The 2021 NFL Season draws near. To herald the new season, this series analyzes top talent at every position for all eight divisions in the league. In the AFC West, both sides of the ball boast unimaginable levels of athleticism and talent. The West possesses elite pass-rushing talent all along the front seven and incredible defensive backs, making the 2021 AFC West Defense All-Division what fans might call ‘stacked’. The 2021 AFC West All-Division Offense is also loaded up with unmatched talent.
2021 AFC West All-Division Team: The Defense
Interior Defensive Line: Chris Jones, Kansas City Chiefs
Interior Defensive Line: Chris Jones, Kansas City Chiefs
Like many of the offensive players Kansas City has on the All-Division team, Chris Jones is an absolute no-brainer. The athletic interior defensive lineman is one of the best pass-rushers from the position in the entire league. He effectively anchors the front seven for his team. With 10 starts in four of five seasons, Jones is a dependable tackle capable of breaking a game wide open. Jones tallied 32 sacks over the last three seasons, including 15.5 in 2018. His two Pro Bowl selections in 2019 and 2020 suggest Jones will continue his dominance along the interior in 2021. One of the most talented interior defensive linemen in the NFL warrants a place on the 2021 AFC West Defense.
Interior Defensive Line: Shelby Harris, Denver Broncos
The ‘Best Hands in the League’ makes an appearance on this list due to the versatile nature of his contributions to the division’s best defense. His 16 pass deflections over the last two seasons lead all linemen in the NFL. His statistics with Denver are actually fairly comparable to Chris Jones outside of the latter’s 15.5-sack output in 2018. In addition to 8.5 sacks over the last two years, Harris posted 28 pressures on the quarterback. He accomplished these feats while missing five games last year. With the return of injured players to Denver’s front seven, Harris is in prime position to have another productive year batting down passes and pressuring quarterbacks. Even with a regression in 2021, Harris would still deserve his place on the 2021 AFC West Defense.
Interior Linebacker: Kenneth Murray, Jr., Los Angeles Chargers
Kenneth Murray, Jr. anchors the interior of the Los Angeles defense. In his first season, Murray was a legitimate candidate for the Defensive Rookie of the Year award. He started all sixteen games as a rookie and far and away led the team in tackles with 107. While Murray was debatably a liability in coverage, he should take a step forward in 2021. This is especially true under the tutelage of an established linebacker mentor in the team’s new head coach, Brandon Staley. If Murray continues anchoring the defense and develops as a coverage linebacker, there is no telling what he can accomplish. His potential and his proficiency as a run-stopper earn him a spot on the AFC West All-Division team.
Interior Linebacker: Alexander Johnson, Denver Broncos
The ‘Dinosaur’ broke onto the scene in 2019, when he started 12 games for the Broncos. He posted 93 tackles as a first-time starter, adding three deflections, two forced fumbles, an interception, and a fumble recovery. In year two, Johnson posted 124 tackles as the team’s top interior linebacker. He also accrued two deflections and two forced fumbles last season, establishing him as a playmaker in the Denver defense. His improvement in coverage from 2019 to 2020 also suggests he will make another similar leap forward as an all-around interior defender. Should he do so, he would find himself in the conversation for best inside linebacker in the AFC West. As such, he makes an appearance on the 2021 AFC West Defense.
Edge Defender: Joey Bosa, Los Angeles Chargers
Joey Bosa is an interesting case. With the arrival of former Broncos linebackers coach Brandon Staley as Los Angeles’s new head coach, Bosa is stepping back from the defensive line. After spending his entire career as a defensive end in a 4-3 scheme, the impending shift to a 3-4 system projects Bosa as an outside linebacker. His size compares him to Bradley Chubb’s role under Staley, but the coach seeks to deploy Bosa like he had Von Miller. Bosa has been one of the most formidable rushers in the AFC West since arriving in the NFL in 2016. He posted double-digit sacks in three of his five seasons and has made three Pro Bowls, including the last two. His 99 pressures over the last two seasons make him an obvious choice for the AFC West All-Division defense in 2021.
