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DENVER, CO - DECEMBER 29: Derek Carr #4 of the Oakland Raiders sets to pass against the Denver Broncos in the first quarter of a game at Empower Field at Mile High on December 29, 2019 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images)
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Around the AFC West: Advanced data shows teams strengths and weaknesses

(Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images)

The NFL never stops. Even in a virtual offseason, there are plenty of things to write about in this league.

Teams are starting to reopen their facilities across the country and things seem to be trending in the right direction. Hopefully, we’ll be able to see training camp start on time, followed closely by the preseason.

The Broncos play in arguably the toughest division in football. The AFC West could see at least two teams enter the postseason in 2020, especially with the expanded playoff format. Moves that are made now will help determine who is in and who is out.

Let’s take a spin around the AFC West to see what the competition is up to.


Kansas City Chiefs

Chiefs running back Damien Williams averaged a league-worst 2.6 yards per carry (minimum 100 attempts) on his 28 runs in between the guards in 2019, according to Sports Info Solutions. Conversely, Williams averaged 4.2 yards per carry on 54 off-tackle plays and 6.8 yards per carry on his 29 runs outside the tackles.

Williams is clearly better outside than he is running inside. That’s why the team went out and addressed the running back position in the first round of the 2020 NFL Draft by selecting Clyde Edwards-Helaire out of LSU.

Speaking of the rookie, Edwards-Helaire has “some special traits,” according to offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy. “We want to make sure we’re utilizing him the right way and making sure he’s mentally prepared to go when it’s time to go,” Bieniemy added.

Those special traits include being a great runner in between the guards. Last year for LSU, Edwards-Helaire averaged 7.2 yards per carry running inside the left guard and 8.4 yards per carry running inside the right guard. All of that occurred while he was racking up almost 550 yards on such carries and six touchdowns. Edwards-Helaire has a three-down skill set and could end up overtaking Williams for the top spot on the running back depth chart in Kansas City.


Las Vegas Raiders

Raiders offensive tackle Trent Brown blew a block only three times on 307 snaps on passing plays in 2019, according to Sports Info Solutions. The mark was tied for the best among all linemen who played at least 300 snaps on passing downs last season.

The Raiders are a hated rival of the Broncos, but they have built a strong offensive line. That group not only blasts open holes for the running game with Josh Jacobs, but they also allow more time for the quarterback to throw and give him quality protection.

Raiders quarterback Derek Carr posted an NFL-best 95.9 QBR against the blitz (defined as any play when the defense rushed five or more players) in 2019. Carr also led all quarterbacks in completion percentage (71.6) and yards per attempt (11.11) against the blitz. These numbers show how Carr is well-protected behind that Raiders offensive line.

Carr will compete with free agent addition Marcus Mariota in training camp for the starting job and should win the gig. It will greatly help him if he stays as solid against the blitz as he was in 2019.


Los Angeles Chargers

Chargers cornerback Chris Harris Jr. (still feels weird to type/say that) allowed 10.5 yards per target and a 61.7 completion percentage to receivers in his coverage as a member of the Broncos in 2019, according to Sports Info Solutions. The former mark was his highest since at least 2015 and the most surrendered by any defensive back targeted at least 60 times last season. The latter mark was a slight drop from 62.5 percent in 2018.

So, what does Harris have left in the tank? Were his poor numbers last year due to scheme fit or is his play declining? I believe it was the former and not the latter. Harris can still play at a high level as a slot corner, and that’s where he’s going to play for the Chargers.

Casey Hayward and Desmond King are the outside corners for the Chargers and they are one of the best CB duos in the entire league. Their presence outside will allow Harris to blanket receivers from the slot. I’d imagine the advanced data will be much better for Harris in 2020.

Free-agent quarterback Cam Newton (Panthers) was considered by the Chargers, but head coach Anthony Lynn said the team is confident in quarterbacks Tyrod Taylor and Justin Herbert. Newton is still waiting to find a new job, while guys like Andy Dalton (Cowboys) and Jameis Winston (Saints) have been signed for a while now.

Reports have been conflicting about whether or not Newton wants to compete for a starting job or if he would be comfortable being a clear backup in 2020. I believe he can still be a quality starter if healthy, but teams where he could compete for the job (Bears, Jaguars) have already filled up.

Newton may be signed before training camp, but there’s also an idea that he may wait for someone to get hurt in camp or the preseason then swoop in as a new starter. Time will tell where Newton lands and where his NFL career goes from here.