One of the things we wanted to do with the depth chart series was keep them updated and in most respects this article is about that – reminding you that we’ll be keeping things relevant at least until the season starts.
However, as we published the series and listened to your comments, something else became apparent. Beyond the section of fans who think half their starters are “elite” and for whom there is very little hope of cure, there were other groups too.
Firstly, there are those who felt we see our own grades as absolutely definitive and believe they are carved on tablets of stone and the last word in player performance. Now, while we certainly are proud of our work and think they are the most accurate view available (as the only people anywhere to watch and grade every player on every facet of play, they really should be) they are far from perfect.
So, on another level we wanted to let readers know that not only may you disagree with our ratings but internally we have a lot of debates too. If there are 20 players in a particular category, by its very nature, some are at the top and some the bottom and as such are also often a hair away from being in an adjacent group. We wanted everyone to understand from the debate points below just how narrow some of these bands are.
Finally, these updates are also for another set of people; those who took the time to make well-argued points in the comments section for each team. I read every single one and found myself agreeing with many. This is also about addressing those concerns; those of the readers who like us have no vested interest other than in getting it “right”.
Our process now will be to take one division at a time and debate among our analysts where we need change. Below are the results for the seventh division up; the AFC West.
– With a solid second half of his rookie season, running back Montee Ball finished 2013 with a +5.5 grade. That was the 10th highest grade by a running back last year, so we felt that he was deserving of the bump up to “Good Starter”.
– Though he’s not the best running back in the league, a +0.4 overall grade last year was high enough that calling Ronnie Hillman “Below Average” was a bit harsh. With that in mind we gave him the bump up to “Average” which better reflects his career.
– We moved around the backups on the offensive line slightly to better reflect where we expect them to play. While Winston Justice is a backup at tackle, we expect that he’s only likely to play right tackle, with starting right tackle Chris Clark likely to move to the left side in the event of an injury to Ryan Clady.
– With coverage grades of -1.8 and -3.0 in each of the past two seasons, we felt that “High Quality” was too high for cornerback Aqib Talib. We know he can be a very good cornerback, but we just haven’t seen it on a consistent basis in recent years.
See the updated depth chart: Denver Broncos
Kansas City Chiefs
– While we kept him in the “Not Enough Information” group, it’s worth noting how telling it is that A.J. Jenkins has seen just 276 snaps between two teams since entering the league as a rookie in 2012. More to the point, he has graded at just -4.4 on those small number of opportunities.
– When it came to cornerback Marcus Cooper, there was an interesting debate amongst the three of us who went through the AFC West. Some would argue that he was found out as the year went on, but it was Peyton Manning who really made life tough for him. With a coverage grade of -9.6 against the Broncos, but +6.5 in the other 15 games he played in, we felt that “Average” was fair.
– We added Malcolm Bronson as the backup free safety but it’s worth noting that he’s also been competing for snaps in the nickel in OTAs. Considering he is the top backup at free safety we’ve left him there for the time being.
See the updated depth chart: Kansas City Chiefs
– With an overall grade of -11.1, and negatives grades as a runner, as a receiver and in pass protection, we felt strongly enough that we dropped Darren McFadden down to “Poor Starter”. His grade over the past two seasons works out at –32.6 and at this stage it’s clear that he’s simply not a good NFL running back.
– Reports out of OTAs suggest that linebacker Miles Burris has jumped ahead of Sio Moore as a starter. That’s not a move we agree with based on last year, but Moore has reportedly struggled some this offseason. An interesting battle to monitor over the coming months.
See the updated depth chart: Oakland Raiders
San Diego Chargers
– As was pointed out to us in the comments section, it looks like Sean Lissemore is ahead of Kwame Geathers to start at nose tackle. That would make sense based on last season, with Lissemore racking up a +3.2 grade on 104 snaps against the run.
– Though he was poor last year Donald Butler graded positively in each of his first two seasons as a starter. To this point we’ve seen more good play from him than we’ve seen poor, so opted to bump him up to “Average”, though he still needs to bounce back from last year.
– Offensive lineman Michael Harris played just 194 snaps last year, but when you look back to 2012 it should be obvious why we dropped him down to “Poor Starter”. A -44.5 grade from just 602 snaps is about as bad as it gets, and shows why he saw a much lighter snap count in his second season.
See the updated depth chart: San Diego Chargers
Follow Gordon on Twitter: @PFF_Gordon