After deciding to take a look at the current rosters of the AFC West and seeing a revival of sorts between the Silver & Black and the hated rivals, the Kansas City Chiefs, I decided to look at players who are under 30 and either starting, or expected to start next season. I didn't include any rookies that are considered high risk/high reward, therefore, most of KC's rookies don't really show up on the following list. However, I did include the obvious like Rodney Hudson. Oakland had two rookies who aren't considered risky and are expected to start, Stefen Wisniewski and Joe Barksdale.
It's interesting to see how close the Raiders and Chiefs are in terms of young, athletic, and, most importantly, good talent.
The following are the players I used for this list:
Kansas City Chiefs (starters are in bold):
Total: 15 starters under 30
Oakland Raiders (starters in bold):
Total: 17 starters under 30
How do these compare? Check out the slides.
QB: Jason Campbell isn’t close to playing at the level of Matt Cassel. Campbell has yet to prove he has the ability to be consistent in his career. Although Cassel played at a Pro Bowl-level last season, this was particularly due to have an extremely soft schedule.
I have a weird feeling Cassel's performance could be similar to Derek Anderson's in Cleveland in 2007. Anderson struggled mightily against tough defenses, but made it look easy against weak teams, something he's had problems with since taking over a Super Bowl talent-laden team at Arizona and facing strong defenses.
Until Campbell can become consistent, Cassel and the Chiefs will continue to have the upper hand, because Cassel will still play plenty of weak teams and continue to have a dominating rushing attack that was second in yards per carry behind the Raiders.
RB/FB: Jamaal Charles is considered one of the top-5 players at this position. However, behind him he has 32-year-old Thomas Jones, who isn’t on this list but has struggled with a 3.7 yards-per-carry average last season despite sharing the workload with Charles. Darren McFadden, who by NFL analysts is the second-best running back in the AFC West right now, has an opportunity to better last year’s stats with an improved passing attack, which will give him more lanes to run through without the defense stacking the box. Add Michael Bush, who will be re-signed, and his 5.5 yards-per-carry average, and Oakland has a great young rushing attack that will be around for a while. Marcel Reese excelled in his role as an H-back/fullback.
Oakland has the advantage due to the running back committee. But Charles deserved the photo for his near-breaking of Jim Brown's rushing record. Although I believe ultimately that Darren McFadden will be right up there with Charles due to McFadden being more of a complete back (Charles has ranked among the worst running backs in terms of dropping passes over the past three years).
As of today and non-bias reviews, Charles is currently the best running back in the AFC West, but the combo of McFadden and Bush is better than that of Kansas City's Charles and Jones.
TE: Zach Miller is definitely better than Tony Moeaki, however, it’s a good situation for both teams knowing they have their tight end of the future. Al Davis will ensure Miller is the highest-paid tight end in history once there’s an agreement to play again, so there’s no worries about him coming back to Oakland. Moeaki showed he has great hands and is in another in a long line of good Iowa Hawkeyes tight ends. Both teams are set, but Miller has the upper hand.
WR: Based on the play of Dwayne Bowe last season and the fact he was more productive than the Raiders top two wideouts, it’s obvious Kansas City has the upper hand. The Raiders have a ton of talent at the position and, if Louis Murphy or Jacoby Ford could have a chance to get open, they could be better than the Chiefs' receivers. However, if rookie Jonathan Baldwin can be willed to play like other wide receivers in Todd Hailey's systems, then the Chiefs will still have the upper hand until the Raiders prove otherwise.
OL: Branden Albert, Rodney Hudson, Ryan Lilja, and Jon Asomoah make a solid group of young offensive lineman for the Chiefs, who figure to build a very good line in the near future. The Raiders have also joined the cause with Jared Veldheer, Bruce Campbell, Stefan Wisniewski, and Joe Barksdale penciled in as starters. Right now the Chiefs have the upper hand, having given up 12 fewer sacks and providing better pass protection for Cassel, who helped Kansas City rank 10th-best in passing last season. However, with free agency and the changes that are being made on both O-lines, it's obvious these two teams are working on building solid ones.
DL: Matt Shaughnessey, Lamarr Houston, and Desmond Bryant make a rock-solid group of young defensive lineman for Oakland. As for the Chiefs, there’s Glenn Dorsey and not much else, in terms of solid talent. Kansas City, who like Oakland seriously reached for a player in the 2009 draft, has yet to get much production out of their first-round pick Tyson Jackson. Though Wallace Gilberry has been getting some production, the Chiefs still need to rebuild here, and he shouldn’t be in the team's long-term plans.
LB: Because of Tamba Hali and Derrick Johnson, the Chiefs have the upper hand versus the Raiders. However, because Oakland primarily plays a 4-3 defense, they only need three linebackers. Currently they have two of the three they need in Rolando McClain, who is going to become the top middle linebacker in the AFC West, and another stud in Kamerion Wimbley, who is going to get double-digit sacks this season. The Chiefs have two of the four linebacker spots filled by young talent. This is a disadvantage for the Chiefs because they are still lacking two more linebackers. The advantage becomes a wash due to the Chiefs' system.
FS: Kendrick Lewis is a starter at this point. Expect Michael Huff to come back. Last year Stevie Brown showed he could play the game, too, and is a possible replacement if Al Davis doesn't bring Huff back. I'm assuming Al's going to give Huff a big 2-year contract to see if he can continue to improve.
SS: Eric Berry is easily one of the best young strong safeties in the NFL, not just the AFC West. Advantage Kansas City without a doubt. Tyvon Branch and Mike Mitchell are going to battle it out, because Mitchell showed much better coverage skills last season. Although Branch has been a considered a good player and Mitchell is still developing, neither has shown the capability that Berry has. He's a natural and could be among the best to ever play the game if he can stay healthy and continue to improve his game.
CB: Stanford Routt and Nnamdi Asomugha. If, and that’s a big if, Al Davis resigns Asomugha, then the Raiders will continue to have a rock solid cornerback group. If he doesn’t Asomugha back, then by virtue of age, Kansas City has the advantage, with Carr and Flowers over Routt. Although DeMarcus Van Dkye or Chimdi Chekwa are going to have every opportunity to start opposite Routt, no Nnamdi means advantage Chiefs. People scoff at the fact that Davis chose the fastest DBs in the draft, but they fail to realize he chose height/arm length/speed/hips-type of players who fit his system and who he believes can be taught by Rod Woodson to help their transition. Until Davis chooses not to re-sign Asomugha, the Raiders stay at the top of the cornerbacks list.
Special teams: Jacoby Ford vs. Javier Arenas. Ford proved he was among the most electrifying kick returners in the NFL last season. Rookie Taiwan Jones is going to be asked to play the same role of Dexter McCluster in Kansas City. Can either Jones or McCluster stay healthy? Or can they play special teams and excel? Advantage Oakland.
The overall advantage ended up being more even then expected. The quarterback, wide receiver, offensive line, linebackers, and strong safeties are clear advantages for the Chiefs. Running back, tight ends, defensive line, free safety, and cornerbacks are clear advantages for the Raiders. Although, if Nnamdi leaves, then in terms of age-related players, Kansas City has the advantage unless one of the rookies steps up for Oakland.
Jacoby Ford's special teams play combined with what is expected from rookie Taiwan Jones, compared to the duo of Javier Arenas and Dexter McCluster, should continue to give the Raiders the clear advantage in terms of special teams.
Both teams had exceptional drafts in 2010 that have propelled them past the Chargers and the Broncos, and in terms of young talent, both teams are going to continue to improve. I look forward to the Raiders-Chiefs rivalry becoming relevant again in terms of media exposure.