The Kansas City Chiefs winning the AFC West for the eighth consecutive year is one of the surest bets in the league. However, the rest of the division is up for grabs. In this week’s NFL Draft Notebook, we make ten predictions from this division for the upcoming season. In addition to looking at the AFC West, this week’s article also highlights the top wide receivers in the 2024 NFL Draft, reviews the 2020 wide receiver class and much more.
AFC West Predictions
1. The Kansas City Chiefs will repeat as AFC West Champs
One thing you can count on is the Kansas City Chiefs winning the AFC West this year. The team has one of the best offenses in the NFL, ranking first in points per game and passing yards last season. This offense, and improved defense that added a couple of key pass rushers in Felix Anudike-Uzomah and free-agent addition Charles Omenihu, should be enough to easily win the AFC West.
2. The Kansas City Chiefs’ offensive line will prevent them from reaching the Super Bowl
While the Chiefs will win the AFC West, they won’t repeat as Super Bowl Champions. The main reason for this will be an average offensive line that will lead to Patrick Mahomes being hit way too often. The biggest weakness on this line is left tackle Donovan Smith, who gave up six sacks last year, and also had a league-high seven holding penalties despite missing four games due to injury.
3. Russell Wilson will be benched this season
While Denver Bronco fans are hoping Sean Payton will help Russell Wilson have a bounce-back season in the stacked AFC West, it likely won’t happen. The main reason for this is Wilson’s game not matching up well with Sean Payton’s offensive system. Wilson loves to take risks with the ball and challenge defenses vertically, while Payton favors the short-to-intermediate passing game and values protecting the football. Since these two things don’t mesh, look for the Broncos to turn to Jarrett Stidham by midseason.
4. Despite Russell Wilson continuing to struggle, Denver will win more games in the AFC West this year
While Bronco fans won’t be happy with the play of Russell Wilson again this season, they will see a much-improved team. One of the reasons for this is that they will be led by a much better coach in Sean Payton. The second reason is their ability to run the ball behind an improved offensive line. The last reason is the defense, as it should be able to finish in the top ten of the league in points per game. An AFC West crown may not be in the future, but Denver won’t be an easy out.
5. The Chargers will see a much-improved running game
Last season, the Chargers finished 30th in the NFL in rushing yards per game, averaging just 88 yards per game. This season, the Chargers will average at least 115 yards per game and finish in the top 20 in the NFL. The main reason for this is new offensive coordinator Kellen Moore, who has had top 10 rushing offense in the NFL each of the past two seasons. The team also will look to take pressure off of Justin Herbert, who was banged up much of last season.
6. The Chargers’ run defense will improve significantly
Another area the Los Angeles Chargers struggled last season was their rush defenses, which ranked 27th in the NFL. Look for this to improve this season partially due to having a more balanced offense. With the Chargers running the ball more, this will limit the chances their opponents get on offense. Los Angeles has also gotten better on this side of the ball this offseason with the additions of Eric Kendricks and Tuli Tuipulotu. Perhaps the Chargers can at least make it difficult on the Chiefs in the AFC West.
7. This will be Josh McDaniels’ last season in Las Vegas and AFC West
One thing that is becoming very clear is that, while Josh McDaniels is a good offensive coordinator, he is not a high-quality NFL coach. In his first stint with the Denver Broncos, he only lasted two years, and look for him to have the same fate with the Las Vegas Raiders. The main reason for this will be Las Vegas finishing dead last in the AFC West while seeing its share of quarterback issues this season.
8. Second-round pick Michael Mayer will outproduce first-round pick, Tyree Wilson
The Raiders spent the seventh overall pick of the 2023 NFL Draft on defensive end Tyree Wilson. Despite this high selection, look for him to make a limited impact this season due to how raw his game is and being stuck behind both Maxx Crosby and Chandler Jones at defensive end. On the other end, expect Michael Mayer to make a significant impact this season. He should be the team’s starting tight end and Jimmy Garoppolo loves to throw to his tight ends.
9. The Las Vegas Raiders will be looking to take a quarterback in the first round of the 2024 NFL Draft
The Raiders invested in the quarterback position this offseason with the addition of Jimmy Garoppolo, but look for him to be the short-term answer in Las Vegas. One of the biggest reasons for this is because Garoppolo will likely battle injuries again this season. The team will look to move on from him because they will likely have a top-three draft pick. This could put them in position to draft Drake Maye or Caleb Williams, which would go a long way toward evening the playing field in the AFC West.
