We here at IDPGuys have already covered the AFC East, North, and South Divisions for their IDP free agent targets. Here we finish out the AFC with the AFC West, can Gruden sign some talent?
The AFC West is a very intriguing division. They have two powerhouse teams in the Kansas City Chiefs and the San Diego Chargers. Both of these teams have prolific offenses and have up and coming defenses with a couple editions needed to become solid. Then you have the Broncos who should honestly be better than they were this year. They have a defense that can be elite with a pass rushing duo that is probably the best in the NFL. After the line, they could use some new life and depth though.
Then you have the Raiders…and Jon Gruden. Gruden came to the Raiders and put on a fire sale on his team’s young talent only to bring in aging veterans. To Gruden’s credit, he does now have three 1st round picks in this year’s draft and probably wants to build his own team, not Reggie McKenzie‘s team. The Raiders went out and hired highly touted draft analyst Mike Mayock as the new GM which could come in very handy with this year’s draft. The bigger question is can Gruden can free agent’s to sign on with him?
Needs: Cornerback, Defensive Line, Inside Linebacker
Notable Free Agents: Shelby Harris (RFA), Zach Kerr, Domata Peko, Shane Ray, Shaquil Barrett, Bradley Roby, Tramaine Brock
Cap Space: $37,028,085 (14th Most in the NFL)
The Broncos are in a position of slight change. They once had one of the most feared secondaries in the league but outside of Chris Harris Jr., almost all the cornerbacks from that group could be gone. Now they do have a good trio of safeties as they played more three safety sets this season with all three safeties playing over 60% of the teams snaps.
The cornerback position is where they need to find the most help, though. When Harris left with a broken arm the two starting corners were Tramaine Brock and Bradley Roby who are both free agents. In the past, both have played well but this season they did not show any signs that a new contract is warranted. They should really find some help on the outside to join Harris.
The Broncos will also probably lose their outside linebacker depth as I assume both Shane Ray and Shaquil Barrett sign with new teams for a bigger contract and role. The draft though is full of pass rushers and could provide all the depth they need there.
Who Will They Sign?
1) Rashaan Melvin – Cornerback
Rashaan Melvin started his career bouncing between three different teams in his first two seasons, landing with the Baltimore Ravens two separate times. He then landed in Indianapolis in 2016 where he finally started playing to his potential. In his two seasons with the Indianapolis Colts, he played in 25 games starting 19 of them. He accumulated 96 tackles (82 solo), two tackles for a loss, 20 passes defended, three interceptions, two forced fumbles, and a fumble recovery. Look at his great instincts, he sees the play happen, leaves his man ass the throw happens to break up the play on another man:
Bottom CB –
Check out the violent break on the ball by Rashaan Melvin #RaiderNation
— Albert (Raiders) (@TheFakeAlbert) March 16, 2018
Then Melvin landed with the unfortunate Raiders of 2018. He started the first five games for the Raiders as he had seemed like one of their prized free agent acquisitions only to be sent to the bench for the next seven. The goal for Gruden was to evaluate what he had last season and that was not much. Unfortunately for him, that may have pushed his number two corner away from the team as Melvin’s contract was only for one year.
Production wise, Melvin still had a good year. He started seven of the 14 games he played in and totaled 56 tackles (52 solo), one for a loss, nine passes defended and one interception. He made some very nice plays in coverage with the Raiders as seen here:
Athletic interception by Rashaan Melvin. Case Keenum continues to have placement issues. This could've been a touchdown if the ball is over the target's head. No reason Melvin should've had a shot at this pic.twitter.com/sZna4qBlYv
— Ian Wharton (@NFLFilmStudy) September 16, 2018
Melvin is still only 29 years old and will not turn 30 until October of this year. Having only been a starting corner, and part-time as it was, the past three seasons he has low mileage on those legs. Melvin would be a welcomed number two corner to play with Chris Harris and the young safety group.
2) Shelby Harris – Nose Tackle
Shelby Harris has played two years with the Broncos now and has played admirably. He has unfortunately only been a part-time player for the team having been stuck sharing time with guys like Domata Peko and Zach Kerr. In his two seasons with the Broncos, he has averaged only 44% of the team’s defensive snaps. Both Peko and Kerr are free agents as well and the Broncos should be happy to bring back Harris for an upgraded role.
