AFC West: AFC West positional rankings 2013

The AFC West's top 40

July, 6, 2013
With our position-by-position AFC West rankings done, we present our annual top 40 list.

These are, in my opinion, the top 40 players in the division regardless of position. If you are on this list, you’re a pretty nice player. If you are No. 41, you're pretty good as well. Yes, this is a look at the elite players in the division.

I based my opinion on past performance, projections and discussions with scouts.

All four teams in the AFC West are pretty fairly represented. Denver has 12 players, Kansas City has 11, San Diego has nine and Oakland has eight. Denver boasts five of the top eight players and Kansas City has nine of the top 18.

There are 20 defensive players, 19 offensive players and one kicking specialist on the list. Without further ado, your (again, mine; I’m sure you will have plenty of opinions expressed in the comment section below) 2013 top 40 players in the AFC West:

1. Peyton Manning, quarterback, Denver: No suspense here. Manning was dominant last year, his first in the division. Yes, he is still a superstar.

2. Von Miller, linebacker, Denver: The third-year player is becoming one of the best defensive players in the NFL. An elite talent.

3. Jamaal Charles, running back, Kansas City: He was overshadowed by Adrian Peterson, but Charles was special in a comeback from a torn ACL.

4. Ryan Clady, tackle, Denver: Blocking for Manning gave Clady a boost, and Manning appreciated every minute of it.

5. Demaryius Thomas, receiver, Denver: He is not a product of Manning. The kid has rare skills.

6. Philip Rivers, quarterback, San Diego: Yes, he hasn’t been great for the past two years, but he is still a strong player.

[+] EnlargePeyton Manning
Chris Humphreys/USA TODAY SportsPeyton Manning tops the AFC West's top 40.
7. Eric Weddle, safety, San Diego: One of the more underrated players in the league. Scouts love the way he plays.

8. Wes Welker, receiver, Denver: The free-agent prize of the division will make Manning even more lethal.

9. Dwayne Bowe, receiver, Kansas City: The league is waiting to see how Bowe responds to his big-money deal.

10. Eric Berry, safety, Kansas City: Healthy again, he is one of the most exciting young defenders in the game.

11. Tamba Hali, linebacker, Kansas City: He is a top pass-rusher. A very disruptive force.

12. Justin Houston, linebacker, Kansas City: Watching Houston and Miller grow together in the same division will be a treat.

13. Corey Liuget, defensive end, San Diego: He has a chance to become a top player at his position. Big second season.

14. Champ Bailey, cornerback, Denver: He’s near the end, but he is a still a plus player.

15. Branden Albert, tackle, Kansas City: He has improved steadily, and that’s why the Chiefs franchised him.

16. Derrick Johnson, linebacker, Kansas City: Simply a tackle machine. He’d help any team.

17. Brandon Flowers, cornerback, Kansas City: A scout favorite. A fundamental gem.

18. Alex Smith, quarterback, Kansas City: Not an elite quarterback, but he has proved he can win games.

19. Darren McFadden, running back, Oakland: Talent isn’t the issue. Health always has been.

20. Eric Decker, receiver, Denver: A steady, smart producer who fits Manning well.

21. Antonio Gates, tight end, San Diego: His production is slipping, but he is still a weapon.

22. Donald Butler, linebacker, San Diego: He is one of the reasons for excitement about the Chargers’ defense.

23. Sean Smith, cornerback, Kansas City: Big, athletic free-agent cornerback will help Kansas City.

24. Lamarr Houston, defensive end, Oakland: Highly talented player will be counted on to set the tone defensively.

25. Zane Beadles, guard, Denver: Talented youngster emerged as a Pro Bowler in 2012.

26. Stefen Wisniewski, center, Oakland: He could soon become a Pro Bowler himself. Some scouts think he’s a better guard.

27. Jared Veldheer, tackle, Oakland: He is simply massive. He also has ability. He has a bright future.

28. Tyvon Branch, safety, Oakland: Solid safety should benefit from improvements around him.

29. Derek Wolfe, defensive end, Denver: He was tremendous as a rookie. He could shoot up this list in coming years.

30. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, cornerback, Denver: Denver thinks this free-agent pickup has a chance to make the defense special.

31. Kendall Reyes, defensive end, San Diego: Second-year player has a chance to make big strides. Terrific pass-rush skills.

