AFC West: AFC West positional rankings 2012

AFC West's top 40 players

July, 6, 2012
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.
We conclude our AFC West positional rankings series with the kicking specialists. Friday, I will wrap up the ranking madness with my top 40 players in the division regardless of position. Now onto the best group of kickers and punters in the NFL. I’m not blowing smoke here. This is one deep group. Even the players at the bottom of this list are standouts:

1. Shane Lechler, Oakland: You could call him the greatest punter to ever and have a strong argument.

2. Sebastian Janikowski, Oakland: Janikowski is getting better with age. He has found consistency to go along with his spectacular leg.

3. Mike Scifres, San Diego: Always overshadowed by Lechler, Scifres is a standout himself.

4. Dustin Colquitt, Kansas City: He’d probably be the best punter in five or six divisions.

5. Matt Prater, Denver: He has a big leg and he’s clutch. He’s excellent.

6. Britton Colquitt, Denver: Dustin’s little brother is making a name for himself.

7. Ryan Succop, Kansas City: He has a long career ahead of him.

8. Nate Kaeding/Nick Novak, San Diego: This will be a battle to watch, Novak kicked well after Kaeding was injured in Week 1. Both are quality kickers.
We continue to do our positional rankings with a deep secondary group:

1. Champ Bailey, Denver: The future Hall of Famer continues to play at a high level.

2. Eric Berry, Kansas City: I expect him to be a star after injuring his knee in Week 1 last year.

3. Eric Weddle, San Diego: Weddle is becoming a premier playmaker.

4. Brandon Flowers, Kansas City: One of the better cornerbacks in the NFL. An unheralded standout.

5. Tyvon Branch, Oakland: He is a tackle machine. The Raiders will do what it takes to keep him for the long run.

6. Stanford Routt, Kansas City: Now that he is a No. 2 cornerback again, expect his play to increase.

7. Tracy Porter, Denver: The Broncos think they got a steal in free agency.

8. Quentin Jammer, San Diego: The Chargers need a bounce-back season from Jammer.

9. Michael Huff, Oakland: He makes a lot of plays and he gives up a lot of plays.

10. Antoine Cason, San Diego: A solid No. 2 corner.

11. Kendrick Lewis, Kansas City: Many scouts think he has a real future.

12. Michael Adams, Denver: He should be a solid addition to a solid secondary.

13. Ronald Bartell, Oakland: The Raiders have to hope his neck issues are a thing of the past.

14. Atari Bigby, San Diego: The Chargers like what they see from this veteran so far.

15. Drayton Florence, Denver: He brings solid experience to the nickel position.

16. Shawntae Spencer, Oakland: Let’s see if he can fend off the youngsters for the starting gig.

17. Quinton Carter, Denver: I think the safety has a real future.

18. Javier Arenas, Kansas City: There’s a place in this terrific secondary for Arenas.

19. Chris Harris, Denver: The undrafted free-agent find in 2011 is a fine player.

20. Matt Giordano, Oakland: He’s limited, but he can make some plays in a pinch.

21. Mike Mitchell, Oakland: I would like to see this former second-round pick make more of an impact.

22. Brandon Taylor, San Diego: The Chargers may have something in this third-round pick.

23. Rahim Moore, Denver: He has to regain his confidence after a shaky rookie year.

24. Marcus Gilchrist, San Diego: He has potential, but he’s still learning.

25. Darrell Stuckey, San Diego: He will have to compete for playing time.

26. Chimdi Chekwa, Oakland: I think he could push Spencer for a starting spot.

27. Jalil Brown, Kansas City: He has some potential.

28. DeMarcus Van Dyke, Oakland: he has to show he is more than just fast.

29. DeQuan Menzie, Kansas City: Late-round pick knows how to play the game.
We continue our position-by-position divisional rankings with a solid group of linebackers:

1. Tamba Hali, Kansas City: This is a special player. He is truly one of the best defensive players in the NFL.

2. Von Miller, Denver: Miller will only improve from a stellar rookie season. He is a gem.

3. Derrick Johnson, Kansas City: An underrated player. He is an A-player.

4. D.J. Williams, Denver: Very talented, but the red flags are piling up. He needs to stay focused on the field.

5. Justin Houston, Kansas City: I’m a big fan of this second-year player. I think he and Hali will be fun to watch rush the passer.

