2018 Preseason All-AFC West Team: Philip Rivers still thriving in division of changes, parity
Chargers, Chiefs, Broncos and Raiders all well-represented in arguably the NFL's most competitive division
Over the next two weeks here at CBSSports.com, we'll be unveiling our annual preseason All-Division teams. We began Monday with the, continued Tuesday with the and Wednesday with the , and will wrap things up in the AFC today with the AFC West (below). Starting next Monday, we'll run through the NFC, starting first with the NFC East (Aug. 13) and continuing on through the NFC North (Aug. 14) and NFC South (Aug. 15) before finishing up with the NFC West (Aug. 16). Enjoy.
The AFC West was arguably the most competitive division in football last season. Things started out stratified as the Chiefs jumped out to an incredibly hot start and the other teams in the division struggled, but a midseason swoon allowed the Raiders and later the Chargers to make a run at things down the stretch. Kansas City ended up closing things out while the other two teams missed the playoffs, but nobody in the division appeared satisfied by how last year went down.
There was a lot of aggressive change throughout the offseason, starting with the league's most important position.
Philip Rivers, Chargers
The AFC West underwent some interesting changes at the quarterback position this offseason with the Chiefs trading Alex Smith to Washington and turning the job over to second-year man Patrick Mahomes, and the Broncos moving on from their trio of disappointments in order to hand the reins to Case Keenum. While Mahomes has incredibly high upside and Keenum is coming off an excellent season, the feeling is that the best bet for 2018 is Rivers, who has been a consistently above-average-to-excellent quarterback for years, has never missed a game due to injury, and is coming off five straight seasons of at least 4,200 passing yards and 28 touchdowns. Rivers will turn 37 years old in December and has had occasional struggles with turnovers but he's got a strong offensive infrastructure around him and a defense that could finally give him some leads to ice rather than deficits to make up late in games.
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Hunt is coming off a fantastic rookie season and should be an even bigger part of the Chiefs' offense in 2018. He sort of disappeared during the middle stretch of last season as the Chiefs went far too pass-heavy, but that seems somewhat less likely to happen with an inexperienced quarterback at the helm. Hunt still has a strong offensive line in front of him and one of the most creative offensive minds in football calling the plays, and he's going to be a bell-cow type back who gets 250-plus carries and factors into the passing game. He's in for another big year.
Gordon has never been the most efficient running back (3.8 yards per carry for his career) but he absolutely soaks up a ton of volume, he's taken over a larger role in the passing game with each successive season, and the Chargers love giving him the ball down near the goal line, as proven by his 24 touchdowns over the past two seasons. If he can finally get some better blocking up front, perhaps he can turn in the monster season that he seems like he might have inside him.
Allen had become severely underrated over the last few years thanks to a couple of fluke injuries that limited him to just nine games across 2015 and 2016 combined. But he returned with a vengeance last season and resumed his rightful place as one of the best receivers in football. He racked up 102 catches for 1,393 yards and six scores while playing all 16 games. He's still just 26 years old and he is an absolute marvel of a route-running technician with excellent separation ability and great hands. 2018 could be his best year yet.
Hill blossomed from a gadget weapon as a rookie into a full-blown offensive force in 2017, and he has a chance to take things to another level entirely this coming season. His skill set is a much better fit for the strong-armed Mahomes than the departed Smith, as his speed and change-of-direction ability allows him to explode past defenders and stretch the field vertically. He's still got room to grow in terms of target volume as well, as he was thrown the ball only 105 times last season, quite a bit less often than your typical No. 1 wideout.
There were a ton of candidates for the third sport here. Raiders receiver Amari Cooper has the most pure talent of any player left in the division but he's struggled with drops and inconsistency and his coach apparently wants to bring football back to 1956. Jordy Nelson apparently looks great in Raiders camp but he had clearly lost a step last year, even with Aaron Rodgers on the field, and he no longer has a pinpoint-accurate quarterback to feed him back-shoulder throws. Sammy Watkins has a ton of natural ability and should be a good fit for the Kansas City offense but seems like no better than the third passing-game option on his own team. Emmanuel Sanders is a good candidate as well, but Thomas' combination of size and agility seems like a better fit for Keenum, so he gets the nod.