32. Dwight Freeney, linebacker, San Diego: He is aging, but if he can stay healthy, he can still make an impact.

33. Wesley Woodyard, linebacker, Denver: Former special-teams ace is now a standout position player.

34. Dunta Robinson, cornerback, Kansas City: Versatile free agent will make his presence felt.

35. Ryan Mathews, running back, San Diego: Talent is there. Chargers are waiting for him to have some health.

36. Derek Cox, cornerback, San Diego: Underrated free-agent pickup. A scout favorite.

37. Marcel Reece, fullback, Oakland: He helps Oakland in every way imaginable. A fine player.

38. Jacob Tamme, tight end, Denver: Came over from Colts as a Manning security blanket. It paid off.

39. Charles Woodson, safety, Oakland: This may be his swan song, but he can help Oakland in 2013.

40. Sebastian Janikowski, kicker, Oakland: A kicker? Yep. That’s right. A sublime weapon.
Our AFC West positional rankings series concludes with a look at the top return man in the AFC West:

1. Trindon Holliday, Denver: Perhaps the most dynamic return man in the game right now.

2. Josh Cribbs, Oakland: Free-agent addition should help if he is healthy. He has a great resume.

3. Jacoby Ford, Oakland: If healthy, he has shown he is a dynamic return man.

4. Richard Goodman, San Diego: A solid kick returner.

5. Dexter McCluster, Kansas City: Going with McCluster here but it is wide open in Kansas City.
Our positional rankings series continues with the best group of kickers and punters in the NFL:

1. Sebastian Janikowski, Oakland: One of the greatest weapons on the NFL. He’s getting better.

2. Dustin Colquitt, Kansas City: Veteran punter was finally recognized with a Pro Bowl berth last season.

3. Mike Scifres, San Diego: Typically overshadowed during his 10 years in the NFL, but he is a tremendous punter.

4. Matt Prater, Denver: His big leg is a perfect fit in the thin air.

5. Britton Colquitt, Denver: He’d be the best punter in most divisions.

6. Ryan Succop, Kansas City: A solid kicker who can get better.

7. Nick Novak, San Diego: Veteran has done a nice job for the Chargers.

8. Chris Kluwe, Oakland: Decent vet has early edge over green Marquette King to replace departed standout Shane Lechler.
Our AFC West 2013 positional rankings series marches on with a deep, strong group of defensive backs:

1. Eric Weddle, San Diego: He is everything you want in a safety. He is a complete player.

2. Eric Berry, Kansas City: With extended health, the sky is the limit for this special player.

3. Champ Bailey, Denver: He is 35, but he still is a high-impact player.

4. Brandon Flowers, Kansas City: Coaches and scouts around the league rave about this player.

5. Sean Smith, Kansas City: Big, athletic player should thrive in Kansas City.

6. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Denver: Playing opposite Bailey should benefit this talent.

7. Tyvon Branch, Oakland: Having Charles Woodson on his side should take pressure off this solid player.

8. Dunta Robinson, Kansas City: Robinson’s versatility will help the Chiefs.

9. Derek Cox, San Diego: A solid player who was badly needed.

10. Charles Woodson, Oakland: He still has something left in the tank.

11. D.J. Hayden, Oakland: If his heart issues are behind him, he has a chance to make a big difference.

12. Chris Harris, Denver: A tremendous nickel cornerback.

13. Kendrick Lewis, Kansas City: A steady performer to assist Berry.

14. Rahim Moore, Denver: Everyone remembers the horrible playoff gaffe. But he has ability.

15. Mike Jenkins, Oakland: He should help Oakland’s secondary.

16. Quentin Jammer, Denver: The Broncos have a plan for him at safety.

17. Mike Adams, Denver: He always gives a high-effort.

18. Tony Carter, Denver: Backup cornerback has big-play ability.

19. Tracy Porter, Oakland: Raiders hoping for a bounce back season from former Bronco.

20. David Bruton, Denver: Special teams ace will get a chance to play more on defense.

21. Darrell Stuckey, San Diego: Ditto.

22. Shareece Wright, San Diego: Inexperienced player who get a chance to start.

23. Brandon Taylor, San Diego: He has ability, but is coming off a torn ACL

24. Phillip Adams, Oakland: He played well at times last season.

25. Marcus Gilchrist, San Diego: Versatile player will get a chance to play.

26. Brandian Ross, Oakland: He showed some nice flashes last year.

27. Joselio Hanson, Oakland: He is decent injury insurance.

28. Sanders Commings, Kansas City: Rookie showed flashes in the offseason.

29. Husain Abdullah, Kansas City: He took year off last year for personal reasons. He has starting experience.
Our AFC West positional rankings continue with a look at a strong group of linebackers:

