Preseason Watchlist - AFC West
By Jason Wood
July 24th, 2012

Denver Broncos

  • Link: http://blog.denverbroncos.com/denverbroncos/2012-training-camp-schedule-released/
  • Location: Paul D. Bowlen Memorial Centre (Englewood, CO)
  • Dates: July 26 August 17
  • Open to the public? YES (free of charge)
  • As the Broncos descend on Englewood for training camp, expectations and media attention will be at levels unseen since Mike Shanahan and John Elway were winning Super Bowls. Peyton Manning arguably the most coveted free agent in NFL history will be under intense scrutiny as he looks to prove he's healthy and still among the league's elite passers. The other big issue will be transitioning the defense from Dennis Allen (now Oakland's head coach) to Jack Del Rio (formerly the Jaguars head coach).

    Preseason Game Schedule

  • Thu, Aug 9 - @ Chicago - 8:30 PM
  • Sat, Aug 18 - vs Seattle - 9:00 PM
  • Sun, Aug 26 - vs San Francisco - 4:00 PM
  • Thu, Aug 30 - @ Arizona - 11:00 PM
  • What We're Watching

  • Is Peyton Manning his old self? Many believe that John Elway would have never given Manning a 5-year, $96mm contract if team doctors weren't 100% secure in Manning's recovery from multiple neck surgeries. But fantasy owners appear to be hedging their bets, as Manning is being drafted 9th among quarterbacks in spite of being a top 5 fantasy QB in every season since his rookie year. If Manning looks like his old self during camp and lights it up in the few drives he'll see each preseason game, expect his ADP to creep up a round or two.

  • Will RB Ronnie Hillman cut into Willis McGahee's workload? McGahee ran for 1,199 yards in his first year in Denver, averaging 4.8 yards per carry. Given John Fox' propensity to reward veterans, McGahee appears likely to remain the starter, but rookie Ronnie Hillman has the talent to not only play a role but overtake McGahee in a fair camp battle. The key for Hillman will be whether he proves a quick study of blitz pickups and pass protection; otherwise expect McGahee to outperform his current ADP (RB29).

  • Who benefits the most from Manning's presence? Tim Tebow may have captivated the hearts and minds of NFL fandom last year, and even won a playoff game, but no one can argue he was a consistent, effective passer. This year expectations have understandably skyrocketed for anyone set to catch passes, but the question is who will benefit the most? Fantasy owners are betting on Demaryius Thomas (WR19) to be the breakout star, and our own Cecil Lammey has sung Thomas' praises in OTAs and mini-camp. But fellow starter Eric Decker and TE Jacob Tamme both offer upside, too. Watch camp reports to see if Manning is spreading the ball around effectively it will undoubtedly raise the other receivers ADPs as August drafts unfold.

  • Can the line protect Manning? Ryan Clady gave up nine sacks last year, but many believed it was a byproduct of Tim Tebow's propensity to hold onto the ball for too long. There are reports that Clady is set to sign a monstrous extension, and he shouldn't be considered a major question mark. But center J.D. Walton is a major question mark, and there doesn't appear to be much legitimate competition in camp.

  • Can Jack Del Rio fix the defense? Considering Dennis Allen parlayed his role as coordinator to become the Raiders head coach, and that head coach John Fox is known as a sharp defensive mind, it's curious that Denver ranked 24th in points allowed and 20th in yards allowed, and was particularly susceptible to the run (22nd in rushing yards allowed). Del Rio's biggest challenge will be finding a reliable defensive tackle rotation from the likes of Ty Warren (hasn't played in two seasons), Derek Wolfe (a rookie many thought was drafted too high), Kevin Vickerson and Justin Bannan.
  • Kansas City Chiefs

  • Link: http://www.missouriwestern.edu/kcchiefs/
  • Location: Missouri Western State University (St. Joseph, MO)
  • Dates: July 27 August 16
  • Open to the public? YES (free of charge)
  • The Chiefs head back to Missouri Western State University on July 27th with a new coaching staff and the hope for better health as so many of the team's key players missed significant time a year ago. Romeo Crennel parlayed an interim promotion to head coach into the permanent gig, and Chiefs fans are hoping he can generate better results in Kansas City than he did as head coach in Cleveland (24-40). Brian Daboll will be tasked with reinvigorating an offense that was among the NFL's worst a season ago; ranking 31st in points scored and 27th in yards.