10. The Los Angeles Chargers will take a tight end early in the 2024 NFL Draft
One of the biggest needs for the Chargers next offseason will likely be tight end. Starting tight end, Gerald Everett, will see his contract expire after the season, and backup Donald Parham only caught 10 passes last year. While the team would love to get someone like Brock Bowers with their first-round pick, he will likely be gone by the time they pick, so someone like Ja’Tavion Sanders of Texas could make sense for the AFC West hopefuls.
2024 NFL Draft Wide Receiver Class Preview
Top Player: Marvin Harrison Jr., Ohio State
There is no doubt that Marvin Harrison Jr. is the top wide receiver in the 2024 NFL Draft. Harrison has all the skills to be a true number-one receiver at the next level, including strong hands that he uses to attack the ball. He also has impressive strength that allows him to catch the ball consistently in traffic and also break tackles after the catch. One more positive with him is his agility, especially for a 6-foot-4, 205-pound wideout. He uses this agility to adjust to any poorly thrown ball and also consistently makes sharp cuts on his routes. Look for Harrison to be a top-five pick next April, and develop into one of the best wide receivers in the NFL.
Guy I Would Stand on the Table for: Adonai Mitchell, Texas
One of the best natural receivers in the 2024 NFL Draft class is Adonai Mitchell of Texas. What stands out with Michell is how athletic he is for someone who is 6-foot-4. He shows the ability to consistently go get the jump ball in contested situations and also can make the diving grab when needed. He shows soft hands as a receiver as well, attacking the ball with his hands, and rarely dropping a pass. The biggest concern with him is that he missed most of last season with an ankle injury, and was only able to play in four games. If he can stay healthy this season, it would not be a shock if Mitchell is able to earn a first-round grade.
Overrated: Ja’Corey Brooks, Alabama
One of the biggest deep threats in college football last year was Ja’Corey Brooks, who averaged 17.3 yards per catch and accounted for eight touchdowns on just 39 receptions for the Alabama Crimson Tide. However, a lot of these plays were made by Bryce Young keeping plays alive instead of Brooks beating his man. The fact he was the benefit of so many broken plays, and that he is far from a natural pass catcher, makes him one of the more overrated receivers in this draft class.
Sleeper: Tahj Washington, USC
The USC Trojans have one of the most dynamic offenses in college football, and one of their biggest playmakers is Tahj Washington. Last season, he averaged an impressive 15.7 yards per reception and also was able to pick up 25 yards per punt return. The number one reason for his electric play is his impressive speed. He routinely outruns the coverage and has both the quickness and open-field running ability to evade defenders in open space. One more positive with Washington is that he is a good blocker that should be able to carry out any blocking assignment at the next level.
Biggest Risk: Julian Fleming, Ohio State
A player who could be excellent value, yet is still a risky pick is Ohio State’s, Julian Fleming. The reason why he could be a steal in the 2024 NFL Draft is that the former number-one high school recruit has been overshadowed by Marvin Harrison Jr. and Emeka Egbuka. Due to this, he could fall down the draft board farther than a player with his size, strength, and reliable hands should. However, he is also somewhat of a risky pick because of his long injury history. He missed two games last season due to injury and also missed spring ball this year and in 2022 due to his body being beat up.
Breakout Player: Ainias Smith, Texas A&M
Look for Texas A&M wide receiver Ainias Smith to have a strong bounce-back season after just playing in four games last year due to a broken ankle. The main reason he will have a breakout season is the addition of new offensive coordinator Bobby Petrino. Petrino is one of the more creative offensive minds in college football, and will look to use Smith in a similar way to the 49ers use Deebo Samuel. This should be the perfect role for Smith who shows elite quickness and is a surprisingly strong runner after the catch. It would not be a surprise if Smith came close to 1,000 receiving yards and 350 rushing yards next season.
Top Five Wide Receivers from the 2020 NFL Draft
It usually takes three years to evaluate a draft class, so over the next few months NFL Draft Notebook will be looking back at the 2020 draft class. This week, we look at the wide receiver position.
1. Justin Jefferson, Minnesota Vikings
Minnesota got an absolute steal when they took Justin Jefferson with the 22nd pick overall in the 2020 NFL Draft. Despite being the fifth receiver taken in that year’s draft, he has easily outperformed every other receiver in the class. Last season, Jefferson was named the NFL Offensive Player of the Year after leading the NFL in receptions and receiving yards. He has also been named to the Pro Bowl all three years he has been in the league.
2. Tee Higgins, Cincinnati Bengals
Another team who got great value at the wide receiver position was the Cincinnati Bengals, who took Tee Higgins with the 33rd overall pick. Since picking him, Higgins has established himself as one of the top number-two receivers in the NFL playing alongside Ja’Marr Chase.
