AFC West preview: Chiefs finally found a starting quarterback in the draft, and he looks ready to blossom

There’s something different about Patrick Mahomes, something that sets him apart from droves of Kansas City Chiefs quarterbacks who came before him.

He was drafted by the Chiefs.

Difficult to believe that’s a rarity, but only one of the last 22 quarterbacks who have started for Kansas City was a draft pick of that franchise: Brodie Croyle, who had a total of 10 starts in five seasons with the team, from 2006 to ’10.

Think about the parade of higher-profile Chiefs quarterbacks who were drafted by other teams, among them Alex Smith (San Francisco), Nick Foles (Philadelphia), Matt Cassel (New England), Trent Green (San Diego), Elvis Grbac (San Francisco), Rich Gannon (New England), Steve Bono (Minnesota), Joe Montana (San Francisco) … the list goes on and on.


Now that Smith has moved to Washington — the Chiefs traded him to the Redskins during Super Bowl week — the homegrown Mahomes takes the reins of a team that traded up to get him with the 10th pick in the 2017 draft.

Mahomes assumes the driver’s seat during a turbulent time in the division, when, paradoxically, the Chargers are suddenly the most stable team. This despite the fact that they’re still trying to find their footing in their new home of Los Angeles.

But the Chargers have stability on their roster, and a quarterback in Philip Rivers who has been with the franchise since 2004, when he was selected fourth overall by the New York Giants but rerouted to San Diego on draft day when the Chargers sent top pick Eli Manning to the Giants.

The Raiders have a familiar starter in quarterback Derek Carr, but have made all kinds of changes around him, not the least of which was rehiring coach Jon Gruden, whom they traded to Tampa Bay 16 years ago.


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The new quarterback in Denver is the well-traveled Case Keenum, who finally has a team of his own after years of bouncing around the league as a backup or fill-in, and basically kept the seat warm (but also thrived) while the preferred starter got healthy or ready.

But the least experienced of these quarterbacks by far is Mahomes, who also happens to have the best supporting cast around him.

The Chiefs’ offensive arsenal includes running back Kareem Hunt, who led the NFL in rushing last year as a rookie; do-everything receiver-returner Tyreek Hill, who can outrun any defender in the league; All-Pro tight end Travis Kelce, and receiver Sammy Watkins, who had eight touchdowns for the Rams last season and 17 in three seasons with Buffalo.

Mahomes has started one game in his pro career, last year’s finale at Denver when he showed both his live arm and limited experience. He completed 22 of 35 passes for 284 yards, with one interception and no touchdowns. The Chiefs won, however, 27-24.

“The start last year has helped me a ton moving into this year,” Mahomes told reporters at camp this summer. “It really helped me get the speed and not being too panicked and just calming yourself down.”


Some observers have compared Mahomes to a young Brett Favre, and Chiefs coach Andy Reid, who has coached both players, said the second-year player from Texas Tech can make throws that few others can make.

After the Chiefs’ regular-season finale last year, Reid noted that Mahomes had “complete control” on the field.

The early indications are the Chiefs got their man — and through the draft, at long last.

FILE - In this Aug. 25, 2018, file photo, Kansas City Chiefs’ Patrick Mahomes looks for a receiver d
Patrick Mahomes is now the starting quarterback of a Chiefs team that traded up to get him with the 10th pick in the 2017 draft.
(Annie Rice / Associated Press)



2017 | 9-7, 2nd in West

Last year in playoffs | 2013



QB Philip Rivers: One of the constants in the NFL, Rivers is coming off a strong season. His interceptions were way down, save for two disaster starts against the Kansas City Chiefs. The Chargers cannot win without their most important player on the field.

CB Casey Hayward: A lot of the attention goes to defensive ends Melvin Ingram and Joey Bosa, but they get extra time to reach the quarterback because of Hayward’s coverage. Over the last two seasons, he’s been one of the best. After a big contract extension this offseason, he’s being paid as one.

WR Keenan Allen: The Chargers wideout had his best season in the NFL last year after shaking off two years of fluke injuries. He’s one of the best route runners, sneaky strong and, most importantly, usually open.


WR Mike Williams: After a quiet rookie year defined by injuries, Williams has looked like a top-10 talent in training camp. His size and red-zone skills could fill the big hole left by tight end Hunter Henry’s injury absence.

S Derwin James: The Chargers’ top pick in 2018 somehow fell into their lap in the middle of the first round. He’s a big-time talent at safety, a position of need, and looks physically ready to be a do-it-all player on defense.

