Today, I reveal a team made up of purely AFC West players – those that have played exceptionally well, but may or may not be nationally recognized my the media. Agree or disagree? Comment below, or, hit us up on Twitter!
Quarterback Philip Rivers (San Diego Chargers)
Normally it would be Peyton Manning listed here, but after the end of last season, I am convinced he is no longer the best quarterback in the division. That position goes to Philip Rivers, who had an outstanding season in 2014, on the heels of a really good 2013. Rivers ranked Top 10 in attempts (570), completions (359), Yards (4,826), touchdown passes (31) as well as completion percentage and yards per attempt. He did have a NFL-worst 18 interceptions, but Rivers has always thrown a high number of interceptions (seven seasons of double-digit interceptions). In his defense, six of those came in two games. He has not had an elite offensive unit in some time, and he makes the most with what he is given (Keenan Allen, Malcolm Floyd, Antonio Gates, injury-prone running backs, and seemingly tree stumps for offensive linemen). His ability to lead his team, whoever its made up of, is one of his greatest traits and as long as he is starting for the Chargers they always have a chance.
Running Back Jamaal Charles (Kansas City Chiefs)
He’s the best back in this division by miles. Despite having Mike McGlynn (who?) and Zach Fulton (got better as the season went on, but mostly “ugh”) as his puling guards, Charles rushed for 1,033 yards and nine touchdowns while recording five scores through the air, making 2014 his second straight season with double-digit touchdowns. Who were the AFC West’s leading rushers after Charles?
- Broncos RB C.J Anderson, who rushed for 849 yards (Denver rushed for 1785 as a team, 15th in the NFL)
- Chargers RB Braden Oliver, who rushed for 582 yards (San Diego rushed for 1367 as a team, 30th in the NFL)
- Raiders RB Darren McFadden, who rushed for 534 yards (Oakland rushed for 1240 as a team, 32nd in the NFL)
Simply put, Charles nearly out-rushed two of the three teams in the division in what was his least efficient season as a starter, but he still averaged 5.0 yards/carry. Anderson was second at 4.7. Oliver? 3.6. McFadden? Even worse, 3.3. The AFC West did have a little bit of a makeover, with rookie Melvin Gordon expected to be the Chargers starting back and McFadden departing for Dallas, where he will pair Joseph Randle as the duo to fill in the shoes of departed DeMarco Murray. Another Murray, Murray (424 yards, 4 TD’s in 2014) is expected to start for Oakland this season. Charles may be the oldest (will be 29 years old in December), but he is multiple heads and shoulders above the rest of his position, and, with a revamped line, Jamaal Charles could threaten his own career highs (1,509 yards) in 2015.
RB Knile Davis (Chiefs)
Before I begin, I have to say that while I loved seeing Anderson run and make plays last season, a half-season of production does not warrant him a spot on this list. He is, however, quickly rising. Now he must hold off Montee Ball for the starting job.
This leaves us with Davis, who has rushed for just 705 yards and 10 scores over the past two seasons. But, he has been a very productive backup. Despite falling to the third round because of injury and fumble problems (Davis had conquered both), he has also become an elite return man. With 39 kick returns, 1,105 yards, and 2 scores, Davis gives the Chiefs a spark even when the offense isn’t on the field. Jamaal Charles is also 29 years old. While he may want to play for six more seasons, that might be impossible given his position. At 225 pounds, Davis runs a 4.3, an impressive combo of speed and power. But Davis’ speed is straight line and he lacks cutting ability. He could become the Chiefs starting back sooner rather than later.
Fullback Anthony Sherman (Chiefs)
One of the best additions to the Dorsey/Reid regime, Sherman has helped take the Chiefs run game from good to down right dominant. Kansas City rushed for 1,918 yards last season, at 4.6 per rush (5th best in the NFL). They also rushed for 18 touchdowns, 3rd most in the NFL. In 2013, the numbers were similar: 2,056 yards (10th), 4.7 per carry (5th), and 17 touchdowns (5th). Sherman also forced four fumbles last season on special teams. Although fullback is a dying position, its making a bit of a comeback and Sherman is as good as it gets.
Wide Receiver Demaryius Thomas (Denver Broncos)
What a difference a good quarterback makes.
Going from Tim Tebow to Peyton Manning, Thomas has been a huge benefactor, turning into the best receiver in the division, by far. In 2014, he was targeted 184 times, caught 111, gained 1,619 yards, and scored 11 touchdowns. His 25 receptions of 20+ yards ranked second in the NFL. In the last three seasons, Thomas has caught 297 passes for 4,438 yards and has scored 35 touchdowns. The Broncos franchise tagged their star receiver this season, but he has yet to sign his franchise tender. A prolonged hold-out is possible, but we will have to wait and see if it stretches into the regular season.
