Best in the West: The Top 10 Threats of the AFC West
Lions, Tigers, Bears, Philip Rivers' odd face during games. The things nightmares are made of.
In this case I will be focusing on nightmares of a different sort. The nightmares coaches have when they face certain players in the NFL. The top players of the teams in the league, whether they are the focus of the defensive game plan, the disruptor in the backfield or the shutdown corner, these guys are the beasts of the division or the boogiemen of the NFL if you want to continue with the analogy.
Moving on with it, let's start with the guys who couldn't quite make this list.
The rest of the best:
Oakland Tight End Zach Miller
Kansas City Outside Linebacker Tamba Hali
Denver Safety Brian Dawkins
Denver Linebacker D.J. Williams
San Diego Safety Eric Weddle
Kansas City Wide Receiver Dwayne Bowe
These are the guy who I consider to be close, but they don't give you quite enough to crack the top 10. To explain why, we'll start from the bottom.
Bowe is a good receiver with flashes of amazing, but with his high drop level, poor team around him to amplify his talent, and poor rapport with coaches, he just doesn't have the production you'd expect from a "top 10 threat."
Eric Weddle is a great coverage safety, but he's not gonna take over a game for you, and without Merrimen and Philips rushing well in front of him, he could only do so much. Give him another good year and a bit of pass rush and he'll get more aggressive, giving teams reason to fear him.
D.J. Williams was in the wrong system last year, and looked lost a lot during the year. He's the most talented pure linebacker in the division, but he needs to settle into the 3-4 scheme to get up there.
Brian Dawkins was a tough choice, he played well in the beginning of the year, but slowly and surely he got worse during the year until the last week where he imploded against the Chiefs and couldn't do anything. That's a frightful sign for Dawkins' supporters, he's looking pretty close to done.
Tamba Hali and Zach Miller were the closest to the top 10 of these guys, and if they were just a little bit better, they'd get in. Hali is an excellent edge rusher, but he's one dimensional and poor against the run. A bit more experience in the 3-4 and more experience from the linemen in front of him should help this, though, and he should improve for next season.
Zach Miller is an excellent threat to catch the ball, but is terrible in the blocking game. if he could just be serviceable in that regard like Todd Heap or Tony Gonzalez, he'd be a lock for the top 10. But enough gushing about the losers, let's talk about the players who matter.
10. Richard Seymour
10. Oakland Raiders Defensive End Richard Seymour.
I was talking about being one dimensional when I said Tamba Hali did not make this list, so naturally I put someone who could operate in two dimensions.
That is, Richard Seymour, who moved from a 3-4 DE into a mostly 4-3 defensive end position. So his pass rushing numbers don't look that impressive, only four sacks and 20 pressures last year, but against the run, he was stout, with 30 solo tackles and five assisted. Not only that, he was able to get his hands up at the line of scrimmage and deflect the ball three times last year.
Seymour applied his skills learned in the 3-4 rather effectively and gave the Raiders a lot of consistency on stopping 3rd downs, and stopping teams on 3rd downs is crucial to good defense. With the pieces the Raiders added to Seymour this offseason, they may be the surprise defense in the NFL.
9. Vincent Jackson
9. San Diego Chargers Wide Receiver Vincent Jackson
First step, pay the man. Second step, throw the man the ball. Third step, win games.
If San Diego wants to win the offseason out of all the teams in the AFC West, they just have to do one thing: pay Vincent Jackson. This guy is the perfect definition of what it means to be a deep threat in the NFL. Great hands, wicked speed, a tall lanky frame with a great range for getting the ball, and instincts honed by years of experience with the quarterback.
With Marshall gone, VJax is hands down the best receiver in the AFC West, and if wasn't such an idiot with the law he'd be called one of the best receivers in the NFL. Perhaps it's a good thing for everyone who hates San Diego.
8. Ryan Clady
8. Denver Broncos Offensive Tackle Ryan Clady
Clady is the most popular offensive lineman in the AFC West, and for good reason. He had an amazing rookie year, and with the change in schemes, a rotating door at left Guard, and a brand new head coach he still had a respectable year.
I personally think his half sack year was a fluke, Jay Cutler is an excellent quarterback at getting rid of the ball and doesn't take sacks, so you can see how much worse Clady looked with Orton behind him. However, Clady is not just the product of the sacks his quarterbacks take. I've always believed Clady's strength is in the run game, and he didn't disappoint last year, as Buckhalter and Moreno had their best YPC numbers behind him.
Clady is a great offensive tackle and once he settles into McD's power scheme, look out defenses.
7. Jamaal Charles
7. Kansas City Chiefs Running Back Jamaal Charles
I don't know if he is just a flash in the pan, but when you consider what he did last year on only 190 carries, you have to say wow. Jamaal Charles might have been the most impressive back in football last year, even though CJ ran for 2k, and Steven Jackson made 1400 yards behind the Rams OLine, Charles ran for 1120 yards, and had the highest Yards per Carry last year at 5.9.