1. Von Miller, Denver: A complete player. One of the top defensive players in the NFL.

2. Tamba Hali, Kansas City: Still a strong pass-rush presence.

3. Justin Houston, Kansas City: A dynamic player. His star is rising.

4. Derrick Johnson, Kansas City: Steady, underrated tackles machine.

5. Donald Butler, San Diego: He is flashing big-time skills. The Chargers need to re-sign him.

6. Dwight Freeney, San Diego: The Chargers hope he can still be a sack master.

7. Wesley Woodyard, Denver: He had a tremendous 2012 season. Good overall player.

8. Jarret Johnson, San Diego: Hard-nosed player who fits the defense well.

9. Nick Roach, Oakland: Raiders are thrilled about this free-agent acquisition. Defense could begin with him.

10. Manti Te'o, San Diego: Chargers expect instant production from this instinctive rookie.

11. Shaun Phillips, Denver: The Broncos think he can still help as a pass-rusher.

12. Kevin Burnett, Oakland: Smart player who helps the Raiders.

13. Kaluka Maiava, Oakland: He might not start, but will help.

14. D.J. Smith, San Diego: Former Green Bay player could be a steal for the Chargers.

15. Miles Burris, Oakland: Even if he doesn’t start, he will find a way to help.

16. Danny Trevathan, Denver: This kid looks like he could be a starter for years to come.

17. Sio Moore, Oakland: I could see the 2013 third-round pick in the top 10 next year.

18. Nate Irving, Denver: He gets first crack in the middle for the Broncos.

19. Nico Johnson, Kansas City: The Chiefs like the fourth-rounder -- and he could start.

20. Stewart Bradley, Denver: He’s there if Irving fails.

21. Larry English, San Diego: Clock is ticking for the 2009 first-round pick.

22. Akeem Jordan, Kansas City: Could be insurance if Nico Johnson isn’t ready.

23. Steve Johnson, Denver: At the very least, he’s a solid special-teamer.

Second-year San Diego outside linebacker Melvin Ingram would have been ranked in the top eight to 10 had he not suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament in May.
Our AFC West positional rankings series continues with a look at a young group of defensive linemen:

1. Corey Liuget, San Diego: This player has a chance to be a superstar.

2. Lamarr Houston, Oakland: A lot will be expected of this talented player on a line in transition.

3. Derek Wolfe, Denver: The Broncos are expecting huge things from this second-year player.

4. Kendall Reyes, San Diego: The same thing goes for Reyes in San Diego. He has great potential.

5. Terrance Knighton, Denver: Jack Del Rio is reunited with this run stuffer. Terrific free-agent addition.

6. Dontari Poe, Kansas City: I wouldn’t be shocked if this player makes a huge jump in Year 2.

7. Sylvester Williams, Denver: The first-round pick has huge potential. He is a good fit for this defense.

8. Tyson Jackson, Kansas City: Former No. 3 overall pick will never be great, but he has value.

9. Mike DeVito, Kansas City: The Chiefs are thrilled about his free-agent pickup. He can play.

10. Vance Walker, Oakland: Free-agent addition was a good rotational player in Atlanta. Gets chance for a bigger role.

11. Pat Sims, Oakland: This could be a very good addition if he can stay healthy.

12. Kevin Vickerson, Denver: Nothing fancy, but Vickerson is a solid part of a good defense.

13. Robert Ayers, Denver: The Broncos need this former first-round pick to contribute with Elvis Dumervil gone.

14. Cam Thomas, San Diego: The Chargers expect a lot from this promising player.

15. Christo Bilukidi, Oakland: I have a feeling he is going to develop quickly.

16. Andre Carter, Oakland: Greatest value may be as a leader, which this young team needs.

17. Jason Hunter, Oakland: Try-hard player could get a lot of playing time.

18. Jack Crawford, Oakland: Second-year player will have a chance to show his value.
Our AFC West positional rankings series continues with a look at a young group of offensive linemen:

1. Ryan Clady, Denver: He was great in 2012. Denver is trying to secure him long term.

2. Branden Albert, Kansas City: Albert is not elite, but he is way above average. The Chiefs want to keep him with a long-term deal.

