- Bill Williamson, ESPN Staff Writer
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Other than the quarterback, which player could each AFC West team least afford to lose to injury? Here's a look:
Denver Broncos: LB Von Miller. Miller is one of the best defensive players in the NFL heading into his third NFL season. He is a complete player who disrupts every facet of the game. He is special. Of course, Miller particularly excels as a pass-rusher. He has 30 sacks in 31 NFL games. Denver’s defense all starts with Miller. The team lost Elvis Dumervil in free agency. He was the complement to Miller. While Dumervil’s departure hurts Denver, the Broncos are still in good shape because they have Miller. If that changes, every aspect of Denver’s defense gets less impressive.
Kansas City Chiefs: WR Dwayne Bowe. There is great hope in Kansas City because the Chiefs think they upgraded at coach with Andy Reid and at quarterback with Alex Smith. Reid is a pass-first coach and is ready to unleash Smith. That means a lot of work for Bowe, who signed a lucrative contract to stay in Kansas City. Bowe is a huge part of the offense. All we’ve heard about in the offseason in Kansas City is the chemistry that is building between Smith and Bowe. This is where the offense is going to start. Behind Bowe at receiver are Donnie Avery and Jon Baldwin. If Bowe goes down, the receiving crew is not nearly as impressive. Thus, Bowe's presence is vital.
Oakland Raiders: DE Lamarr Houston. Houston is one of Oakland’s best all-around players. The versatile defensive lineman likely will play left end. Oakland is pretty inexperienced on the line, so Houston must set the tone. He is expected to be Oakland’s best pass-rusher as well. He must set the tone with the pass rush or Oakland will have to get creative. There is no doubt much is expected from Houston this season. If Oakland were to lose him for an extended period, it would be a crushing blow to a rebuilding defense.
San Diego Chargers: S Eric Weddle. Weddle is the quarterback of San Diego’s defense. He is a tremendous free safety. San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers recently said he thinks Weddle might be the best player at his position in the entire league. San Diego has a lot of talented, young players on defense. But none is more valuable than Weddle. He is the unit’s physical, mental and spiritual leader. He gives the Chargers’ defense an identity. He is particularly valuable because the Chargers are pretty young in the secondary. Weddle will be the glue for the unit. Take Weddle out of San Diego’s defense, and there are major holes.