So if he had the carries of a Chris Johnson, he'd run for 2,110 yards. Basically, I put him here tentatively, because he could be just a flash in the pan, but he could easily be number one or two on this list.
6. Champ Bailey
6. Denver Broncos Cornerback Champ Bailey
Champ Bailey is the man who defined cornerback in the aughts, a great blend of lock down ability with the playmaker attribute in there as well.
I wouldn't say he was as talented as primetime in coverage, but he would be considered infinitely greater at stopping the run. Because Champ has never just been a coverage cornerback, he acts in all facets of the defense and might be one of the tougher corners in the game right now.
Champ has excellent awareness, and while his world class speed may be slowed down, his smarts and experience make up for a small drop in that area. While he's not my top cornerback listed (surprise spoilers) he's definitely one of the best in the business, and should still be treated like one.
There's a reason why he can keep the nickname Champ and not be considered arrogant.
5. Elvis Dumervil
5. Denver Broncos Outside Linebacker Elvis Dumervil
How is the best pass rusher in the league last year (by sack totals) only number five? Remember when I said one dimensional-ness is not a good thing? Well, that hurts Doom here.
Because he was an excellent pass rusher, he wasn't good at much else last year. Like Hali he was weak against the run, but Doom got 17 sacks, and that kind of rush ability is essential to forming a tough defense. Middle of the pack in this list sounds about right for a great pass rusher, but we must move on.
4. Antonio Gates
4. San Diego Tight End Antonio Gates
Perhaps the most dominant tight end in the game of football today, Antonio Gates. He's been one of the best for a long time, and hasn't shown signs of slowing down.
Splitting catches with the No. 9 guy on this list, Gates may have been more important for the San Diego offense than V-Jax, but it's close.
He turned 30 last month, so we'll see if he hits a wall or not, but as a pass catcher, he's got to be the best tight end in the game. Yeah his run blocking sucks, but it's better than the other tight end I mentioned, and he's had a lot more experience and production than Miller. A well deserved number four here is great for a tight end.
3. Brandon Flowers
3. Kansas City Cornerback Brandon Flowers
Brandon Flowers is the most underrated corner in the NFL. Repeat after me now. Repeat it a few times until it is good and clear in your head.
While not as well known or as publicized as an Asomugha, Revis or Charles Woodson, Brandon Flowers provided the top corner that the Chiefs needed. Commissioner Gordon would later go on to say he was not the corner Kansas City deserved.
He was targeted often, but did an excellent job covering against the teams he played. He was targeted 93 times, allowed 50 catches for 584 yards, for an impressive 6.28 yards allowed per attempt. Add five interceptions and 12 deflections, and you have the metrics of a really good cornerback, who is really young, and has a brand new safety behind him.
Yeah, prepare for Flowers to make his name known next year as the best in the west...well if he didn't have this guy to compete with...
2. Nnamdi Asomugha
2. Oakland Raiders Cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha
This guy. This guy was only targeted 28 times last year. Less than two times a game. And it's not like he didn't play only a few snaps a game, Asomugha took 89 percent of the Raiders' defensive snaps last year.
He is the embodiment of fear for offensive coordinators. They basically say do not throw in his direction unless you are 100 percent sure that your guy can get the ball. That plan only worked 75% of the time. Asomugha is the continuation of the shut down corner legacy that guys like Dick Lane and Mel Blount carried on through the years.
This kind of player only comes around once a decade, so enjoy it while you can.
1. Philip Rivers
1. San Diego Quarterback Philip Rivers
So who can beat the lockdown corner of a generation, and the best pass rusher (by sack totals) in the league? How about an awesome quarterback that is as good now as Peyton was in his prime.
Well it's common knowledge that the QB is the most important position in the league, and we're in the golden age of passing, where spirals are like ideals that can be strived for. So given that a Quarterback is so important to a team, it's only natural that an elite quarterback would take the top spot. So what makes Rivers awesome?
How about a 104.4 QB rating? That not good enough? How about a better than 3:1 TD to INT ratio, that's gotta make you wild. Nope? Well there is the highly impressive 8.8 Yards per throw (best in the league), when the league median was around 7.0.
Anyway, the point I'm getting at here is that Rivers might be the best pure passer in the league right now, and if Peyton and Favre weren't getting so much attention, the mainstream media, and by connection the casual fan would see that Rivers is truly one of the best in the game. Now I'm gonna go take a shower, I feel dirty praising a Charger.
Plan for this guy to own the division in a few years. Nothing will stop the Tebow Train, not even my cynical, cyclical hatred of him.
But seriously, thank you for going through another one of my articles. If you agree with me, say so, I like having my ego stroked. If you disagree with me, tell me why, I love arguing semantics even more. If you have no opinion whatsoever, I'm sorry and I hope your family loves you.
Tebow loves you.