Edge Defender: Von Miller, Denver Broncos
The best edge rusher in the AFC West, Von Miller is Denver’s all-time leader in sacks. Sadly, Miller missed the entirety of the 2020 season due to a torn Achilles tendon. Still, he is poised for a Comeback Player of the Year campaign in 2021. Surrounded by the best defense he has played with since the No Fly Zone in 2015, Miller should return to form. Before his injury last year, Miller appeared primed for a career year. If he plays minimally at the same level as his so-called ‘down year’ in 2019 (his first season under Fangio), there is no reason to believe he won’t lead the team—and the West—in sacks. The future Hall of Famer is a definitive no-brainer for the 2021 AFC West Defense. In fact, he’s a no-brainer for every All-Division team during his tenure in the West.
Cornerback: Kyle Fuller, Denver Broncos
Kyle Fuller will likely finish 2021 as the number-one corner in Denver even if he somehow does not begin the season there. This would make him the number-one corner in the entire division itself. His best year as a pro came in 2018, under Denver’s current head coach, Vic Fangio. He posted a league-high seven interceptions to pair with a league-high 21 deflections. Fuller is poised to improve on those numbers in 2021, if possible. Reunited with Fangio, Fuller will play with the best secondary he’s ever been part of— almost inarguably the best secondary in football. The talented corner should earn his place on this list in spades.
Cornerback: Bashaud Breeland, Kansas City Chiefs
Bashaud Breeland receives far too much criticism. In his two years with the Chiefs, he has accrued four interceptions, 17 deflections, a forced fumble, and three fumble recoveries. In 2020, he returned one of those recovered fumbles for a touchdown. This illustrates his ability to make plays in different ways. Since arriving in Kansas City, Breeland has allowed catches on less than 50 percent of the 122 passes thrown his way. His 26 starts over the last two years demonstrate an availability of which the Kansas City defense is in dire need. While some might argue fellow Chiefs corner L’Jarius Sneed is better, Breeland is poised for a career year in 2021. If he can cut down on the number of touchdowns allowed through the air, he will eliminate any doubt of deserving his place on the 2021 AFC West Defense.
Nickelback: Bryce Callahan, Denver Broncos
Bryce Callahan is the top nickel corner in the entire league. He was also the third-ranked cornerback overall in 2020, making him an obvious lock for this list. That said, he will need to remain healthy in 2021 to truly warrant making the aforementioned All-Division team. In 10 games with Denver, Callahan posted two interceptions, five deflections, and a fumble recovery. He also did not allow a touchdown in 2020. Allowing completions on less than 55 percent of passes thrown his way, Callahan made his name after missing the entire 2019 season. With the arrival of greater depth and talent in the secondary around him, Callahan should have a career year in 2021. If he performs as he did last season, he would more than deserve to feature on the 2021 AFC West All-Division team.
Free Safety: Justin Simmons, Denver Broncos
A rather obvious no-brainer, Justin Simmons is almost indisputably the best free safety in football— and has been for years. Simmons has not missed a defensive snap in the last three seasons, providing the Broncos secondary with a legitimate iron-man defensive back. Throughout those three seasons, Simmons posted 12 interceptions, 28 deflections, a fumble recovery, and 286 tackles. The undisputed leader of the Broncos secondary is the true definition of a playmaker and should continue his league-best production in 2021. Simmons was drafted in 2016, meaning he never played with the No Fly Zone. As such, the 2021 Broncos defense is the best unit he will have played with professionally. Because of his production and off-field humanitarian efforts, Simmons is a lock for the 2021 AFC West Defense.
Strong Safety: Tyrann Mathieu, Kansas City Chiefs
The ‘Honey Badger’ is one of the most athletic and versatile safeties in football. He can play literally any position in the secondary and has been a leader for the Kansas City defense both on and off the field. Mathieu has been elected as a First-Team All-Pro in both seasons he has spent in Missouri. In 31 starts, the Honey Badger accrued 10 interceptions, a pick-six, 21 deflections, a fumble recovery, and 137 tackles. If Mathieu can play in 2021 how he did in any given season since leaving the Arizona Cardinals, he will earn his place on this All-Division team with great ease. His versatility makes him the perfect addition to the 2021 AFC West Defense.
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