3. Zane Beadles, Denver: This big, athletic guard broke out in 2012.

4. Stefen Wisniewski, Oakland: I’m a big Wisniewski fan. Some scouts think he is better at guard than at his current center spot, but he is terrific anywhere.

5. Jared Veldheer, Oakland: The left tackle has gotten massive. He has big ability, but needs more consistency.

6. Eric Fisher, Kansas City: The Chiefs expect important impact at right tackle from the No. 1 overall draft pick.

7. Louis Vasquez, Denver: This massive guard was a huge pickup for Denver.

8. Nick Hardwick, San Diego: The venerable center is the anchor of a rebuilding line.

9. Orlando Franklin, Denver: A huge, nasty right tackle who fits the offense well.

10. D.J. Fluker, San Diego: Drafted with the No. 11 overall pick to play right tackle, his eventual spot may be right guard.

11. Jon Asamoah, Kansas City: A young, steady guard.

12. Max Starks, San Diego: A big mauler who will fill the left tackle hole for the Chargers.

13. Chad Rinehart, San Diego: An underrated offseason pickup that will play left guard.

14. Geoff Schwartz, Kansas City: Versatile free-agent pickup will find a way to help.

15. Jeff Allen, Kansas City: Like Schwartz, Allen can play anywhere.

16. J.D. Walton, Denver: The center is coming off an injury.

17. Rodney Hudson, Kansas City: Ditto.

18. Menelik Watson, Oakland: I think this raw but talented right tackle wins the starting spot.

19. Jeromey Clary, San Diego: Replaced right tackle is likely to start at right guard.

20. Donald Stephenson, Kansas City: This second-year player is good depth for the Chiefs.

21. Mike Brisiel, Oakland: A bad fit for the power-blocking scheme, he is likely in his last year in Oakland.

22. King Dunlap, San Diego: A lower-level swing player.

23. Tony Bergstrom, Oakland: Has a chance to start. Raiders were hoping for a quicker adjustment by the 2012 third rounder.

" Denver guard Chris Kuper would be on this list, but he is expected to be cut at some point because of injuries.
Our AFC West positional rankings continue with a look at an underwhelming group of tight ends:

1. Antonio Gates, San Diego: Gates is not longer an elite player, but he is by far the most dangerous one on this list.

2. Jacob Tamme, Denver: Tamme is not flashy, but he does a lot of things well -- and he has chemistry with Peyton Manning.

3. Anthony Fasano, Kansas City: He is an underrated type who always gives a solid effort.

4. Joel Dreessen, Denver: He can stretch the field and is a solid rotational player.

5. Tony Moeaki, Kansas City: Injuries have hurt his career. Moeaki has big talent, but can’t stay on field.

6. John Phillips, San Diego: The Chargers are excited about this premier blocker. Not a stats guy, but he will help.

7. Ladarius Green, San Diego: We are into the "has potential" portion of this list. Green, 23 and entering his second season, could replace Gates some day.

8. Travis Kelce, Kansas City: I have a feeling the new Chiefs regime will give Kelce a chance to play a lot as a rookie.

9. David Ausberry, Oakland: Ausberry gets first crack, but he hasn’t shown much. Sixth-round picks Nick Kasa and Mychal Rivera are awaiting their chances.

10. Richard Gordon, Oakland: See above.

11. Virgil Green, Denver: He has skills, but has to take next step. Perhaps fellow young Denver tight end Julius Thomas can stay healthy and get on this list next year.
We continue our AFC West positional rankings with a strong group of receivers:

1. Demaryius Thomas, Denver: Thomas is developing into one of the best receivers in the NFL. He has it all -- and he has Peyton Manning.

2. Wes Welker, Denver: Welker has a specific role, but you can’t argue with his production. He is a special player.

3. Dwayne Bowe, Kansas City: Bowe was No. 1 on this list last year. He hasn’t regressed. He is still top-notch. But the group is better.

