The AFC West has recently been criticized by NFL fans as being one of the weaker divisions in the NFL. Over the past years the Oakland Raiders, Kansas City Chiefs, and now even the San Diego Chargers have been looked at as bottom tier teams. However, there is still plenty of talent in the division. The Denver Broncos are now one of the best teams in the NFL and both the Chiefs and Chargers have the potential to become competitors this year.
As we approach the beginning of the season, it is time to look at who the real playmakers will be this year. In the AFC West, there are plenty of Pro Bowl level players and even a few future Hall of Famers. Here are the best players in the division position by position.
Quarterback: Peyton Manning – Denver Broncos
Manning is one of the best quarterbacks of all time. Just last season, he threw for more than 4,500 yards and 37 touchdowns. Let’s not forget that he has been to 12 Pro Bowls as well as won 4 NFL MVP awards. No other player in the NFL has won that many MVPs. It also doesn’t hurt that he is the only great quarterback in the AFC West.
Running back: Jamaal Charles – Kansas City Chiefs
Charles is one of the top running backs in the NFL. While he only had 5 rushing touchdowns last season, he was ranked 4th overall in rushing yards with 1,509. He was also the only AFC West running back to make the Pro Bowl.
Running back: Darren McFadden – Oakland Raiders
Last season wasn’t a good year for Darren McFadden (3.3 yds per carry). From just last season alone, McFadden would be listed even below Ryan Mathews. However, he has shown that he is a talented running back before; the problem for him is staying healthy. If he plays the way he did two years ago (7 touchdowns and 1,000+ yards in only 7 games), then he is easily the second best running back in this division.
Wide receiver: Demariyus Thomas – Denver Broncos
He simply was a complete monster last season for Denver. Thomas had 94 receptions, 1,434 receiving yards, and 10 touchdowns. He ranked at 4th in receiving yards and 6th in receiving touchdowns in the NFL. He was a Pro Bowl alternate last season, and will surely be back again next year.
Wide reciever: Wes Welker – Denver Broncos
For the Patriots, Welker was an amazing receiver. He made 5 Pro Bowls and led the NFL in receptions 3 times. Welker even led the AFC last season with 118 receptions. His joining forces with Peyton Manning in Denver makes the Bronco receiving corps arguably the best in the NFL.
Tight end: Antonio Gates – San Diego Chargers
Even though he is winding down, Gates is one of top two tight ends of all time when looking back at his career. He won’t post the numbers we’re used to seeing from him this season, but he is still a very talented player and easily the best tight end in the division.
Offensive tackle: Ryan Clady – Denver Broncos
Clady is one of the best linemen in the NFL. He has made the Pro Bowl for 3 of the past 4 years and has been named to the All-Pro first team twice. He has been, without question, a major reason why this Broncos team has been so successful in the past few seasons.
Offensive tackle: Brandon Albert – Kansas City Chiefs
Despite his early career struggles, Albert has developed into a consistent blocker for this Chiefs team. Although he is nowhere near has good as Clady, he is an above average tackle with a good future in the NFL.
Offensive guard: Zane Beadles – Denver Broncos
The talented young guard was selected to his first Pro Bowl last season. All signs point to the 26-year-old only getting better has his career continues.
Offensive guard: Louis Vasquez – Denver Broncos
Last season, Vasquez was the best part of the terrible San Diego Chargers offensive line. He has started for the Bolts since his rookie year and will now step into an already great Denver line where his role will be the same.
Center: Stefen Wisniewski – Oakland Raiders
Defensive end: Corey Liuget – San Diego Chargers
Ranked as the number one defensive linemen in the AFC West blog for ESPN, the young Charger had 7 sacks last season. That number should only increase has Liuget improves significantly this season.
Defensive end: Lamar Houston – Oakland Raiders
The 26-year-old has been a starter since his rookie season. He has a ton of potential and his expected to breakout this year. Don’t be surprised if he and Liuget are both competing for Pro Bowl selections this year.
Defensive tackle: Terrance Knighton – Denver Broncos
In most divisions, Knighton would not be listed as the best defensive tackle. However, the AFC West lacks any dominant players at the position. Knighton is a good offseason pickup for the Broncos and will come into the defense solely to provide consistent play.
Defensive tackle: Sylvester Williams – Denver Broncos
It is not common for a rookie to be listed as a best player at a position without proving his worth. However, there isn’t much competition and Williams as a ton of potential. He will be an excellent run stopper in the NFL.
Linebacker: Von Miller – Denver Broncos
There is no question about this pick. Miller had an incredible 18.5 sacks and was a Pro Bowl starter for the AFC just a season ago. He is one of the best linebackers in the NFL, and the absolute best in the AFC West. The only question here is in regards to his ability to stay out of trouble.
Linebacker: Tamba Hali – Kansas City Chiefs
The Kansas City Chiefs are very lucky to have three gifted linebackers. Last season Hali was a Pro Bowl starter for the AFC and is the leader of this Chiefs unit.
Linebacker: Justin Houston – Kansas City Chiefs
Houston also had a Pro Bowl selection last season and easily had the numbers to back it up. His 10 sacks and 66 tackles seem like not that big of a deal when compared to Von Miller’s season, but those 10 sacks had him ranked 6th best in the NFL among linebackers.
Cornerback: Champ Bailey – Denver Broncos
He is getting towards the end of his career, but who cares really? He has been in the past 4 Pro Bowls, not to mention he has been in 12 total throughout his career. His Pro Bowl selection count is the highest for any cornerback in history and he will probably end up in the Hall of Fame.
Cornerback: Brandon Flowers – Kansas City Chiefs
Although he hasn’t made a huge impact in the NFL as of yet, the talent is there. With the Chiefs linebackers looking as good as they do, opposing teams will have to throw a lot this season. 2013 will be the year that he either lives up to his potential or becomes just another athletic corner.
Safety: Eric Weddle – San Diego Chargers
Weddle has been the staple of the Chargers defense in recent years. He was an All-Pro the past three seasons and is often considered one of the best free safeties in the NFL. While is statistics last season weren’t top tier, he still has proven himself to be a consistent anchor in San Diego.
Safety: Eric Berry – Kansas City Chiefs
Selected into the Pro Bowl in both 2010 and 2012, Berry has developed into one of the top strong safeties in the NFL. He is expected to combine with Brandon Flowers and Sean Smith to create an incredible secondary next season in Kansas City.
Kicker: Sebastian Janikowski – Oakland Raiders
Last season he made 31 of 34 attempts including 9 from 50+ yards. He has the absolute strongest leg in the NFL.
Punter: Dustin Colquitt – Kansas City Chiefs
I couldn’t decide between Colquitt and San Diego punter Mike Scifres. Both punters have been incredible in their NFL careers. However, Colquitt was the Pro Bowl selection last year so he gets the title here.