Today's question: Who will be the top three impact players in the AFC West in 2015?
Adam Teicher, Kansas City Chiefs: I'm going to remove quarterbacks from the equation because they always have an impact, for better or for worse. I'll start with a couple of pass-rushers: Denver’s Von Miller and Kansas City’s Justin Houston. Both are potential game-changers. Their sacks and quarterback hurries and hits are what gets the attention, deservedly so. But they are both a presence on every play because of their superb all-around games. I’m tempted to throw Oakland’s Khalil Mack in here as well. If he becomes the pass-rusher that Miller and Houston are, I’ll include him. Until then, I’ll go with Denver’s Demaryius Thomas. I wonder if he will be as effective with an aging Peyton Manning as his quarterback. But if Manning is anything close to what he was in his prime, Thomas is the AFC West's premier game-changing offensive player, quarterbacks excluded.
Bill Williamson, Oakland Raiders: San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers, Houston and Thomas. With Manning fading a bit, I think Rivers is the best player in the division. At 33, he is still in his prime and I expect a third straight 4,000-yard, 30-plus touchdown pass season from him. Houston and Thomas are motivated after receiving the franchise tag from their respective teams. Both are going to be getting big contracts, and I expect huge seasons from them. Houston is one of the NFL’s best pass-rushers coming off an NFL-best 22 sacks (Oakland had 22 sacks as a team). I can easily see another 20-plus sack season from Houston. Thomas was already a primary target in the Broncos' offense, and might have an even bigger role with Julius Thomas and Wes Welker playing elsewhere. Demaryius Thomas could have another 1,500-plus yard, 10-plus touchdown-catch season.
Eric D. Williams, San Diego Chargers: Along with Manning, the other top impact players in the AFC West will be Houston and Rivers. You can make a good argument for Houston being the top pass-rusher in the NFL right now. Houston can beat you with speed or power, and has the most sacks in the NFL over the past two seasons with 33. San Diego’s first-round draft pick, running back Melvin Gordon, should make the Chargers more balanced on offense, taking pressure off Rivers to make all of the plays in the passing game. Add an improved offensive line, and Rivers should perform at an elite level once again in 2015.