By Nick Shook
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With the 2017 NFL campaign in the rearview, draft season’s about to kick into high gear. But before we completely shift over to the Class of 2018, let’s review the returns from this past season’s crop of rookies. Division-by-division, we’re providing grades on each team’s 2017 draft class, as well as identifying areas that must be upgraded this offseason. Nick Shook examines the AFC West below.
Round 1: (No. 20 overall) Garett Bolles, OT, 16 games/16 starts.
Round 2: (51) DeMarcus Walker, DE, 10 games/0 starts.
Round 3: (82) Carlos Henderson, WR, 0 games/0 starts; (101) Brendan Langley, CB, 11 games/0 starts.
Round 5: (145) Jake Butt, TE, 0 games/0 starts; (172) Isaiah McKenzie, WR, 11 games/0 starts.
Round 6: (203) De’Angelo Henderson, RB, 5 games/0 starts.
Round 7: (253) Chad Kelly, QB, 0 games/0 starts.
Injuries robbed Carlos Henderson and Butt of their seasons, but Bolles looks like an excellent pick after starting all 16 games at left tackle and playing well enough to make the Pro Football Writers of America All-Rookie Team. Walker was effective in his 10 games played. McKenzie saw spot time at receiver, where he was noticeably inexperienced. He got most of his playing time at returner, where he struggled with multiple muffed punts, including an embarrassing one on “Monday Night Football” against Kansas City on a night that was emblematic of Denver’s entire season. And despite the carousel spinning at quarterback, we were also robbed of the Swag Kelly Experience, thanks to injury. GRADE: C
Combine/free agency focus: John Elway’s recent draft struggles have started to turn up in the performance of the Broncos, who were visibly thin at receiver without Emmanuel Sanders (who missed four games due to injury) and Carlos Henderson. Their belief in Henderson will dictate how they approach the position in 2018, but they’d be wise to add a receiver in the first couple of rounds in a draft that’s thin at the position. The most important position to address, though, is undoubtedly quarterback. It’s time for Elway to find his franchise’s next signal-caller, whether it’s Kirk Cousins or a high pick in the draft. Denver also needs a tackle opposite Bolles, because everyone the Broncos threw out there — Menelik Watson, Donald Stephenson and even Allen Barbre — played disastrously.
Kansas City Chiefs
Round 1: (No. 10 overall) Patrick Mahomes, QB, 1 game/1 start.
Round 2: (59) Tanoh Kpassagnon, DE, 16 games/1 start.
Round 3: (86) Kareem Hunt, RB, 16 games/16 starts.
Round 4: (139) Jehu Chesson, WR, 12 games/1 start.
Round 5: (183) Ukeme Eligwe, LB, 14 games/1 start.
Round 6: (218) Leon McQuay III, S, 1 game/1 start.
Notable rookie FA signings: Harrison Butker, K, 13 games (drafted by Panthers).
The last draft of the John Dorsey era netted the Chiefs their heir apparent under center and a running back who’s poised to be the franchise’s lead back for years to come. That alone should make this draft more than passable in the eyes of critics. The long-term grade for this group also relies on the development of Kpassagnon, who was selected due to his measurables with the knowledge he likely wouldn’t be an immediate contributor (despite 2.0 sacks and 14 tackles in a backup role). Years 2 and 3 will provide us with a more determinable grade on this group. GRADE: A-
Combine/free agency focus: It will be interesting to see K.C.’s approach to the draft under Brett Veach. He spent four-plus years with Dorsey, but how will things change now that he’s driving the ship? Less than a year after cutting Jeremy Maclin, this team could use some help at receiver. The Chiefs lost contributor Chris Conley to injury and saw Albert Wilson become a productive member of the wideout corps, but outside of Tyreek Hill, it still lacks punch. That was glaring in Kansas City’s playoff loss to Tennessee after Travis Kelce was knocked out with a concussion. Offensive line also continues to be an area that could use some help, especially at guard. A depth pick at corner would make sense, too.
Los Angeles Chargers
Round 1: (No. 7 overall) Mike Williams, WR, 10 games/1 start.
Round 2: (38) Forrest Lamp, OG, 0 games/0 starts (tore ACL in August).
Round 3: (71) Dan Feeney, OG, 15 games/9 starts.
Round 4: (113) Rayshawn Jenkins, S, 15 games/0 starts.
Round 5: (151) Desmond King, CB, 16 games/4 starts.
Round 6: (190) Sam Tevi, OT, 14 games/1 start.
Round 7: (225) Isaac Rochell, DT, 3 games/0 starts.
Notable rookie FA signings: Austin Ekeler, RB, 16 games/0 starts.
Los Angeles actively tried to address its offensive line issue with this draft, but saw a torn ACL rob Lamp (for whom I had high hopes) of his rookie season, while Feeney was decent but should be expected to improve in 2018. Williams’ rookie campaign was significantly hampered by a back injury, which became an issue almost immediately after he was drafted. King was one of the league’s best rookies, finishing as the NFL’s 14th-best corner in 2017 (per Pro Football Focus), which is even more impressive when considering he was taken in the fifth round. Additional credit is due for plucking Ekeler out of little-known Western State. GRADE: B+
Combine/free agency focus: Philip Rivers isn’t ready to retire, but it’s time to start thinking about a replacement for the 36-year-old. This is the draft for QB-hunting, but the Bolts (who pick 17th overall) might have to trade up to get the guy they want. L.A. also needs a better option at right tackle and would be wise to find a center to complete a line that should look much better than it did two years ago. Middle linebacker is also a position of need — think Alabama’s Rashaan Evans or Texas’ Malik Jefferson.
Round 1: (No. 24 overall) Gareon Conley, CB, 2 games/0 starts.
Round 2: (56) Obi Melifonwu, S, 5 games/1 start.
Round 3: (87) Eddie Vanderdoes, DT, 16 games/13 starts.
Round 4: (129) David Sharpe, OT, 5 games/2 starts.
Round 5: (168) Marquel Lee, LB, 13 games/6 starts.
Round 7: (221) Shalom Luani, S, 16 games/1 start; (231) Jylan Ware, OT, 1 games/0 starts; (242) Elijah Hood, RB, 1 games/0 starts; (244) Treyvon Hester, DT, 14 games/1 start.
This draft’s top two picks had their rookie seasons severely limited by injuries, with just seven games and one start combined. Conley’s shin injury landed him on injured reserve, with Melifonwu coming off IR (knee) before landing on IR again (hip) near the end of the season. Oakland did find some worthwhile contributors in Lee and Hester, which is a credit to their deeper scouting abilities. GRADE: D+ (Though “incomplete” might be more accurate, given the injuries. This grade can significantly improve with healthy and productive seasons from Conley and Melifonwu.)
Combine/free agency focus: A year after lauding Oakland’s offensive line as one of the league’s best, we’re back to make changes. The Raiders can’t rely on Marshall Newhouse at right tackle anymore. Want further justification? At season’s end, Pro Football Focus rated him as the league’s 67th-best tackle, which is below starting quality for any team. Plenty of changes are likely ahead under new head coach Jon Gruden (it’ll be welcome on the offensive side), but in terms of personnel, additions at receiver, healthier options in the defensive secondary, help at right tackle and another pass rusher behind Mario Edwards would help plenty. Also keep an eye out for a game-breaking addition at running back, as Marshawn Lynch‘s return was closer to a flop than an earthquake. (Yes, even with the presence of youngsters Jalen Richard and DeAndre Washington in the backfield.)
Follow Nick Shook on Twitter @TheNickShook.