WR Emmanuel Sanders (Broncos)
Not surprisingly, the most pass-happy team has two of the division’s best receivers. Coming to Denver as a free agent last season AFTER reportedly agreeing, then backing out of, a deal with Kansas City, Sanders caught 101 passes for 1,404 yards and nine touchdowns. For comparison, the leading receiver for the Chargers (Keenan Allen) and the Chiefs (Dwayne Bowe) combined for 137 receptions, 1,537 yards, and four scores (all Allen). Safe to say, Sanders was one of the best free-agent additions last season and with Manning at the helm in 2015, I expect another season of good production.
Tight End Travis Kelce (Chiefs)
Antonio Gates has his place in history (788 receptions, 10,014 yards, 99 touchdowns), but Kelce is the most complete player at his position in the division. Catching 67 passes for 862 yards and five touchdowns in 2014, Kelce quickly become the Chiefs best pass catcher and best play-maker after Charles. Now, paired with free-agent addition Jeremy Maclin and with no veteran tight end on the roster, Kelce is in prime position for a breakout 2015 season. Unlike the Broncos departed tight end Julius Thomas, he is also very good in pass and run blocking.
Left Tackle Eric Fisher (Chiefs)
Left Guard Orlando Franklin (Chargers)
Center Rodney Hudson (Oakland Raiders)
Right Guard Louis Vasqeuz (Broncos)
Right Tackle D.J Fluker (Chargers)
The left tackle position is so bad in the AFC West that Fisher, who is nearing bust qualifications, is the best in the division. He has immense potential, but now he must tap into that. Franklin stayed within the division in free-agency, going from Denver to San Diego. He’s a dominant run blocker, but he can also play tackle. Hudson switched teams within the division as well, going from Kansas City to Oakland for $44.5 million dollars. Vasqeuz is one of the best guards in football, and he will be relied upon as a mentor for the younger Broncos linemen. Fluker is one of the Chargers few good offensive linemen and he’s expected to make big holes for Melvin Gordon this season
Nose Tackle Dontari Poe (Chiefs)
Playing every snap (yes, even at 346 pounds), Poe has become the most consistently dominant 3-4 defensive tackle in the game today. He recorded a career high six sacks last season, up from 4.5 in 2013. While they’re good numbers for his position, they’re not his best statistic. You know what is? The 29.5 sacks from Chiefs outside linebackers. Those numbers tell me off the bat that he is doing his job of occupying blockers. He can also run down players in the backfield. Poe is just entering his prime, and as long as he is in the middle of the Chiefs defense, they will perform.
Defensive End Corey Liuget (Chargers)
One of the Chargers few good defenders, he was rewarded for his outstanding play with a nice five-year, $50 million extension this month. What makes the Chargers situation so sad is that they don’t have one good pass rusher to take advantage of the eyes on Liuget.
DE Allen Bailey (Chiefs)
Edging out Justin Tuck of the Oakland Raiders, Bailey has become a dominant starting end who, along with Poe, allows the Chiefs outside linebackers to do what they do best: kill your quarterback. Rewarded with a 4-year, $25 million extension after five sacks last season, Bailey must continue his excellent play if the Chiefs are to remain one of the NFL’s best defenses.
Outside Linebacker Justin Houston (Chiefs)
Recording 22 sacks last season, Houston recorded 2.5 more sacks than the next closest defender, and eight more than the highest from a division rival (Von Miller, 14.0). His 43 sacks in the last two seasons ranks second in the NFL behind Houston’s JJ Watt (51.5). His outstanding season had impacts that went beyond the stat book. He helped make the Chiefs defense nearly unstoppable, and in doing so left offensive lines befuddled and coordinators confounded at how to stop the wrecking ball-of-a-linebacker. Without a new long term deal, Houston is currently holding out, but I expect him to have another productive, if not record-breaking 2015.
OLB Von Miller (Broncos)
Recording 14 sacks in 2014, Miller continued to be a dominant force off the edge for the Broncos defense, rebounding from a poor 2013 in which he played just nine games and recorded five sacks. With the veteran DeMarcus Ware opposite him, he was expected to see more man-blocking and sack opportunities. I was concerned with his performance in clutch situations (close games and the fourth quarter, in which he had three and two sacks respectively), which is why I believe he is one of the most overrated defenders in the NFL. He does have room to grow as a pass rusher, and more importantly, a complete defender.
LB Derrick Johnson (Chiefs)
While he missed almost all of last season to a torn achilles, he is by far the best non-pass rushing linebacker in the division In 10 seasons with the Chiefs, he’s compiled 875 tackles, 22.5 sacks, 20 forced fumbles, 11 interceptions, three pick-sixes, and 60 pass deflections. In a contract season, and now healthy and behind one of the best fronts in the NFL, Johnson is a major Comeback Player Of The Year candidate. His leadership and presence is unmatched by anyone else on the Chiefs defense.
LB Khalil Mack (Raiders)
While the Raiders run 4-3, he slots as an inside backer in the 3-4 scheme. Recording 59 tackles, four sacks, and three pass deflections, Mack added toughness and a play-making ability in the Raiders not seen since the days of Nnamdi Asomougha. His tackle numbers may be low, but don’t let it fool you: he is the real deal and the best Raiders pick in a long, long time. If he can avoid injuries and the spirit of the Raiders franchise, Mack could be a perennial pro bowler.
