As August comes to a close and the start of the NFL season dawns upon us, the Last Word on NFL Department will be looking at the best players in each division by position. Here we’ll be looking at the AFC West, who currently looks to be one of the better divisions in the league – hence, there is no shortage of talent. This article will focus on the defense and special teams. The defense will be following a 3-4 format.
AFC West All-Division Team: Defense
Defensive End: Joey Bosa (Los Angeles Chargers)
Joey Bosa has been eating quarterbacks alive as a pass-rusher since he first got into the league. After missing a lot of 2018 due to injury, he bounced back nicely in 2017 with 67 tackles and 11.5 sacks. He has 40 career sacks and aside from the injury-shortened season in 2018, he’s gotten at least 10 sacks every year. He just signed a mega-extension, so he’ll be continuing to terrorize quarterbacks for the Los Angeles Chargers for a while yet.
Defensive Tackle: Chris Jones (Kansas City Chiefs)
One of the better defensive tackles in the league, Chris Jones has brought in a crazy 24.5 sacks over the last two years. He probably would’ve gotten more in 2019 if he hadn’t missed a few games. He’s pretty uncontested for this spot in the AFC West, and he’ll be hanging around for a while too for the Kansas City Chiefs after getting a big extension of his own.
Defensive End: Maxx Crosby (Las Vegas Raiders)
This one may come as a surprise to those who haven’t been paying attention, but Maxx Crosby had an outstanding rookie season in 2019 – and was also the only other defensive end in the AFC West to get 10 or more sacks besides Bosa. Besides his 10 sacks, he had 47 tackles, four forced fumbles, and four pass deflections. A lot of Frank Clark’s stats are similar, but Crosby accomplished more – in his rookie year. If he shows improvement at all, he’s going to be a huge problem for quarterbacks.
Outside Linebacker: Von Miller (Broncos)
Von Miller in 2019 had his first non-double-digit sack season since 2013 (and he missed a lot of that year). That puts into perspective just how dominant he’s been for so long. But he hasn’t slipped that much. He still had 46 tackles and eight sacks, and continued to be the undisputed leader of the Denver Broncos defense and got another Pro Bowl berth. There’s scarcely a linebacker out there in the AFC West that one would want over him right now.
Inside Linebacker: Todd Davis (Broncos)
Broncos players appearing here in the linebacker section is going to be a common theme. They’ve got a lot of the best starters in the division at this position. For his part, Todd Davis is a tackle machine; 2018 saw him have 114 combined tackles, while 2019 saw him get 136 – even with missing two games.
Inside Linebacker: Alexander Johnson (Broncos)
Johnson had his breakout year in 2019. He didn’t record any stats his rookie year, but 2019 saw him have 93 combined tackles, 1.5 sacks, two forced fumbles, one interception, and three pass deflections – a very promising start. Despite not starting until Week 5, he still finished as the fourth highest-rated linebacker by Pro Football Focus. He’s got a bright future ahead of him.
Outside Linebacker: Cory Littleton (Raiders)
An off-season pickup for the Las Vegas Raiders, Littleton has had a quite good past couple of seasons and established himself as a more complete linebacker. He’s had 100+ combined tackles two years in a row, and in that same time period, has had 7.5 sacks, two forced fumbles (and four fumble receptions), five interceptions, and 22 pass deflections. He got both a Pro Bowl and Second-Team All-Pro bid as a result, and ought to be one of the better players on the Raiders defense.
Cornerback: Chris Harris (Chargers)
Chris Harris is an interesting player to put here because the sorting of this position assumes an outside cornerback. But Harris is better at being a slot corner. However, he’s stated that he expects to be starting on the outside while also rotating on the inside. Even so, regardless of where he’s playing, he’s still arguably the best corner in the division.
Free Safety: Justin Simmons (Broncos)
Justin Simmons has always been a fairly solid safety, but he had his big breakout year in 2019, where he had 93 combined tackles, a career-high four interceptions, and an also-career-high 15 pass deflections. He got a Second-Team All-Pro nod as a result, and now he’s trying to get a long-term deal. Whenever and however he gets his deal, it’ll be well-deserved.
Strong Safety: Derwin James (Chargers)
Derwin James did miss most of last year, but he still has the goodwill of his outstanding rookie year. He established himself has a defensive everyman, getting 105 combined tackles, 3.5 sacks, three interceptions, and 13 pass deflections. If he can stay healthy this year, he might be the most prolific player on the crowded Chargers defense (besides maybe Bosa).
Cornerback: Casey Hayward (Chargers)
After two straight Pro Bowl seasons in 2016 and 2017 with the Chargers, Hayward’s taken a little bit of a step back stats-wise. However, up possibly until the arrival of Chris Harris this off-season, he’s remained the undisputed top corner on this team – and besides Harris when he was with the Broncos, no one in the division’s really done any better. On the plus for Hayward, after going without an interception in 2018, he brought in two in 2019.
Kicker: Harrison Butker (Chiefs)
In three years with the Chiefs, Butker has a very impressive kicking percentage of 89.72%. While he’s been a little less reliable at extra points than Michael Badgley (the Chargers kicker) as of late), he’s still one of the better field goal kickers in the league right now.
Punter: Sam Martin (Broncos)
The Broncos just signed this guy this off-season, but Martin was the starting punter for several years with the Detroit Lions and was quite consistent at pinning teams inside the 20. He’s been named as a Pro Bowl alternate time one time. Perhaps it’s just the lack of competition (especially with Dustin Colquitt gone from the Chiefs), but Martin already looks to be the best punter in the West.
Return Man: Mecole Hardman (Chiefs)
Mecole Hardman pretty much took over the return man duties from Tyreek Hill in his rookie year. That went pretty well, as he had a total of 871 return yards and a touchdown. Much like his teammate, he’s very fast and that’s a problem for special teams tacklers trying to take him down.
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