4. Eric Decker, Denver: Decker completes what is probably the best trio of receivers in the NFL.

5. Donnie Avery, Kansas City: There is a drop-off here. But Avery is a pro. The free-agent pickup will help the Chiefs.

6. Denarius Moore, Oakland: Moore is a good, young player. He didn’t make the strides he was expected to in Year Two, but the skills are there.

7. Vincent Brown, San Diego: Brown can zoom up the list this season. Big things were expected in 2012, but he missed the entire season with a broken ankle.

8. Danario Alexander, San Diego: He came off the street and made a difference last season. He has big ability. Health is the only question.

9. Malcom Floyd, San Diego: How much has this group improved? Floyd was second on this list a year ago.

10. Rod Streater, Oakland: I wouldn’t be surprised if Streater makes a big leap on this list next year. He was very polished as an undrafted free agent in 2012.

11. Jon Baldwin, Kansas City: The Chiefs are still waiting for the talented 2011 first-round pick to develop.

12. Keenan Allen, San Diego: I expect the rookie to be an instant contributor. The Chargers got a steal in the third round of the draft.

13. Jacoby Ford, Oakland: If he can stay healthy, Ford can make an impact.

14. Dexter McCluster, Kansas City: McCluster can finally make an impact in Andy Reid’s offense.

15. Juron Criner, Oakland: He opened eyes in camp as a rookie, but didn’t do much last season. Still, a solid developmental player.

16. Robert Meachem, San Diego: He can still show something after being a total dud as a free-agent pickup last season.
We continue our AFC West 2013 positional rankings with a group of running backs that offers a lot of questions:

1. Jamaal Charles, Kansas City: Charles had a tremendous season in 2012 after coming back from a torn ACL. He is a top-level back.

2. Darren McFadden, Oakland: McFadden had an off season. The Raiders hope he bounces back as they return to a power-running game that he excels in. As always, health is the key for the big-league talent.

3. Ryan Mathews, San Diego: Mathews is similar to McFadden. He has big ability and has shown it, but he just can’t stay healthy.

4. Willis McGahee, Denver: I had a difficult time ranking Denver’s running backs, because there might be some big flux. But McGahee has had a lot of success, so I will list him first among Denver’s options for now.

5. Marcel Reece, Oakland: Reece doesn’t carry the ball much, but he is a versatile talent who helps Oakland’s offense.

6. Knowshon Moreno, Denver: Moreno finally played well last season and he showed he can help. But injuries are an issue.

7. Danny Woodhead, San Diego: The Chargers are excited about this former Patriot. He is versatile and the Chargers expect to use him a lot.

8. Montee Ball, Denver: I won’t be surprised if this second-round pick is Denver’s Week 1 starter and makes the top three of this list next year.

9. Ronnie Hillman, Denver: This second-year player is a good change-of-pace player who can also be a riser on this list next year.

10. Ronnie Brown, San Diego: He was solid last season. I’m not sure what his role will be, but he’s on this list for now.

11. Rashad Jennings, Oakland: I wouldn’t be surprised if he is bypassed by sixth-round pick Latavius Murray early in the season.

12. Knile Davis, Kansas City: The third-round pick has big potential. He can really help Charles. But he must fix his fumbling issues.
We are starting our annual AFC West positional rankings with a look at the quarterbacks, including the backups. Here we go:

1. Peyton Manning, Denver: Manning showed in his first season in Denver that he is can still be a star after four neck surgeries.

2. Philip Rivers, San Diego: Rivers has been a turnover machine the past two years, but he hasn’t been terrible, either. This is a big year for him.

3. Alex Smith, Kansas City: Smith enjoyed career resurgence in San Francisco. Let’s see if he can keep it up under Andy Reid.

4. Matt Flynn, Oakland: He will soon be 28 and he has started just two NFL games. He was beaten out by a rookie in camp last year. Yet, he gets another chance to show he can be a starter.

5. Chase Daniel, Kansas City: Scouts like this player and he was sought after as a backup this year in free agency.

6. Brock Osweiler, Denver: The Broncos live Osweiler and think he can be a star.

7. Terrelle Pryor, Oakland: Pryor has potential, but he will be pushed by Tyler Wilson. Right now, it’s Pryor over Wilson.

8. Charlie Whitehurst, San Diego: Whitehurst is a good caddie for Rivers and he fits the team well, but he has limitations.