AFC West Draft Needs: Will the Raiders Draft a Receiver?

Will Oakland try to give Carr a new weapon? What does the rest of the division need to focus on to compete in 2015?

Last season, the AFC West did not disappoint.

The Broncos, led by Peyton Manning, finished 12-4 with a first-round bye in the playoffs. Although the Raiders were the typical Raiders, the Chiefs and Chargers both finished 9-7, just barely missing out on the playoffs. With the Broncos losing a few major players over the offseason, the division could be back up for grabs this coming September.

Let’s take a look at what pieces of the football puzzle each of these team needs to make it over the hump in 2015.

Oakland Raiders

Biggest Need: Wide Receiver

One of the biggest topics of debate this offseason has been what the Raiders will do with the fourth overall pick in the upcoming draft. It’s no question that the Raiders need help on offense.

They finished as the 30th-ranked offense in the NFL, according to our Adjusted Net Expected Points (NEP) per play metric. NEP works to quantify how well a team or player is performing above or below average and accounts for on-field variables such as down-and-distance and field position to identify how a given play impacts a team's scoring chances.

They secured an schedule-adjusted NEP per play of -0.07, meaning that every snap the offense took wound up losing them 0.07 points from the scoreboard that an otherwise average team would have earned.

The team's Adjusted Passing NEP per play of -0.05 ranked 29th in the league. Rookie quarterback Derek Carr struggled as he finished with the second worst Passing NEP (-40.94) score in the NFL, better only than Jacksonville’s Blake Bortles (-97.97).

A large part of that, though, could be due to who he’s throwing the ball to. Out of all Oakland receivers, the one with the highest Reception NEP was Andre Holmes (58.30), but Holmes ranked just 49th among all receivers in the league last year.

Even with the recent Michael Crabtree signing, bringing in a star receiver with their first pick is likely the best option because Crabtree posted a Reception NEP of just 62.53 this year, 45th among all wide receivers.

The Amari Cooper versus Kevin White debate has been an interesting topic over the offseason. As numberFire’s Graham Barfield touched on, Cooper is the more polished receiver of the two, but will the Raiders go the safer route or go for the higher ceiling and select White?

Potential Picks: WR Amari Cooper (Alabama), WR Kevin White (West Virginia)

San Diego Chargers

Biggest Need: Running Back

Although the Chargers could use some help on their offensive line, losing running back Ryan Mathews to Philadelphia has left a gaping hole in their offense. Although he missed some time due to injuries, he ranked 12th in Rushing NEP (6.60) among the 59 running backs with at least 75 carries. On the other hand, the other running backs on the roster finished atrociously. Donald Brown’s Rushing NEP of -17.23 and Branden Oliver’s score of -19.99 finished 53rd and 55th, respectively. The only other running back the team has is 30-year-old Danny Woodhead, who only was able to play in three games in 2014.

After two years of having no running backs selected in the first round in the NFL draft, this year is sure to see a change with an incredibly talented class coming in. If it wasn’t for an ACL tear, Todd Gurley would likely be a top 10 pick. Taking a running back early is a risk, and we’ve seen it fail with Trent Richardson, but drafting a stud would help alleviate a lot of the pressure that quarterback Philip Rivers has felt over the last few seasons -- provided he is still with the team by the time the season starts.

Potential Picks: RB Todd Gurley (Georgia), RB Melvin Gordon (Wisconsin)

Kansas City Chiefs

Biggest Need: Offensive Line

One of the most frustrating things in today’s NFL is “QB Purgatory,” the imaginary area where a team’s quarterback is good enough to win games to compete for a playoff spot but doesn’t have the elite talent to lead his time to the Super Bowl. Alex Smith is one of those quarterbacks. To truly compete, you have to surround quarterbacks like Smith with a lot of talent. Last season, the Chiefs didn’t have one single touchdown reception by a wide receiver. Because of that, Andy Reid and company went out and signed Jeremy Maclin, whose Reception NEP of 111.21 finished ninth in the NFL last season. Adding another wide receiver with this pick wouldn’t be a bad idea, but there’s one major area of concern for the Chiefs: offensive line.

According to Pro Football Focus’ 2014 offensive line rankings, the Chiefs finished 27th in the league. On top of that, they lost center Rodney Hudson, a key piece of the line. Former first round pick Eric Fisher has also not lived up to potential thus far, so the Chiefs need to consider beefing up the line to protect Smith and create holes for Jamaal Charles.

Potential Picks: C Cameron Erving (Florida State), OT La’el Collins (LSU)

Denver Broncos

Biggest Need: Nose Tackle

The Broncos had a bit of a rough offseason, losing some key players. Julius Thomas left for Jacksonville, Orlando Franklin signed with a division foe, and Terrence “Pot Roast” Knighton left for the nation’s capital. Without Franklin, there is a need on the offensive line, but Knighton’s absence could prove to be a major deterrent to the solid Denver defense.

According to our schedule-adjusted, per-play metrics, the Broncos had the 11th best overall defense and the 10th best rushing defense. “Pot Roast” was a major reason for that success. The current projected starter is the third-year, unproven Sylvester Williams.

The Broncos will be selecting at the tail end of the first round and should have a wide variety of options. It may be in their best interest to take the best player available or trade back to garner a few extra picks. Although, if a stud at defensive tackle falls to them, it would be hard to pass up the potential replacement for Knighton.

Potential Picks: DT Malcolm Brown (Texas), DT Eddie Goldman (Florida State)