3. CeeDee Lamb, Dallas Cowboys
A player who keeps improving each year in the NFL is former Oklahoma Sooner, CeeDee Lamb. This past season, he finished the year with 107 receptions for 1,359 yards and nine touchdowns, all of which were career highs. If he can continue on this trend, Lamb will likely become one of the top wide receivers in the NFL and go down as one of the greatest wide receivers in Dallas Cowboys’ history.
4. Brandon Aiyuk, San Fransico 49ers
While there is definitely a dropoff after the first three receivers from the 2020 NFL Draft, Brandon Aiyuk is still a solid starter in the NFL. This past season he caught 78 passes for 1,015 yards and eight touchdowns.
5. Michael Pittman, Indianapolis Colts
A player who has produced despite having very average quarterbacks throwing him the ball is Michael Pittman. Despite seeing several different quarterbacks throwing him the ball last year, Pittman was still able to catch 99 passes for 925 yards.
—A sleeper wide receiver to watch who has already caught the eye of the Senior Bowl is Colorado State’s, Tory Horton. Last season, Horton caught 71 passes for 1,131 yards despite playing for the 129th-ranked offense in college football. In fact, Horton scored 8 of the team’s 12 touchdowns last season. When evaluating Horton, the first trait that stands out is his deep-threat ability and how well he tracks the deep ball. Another positive with him is that he can return punts, having averaged 15.5 yards per punt return. One other thing scouts will like about him is his NFL size, coming in at 6-foot-2 and 180 pounds. Horton currently carries a sixth-round grade, but if he can earn an invite to the Senior Bowl, and has a strong week, look for his stock to improve significantly.
—One of the more interesting prospects in the 2024 NFL Draft is Florida State’s, Johnny Wilson. What makes Wilson such an intriguing prospect is his combination of size and speed. Wilson, who comes in at 6-foot-7 and 235 pounds, will likely be the biggest wide receiver in the draft next April. He also has good speed for someone his size and led the ACC and ranked third in the country with 22 20-yard receptions. While he shows very good quickness for someone his size, the question remains if he will be viewed as more of a tight end or wide receiver prospect. The reason teams may view him as a tight end is his inability to consistently get separation from NFL-level cornerbacks. Due to this, he has to rely on going to get the jump ball; but if moved inside, he should have no trouble gaining separation against linebackers at the next level. No matter how you look at it, Wilson should be able to present plenty of matchup problems on Sundays.
—Look for Dorian Singer to become Caleb Williams’s go-to target next season after transferring over from Arizona. The trait that stands out with Singer is how well he catches the ball. He has some of the stronger hands in the 2024 NFL Draft and does a great job of plucking the ball out of the air with these mitts. He also does a terrific job of adjusting to the poorly thrown ball. In this area, he shows the agility to snag the low ball, and also the strength and competitiveness to go get the jump ball. While Singer is a natural receiver who should be able to make it as a number three wide receiver, he could fall to the third day of the draft due to his lack of blazing speed and only average measurables.
—Alabama wide receiver, Jermaine Burton, ended the 2023 season on a strong note by catching 13 passes for 265 yards and three touchdowns in the last three games of the season. He should be able to continue to produce at a high level, especially if he improves his route-running consistency. Along with paying finer attention to his routes, he also needs to do a better job of reading coverages according to Alabama coach Nick Saban. If he can improve in these two areas, Burton should get looks early on day three of the draft due to his consistent hands and strength to break tackles after the catch.
—An undrafted rookie who looks like he will make a team is Deneric Prince of the Kansas City Chiefs. Coming out of college, Prince was viewed as a big running back who showed impressive speed. However, one of the concerns with him that likely caused him to go undrafted is his inability to contribute in the passing game, only hauling in nine passes in 2022. Impressively, Prince has already shown soft hands so far for the Chiefs, having hauled in several tough catches. If he can continue to impress coaches once pads go on, look for him to be either Kansas City’s second or third-string running back this year.
—One rookie who has already been cut is Los Angeles Rams kicker Christopher Dunn, who was my second-ranked kicker in the 2023 NFL Draft. What made Dunn such a promising prospect coming out of North Carolina State was his accuracy. Last season, he connected on 28 of 29 kicks, including going 10 for 11 on kicks over 40 yards. It would be a surprise if some team didn’t pick him up going into training camp.
—For all the latest NFL Draft news make sure to check out The Notebook.
Prediction of the Week
Iowa’s Kirk Ferentz will retire after this season — instead of being forced to fire his son — after the team struggles again on offense this year.