Harris definitely has the strength to be an anchor in the middle as he showed here throwing an offensive lineman out of his way to make the play on the run:
He also showed off some good athleticism and speed getting deep into the backfield to come up with the sack here:
10 yard sack by Shelby Harris. pic.twitter.com/yKDuJdJu6L
— Joe Rowles (@JoRo_NFL) December 2, 2018
In his two seasons with the Broncos, Harris has been able to come up with 73 tackles (45 solo), 15 tackles for a loss, seven sacks, seven passes defended and an interception. So as you see in his limited playing time he has been productive. If you follow our PAPS charts that we have put on our page, which you should, that gives Harris a second tier high-end grade as a playmaker based off his time on the filed with a PAPS score of 7.29. The decision seems to easy to make, sign the man.
3) Vincent Rey – Inside Linebacker
Vincent Rey was a big part of the Bengals linebacker corps for about four years leading up to the 2018 season. His play in the middle has been solid and has even had pro bowl type seasons. Rey finished his 2014 season with 133 total tackles and has just missed eclipsing the 100 tackle mark a couple other times since. So what happened this season? the Bengals were in shambles and had many unproven players at the linebacker spot. With so many injuries and the season all but lost, they had to see what they had in the young guys.
As recently as the 2017 season, Rey played in 14 games starting 11 of them. In those games, he totaled 84 tackles (52 solo), one tackle for a loss, one pass defended, and one interception. Motor has never been an issue for Rey as you can tell by the clips here, as you can also see his solid overall game:
Vinny Rey (57) pic.twitter.com/MArmWsbq7z
— clips (@Burner4JG) July 8, 2018
Even if Rey does not come in and start, he provides a veteran presence. He can help coach Josey Jewell and even Todd Davis some. The Broncos do not have any real depth at the position and adding Rey would not come with a hefty price tag.
Needs: Edge Rusher, Cornerback, Safety…Everywhere
Notable Free Agents: Frostee Rucker, Clinton McDonald, Johnathan Hankins, Daryl Worley, Rashaan Melvin, Erik Harris (RFA), Marcus Gilchrist, Reggie Nelson.
Cap Space: $73,484,412 (5th most in the NFL)
So Jon Gruden traded his youngest talent for first round picks. He also has a chunk of his defense hitting free agency. The Raiders are now in a position to make moves. There lies one problem though, nobody wants to go there. 2019 looks like a year where the Raiders will have to scrape the bottom of the barrel in free agency. They will most likely only be able to sign part-time players from 2018 or often injured talented players that nobody else wants to risk the money on.
Who Will They Sign?
1) Jimmie Ward – Cornerback/Safety
Jimmie Ward is a former first-round pick for the San Francisco 49ers. He made the conversion from safety to cornerback playing in the nickel his first season with any significant playing time in 2015. He played the position very well posting strong numbers along the way. Ward’s stat line consisted of 54 tackles (46 solo), four tackles for a loss, one sack, six passes defended, one interception, and one touchdown.
Then in 2016 he played outside corner, moved to free safety in 2017, and in 2018 played pretty much every position in the secondary. If anything, Ward is incredibly versatile. Unfortunately for Ward, he finished every season except 2015 on season-ending IR. This plays well for the Raiders bank though as he should come cheaper than somebody of his versatility normally would.
There are many things Ward can do well. His coverage is solid as he has played everywhere from free safety to number one outside corner. Here you see him read the screen perfectly to come away with the pick-six:
— KNBR (@KNBR) December 6, 2015
This is Ward playing free safety to come up with the pass defense across the middle:
— Rob Lowder (@Rob_Lowder) September 17, 2017
Ward can also hit for a man of his size. At about 5’11” 193lbs. Jimmie Ward uses his instincts and timing to deliver heavy hits. Watch here as he comes flying in from the safety position to deliver the hit and stop the RB in his tracks:
The running back called Jimmie Ward a bust… pic.twitter.com/Lm85c7hKFU
— Rob Lowder (@Rob_Lowder) January 9, 2016
Signing Ward does have its risks but the potential reward weighs far greater. This is a signing the Raiders should definitely do.
