right side – he’s a great mobile guard who could be a pro bowler in a hurry. That’s a great pick.
Oakland Raiders: C+
Value Grade: B- (Two top-50 players, two top-110 players)
Need and Fit Grade: C+
No inside linebackers were selected until the late rounds, and the same goes with the running back position, so the perceived primary needs weren’t addressed. Also, I’m not sure the Raiders, who wanted to draft offensive tackles, didn’t just end up with a bunch of guards in the long term. Their first two picks are intriguing and fit needs. After that, there isn’t much to like about what they did, though Elijah Hood is a very intriguing player and a good late-round addition. Watch out for Marquel Lee who’ll get an immediate shot at inside linebacker and could turn out to be solid for them.
Assuming they did their proper due diligence on Gareon Conley’s rape case allegations, then he was a great pick for them – though frankly, Chidobe Awuzie might have fit what they needed even better. Obi Melifonwu was great value too, though he may not be a great fit next to last year’s first rounder Karl Joseph or much of a necessity, but the value is there. After that, there are a few gambles on upside like Eddie Vanderdoes but not much else to get excited about.
Conley is an easy choice as the news last week that he was being accused of rape makes him a major question mark. If nothing comes of it and the allegations are truly false, then this is a steal. If, however, things move forward legally, this is a wasted first-round pick for a team in a valuable championship window with its young quarterback still on a rookie contract deal. That’s a huge gamble to take when there were tons of options at the position.
Conley’s also a bit raw on the field, as his tackling technique will need work and in general, he’ll need to be tougher in all phases. But he’s exactly what the Raiders needed; a potential outside lockdown corner with size and speed who’s nimble enough to cover the slot. He locked Williams down when facing off against Clemson this season; there’s plenty to like, but also several concerns.
Obi Melifonwu might be a somewhat dubious fit, but he’s a great pick at 54 overall. He’s a size and speed freak at 6-foot-4 and 224 pounds, and he also plays disciplined though maybe not as explosive as his testing numbers.
As an in-the-box player for Oakland, he presents a different talent that could make his presence felt in the backfield.
Early AFC West Draft Awards
Player you’ve never heard of that could turn out to be special
It’s not all bad for the Chiefs, who might have drafted one of the most intriguing small school studs in the draft. Fifth-rounder Ukeme Eligwe is a former Florida State recruit who left for Georgia Southern. In one year there, he really stood out. He has great athleticism and plays with an edge. With a little development, KC might have just found their future inside linebacker who also can be a menace blitzing up the middle.
Most likely to become rookie of the year?
Mike Williams is an easy choice here, but watch out for Kareem Hunt who’ll have a chance to be in the Chiefs running back rotation sooner rather than later. Williams with Philip Rivers throwing him open on back shoulder fades could become a very dangerous big target. He likely has the highest shot of any player in the division to win rookie of the year.
Who’ll be remembered as a future star?
Williams, again, seems like an obvious choice, but more so than him Forrest Lamp has lots of promise and very little bust potential. Similar to guys like Zack Martin and Brandon Scherff – other former star left tackles in college who moved to guard – Lamp has the ability to become a pro bowl caliber guard or center very early in his career. We’ve seen how those guys have been getting paid in free agency lately, that would be enough to be a star even for an offensive lineman.