AFC West detractors be damned; I have put together an 11-man roster that can blanket any receiving corp, sack any QB, and stop any running back dead in their tracks, as well as the best kicking and return specialists the NFL has to offer—and it's made up entirely of Chiefs, Chargers, Broncos, and Raiders.
There is a lot of young talented men playing defense in the AFC West. Some are rookies, and some are reaching their prime, but their all absolute studs and starters on almost any other team in the NFL the day they walk into camp.
I'm going to opt for this unit to run a 3-4 scheme, so that I can showcase the pass rushing linebackers that the AFC West prides itself on having. It will include:
1- Punt returner
Kansas City Chiefs 4-3 tackle turned 3-4 end Glenn Dorsey has finally taken an NFL sized leap into All-AFC West stardom with his 2010 performance. He managed 2 sacks and 69 tackles in his most productive NFL season, but he lived in the offensive backfields of just about every team that the Chiefs faced. He also had a career high 11 tackles in the Chiefs playoff game against the Baltimore Ravens.
On the other side of the line, we have Oakland Raiders rookie defensive end Lamar Houston. Houston had a productive rookie season, racking up five sacks and 39 tackles as well as one forced fumble. At 6' 3" and 305 pounds, Houston packs quite a punch coming off of the end. This kid's upside is huge. He played in all 16 games as a rookie, and he's only going to get better. That's a scary thought.
I know: I could have just said Richard Seymour and moved on. The guy is going to be the league's highest paid defensive player in 2011, and with good reason. He's an absolute monster. He compiled 48 tackles and 5.5 sacks from the tackle position, and at 6' 6" and 310 lbs. he's a load of a man. Need I say more?
I know it may seem like there are an awful lot of Chiefs headlining these positions, but they do have some very legit players. Tamba Hali was the most legit of all on the defensive side of the ball. His 14.5 sacks was second in the NFL and were accompanied by 52 tackles, 4 forced fumbles, 2 fumble recoveries, and 3 pass deflections. This guy had one of the best seasons of any pass rusher in the game.
Opposite Hali would have to be none other than journeyman linebacker and Oakland Raider Kamerion Wimbley. He's played his way into Oakland's starting lineup and has done a fine job in the foll. In 2010 Wimbley had 58 tackles, nine sacks, and one forced fumble. It's not a Pro Bowl year, but any QB who has to worry about this guy and Tamba on every play had better pack a lunch because it's gonna be a long day.
Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Derrick Johnson led all AFC West players in tackles with an "official" 121, but he backed that number up with 15 pass deflections, a sack, four forced fumbles, one fumble recovery, and one interception which he returned for a TD. D.J. was all over the place in 2010 and was a big reason for the success that the Chiefs had with his ability to drop into coverage as well as stuff the run and get the occasional QB pressure..
The guy who would be playing next to him on this defensive all-star team is Denver Broncos linebacker D.J. Williams. Williams was right on Johnson's heals with 119 tackles, good for second in the AFC West. He also had 5.5 sacks, 9 pass deflections, and one forced fumble. With these two tackling machines out there, no running back is getting to the next level, and QBs will have a hard time finding their slot receivers in this kind of traffic.
As hard as it is for me to not include Champ Bailey in this list, he just didn't bring the usual Champ Bailey experience in 2010. On top of that, he has youth nipping at his heals. That being said, here are the two guys that made the list.
Nnamdi Asomugha is one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL. He doesn't get the stats these days, but that's because no one will throw the ball his way. This is one case where the numbers don't do justice to the impact of the player. This guy is every bit of a shut down cornerback, and no All-AFC West team would be complete without him until he's out of the AFC West.
Patrolling the other side of the field is another Kansas City Chief: Brandon Flowers. Flowers has become one of the NFL's premier cornerbacks in his three seasons in the league. Last season, he had two picks—one of which went for a TD—and 15 pass deflections as well as a forced fumble. He's one of the best cover guys in the league, and he tackles as well as any cornerback out there. Oh yeah, he had 65 of those in 2010 as well.
Kansas City Chiefs rookie safety Eric Berry exploded onto the scene in 2010 as a star to be and made the Pro Bowl in his rookie season, all be it as a replacement player. Still, he's by far the best safety in the AFC West with sideline to sideline speed and superb tackling ability.
He had 92 tackles, nine pass deflections, two sacks, a forced fumble, four picks, and one pick six. In the playoffs against the Baltimore Ravens, Berry had 10 tackles—nine of which were solo—proving that he's a big game player. He'll be a force for years to come.
Patrolling the outer reaches with Berry is The San Diego Chargers only nominee to this team, safety Eric Weddle. Weddle had 96 tackles, 10 pass deflections, two picks, and one pick six. He's a hard hitting force over the middle, and he's more than solid in coverage. On top of that, he's young.
2010 was only his fourth year in the league, so look for these two guys to be making an impact for a long time. The secondaries are scary good right now in the AFC West.
Since most of the defensive unit was made up of Chiefs and Raiders, it's only fitting to close this article out with more of the same.
At kick returner, we have Raiders rookie Jacoby Ford. This kid has speed, agility, and football playing ability. As a rookie in 2010, Ford had three kicks returned for TD's. That's incredible.
At punt returner, it's another Chief: Dexter McCluster. McCluster is a dynamic player who is always one missed tackle away from six points. In his first NFL game, he set a Chiefs record for longest punt return for a TD in Chiefs history (94 yards.)
The AFC West's best place kicker has to be Sebastian Janikowski. This guy can kick a ball through the stratosphere. He's not always the most accurate kicker, but if I need one hail marry kick to win a game, this is the guy I want booting the ball for me.
Kansas City Chiefs punter Dustin Colquitt will be pinning the opposition inside the 20 for the All-AFC West team. 37.5 percent of his kicks did just that in 2010. Less than half of his punts were returned last season, and when they were it was for an average of only 8.6 yards.
There you have it: the best of the West at stopping the rest. I know it was a lot of Raiders and Chiefs, but that's something that people are going to have to get used to in the next few years. This rivalry is coming back, and soon it will mean something again.
So here's to looking ahead to the future by remembering the past. A great 2010 season brought us this team, and 2011 is going to be an even better year for the West. The schedule is much harder, but whoever gets through it on top will definitely be battle tested.
Until then, here is the best dog gone team that we AFC West fans have to offer. Hail to the Chiefs, the Chargers, the Broncos, and da Raidas.
This is just a friendly reminder that while you can always look to the sky to see the stars, sometimes all you have to do is look to the West—the AFC West.