G Dan Feeney: Feeney, a third-round pick last year, became a starter midway through the season and held his own. The Chargers need to be better up front to keep Rivers upright and to kick-start the running game.


RB Austin Ekeler: An undrafted free agent last season, he played his way onto the roster in the preseason and earned playing time behind Melvin Gordon. In Year 2, he’s primed for a bigger role as a dual-threat, big-play back.

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2017 | 10-6, 1st in West

Last year in playoffs | 2017


QB Patrick Mahomes: Some have compared Mahomes to Brett Favre, and here’s his chance to validate those comparisons. He’s surrounded by some of the most dangerous offensive players in the game in Kareem Hunt, Tyreek Hill and Sammy Watkins.

RB Kareem Hunt: As a rookie last season, Hunt led the NFL with 1,327 yards rushing. The Chiefs are counting on him to take some of the heat off Mahomes.

LB Anthony Hitchens: The Chiefs are solid in the interior with linebackers Hitchens and Reggie Ragland. That helps pick up the run-stopping slack caused by Derrick Johnson’s departure.


CB Kendall Fuller: Since Marcus Peters has been shipped to the Rams, the spotlight swings to Fuller, who showed great promise in Washington.

LB Dee Ford: Ford has recovered from a back injury that limited him to six games last season. As a bookend to Justin Houston two years ago, he had 10 sacks.

WR Sammy Watkins: The Rams had so many threats on offense last season that they couldn’t take full advantage of Watkins. If he can stay healthy, he and Hill will put that strong arm of Mahomes to the test.


K Harrison Butker: Even though he missed the first three games, Butker set the rookie record for the most field goals in franchise history.


2017 | 5-11, 4th in West

Last year in playoffs | 2015


QB Case Keenum: On his fifth franchise in six seasons, Keenum finally has a team to call his own. He’s the first Broncos quarterback since Peyton Manning to enter the preseason as the unquestioned starter.

CB Bradley Roby: Roby led the team with 18 passes knocked down and is comfortable playing outside or over the slot receiver. The Broncos need him to continue to progress and show leadership in their changing secondary.

WR Demaryius Thomas: After battling through hip issues last season, Thomas is healthy again and ready to resume his pattern of 1,000-yard seasons. That was snapped last year after five in a row.


WR Courtland Sutton: Sutton, a second-round pick, has been phenomenal at camp, with at least one jaw-dropping catch per day. Coach Vance Joseph compares him to DeAndre Hopkins as a rookie.

OLB Bradley Chubb: The first-round pick is already atop the depth chart opposite Von Miller, and both players should be getting to the quarterback early and often.

CB Chris Harris Jr.: With Aqib Talib now on the Rams, Harris is the undisputed leader of the secondary. He and Miller are the most-tenured defensive players.


TE Jake Butt: This Michigan product sat out his rookie season after suffering a torn ACL in the Orange Bowl. He’s light on experience but could give the Broncos their first legitimate receiving threat at the position since Julius Thomas in 2014.


2017 | 6-10, 3rd in West

Last year in playoffs | 2016


CB Gareon Conley: A shin injury limited Conley to two games as a rookie. He’s off to a slow start again as a groin injury forced him to miss part of spring workouts, and he had a hip injury in his first practice at camp.

LT Kolton Miller: Miller blocked for Josh Rosen at UCLA, where he variously played on both the left and right sides. The Raiders like what they see enough to move three-time Pro Bowl tackle Donald Penn to the right side.

WR Martavis Bryant: He has size (6-4), speed and playmaking ability, but the Raiders traded a third-round pick for him. There are concerns about him off the field and on, where he has struggled to adjust to Jon Gruden’s offense.


WR Jordy Nelson: Former Green Bay star has something left in the tank at age 33. The Raiders love his influence on young receiver Amari Cooper, and with former Packer Edgar Bennett coaching receivers, Nelson is a good fit.

DE Arden Key: A rookie from Louisiana State who slipped to the third round because of shoulder and character questions has looked sensational in camp, with explosiveness and a devastating spin move.

DT Maurice Hurst: Concerns about a heart condition discovered at the scouting combine led to Hurst falling to the fifth round. The Raiders think he can be a force in the middle, though, bolstering an interior rush and making Khalil Mack that much more effective off the edge.


WR Amari Cooper: Was occasionally hot but mostly cold last season. Gruden is looking to find ways to spring him loose and plans to move him all over the offense.

Follow Sam Farmer on Twitter @LATimesfarmer