2) Eric Rowe – Cornerback
Eric Rowe is a former second-round pick by the Philadelphia Eagles in 2015. Since his selection, though, he has been a slight disappointment. His size and age are intriguing though for the Raiders. He is 6’1 and 205lbs. and is only 26-years old. The Raiders should look at his age and second-round pedigree and see if there is still something to work with.
Rowe was almost always in the doghouse with the New England Patriots but was always given the opportunity. Unfortunately, with that squad, there is less room for error than most as head coach Bill Belichick has shown no fear in benching his players. Though he is one of the greatest coaches of all time, sometimes this method does not allow a rookie or young talent to learn and push through growing pains.
Rowe has shown the ability at times to cover some of the leagues best receivers. Here you can see him deny wide receiver A.J. Green of his corner route with good coverage in the red zone:
Eric Rowe versus A.J. Green's corner route on third-and-2 in the fourth quarter. pic.twitter.com/rLGXZUnc45
— Oliver Thomas (@OliverBThomas) October 17, 2016
Rowe is another player who can line up at multiple positions just like Ward. In college, Rowe played safety and in Belichick’s defense he lined up everywhere.
Bill Belichick on Eric Rowe:
“Eric’s a player with good versatility. Played Safety in college. He’s played on the perimeter. He’s played inside. He’s played some dime situations for us, really as a LB. He has multiple skills. Every team needs guys like that on the roster.” pic.twitter.com/8QXNDNXIZ2
— Casey Baker (@CaseyBake16) August 22, 2018
Belichick just has a knack for penalizing his players for making mistakes. If the Raiders can live with a couple of mistakes and allow Rowe the time to get into a rhythm and grow, he may be able to live up to his second-round status.
3) Markus Golden – Defensive End/Linebacker
Markus Golden is a guy who can play either a 4-3 defensive end or 3-4 outside linebacker. His best season came in his second season with the Cardinals where he played a 3-4 outside linebacker. In that season he played in 16 games making three starts. Sacks were plentiful this season as he came up with 12.5 playing just over 70% of defensive snaps while also compiling 51 total tackles and 16 for a loss.
His following season was lost due to injury in what was supposed to be his true breakout year. Then in 2018, the Cardinals switched to a base 4-3 defense where he played defensive end. Because of his previous season injury, he did not play until week 3 but did not look comfortable until week 6. In his last nine games, he tallied 28 tackles (23 solo), five tackles for a loss, 2.5 sacks, and two passes defended.
Golden has an insane motor and flies around the field. He is always at top speed and has a wide array of pass rush moves from stunts, to bull rush, and has great bend. Watch these highlights against the Seahawks from 2016 as he displays all of this:
Markus Golden is a fun player to study. He's always at 100mph.
His SR Yr of HS 👇
At RB: 2,000+ yards & 30 TDs
At LB: 108 tackles & 10 sacks pic.twitter.com/0htvI6GJ3B
— Brandon Thorn (@BrandonThornNFL) December 28, 2016
His speed and hands are always on display making opposing lineman uncomfortable and off balance. Here he gets his arms into the chest of the lineman and easily gets to the quarterback:
Golden plays better as a 3-4 outside linebacker and the Raiders play a base 4-3. Starting at defensive end is always an option as he has the strength and speed for it. The Raiders do have the personnel though to make a switch to a base 3-4 as both Markus Golden and Arden Key could benefit from and form a solid pass rush duo.
San Diego Chargers
Needs: Inside Linebacker, Outside Linebacker, Defensive Tackle
Notable Free Agents: Damion Square, Darius Philon, Kyle Emanuel, Denzel Perryman, Hayes Pullard, Jason Verrett, Trevor Williams (RFA), Adrian Phillips
Cap Space: $28,638,743 (19th most in the NFL)
The Chargers are coming off a great 12-4 season where their offense looked like one of the most prolific in the league. They were unfortunately outmatched by the Patriots running backs in the playoffs due to their lack of depth at linebacker due to injuries. Adrian Phillips stepped in and was actually the best Chargers linebacker for the latter half of the season.
