AFC West's top 40 players

July, 6, 2012
7/06/12
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Peyton Manning Ron Chenoy/US PresswireDespite missing all of the 2011 season, Peyton Manning is the top player in the AFC West.
We wrap up our AFC West positional ranking series by presenting the top 40 overall players in the division.

If we could have gotten a sneak peek at this list six months ago, we would have all fallen out of our chairs.

Yes, Peyton Manning now lives here.

He must enter the division as the No. 1 ranked player. I don't care that he missed all of last season with a neck injury. Manning is one of the greatest players ever. He'll remain atop the division until he proves otherwise.

In all, we had 22 offensive players, 17 defensive players and a kicking specialist on the list. That breakdown makes sense. This is an offense-first division that is blessed with great kicking.

The talent-rich Chiefs lead the way with 13 players in the top 40. They placed an impressive eight players in the top 19. Denver has 10 players on the list, Oakland has nine, and San Diego has eight.

What stands out to me is how many young players are on this list. If they all pan out, this division will be in good shape for the long haul.

1. Peyton Manning, quarterback, Denver: Welcome to the division, Mr. Manning.

2. Philip Rivers, quarterback, San Diego: I don't think Rivers would argue with losing his place atop the division.

3. Tamba Hali, linebacker, Kansas City: If you think Hali is listed too high, you haven't seen him play much.

[+] EnlargeVon Miller
AP Photo/Jack DempseySecond-year linebacker Von Miller looks to build on a remarkable rookie season.
4. Von Miller, linebacker, Denver: The AFC West has something very special in its midst.

5. Darren McFadden, running back, Oakland: When healthy, he is one of the best offensive weapons in the game.

6. Antonio Gates, tight end, San Diego: He is aging but is still special.

7. Jamaal Charles, running back, Kansas City: I expect him to come back from a torn ACL and still be dangerous.

8. Champ Bailey, cornerback, Denver: The first-ballot Hall of Famer is still playing at a high level.

9. Eric Berry, safety, Kansas City: Coming back from a knee injury, Berry will give the Chiefs' defense a major boost.

10. Dwayne Bowe, receiver, Kansas City: He is clearly the best receiver in the division.

11. Derrick Johnson, linebacker, Kansas City: He is underrated but has the ability to change games.

12. Carson Palmer, quarterback, Oakland: No longer elite, but his arm can still win games.

13. Richard Seymour, defensive lineman, Oakland: He is declining, but he is still a plus player.

14. Elvis Dumervil, defensive lineman, Denver: He is part of a dangerous pass-rush tandem with Miller.

15. Eric Weddle, safety, San Diego: He is an underrated playmaker.

16. Eric Winston, tackle, Kansas City: He comes into the division as the best offensive lineman in the West.

17. Ryan Clady, tackle, Denver: Playing with Manning should re-energize Clady’s game.

18. Brandon Flowers, cornerback, Kansas City: Scouts love this cornerback.

19. Matt Cassel, quarterback, Kansas City: He's not great, but he can help his team win.

20. Willis McGahee, running back, Denver: McGahee may not be as good as he was in 2011, but he doesn't have to be.

21. Tyvon Branch, safety, Oakland: A tackle machine who is a bright spot on Oakland's defense.

[+] EnlargeRyan Mathews
Jeff Gross/Getty ImagesRyan Matthews topped 1,000 yards during his second season with the Chargers.
22. Ryan Mathews, running back, San Diego: Many around the league expect big things from Mathews in 2012.

23. Tommy Kelly, defensive lineman, Oakland: Some scouts around the league prefer him over Seymour.

24. D.J. Williams, linebacker, Denver: He had his issues, but he can play the game.

25. Peyton Hillis, running back, Kansas City: Former Bronco should be a great complement to Charles as he returns to the division.

26. Lamarr Houston, defensive lineman, Oakland: He has the chance to be one of the best defensive linemen in the league soon.

27. Nick Hardwick, center, San Diego: A solid anchor whom the Chargers had to re-sign.

28. Chris Kuper, guard, Denver: He is a scout favorite and a true tough guy.

29. Malcom Floyd, receiver, San Diego: The key for Floyd is staying healthy.

30. Tony Moeaki, tight end, Kansas City: Another young Chiefs standout who is coming off an injury.

31. Stanford Routt, cornerback, Kansas City: He should shine now that he is back to being a No. 2 corner.

32. Shane Lechler, punter, Oakland: The best in the business.

33. Tracy Porter, cornerback, Denver: The Broncos are doing back flips about this signing.

34. Quentin Jammer, cornerback, San Diego: The Chargers are banking on Jammer rebounding from a tough 2011 season.

35. Jared Veldheer, tackle, Oakland: He has a chance to develop into a top-tier left tackle.

36. Jared Gaither, tackle, San Diego: He is the key to protecting Rivers.

37. Darrius Heyward-Bey, receiver, Oakland: It’s a tribute to Heyward-Bey that he has made this list after a shaky start to his career.

38. Demaryius Thomas, receiver, Denver: I could see him being in the top 20 on this list next year.

39. Justin Houston, linebacker, Kansas City: The Chiefs are drooling over the Hali-Houston pass-rush combination.

40. Branden Albert, tackle, Kansas City: He is not great, but he is a solid player.

Bill Williamson | email

ESPN San Francisco 49ers reporter

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