6. Jarret Johnson, San Diego: Free agent is a very solid pro. He will help this defense.

7. Melvin Ingram, San Diego: I’m very high on this versatile rookie. I expect big things right away.

8. Donald Butler, San Diego: A very talented player. He has a real future.

9. Rolando McClain, Oakland: McClain has to make fast improvements or his Oakland career may be on the rocks.

10. Shaun Phillips, San Diego: He can help, but he may be nearing the end.

11. Aaron Curry, Oakland: He can make some big plays, but he needs to become more consistent.

12. Takeo Spikes, San Diego: Spikes is getting way up there in age, but he isn’t the type of guy who you count out.

13. Philip Wheeler, Oakland: The Raiders will give this free-agent pickup a chance to prove he can be a better-than-average player.

14. Antwan Barnes, San Diego: He is limited but he has a real burst as a pass-rusher.

15. Jovan Belcher, Kansas City: A solid inside starting linebacker.

16. Joe Mays, Denver: Same here.

17. Wesley Woodyard, Denver: He will likely start if Williams’ six-game suspension sticks.

18. Brandon Siler, Kansas City: He was injured last year. He will help the Chiefs.

19. Larry English, San Diego: Make-or-break year for former No. 16 overall pick.

20. Travis Goethel, Oakland: If McClain gets suspended, he’ll get a chance.

21. Nate Irving, Denver: The Broncos want to see this 2011 third-round pick push Mays.

22. Miles Burris, Oakland: He likely won’t play much early, but the rookie is a player to keep an eye on.

Ranking the defensive linemen

June, 11, 2012
We continue our AFC West positional rankings with a very young and overly unproven group of defensive linemen:

1. Richard Seymour, Oakland: Seymour is aging, his play is slipping some and this may be his last year in Oakland. But he is still at the top of this list.

2. Elvis Dumervil, Denver: A dynamic pass-rusher who is a game changer.

3. Tommy Kelly, Oakland: Underrated player. He may play nose tackle in 3-4 looks.

4. Lamarr Houston, Oakland: A potential star has ability to take over.

5. Glenn Dorsey, Kansas City: He was supposed to be great. He’s not, but he’s solid.

6. Matt Shaughnessy, Oakland: The Raiders missed this pass-rusher when he was injured last year.

7. Tyson Jackson, Kansas City: See Dorsey.

8. Robert Ayers, Denver: He became a solid player against the run last season.

9. Corey Liuget, San Diego: The Chargers expect big things from him in his second season.

10. Dontari Poe, Kansas City: Let’s see what this immensely talented rookie can do.

11. Cam Thomas, San Diego: An underrated player. He has a real future.

12. Antonio Garay, San Diego: It was important that the Chargers re-signed this rotational standout.

13. Vaughn Martin, San Diego: The Chargers think he has a chance to flourish soon.

14. Derek Wolfe, Denver: The second-round pick will be given the chance to make an instant impact.

15. Justin Bannan, Denver: A valuable rotational piece.

16. Luis Castillo, San Diego: The Chargers think he can still help.

17. Dave Tollefson, Oakland: A valuable backup on a strong line.

18. Jacques Cesaire, San Diego: The veteran is heady and he can make plays.

19. Desmond Bryant, Oakland: A solid part of the Raiders’ line.

20. Ty Warren, Denver: The Broncos hope he can make an impact after missing the past two seasons.

21. Kevin Vickerson, Denver: He gained weight to help in the middle.

22. Jason Hunter, Denver: A limited player, who has some play-making ability.

23. Allen Bailey, Kansas City: The Chiefs think he can develop quickly.

24. Kendall Reyes, San Diego: I wouldn’t be surprised if this second-round pick makes some plays right away.
We are continuing our divisional position ranking with the offensive linemen. Overall, it is a young group with many players who have potential to move up in future years.

