AFC West 2019 X Factors

By Big Man Mike

Coming into the 2019 NFL season, most teams have a pretty good idea of which players are going to have a big impact for them. However, each team has at least one player that has the potential to dominate and lead the team to victory, but also the potential to flounder. In this series each of these players will be evaluated by division, and I will give my assessment for whether they will be boom or bust compared to the expectations for 2019.

Kansas City Chiefs

Player: Tyrann Mathieu, S

One of the key offseason acquisitions made to improve the Chiefs dreadful defense, Tyrann Mathieu has already been hyped up by the Chiefs Kingdom as the savior of the secondary. After he was released by the Arizona Cardinals in 2018 after refusing a paycut, Mathieu sought after a 1 year contract in order to prove to other teams that he was still a dominant player and was able to stay healthy. Mathieu was able to prove his point, finishing with 108 total tackles, 3 sacks, 8 PBU’s, and 2 interceptions with the Houston Texans in 2018. In the offseason, he signed with the Chiefs on a 3 year contract worth $42 million.

Mathieu plays an important role on the Chiefs defense where he is expected to slot in as the starting FS. He will be expected to become the QB of the defense and will be expected to help develop the Chiefs 2nd round pick Juan Thornhill into his fullest potential. So far, everything Mathieu has done in the offseason appears to be in the interest of handling that leadership role and help fill the hole left by Eric Berry’s departure. Personally, I think the Chiefs defense will be slightly upgraded from 2018, but will still be a lower class defense that will be entirely too dependent on the offense to put up 30+ points a game and Mathieu will not be able to become the savior of the defense that many fans anticipate him becoming. Mathieu will definitely be an improvement and I fully expect him to improve the defense, but my expectations are tempered with this defensive unit as a whole.

Verdict: Bust

Los Angeles Chargers

Player: Melvin Gordon, RB

A fantasy darling due to his usage and prowess for always being able to find the endzone, Melvin Gordon has been the star of some drama that may have some extreme impact on the Chargers hopes for making the Super Bowl. He recently has stated that he will hold out of training camp and into the regular season unless he gets a new contract, in which he is reportedly demanding at least $10 million per year, or he gets traded. Whether or not you believe running backs should be paid this highly or not, it is undeniable that the absence of Gordon in the backfield for the Chargers could spell trouble.

A somewhat underwhelming player for the first few years in the league after being taken out of Wisconsin with the 15th overall pick, this last season showed potential. For the first time in his career he averaged above 4.0 yards per carry, and he showed that he was able to find the endzone even without a large amount of goal line carries. In 2018 he averaged 5.1 yards per carry, and ran for 885 yards and 10 TDs while also recording 50/490/4 in the receiving game. These are numbers that the Chargers simply do not have the personnel to replace. I fully anticipate Gordon to record similar stats in 2019 assuming he plays, but whether he does remains to be seen.

Verdict: Bust

Oakland Raiders

Player: Derek Carr, QB

It’d odd to think that just 3 years ago, Derek Carr was a candidate for winning MVP after leading the Raiders to a 12-3 record before suffering a broken fibula in week 16 against the Colts. Since then, Carr has seen his throne in the Bay become hotter and hotter every offseason. In 2018 Carr had an abysmal season, but the talent surrounding him was even worse. At one point, the Raiders had to play 7th round rookie Marcell Ateman as their #1 receiver. The Raiders recorded the least sacks in the NFL, with just one more sack than their ex-star Khalil Mack recorded by himself in Chicago. While Carr appeared shaky in the pocket and folded under pressure too easily, to say he was put in a horrid situation in 2018 was an understatement.

Fast forward to the 2019 offseason, and things are looking up for Carr. The team traded for Antonio Brown and signed Tyrell Williams in free agency, thus bringing Carr one of the top receivers in football and a solid WR2 to throw the ball to. Additionally, the Raiders improved the OL in the offseason with Trent Brown and drafted a stud running back in Josh Jacobs. Additionally, the hope that Jon Gruden has been able to adapt the offense to fit in with the modern scheme will hopefully be able to help Carr thrive in 2019. Time will tell, but everything the Raiders have done has shown that they have faith in Carr to lead the franchise to greatness in 2019.

Verdict: Boom

Denver Broncos

Player: Courtland Sutton, WR

After Demaryius Thomas was traded to the Texans in the middle of the season, it appeared that that trade was a vote of confidence for rookie Courtland Sutton to be able to make big plays in the air for Denver. In fact, Sutton was able to record 42/702/4 in 16 games, despite only starting 9 of those games. Even more surprisingly, Sutton was able to do this with Case Keenum at QB, who was not the best version of himself in Denver. Sutton and fellow rookie DaeSean Hamilton both appeared to be the franchises new answers at WR, but many questions still arise.

Suttons low usage may prove concerning in the long run, especially considering how little his usage still was even after Thomas was traded and Emmanuel Sanders went on IR with a torn Achilles. In all 16 games, Sutton only went over 5 receptions twice, and over 50 yards in a little under half of his games. These numbers are slightly concerning when considering how much usage fellow rookie Phillip Lindsay was seeing in the same timespan, in which he was able to rush for 1092 yards and 9 TDs while going 35/241/1 in the receiving game. The fact that Sutton had only 7 more catches than Lindsay did is a concerning to say the least. This usage doesn’t appear to be changing anytime soon, as it looks like Vic Fangio will use a similar run first offense that Chicago and Jacksonville run. At this point, I need to know more about the Broncos offensive identity before I can be fully comfortable with labeling Courtland Sutton as anything other than someone who will not live up to expectations in 2019.

Verdict: Bust

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