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AFC West 2022 NFL Draft Preview: Current projected starting lineups, biggest remaining needs and ideal draft targets

Boulder, Colorado, USA; Minnesota Golden Gophers defensive lineman Thomas Rush (8) and defensive lineman Boye Mafe (34) combine on sack of Colorado Buffaloes quarterback Brendon Lewis (12) in the first quarter at Folsom Field. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

The AFC West has been at the center of the 2022 NFL offseason. Russell Wilson, Davante Adams, Chandler Jones, Khalil Mack and J.C. Jackson are just a few of the high-profile names to join the division as the Denver Broncos, Los Angeles Chargers and Las Vegas Raiders set their sights on knocking the Kansas City Chiefs off their perch.

That flurry of additions has left most of the division without at least one valuable Day 1 or Day 2 pick in the 2022 NFL Draft. The Chiefs are the exception, holding two selections in each of the first three rounds. Let’s take a look at how they could look to use that draft capital to rework the lineup around quarterback Patrick Mahomes.

Kansas City Chiefs

Effective cap space (Over the Cap): $12.5 Million
Picks in the 2022 NFL Draft: 29, 30, 50, 62, 94, 103, 121, 135, 234, 244, 252, 260

Projected starters on offense
Position Player 2021 PFF grade rank 2022 cap hit
QB Patrick Mahomes 11 / 32 $35.8M
RB ?
WR Marquez Valdes-Scantling 71 / 115 $4.9M
WR ?
SWR JuJu Smith-Schuster N/A $2.9M
TE Travis Kelce 4 / 70 $8.9M
LT Orlando Brown Jr. 16 / 38 $16.7M
LG Joe Thuney 3 / 36 $8.2M
C Creed Humphrey 1 / 38 $1.3M
RG Trey Smith 8 / 39 $0.9M
RT ?

Trading away Tyreek Hill is going to fundamentally change how the Chiefs offense operates. They’re sacrificing high-end talent for what will ultimately be a deeper rotation of pass-catching options, starting with the free agent acquisitions of Valdes-Scantling and Smith-Schuster. Those two win at different levels of the field, but both are willing and able blockers in the run game. Wide receiver should remain a priority early in the 2022 NFL Draft even after those additions.

Running back and right tackle are the other two weak points on offense for Kansas City. Clyde Edwards-Helaire figures to hold on to the lead back role, but the Chiefs brought in Ronald Jones following Edwards-Helaire’s underwhelming start to his NFL career.

Lucas Niang is the projected starter at right tackle, but he’s working his way back from a late-season torn patellar tendon. Offensive tackle could be a dark horse target early for the Chiefs given Brown’s lack of a long-term deal on the left side and some uncertainty at right tackle.

Projected starters on defense
Position Player 2021 PFF grade rank 2022 cap hit
DI Chris Jones 5 / 109 $29.4M
DI Derrick Nnadi 77 / 109 $2.8M
ED Frank Clark 90 / 108 $13.7M
ED ?
LB Nick Bolton 13 / 87 $1.3M
LB Willie Gay Jr. 20 / 87 $1.4M
CB Rashad Fenton 6 / 116 $2.6M
CB ?
SCB L’Jarius Sneed 52 / 116 $1.0M
S Justin Reid 87 / 92 $4.6M
S Juan Thornhill 29 / 92 $3.1M

Edge defender and cornerback are the two position groups that immediately jump out here.

The Chiefs let Charvarius Ward and Mike Hughes walk in free agency, leaving them thin at cornerback. Kansas City is rumored to be interested in free agent Stephon Gilmore and potential trade target James Bradberry. If the team isn’t able to land a veteran like that, it could turn to the draft to find a starter to pair with Fenton and Sneed.

An impact edge rusher is arguably the biggest need on the roster. Clark’s restructured contract ensures he’s in Kansas City for at least one more season, but the Chiefs should be operating under the assumption that they need to find two starters for 2023 and beyond. Kansas City edge rushers ranked 20th out of 32 edge units in combined pressure rate last season; they need to get Chris Jones some help off the edge.

Ideal draft fit for biggest need: Edge Boye Mafe, Minnesota

It might be tempting to bet on talent late in the first round with David Ojabo, who will likely have to “redshirt” his first season in the NFL after tearing his Achilles at his pro day. But the Chiefs need an impact pass-rusher off the edge who can contribute in 2022. That could be Mafe.

The 261-pounder out of Minnesota lit up the 2022 NFL Scouting Combine with a 42-inch vertical jump and a 4.53-second 40-yard dash. Athleticism isn’t a concern. The production is also there for Mafe, albeit from his limited role. He picked up PFF pass-rushing grades above 83.0 in three of four seasons with the Golden Gophers. That profile is worth betting on in the first round.

Las Vegas Raiders

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