1. Eric Winston, T, Kansas City: Arguably the best right tackle in the NFL. The Chiefs scored major with this free-agent signing.

2. Ryan Clady, T, Denver: Clady’s sack and penalty numbers are up, but he is still an above-average player who should benefit from playing with Peyton Manning.

3. Nick Hardwick, C, San Diego: A strong, reliable player whom the Chargers absolutely had to re-sign.

4. Chris Kuper, G, Denver: Ask any scout about underrated players and Kuper is probably on every list.

5. Jared Veldheer, T, Oakland: The list is getting difficult here. I’m going with Veldheer as the second-best left tackle based on potential. It’s sky-high.

6. Jared Gaither, T, San Diego: If healthy, he can be dominant -- as he showed with the Chargers late last season.

7. Branden Albert, T, Kansas City: Solid, not spectacular, but you can do a lot worse and I wouldn’t be shocked if the Chiefs gave him an extension this season..

8. Stefen Wisniewski, C, Oakland: I like this second-year guard-turned-center a lot. A future star.

9. Mike Brisiel, G, Oakland: Tough, gritty player who is perfect for the zone-blocking offense.

10. Louis Vasquez, G, San Diego: A quiet, solid contributor.

11. Jeromey Clary, T, San Diego: A lot of Chargers fans don’t like him, but he gets the job done.

12. Jon Asamoah, G, Kansas City: This second-year starter looks solid.

13. Ryan Lilja, G, Kansas City: A tough vet who is probably entering his final season as a starter in Kansas City.

14. J.D. Walton, C, Denver: A tough, young starter who still needs to find consistency.

15. Zane Beadles, G, Denver: He has potential, but still needs to grow.

16. Orlando Franklin, T, Denver: He struggled some as a rookie, but there is big potential there.

17. Cooper Carlisle, G, Oakland: He keeps hanging around. The end may be near, but he can zone-block.

18. Rodney Hudson, C, Kansas City: He is poised to start for the first time, taking over for Casey Wiegmann. He could be very good.

19. Tyronne Green, G, San Diego: He is taking over for the great Kris Dielman, who retired. Green has been good as an injury replacement in the past.

20. Khalif Barnes, T, Oakland: He could lose his job to Joe Barksdale if he slips.
Antonio GatesJody Gomez/US PresswireSan Diego veteran Antonio Gates remains one of the NFL's elite tight ends.
We are continuing our AFC West positional rankings with the tight ends. It’s a group that is great at the top and young and workmanlike after that. Here we go:

1. Antonio Gates, San Diego: Gates is getting older and health has been an issue. But he is still the class of this division.

2. Tony Moeaki, Kansas City: It will be interesting to see if Moeaki can quickly rebound from missing his second season with a torn ACL. He had a terrific rookie season. I think he has star potential.

3. Jacob Tamme, Denver: I went with Tamme over his teammate because Tamme already has a relationship with Peyton Manning from their Colts’ days.

4. Joel Dreessen, Denver: We will see a lot of Tamme and Dreessen. Both are professionals who are capable of making big plays.

5. Kevin Boss, Kansas City: Boss is best suited as a second option, and he is a good one. Moeaki-Boss is a nice combination.

6. Randy McMichael, San Diego: A gritty, hard-nosed veteran who the San Diego coaching staff loves.

7. Brandon Myers, Oakland: He’s a good player who is limited in the receiving game.

8. Julius Thomas, Denver: The Broncos love the potential of this former college basketball player. Injuries robbed him of most of his rookie season, but he showed preseason flashes.

9. David Ausberry, Oakland: A converted receiver who gets a chance to show what he can do for the Raiders at one of their most vulnerable positions.

10. Richard Gordon, Oakland: A blocker who will be given a chance to develop for the Raiders.

11. Ladarius Green, San Diego: Don’t expect much from this fourth-round pick right away, but I can see him being given an opportunity or two. The Chargers think he can be Gates’ eventual replacement.