    Preseason Game Schedule

  • Fri, Aug 10 - vs Arizona - 8:00 PM
  • Sat, Aug 18 - @ St. Louis - 8:00 PM
  • Fri, Aug 24 - vs Seattle - 8:00 PM
  • Thu, Aug 30 - @ Green Bay - 7:00 PM
  • What We're Watching

  • Is QB Matt Cassel an asset or liability? Matt Cassel's career has been a roller coaster, and last season wasn't a high note. He missed the final seven games with a broken hand, but was largely ineffective (10 TDs and 9 INTs in 9 starts) before going on I.R. Is Cassel capable of being a difference maker or did Pioli make a huge error in judgment luring Cassel away from New England?

  • Defining RBs Jamaal Charles and Peyton Hillis' roles This time last year Hillis was the Madden cover boy and the cornerstone of the Browns offense. Jamaal Charles was one of the most electric players in the league and the key cog on the Chiefs. But Hillis' mercurial 2011 left him expendable while Charles missed the season with a torn ACL. Entering camp, Charles is cleared for full practice, and fantasy owners are hoping to see enough to confidently expect a return to top 5 status. Hillis will step into Thomas Jones' role and potentially have a key role as a 3rd down and short yardage specialist.

  • Is Dwayne Bowe an elite receiver? Dwayne Bowe is coming off an 81-reception, 1,159 yard season and was designated as the Chiefs franchise player. Unfortunately the team was unable to sign Bowe to an extension and he'll be playing under the tag in 2012. In spite of being the Chiefs most reliable weapon, fantasy owners seem to wonder if he's a real difference maker (his ADP is WR20). What can Bowe do in camp, if anything, to rise up draft boards?

  • Is TE Tony Moeaki ready to be a star? Tony Moeaki quietly had an excellent rookie season (47 receptions for 556 yards and 3 touchdowns) but a torn ACL cost him his entire second year. Questions remain as Moeaki has yet to participate in offseason practices, but he is expected to be a full participant in camp. If healthy, Moeaki offers exceptional value at his current ADP (TE25) when you consider the importance of the TE position in Brian Daboll's offense.

  • Re-shaping the offensive line The Chiefs could have as many as three new starters on the offensive line, depending on whether rookie Jeff Allen can beat out veteran incumbent Ryan Lilja at left guard. At right tackle the Chiefs made a major upgrade with the signing of Eric Winston, while 2nd year Rodney Hudson will replace Casey Wiegmann at center.

  • Getting Eric Berry back as the quarterback of the defense Eric Berry missed the entire 2011 season but should be ready to re-assert himself as one of the NFL's best young safeties. He'll be expected to quarterback Romeo Crennel's complex defense. Last year the Chiefs were terrible against the run, and didn't make enough big plays in the secondary. Berry will be expected to remedy both issues, but he won't be alone as the Chiefs look to integrate rookie DT Dontari Poe and free agent acquisition CB Stanford Routt.
  • Oakland Raiders

  • Link: http://www.raiders.com
  • Location: Napa Valley Marriott (Napa Valley, CA)
  • Dates: July 29 August 19
  • Open to the public? NO
  • The Raiders head back to Napa Valley for yet another training camp, but in many ways this is the start of a new era. Al Davis' death has created an entirely new power structure led by new GM Reggie McKenzie, who brings years of experience with Green Bay. McKenzie chose to bring in his own head coach Dennis Allen, and Allen hired new coordinators (OC Greg Knapp and DC Jason Tarver). This will also mark the first offseason for Carson Palmer in Oakland, after last season's mid-year acquisition. Oakland is one of the biggest question marks in the AFC it shouldn't shock anyone if they contend for a division title or, conversely, wallow in the basement.

    Preseason Game Schedule

  • Mon, Aug 13 - vs Dallas - 8:00 PM
  • Fri, Aug 17 - @ Arizona - 10:00 PM
  • Sat, Aug 25 - vs Detroit - 7:00 PM
  • Thu, Aug 30 - @ Seattle - 10:00 PM
  • What We're Watching

  • Is Carson Palmer an elite quarterback? Palmer stuck to his guns and retired instead of playing in Cincinnati, but eventually got his wish and was sent to Oakland. He started nine games without the benefit of any prep time, and flashed the ability that once made him the 1st overall pick. This year Palmer will have the advantage of a full offseason, but must also learn Greg Knapp's West Coast offense. Palmer is being drafted 17th among QBs, but has been a top 10 passer many times in the past.

  • Can RB Darren McFadden stay healthy? Darren McFadden is widely regarded as one of the most physically gifted runners in the league. But in four seasons he's had 113 or fewer carries three times. Most fantasy owners appear ready to bet that his past injuries were fluky and not indicative of a chronic inability to stay on the field. If McFadden makes it through camp unscathed, he could end up a mid-first round selection in most drafts but if he gets nicked up yet again, people may finally throw in the towel on his being an elite fantasy option.