Reinforcing the middle of this defense needs to be a priority but they need to do it smartly as they are in the lower half of the league in terms of cap space. The Chargers may have to get a little creative and think out of the box to build up this defense.
Who Will They Sign?
1) Adrian Phillips – Linebacker/Safety
As I said before, Phillips was the best linebacker for the Chargers for the last half of the season. Last season he finished a career year with 94 tackles (65 solo), four tackles for a loss, nine passes defended, one interception, and one forced fumble. At only 5’11 and 210lbs. Phillips will need to add about 10-15lbs. in the offseason. Based on how he played this year, though, and the obvious need for linebacker help, I think that this is a direction the Chargers should strive for.
Phillips is a solid cover man and could be the weakside linebacker for the Chargers, playing off the ball in the box is something that he does very well. Covering tight ends is no problem for Phillips as he understands the need to press and disrupt timing. Here he presses Raiders tight end Jare Cook at the line and stays with him every step to force the incompletion:
So impressed with Adrian Phillips. Here he’s playing one on one against Jared Cook on the outside. Adrian presses him at the line, squeezes him to the boundary, and gives him no room to make a play. Text book. pic.twitter.com/K8Y4Ml1xdV
— The Lightning Round Podcast (@Lightning_Round) October 8, 2018
He comes up with a great play at linebacker in their playoff win against the Baltimore Ravens:
Former Longhorn Adrian Phillips now responsible for both Charger turnovers. A fumble recovery then this interception.
Still in the 2nd quarter… pic.twitter.com/fDX4aM3zFQ
— Jeff Barker (@JeffBarker_) January 6, 2019
Phillips is more than capable of being a weakside linebacker in the NFL and I think beefing him up in the offseason is something that the Chargers should be looking forward to.
2) Jake Ryan – Inside Linebacker
Jake Ryan tore his ACL before the 2018 season could start. This past season was supposed to be a breakout year for Ryan as Clay Matthews moved back to outside linebacker opening up a full opportunity of snaps for him next to Blake Martinez. With his torn ACL and the Packers need at other positions, Ryan most likely played his last snap as a Packer.
Between 2016 and 2017, Ryan played an average of 51% of the team’s defensive snaps. During those two limited snap seasons, he totaled 160 tackles (106 solo), 11 tackles for a loss, one sack, three passes defended, one forced fumble, and one fumble recovery. Based on our playmaking scoring, the PAPS grading, that gives Jake Ryan a PAPS grade of 6.01 which is a high-end grade actually higher than soon to be ex-teammate Blake Martinez.
Ryan plays the run well and is an extremely hard worker. Communication is also something Ryan is great at as he is a very heady player. Replacing Denzel Perryman with Ryan is a cheaper option with the opportunity to not lose the production. ACL tears seem to be easier to come back from these days, more so than hamstring injuries anyways. Jake Ryan was almost top-five for his position against the run in 2016 per Pro Football Focus:
Green Bay Packers linebacker Jake Ryan really began to emerge against the run in 2016. pic.twitter.com/TmOLJTZ0er
— PFF (@PFF) June 14, 2017
3) Darius Philon – Defensive Tackle
Darius Philon has had a fine career so far with the Chargers which with their cap situation, fine is OK with them. Philon was upgraded to starter in 2018 starting 13 of the teams 16 regular season games. During last season, he 33 total tackles, seven for a loss, and four sacks. This was Philon’s second consecutive season with at least four sacks. Interior pass rush is something the Chargers will need to keep teams honest. They have the pass rush on the outside with Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram III but quarterbacks can step up in the pocket without anything in the interior. Philon should be given an extension, be it a cheaper end one.
Kansas City Chiefs
Needs: Safety, Defensive End, Cornerback
Notable Free Agents: Allen Bailey, Dee Ford, Orlando Scandrick, Steven Nelson, Jordan Lucas (RFA)
Cap Space: $37,163,381 (13th most in the NFL)
The Chiefs were on the brink of a Super Bowl behind Patrick Mahomes and their high powered offense. The one knock on the team is the defense. They have a couple of stars on the team with some solid other key players but could use some upgrades.