Ranking AFC West receivers

May, 14, 2012
Continuing our 2012 AFC position-by-position rankings, here are the receivers. It’s a young, fairly unproven group that lost top players Vincent Jackson and Brandon Lloyd in the past year:

1. Dwayne Bowe, Kansas City: With Jackson gone, Bowe, who received the franchise tag by the Chiefs this offseason, is the clear top receiver in the division.

2. Malcom Floyd, San Diego: Floyd is good, but he probably wouldn’t be ranked this high in most divisions. If he can stay healthy, he can be a star.

3. Darrius Heyward-Bey, Oakland: I have a lot of respect for Heyward-Bey for taking a big step during the 2011 season. He still is not perfect and he has to prove he can be a consistent player, but he has a chance.

4. Demaryius Thomas, Denver: I bet Thomas will be ranked at least No. 2 on this list next year. The sky is the limit.

5. Eric Decker, Denver: Peyton Manning is already talking him up. You know what that means -- lots of catches.

6. Denarius Moore, Oakland: Moore showed flashes as a rookie and he has star potential. He will be given a chance to shine.

7. Robert Meachem, San Diego: Meachem is not as good as Jackson was, but he fits the Chargers’ vertical offense and he will make his presence felt.

8. Jon Baldwin, Kansas City: Baldwin has large potential and he easily could be in the top three on this list next year. He has to show he’s ready for the challenge.

9. Jacoby Ford, Oakland: I’m a big Ford fan, but his health and the presence of Heyward-Bey and Moore may make him a third option.

10. Vincent Brown, San Diego: The Chargers love this kid. Expect nice, big numbers this year.

11. Steve Breaston, Kansas City: He’s a solid, steady receiver who can help his team win.

12. Andre Caldwell, Denver: He will be interesting to watch. The Broncos think this free-agent pickup could make his presence felt.

13. Louis Murphy, Oakland: Murphy can’t stay healthy and other receivers may have bypassed him. But he’s a pro who knows how to come up with the big catch.

14. Eddie Royal, San Diego: The former Denver receiver will be given a chance to shine in the Chargers’ rotation.

15. Devon Wylie, Kansas City: This is a projection pick. The Chiefs love him and think he can come in and make some catches as a fourth-round pick.

Ranking the running backs

May, 7, 2012
In March, we ranked the AFC West quarterbacks after the arrival of Peyton Manning in the division. We are continuing our post-draft tradition of ranking the positions every Monday. Today, we’re look at the tailbacks.

Here are the guidelines: My rankings are based on past play and projected 2012 performances and roles. Rookies are eligible. I only rank players who I am sure will have a role. If I think a third stringer is worthy, I’ll list him. If I don’t think a second stringer is worthy, I won’t list him.

1. Darren McFadden, Oakland: This was a tough choice between McFadden and Jamaal Charles. I went with McFadden because he played more last season and his foot injury was less serious than Charles' knee injury. When healthy, McFadden is a game changer but he has to show durability.

2. Jamaal Charles, Kansas City: I think Charles will come back from his torn ACL. If he still has the same game-breaking speed, the Chiefs will be in great shape.

3. Willis McGahee, Denver: McGahee was my division MVP last season. He will turn 31 this season and he was dinged up last season. I think McGahee can still be very effective if he gets some help. He is a tough player.

4. Ryan Mathews, San Diego: Mathews is a good player and I expect him to be higher on this list next year. Entering his third year, Mathews could be a breakout player if he stays healthy and focused.

5. Peyton Hillis, Kansas City: He was an intriguing pickup in free agency. Hillis is a tough runner who will help the Chiefs.

6. Taiwan Jones, Oakland: I would like to see Oakland get a veteran running back and make Jones a change-of-pace option and not McFadden’s primary backup. I think Jones will be most effective that way.

7. Ronnie Hillman, Denver: He is a home-run hitter who could excel in Manning’s offense. I expect exciting things from this third-round pick.

8. Knowshon Moreno, Denver: I’m only putting Moreno here because he was a first-round pick three years ago. He is coming off a torn ACL and an arrest for drunk driving. He could surprise me, but I’m not expecting much.