NFL Nation: Mathias Askew
Posted by ESPN.com's Bill Williamson
Earlier this offseason we looked at the progress being made by the AFC West teams. With the draft in the books and all four rosters virtually set (other than a few tweaks) for training camp, here is a major reason for optimism and a major reason for pessimism for each AFC West team:
Reason to be optimistic: The running game should be strong. The team drafted Georgia's Knowshon Moreno with the No. 12 pick despite a crowded backfield.
New Denver coach Josh McDaniels said that Moreno can be a three-down back. McDaniels also said he believes Moreno can help the entire offense. Watch for Denver to try to incorporate veteran pickups J.J. Arrington and Correll Buckhalter and perhaps holdover Peyton Hillis into the running game.
Each player offers a different aspect to the offense. With a strong offensive line and good receivers and tight ends, Denver's offense has a chance to succeed. And it will begin with the run.
Reason to be pessimistic: The front seven is weak.
It was Denver's biggest question mark going into the draft and it remains the biggest issue afterward. With 10 picks, Denver dedicated only one pick to the front seven: Tennessee's Robert Ayers at No. 18. And the team really doesn't know what it is going to do with him. He'll probably be a hybrid defensive end-linebacker.
The Broncos really needed a legitimate defensive lineman as they transition to a 3-4 scheme. If Ayers is going to bounce around, he isn't the anchor the team needs. The linebacking crew had a chance to be decent, but the front three is going to be very inexperienced and very unintimidating with the trio Kenny Peterson, Matthias Askew and Ronnie Fields having a chance to be the starters.
Reason to be optimistic: I am not thrilled with the trade of Tony Gonzalez to Atlanta, but the offense has some decent pieces.
There is good leadership on the unit and it starts with new head coach Todd Haley. He proved as the offensive coordinator in Arizona that he is an innovator and a leader.
Then there is new quarterback Matt Cassel, who was stolen from New England along with linebacker Mike Vrabel for a second-round pick. Cassel has yet to prove he is anything more than a one-year wonder. But he will be put in a position to succeed in Kansas City and will be running a similar system to what he ran with the Patriots. If Cassel can develop a fast chemistry with receiver Dwayne Bowe, the offensive line comes together and Larry Johnson, assuming he is on the team, still has something in the tank, the offense has a chance to decent.
Reason to be pessimistic: Statistically speaking, the Chiefs are the worst pass-rushing defense the NFL has ever seen. Kansas City set an NFL record for the fewest sacks in 2008 with 10.
One would think finding pass-rushers would be a priority through free agency and the draft, but the Chiefs have been very quiet. Yes, they added defensive end Tyson Jackson with the No. 3 pick in the draft. However, Jackson is known as a better run-stuffer than a pass-rusher. Thus, on paper, little has been done to improve an anemic pass rush.
Reason to be optimistic: The foundation to most successful offenses is a supreme running game. This gives Oakland a chance to break a six-year downturn. The Raiders have potentially one of the most dynamic running games in the NFL. They certainly have one of the most varied running attacks in the league.
The three-headed monster of Darren McFadden, Justin Fargas and Michael Bush will keep teams off balance. McFadden is a game-breaker who is most effective if he is not overused. Fargas is a tough-yardage getter. He is very rugged. Bush is good in short-yardage situations and he is explosive. None of these players will carry an offense alone, but together they can do some damage.
If this group can stay healthy (which has been an issue), it will give Oakland a strong identity on offense.
Reason to be pessimistic: While the running game is looking primed in Oakland, the passing game could hold back the offense.
Last week during the Raiders' minicamp, quarterback JaMarcus Russell suggested that Oakland's offense will be relying on the run first. That's all well and good, but Russell needs to help the running game or defenses will concentrate on stopping the run and neutralize Oakland's biggest strength.
Russell has been inconsistent in his young career and he must make strides this season. There is no questioning Russell has some skills, but he needs to do a better job of showing it.
He also needs help from his receivers. The team drafted Darrius Heyward-Bey with the No. 7 pick to make an immediate impact. However, if his collegiate inconsistencies continue, he may not be able to help right away.
Reason to be optimistic: It's simple: The Chargers are the best team in the division -- by a long shot. That's why the Chargers should feel good about themselves.
Because of all of the upheaval with the other three AFC West teams this offseason, San Diego is entering 2009 bigger favorites than last season.
San Diego did very little tinkering this offseason, but it did add some interesting pieces on defense in the form of linebackers Kevin Burnett (free agency) and Larry English (first-round pick in the draft). San Diego didn't need much to continue to have the best roster in the division.
Reason to be pessimistic: If there is a chance for San Diego to falter in this division, it will be the pass defense. The pass defense struggled for much of last season, even though it did improve some when Ron Rivera became the defensive coordinator.
Improving the pass defense has been the focus of the entire team in 2009. San Diego general manager A.J. Smith said at the team's minicamp earlier this month that if the pass rush doesn't improve, the Chargers, who had to rally at the end of the season to win the AFC West title in 2008, could struggle again.
Still, the team is hopeful that the return of Shawne Merriman and the drafting of English will help the pass rush and, in turn, help the secondary.