Cornerback Sean Smith (Chiefs)
Paid less than Chris Harris, but just as underrated, Sean Smith has grown in his role as the Chiefs number one corner. Standing 6’3, he blankets receivers, short and tall. He held Demaryius Thomas to 62 and 63 yards and Keenan Allen gained just 58 yards in the one game he played against Kansas City. While he recorded just one interception (the main reason he wasn’t a Pro Bowler), he contributed 18 pass deflections, which ranked fourth in the NFL last season. He turns 30 and a free agent next season and with the rookie corner Marcus Peters on deck, Smith’s time in Kansas City could be near its end, but if so, what a ride it’s been.
CB Brandon Flowers (Chargers)
Like his time in Kansas City, Flowers is a quiet, competitive, and a consistent beast. In his first season with the Chargers, Flowers contributed three interceptions and 10 pass deflections. Even at 5’9, Flowers holds his own against the best the opponent has to offer. He will turn 30 next February and the Chargers do have Jason Verrett waiting in the wings.
Nickel Corner Chris Harris Jr. (Broncos)
Receiving rave reviews by Pro Football Focus, I had to sit back and think about what I personally had seen of Harris. It matched up with what PFF said about him. He was terrific, and in some ways, better than the more highly paid Aqib Talib, who played opposite him. His three interceptions don’t do him any justice, as teams found him hard to pass against and decided against throwing on him. Maybe more indicative of his coverage abilities was his 18 pass deflections. The Harris/Talib duo is one of the best in the league, but Harris is the better of the two.
Safety Eric Weddle (Chargers)
Sadly the Chargers don’t see the value in this elite defender. Spending his entire eight year career in San Diego, Weddle’s solo tackle totals have increased every year since 2011, going from 70 to 83 to to 88 to 91. He recorded just one interception, but he also defended eight passes. He also contributed on special teams., returning seven punts for 48 yards. He played all 16 games for the fifth straight season.
S Ron Parker (Chiefs)
After bouncing around with the Raiders and Panthers, Parker has settled in nicely with the Chiefs. After playing corner, he became a starting safety last season after Eric Berry was placed on the NFI list. He has his downs (the last-season Thursday Night game at Oakland), but also his ups (two pass deflections in man coverage of Sammy Watkins on the Bills final drive to preserve the comeback victory). Playing in all 16 games, he recorded 94 tackles, one sack, one interception, and 12 pass deflections, enough to earn a five-year, $35 million extension this offseason. With Berry’s health still up in the air, Parker will be counted on to continue and improve as a safety.
Kicker Nick Novak (Chargers)
Converting 22 of 26 field goals last season, Novak once again proved to be an accurate and consistent source of points for the Chargers offense. He was 4-6 from 40-49 yards, and 3-4 from 50+, including a 52-yarder in their Week 13 win over the Baltimore Ravens. His percentage was third best in the AFC West, but the Raiders Sebastian Janikowski kicked just 22 field goals, and the Broncos Connor Barth just 16.
Punter Dustin Colquitt (Chiefs)
Colquitt had another terrific year in 2014 helping the Chiefs defense stifle their opponents. Punting 71 times, he netted a total of 3,164 yards and a 44.6 average. In eight games last season, half or more of his punts landed inside the 20, and in three different games he landed all his punts inside the 20. His excellent punting also kept big returns from happening. In 2014, the Chiefs allowed just 6.6 yards per punt return, best in the NFL.
Kick Returner Knile Davis
His 829 kick return yards were eighth best in the NFL and were 353 more than the next closest AFC West return man (Chargers rookie Chris Davis with 476). His return average of 28.6 was third best in the NFL and the only AFC West return man to qualify (at least 19.0 average to be a leader). He also was one of just three men to return a kick for a touchdown.
Punt Returner De’Anthony Thomas (Chiefs)
His 34 returns and return average ranked third in the NFL, along wit his one touchdown. His 405 yards were second in the NFL, and the next closest yardage total from an AFC West return man was 211, from Broncos receiver Isaiah Burse. Showing off his courage, he recorded no fair catches. While he transitioned to receiver this offseason, I still expect to be an active return man in 2015. Although, Jeremy Maclin could be used there, too.
Head Coach Andy Reid (Chiefs)
Recording 20 victories and a playoff berth in two seasons, Andy Reid is the most experienced Head Coach in the AFC West right now. His .625 win percentage is higher than his .583 from his Eagles days, and his career percentage of .588. Chargers head coach Mike McCoy is 18-14 in two seasons with the Chargers (.563), Jack Del Rio (Raiders) has a win percentage of .489 (68-71), and Gary Kubiak (Broncos) has a win percentage of .488 (61-64). Reid has an excellent roster, thanks to shrewd trades, pick dealing, and roster management by general manager John Dorsey. With a stacked roster, the Chiefs are prime for taking the AFC West in 2015 and beyond.
And yes, the Chiefs are better than the Broncos.