  • Does Greg Knapp's offense suit the personnel? As the last two items indicate, changes are afoot and it's not yet clear whether new system is ideal for the personnel. Greg Knapp has historically asked his quarterbacks to be comfortable moving outside the pocket, and Palmer isn't very mobile. Meanwhile the team will utilize a zone-blocking scheme which is not the system Darren McFadden flourished in during his breakout 2010 season. Last but not least, many of the Raiders top receivers are athletic downfield threats, but not necessarily proven route runners who thrive with the ball in their hands.

  • Let the receiver battles begin! Nothing is better than a no holds barred camp competition and that's what the Raiders have at the wide receiver position. Darrius Heyward-Bey and Denarius Moore are the most likely starters, while Jacoby Ford battles against rookies Juron Criner and Rod Streater. With a new GM, head coach and offensive coordinator no receiver should feel secure in their role or roster spot.

  • What does Jason Tarver have in store on defense? Jason Tarver jumps to the NFL a year after his former boss Jim Harbaugh took a job across the bay. He'll be tasked with fixing a defense that ranked 29th in both points and yards allowed. It's expected Tarver will use both 3- and 4-man fronts, and needs to quickly integrate a host of free agent additions while installing the tenets of his basic philosophy to the entire roster.
  • San Diego Chargers

  • Link: http://www.chargers.com/news/article-1/Training-camp-practice-schedule-announced/
  • Location: Chargers Park (San Diego, CA)
  • Dates: July 26 August 12
  • Open to the public? YES
  • Norv Turner survived last year's disappointing 8-8 season to return for a sixth season, but the pressure is on for a franchise that many believe have wasted a window to contend for a Super Bowl. Turner made changes at both coordinator positions, promoting Hal Hunter and John Pagano from within. As the Chargers head to camp on the 26th, the team will be integrating an uncharacteristically large number of free agent acquisitions on both offense and defense.

    Preseason Game Schedule

  • Thu, Aug 9 - vs Green Bay - 8:00 PM
  • Sat, Aug 18 - vs Dallas - 9:00 PM
  • Fri, Aug 24 - @ Minnesota - 8:00 PM
  • Thu, Aug 30 - @ San Francisco - 10:05 PM
  • What We're Watching

  • Getting QB Philip Rivers back on track Philip Rivers threw 20 interceptions last year and endured his worst season since becoming a starter. Fantasy owners seem to have knocked Rivers down a tier or two as a result, but that would be a mistake. Remember, Rivers still completed 63% of his passes for 4,624 yards and 27 touchdowns. As long as we don't hear reports of Rivers forcing balls into bad spots during camp, he can easily bounce back into the top 5 at his position.

  • Who backs up RB Ryan Mathews? Mathews is entrenched as the starter and Norv Turner expects Mathews to handle a full workload a rarity in today's NFL. But Mathews has suffered nagging injuries and the Chargers are set for a fierce camp battle to round out the RB position. Free agents Ronnie Brown, Jackie Battle and LeRon McClain all have designs on the role while Curtis Brinkley and Edwin Baker feel they've done enough to keep roster spots.

  • Who steps into the vacuum left by WR Vincent Jackson? San Diego finally let Vincent Jackson hit free agency, and he landed a monster deal in Tampa Bay. That opens the door for a whole new pecking order. Malcom Floyd seemingly has a lock on one of the starting spots, but free agents Robert Meachem and Eddie Royal are fighting for roles, and many scouts believe 2nd year Vincent Brown may be the most talented receiver on the roster.

  • Is TE Antonio Gates really healthy? Foot issues have forced Antonio Gates to miss games, which has been a frustration for all concerned. Yet, at 32 years old Gates remains one of the league's most effective tight ends when he's healthy. Gates has been a picture of health so far in the preseason and swears he's feeling better than he has in years. Fantasy owners need to take July proclamations with a grain of salt, but he's a risk worth taking if he manages to practice without any setbacks.

  • Can the defense regain its glory? The once fearsome defense took a step back last season (22nd in points and 16th in yards allowed) and all eyes will be on whether John Pagano can find a way to get more from the returning personnel. Luckily GM A.J. Smith did add veteran Jarret Johnson and rookie 1st rounder Melvin Ingram who could both earn starting jobs with strong camps.
  • Questions, suggestions and comments are always welcome to wood@footballguys.com.

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