Dee Ford is amidst a breakout year with 13 sacks, Justin Houston is still playing well having 9 sacks himself and Chris Jones just set the record for most consecutive games with a sack. Anthony Hitchens is a solid run defender and Reggie Ragland is improving. The secondary is where it gets a little uncertain with Steven Nelson a free agent and Eric Berry‘s health.
Who Will They Sign?
1) Dee Ford – Outside Linebacker
As mentioned above, Ford is in the middle of a breakout season and needs to be a top priority for the Chiefs. Ford’s huge season includes 55 tackles (42 solo), 13 tackles for a loss, 13 sacks, and seven forced fumbles. Ford and Houston seem to be switching roles for the foreseeable future as Ford is now the main pass rusher on the outside.
Ford’s 7 forced fumbles were tied for most in the league with J.J. Watt. His pass rushing moves are only increased by his speed and athleticism. Watch here his amazing bend to get around the lineman and come up with a crucial strip in last weeks playoff game:
— Matt Bowen (@MattBowen41) January 16, 2019
In this footage you see him showcase his speed one more time as he gets into the backfield with ease to get the tackle for a loss:
— Nick Jacobs (@Jacobs71) January 15, 2019
Without Ford’s pressure on the outside, Chris Jones would never have gotten his 15 sacks. If Ford goes, so does Jones’ super production. This is why it is so important for the Chiefs to retain Ford.
2) Eric Reid – Safety
I am hoping that after the season that Eric Reid put together in 2018 the doubters and haters of the protest will finally give him a chance. Reid is one of the better safeties in the league. One of the best things about Reid is his ability to play strong safety, free safety and even linebacker which he did a little for the 49ers.
Reid played in 13 games when the Panthers finally gave him a chance to play and he proved that to be a smart decision. With totals of 71 tackles (50 solo), three tackles for a loss, one sack, five passes defended, and one interception he was by far the Panthers best safety. Reid is a very sound tackler. He squares up well and wraps up as opposed to trying shoulder tackles. Watch here as he wraps up Alvin Kamara, one of the league’s most elusive runners:
Eric Reid with a textbook tackle on maybe the most elusive RB in the NFL. That’s how you do it. pic.twitter.com/0bT3V3zqbv
— Panthers 24/7 (@Panthers24_7) December 18, 2018
— San Francisco 49ers (@49ers) November 26, 2017
Hopefully, the Chiefs are the bigger franchise and look past Reid’s ongoing collusion case and kneeling protests. If they are able to do that than they could get Reid on the cheap and be an instant upgrade in their secondary.
3) Steven Nelson – Cornerback
Steven Nelson himself is having his best season to date, having started every game for the chiefs he has been possibly their most reliable cornerback. His numbers have been very good as well piling up 68 tackles (58 solo), two tackles for a loss, 15 passes defended, and four interceptions. The tackles and interceptions are both career highs and he fell only on pass defense short of tying that career high.
Steven Nelson does not shy away from contact even though his frame is the largest. I do not think I have ever seen him back off of a hit. As you see in this clip, which I hate seeing as a 49ers fan, he taught the lesson of just go out of bounds:
— NFL Update (@MySportsUpdate) September 23, 2018
Nelson is a great cover man and can play either inside in the nickel or outside corner for the Chiefs. He is their most reliable player in the secondary and they should work hard to keep him with the squad.
The AFC West should continue to be a power conference for the 2019 season. The Broncos hopefully help their woes on offense and add some depth and a true number two corner on defense. The Raiders take on everybody’s talent who they have either given up on or are talented but injury-riddled. The Chargers get crafty changing a safety to linebacker and signing a forgotten middle linebacker stud. The Chiefs resign two of their best defensive players and add a top tier safety.
Don’t forget to follow me on Twitter @JoeyTheToothIDP, @IDPGuys, and @NoBSidp. Also, tune in to the weekly IDPGuys podcast for the most up to date info to help you win your fantasy football leagues. Coming in March you can also watch our new podcast, The No BS IDP Content Podcast starring the Scott Fish Bowl Winner himself @FFstompy, The IDP Tipster himself @Hbogart27, and myself. Check out the PAPS Database created by The IDP Tipster on our site as well. Remember… The Tooth has the taste for IDP.