Although the success of the four AFC West teams was mixed -- Kansas City and Oakland made strides while San Diego and Denver both took steps back -- there were several strong individual performances by players on every team in the division.
Let’s take a look at our 2010 season awards:
Jamaal Charles, Kansas City
Why: There are many reasons why the Chiefs -- who won a total of 10 games in the three previous seasons -- won 10 games and their first AFC West championship in seven years, but the play of Charles was the biggest. He was second in the NFL with 1,467 rushing yards, and he led the NFL with a 6.4 per-carry average. Kansas City had the No.1 ranked run offense in the NFL. Charles was the spark plug to this improved offense. Charles was the most exciting player on the division winner.
Offensive Player of the year
Philip Rivers, San Diego
Why: Rivers had a huge 2010 season. Rivers, who turned 29 in December, is in his prime and continues to get better. He threw for an NFL high 4,710 yards. He is the AFC Pro Bowl starter. Had the Chargers, who dipped from 13-3 in 2009 to 9-7 in 2010 and were out of the playoffs for the first time in five years, had a better overall record, Rivers would have been a strong NFL MVP candidate.
Defensive player of the year
Tamba Hali, Kansas City
Why: Hali had been a favorite of scouts, but with little fanfare -- until 2010. Hali flourished in the 3-4 system of Kansas City's new defensive coordinator, Romeo Crennel. Hali led the AFC with 14.5 sacks. He is a dominant player. While players like Oakland’s Nnamdi Asomugha and Richard Seymour and San Diego’s Shaun Phillips all had strong seasons, no one defensive player in the AFC West had an impact on his team's overall defense as much as Hali did. He is a free agent, and the Chiefs will probably either give him the franchise tag or a long-term contract.
Coach of the year
Todd Haley, Kansas City
Why: Haley led the Chiefs to a worst-to-first turnaround. Few expected the Chiefs, who were 4-12 in Haley’s first season, to make such a fast turnaround. Haley will probably be a candidate to win the NFL coach of the year award when it’s announced Wednesday. There’s no other choice in the AFC West.
Comeback player of the year
Brandon Lloyd, Denver
Why: Lloyd had an astounding season after being inactive for 14 games in 2009. In 2010, at the age of 29, the former journeyman had a career year. He led the NFL with 1,448 receiving yards. He gained first downs on 72 of 77 of his catches, which was a 93.5 percentage. It was the highest first-down percentage of any receiver in the NFL in the past 10 seasons.
Offensive rookie of the year
Tony Moeaki, Kansas City
Why: The Kansas City tight end became one of Matt Cassel’s favorite targets. He had 47 catches for 556 yards and three touchdowns. Moeaki’s rookie season production far exceeded the rookie-season production of former Kansas City superstar tight end Tony Gonzalez. I’m not saying Moeaki -- a third-round pick from Iowa -- will have a career like Gonzalez’s, but he was terrific. Moeaki can split the field and he has soft hands.
Defensive rookie of the year
Eric Berry, Kansas City
Why: Berry was as advertised when he entered the draft out of Tennessee. Usually, safeties are not considered at the top of the draft, but Berry was considered a game changer and he delivered as a rookie. The No. 5 pick of a strong draft was an instant impact player in Kansas City. He is a playmaker and an intelligent anchor to a young defense. This week, he is making the first of what should be many Pro Bowl appearances.
Executive of the year
Scott Pioli, Kansas City
Why: Like Haley, Pioli deserves a lot of credit for Kansas City’s turnaround. This is suddenly a strong roster, built for the immediate future and for down the road. In two seasons as Kansas City’s general manager, Pioli has made the right calls and has built a strong roster. His work in free agency and the draft in 2010 coupled with the development of Cassel -- who was acquired in 2009 -- make Pioli the easy choice.
Specialist of the year
Jacoby Ford, Oakland
Why: Ford had three kickoff returns for touchdowns in an eight-week stretch. I expect Ford, a fourth-round pick in 2010, to become one of the game’s most dynamic players as soon as 2011. The fastest player at the combine last year, Ford is a threat to bring the ball to the house every time he touches it. Expect him to get a chance to return punts in 2011 as well as becoming a primary receiving target, which he was toward the end of the season. This is a special talent.