AFC West Defensive Changes


Denver Broncos

2014 Ranks - Pass: 5th; Run: 3rd

CB Chris Harris Jr. was PFF's highest graded cornerback in 2014 (+28.4).

CB Chris Harris Jr. was PFF's highest graded cornerback in 2014 (+28.4).

Key Losses:
DT Terrance Knighton (+12.7)
S Rahim Moore (-0.2)
LB Nate Irving (+1.1)

Key Additions:
S Darian Stewart (+7.0)
DT Vance Walker (+6.8)
DE Shane Ray (Round 1, Pick 23)

Notes:

  • The Broncos D was elite against both the run and pass in 2014. 
  • The superstars remain: CB Chris Harris Jr., CB Aquib Talib, CB Bradley Roby, and S TJ Ward form a secondary second only to Seattle. Meanwhile, OLB Von Miller (15 sacks, 47 hurries), DE DeMarcus Ware (11 sacks. 30 hurries), and DE Malik Jackson (4 sacks, 29 hurries) combine for a fearsome pass rush. 
  • DT Vance Walker isn’t quite the player that Terrance Knighton was but he put forth a strong performance against the run in 2014.
  • S Darian Stewart isn’t as good in coverage as departing S Rahim Moore, but performs well in run support. 
  • 1st round pick, Shane Ray, slid a bit in the draft due to concerns about character until the Broncos moved up to get him. As a player, Ray is regarded highly as a pass rusher with a quick first step. Ray will be called upon regularly to spell the aging DeMarcus Ware who will be turning 33 heading into the season. 

2015 Matchup Projection - Pass: Unfavorable; Run: Unfavorable

Inevitably, due to salary cap issues, the Broncos had to give up a few of its better performers on both sides of the ball this off-season. However, most of the damage was done on the offensive end as each loss on defense was accompanied by an adequate replacement. 


Kansas City Chiefs

2014 Ranks - Pass: 9th; Run: 27th

OLB Justin Houston's +37.6 pass rush grade was second best in 2014. 

OLB Justin Houston's +37.6 pass rush grade was second best in 2014. 

Key Losses:
S Kurt Coleman (+4.6)
CB Chris Owens (-7.0)
DE Vance Walker (+6.8)

Key Additions:
S Tyvon Branch (only played 5 games in the last 2 seasons)
CB Marcus Peters (Round 1, Pick 18)

Notes: 

  • Led by the pass rush of superstar Justin Houston, the Chiefs were quite good against the pass in 2014 but were weak against the run.
  • The loss of safety Kurt Coleman doesn’t hurt much since he played only in limited time and just isn’t as good as his 2014 grade suggests.
  • Even so, the strong safety position is a concern for the Chiefs as S Eric Berry is still out indefinitely as he battles cancer and newly acquired S Tyvon Branch can’t stay healthy. *Update: On July 28th, Eric Berry announced that he had declared free of cancer and cleared to resume football activities just in time for the start of camp. 
  • CB Sean Smith is suspended for the first 3 games of 2015 due to a DUI arrest in June of last year. The secondary will really struggle until he returns.
  • Rookie CB Marcus Peters should be an instant improvement over CB Chris Owens.
  • ILB Derrick O. Johnson returns from a torn achilles. He played just 32 snaps in 2014. The veteran graded at +17.0 in 2013. 

2015 Matchup Projection - Pass: Unfavorable; Run: Favorable

The pass rush, led by Hali, Poe, and Houston, is elite. Once CB Sean Smith and S Eric Berry return to action, the secondary is solid as well. However, the run defense may still struggle. 


Oakland Raiders

2014 Ranks - Pass: 25th; Run: 18th

OLB Khalil Mack was outstanding for the Raiders last year, single-handedly elevating a defense lacking in talent.

OLB Khalil Mack was outstanding for the Raiders last year, single-handedly elevating a defense lacking in talent.

Key Losses:
CB Tarell Brown (-4.6)
CB Carlos Rogers (-3.6)
DT Pat Sims (-3.4)
DE Lamarr Woodley (-6.8)

Key Additions:
S Nate Allen (+3.9)
LB Curtis Lofton (-21.5)
DT Dan Williams (+14.4)
DE Mario Edwards, Jr. (Round 2, Pick 3)

Notes: 

  • While the Raiders were weak against the pass, they performed surprisingly well against the run mainly thanks to rookie OLB Khalil Mack, an absolute stud from the draft. Mack graded at a monster +55.3 overall and +46.9 in run defense, specifically. For reference, the next highest graded player on the Raiders defense is veteran DE Justin Tuck at +6.5 overall and only 2 other Raiders graded above +1.
  • CBs Brown and Rogers are additions by subtraction but this secondary probably remains below average unless CB TJ Carrie (+0.0), who was decent in his rookie season, can make great strides in his sophomore year.
  • The defensive line has struggled to get pressure on the QB, finishing 31st in the league with just 22 sacks. 
  • To that end, DT Dan Williams and rookie DE Mario Edwards, Jr. could help. However, it’s a long way to the top for the Raiders and I expect the average-at-best secondary to pay for the sins of line.

2015 Matchup Projection - Pass: Favorable; Run: Neutral

The Raiders remain wanting for talent on the defense. One Mack just isn’t enough. 


San Diego Chargers

2014 Ranks - Pass: 19th; Run: 17th

CB Verrett and CB Flowers are a great duo but, without a pass rush, they'll have their work cut out for them. 

CB Verrett and CB Flowers are a great duo but, without a pass rush, they'll have their work cut out for them. 

Key Losses:
S Marcus Gilchrist (-5.5)
CB Shareece Wright (-16.8)
OLB Dwight Freeney (+4.8)
OLB Jarrett Johnson (-0.3)

Key Additions:
S Jimmy Wilson (-7.4)
DT Mitch Unrein (played only 46 snaps in 2014)
ILB Denzel Perryman (Round 2, Pick 16)

Notes:

  • The secondary is quite good. CB Brandon Flowers is top 10 at his position and S Eric Weddle is top 5 at his. In limited time last year, rookie CB Jason Verrett showed that he’s more than capable (+8.1).
  • The pass rush is a major concern. OLB Dwight Freeney is gone and with him goes the bulk of an already meager pass rush (just 26 sacks as a team in 2014, 29th in the league). According to PFF, Freeney accounted for almost 1/4 of the team's total QB hurries in 2014.

2015 Matchup Projection - Pass: Neutral; Run: Neutral

This unit was average in 2014 but failed to make any improvements in the off-season. The secondary is strong but the lack of pass rush will put them to the test.