The AFC West is one of the most exciting divisions in the NFL. With superstars all over the field, all four teams are entertaining and thrilling to watch. The franchises are now deep in their preseason programs, and with the regular season nearing, it is worth assessing the training camp battles for each team and how they might impact the team when the games become real.
Can Netane Muti Snatch a Starting Spot
Much of the chatter around the Broncos this summer revolved around Drew Lock vs. Teddy Bridgewater. Ever since Peyton Manning rode off into the sunset with the Lombardi Trophy after Superbowl 50, the Broncos have since desperately searched for a franchise quarterback. Whoever wins that battle needs solid protection from the big men up front. John Elway poured plenty of resources into the offensive line over the last few years. In his last throws as GM, Elway wasted no time dipping into the trenches by drafting Fresno State’s Netane Muti in the sixth round.
Muti is a guard with a sturdy base and adequate hand skills at the point of attack. After Elway inked Graham Glasgow in the 2020 free agency period, Muti won’t displace the former Lion. The open spot on the Broncos’ offensive line comes at left guard. Garett Bolles is a lock at left tackle; therefore, the Broncos must shore up the position inside. Muti is battling against incumbent Dalton Risner. Muti’s enjoying an excellent camp, and he is showing a high level of competency in run-blocking; plus, he is displaying immense power in pass protection. That is vital if the Broncos plan on experiencing success with the chosen quarterback.
Muti put an exclamation mark on his impressive camp with a starring performance in Denver’s preseason win over the Vikings. Muti still must address some technical flaws within his weaponry. At times, Muti gets lazy with his footwork; he also doesn’t anchor, as well as a man of his size should. Nevertheless, nobody considered the sixth-round pick a starter a year ago; now, he is definitely in the mix for a starting spot.
Mecole Hardman vs Byron Pringle
The dominant power in the AFC West doesn’t have too many holes to fill. One of the questions they must answer is who is WR2 behind Tyreek Hill. Mecole Hardman’s flashed for the Chiefs as a special teams returner. The 23-year-old is electrifyingly quick. Sadly, he is prone to drops and inconsistent route-running in the receiving game
Hardman’s lightning speed can add another potent dimension to the Chiefs’ offense. Andy Reid is desperate to get Hardman featuring heavily in the passing game. But Hardman is facing stiff competition from Byron Pringle. The former undrafted rookie from Kansas State enjoyed a solid outing in the preseason tilt against the Cardinals. He bagged four receptions on five targets, including a spectacular 41-yard reception in triple coverage.
Pringle is less explosive than Hardman, although he may be more reliable and more polished. Both players offer a different set of skills for Andy Reid to utilize, but this decision is tough for the head coach.
Can Clelin Ferrell Make His Mark
The Raiders defense requires significant improvements after a lousy 2020 performance. One of the big question marks for Las Vegas is Clelin Ferrell. The former fourth-overall pick hasn’t lived up to his lofty draft status. He came into training camp 13 pounds heavier in a bid to impress Jon Gruden and the Raiders’ staff. There are several challenging hurdles in Ferrell’s way. Mad Maxx Crosby is a pulsating pass rusher with a massive motor. Yannick Nagakoue is the experienced defensive end on the other side, so logic suggests that Ferrell may not start. But, Ferrell’s physical traits are irresistible; there is a player in there. Now he must excel mentally if he is to live up to his draft status.
Sorting Out the Right Guard Spot
The Chargers are vehemently attempting to shore up the offensive line. LA acquired Cory Linsley in the offseason, Bryan Bulaga and Rashawn Slater should seal the edges of the offensive line. Consequently, the attention turns to the line’s interior, an area where the Chargers struggled in 2020. Lions outcast Oday Aboushi is the incumbent per the depth chart, although there are other options.
Aboushi is a below-average run blocker, while he is often flattened in pass protection. Tyree St Louis is adequate in the running game, although he is a journeyman for a reason. The Chargers’ cupboard is bare at the right guard; whoever wins this position battle will get asked a challenging task. If Herbert is to dethrone Mahomes off the AFC West throne, interior protection will be vital.