When Rob Gronkowski takes his annual injury-related leave from the field, Kelce has as good an argument as anybody in the league for the title of Best Tight End In Football. At times last year, he looked nearly as impactful as Gronk. He's the best passing-game weapon the Chiefs have, able to dominate linebackers and safeties as well as corners with one of the best size-speed-hands combinations in the league. With Andy Reid designing creative ways for him to get open, there's no reason he shouldn't have another dominant year.
With Hunter Henry injured, Antonio Gates still unsigned, and the Broncos working with a combination of Jeff Heuerman and second-year man Jake Butt, well, Cook is basically just the best option left on the board. He disappointed during his first year in Oakland but the talent is there for him to make a real impact.
Schwartz is one of the NFL's best right tackles and he's coming off one of his best seasons. He's excellent in pass-protection, which should be beneficial for Mahomes' development. Heading into his age-29 season and should play up to his usual standards. Barksdale is another right tackle and though he missed some games last season, he played well when he was on the field. He'll be 30 for most of this season and now that the Chargers have made upgrades elsewhere on the line, maybe he'll get some more recognition for his play.
Osemele is known as a road-grader in the run game but he didn't have his best run-blocking season last year. He remained strong in pass-protection, however, and there's no real reason to believe his work in the run game won't bounce back. Duvernay-Tardif had his request for adding "M.D." to his jersey denied by the NFL, but we think making the All-AFC West team will suffice. LDT missed some time due to injury last season but played excellently when on the field, just as he had the previous two seasons. We expect more strong work in 2018.
Rodney Hudson, Raiders
Hudson was the best pass-protecting center in the NFL last season. And according to Pro Football Focus, he's been elite in that department for several years now. "Since 2015, Hudson has allowed a pressure just once out of every 85.5 pass-block snaps on average, ranking No. 1 among centers with at least 1,000 pass-block snaps in the three-year span. Most recently, Hudson allowed just three total pressures across 592 pass-blocking snaps to earn the top-ranked pass-blocking efficiency among qualifying centers."
Bosa followed up his fantastic rookie season with an even better sophomore campaign. He racked up 10.5 sacks in 12 games during his debut season, then had 12.5 in 16 games a year ago. He is an absolute force of a pass-rusher, damn near unblockable one-on-one. And he's strong against the run, too. He's a superstar who's just getting started.
All of those things can be said about Mack, as well. Assuming he reports to the Raiders at some point before the start of the season, he is going to terrorize opposing right tackles all year. He always does. The Raiders would be fools not to pay him. You don't just let a 27-year-old superstar pass-rusher leave.
Interior Defensive Lineman
Jones took a major step forward in his second season in the middle of the Kansas City defense. He went from two sacks to 6.5, 28 tackles to 32, and four deflected passes to seven. He also racked up 38 pressures as a 3-4 defensive end, an excellent number. And he's a good run defender, to boot. Wolfe is coming off something of a down year that featured a season-ending injury. He's still a very strong interior pass-rusher, though, and he should see a nice bump from the modest two sacks he recorded last season.
Miller has recorded double-digit sacks in every season of his career save for the one where he only played nine games. He's taken down the opposing quarterback 77.4 times in 94 games otherwise. That's an average of 13.2 per 16 games. And he only just turned 29 years old. He can't be blocked.
Ingram just keeps getting better and better. After an injury-marred first few NFL seasons, he's racked up 10.5, 8, and 10.5 sacks over the past three years. He made his first Pro Bowl in 2017 after improving his work against the run, and now that he's playing with so much talent on the Chargers defense, he should continue to make positive strides in his play.
This section features two players who are newcomers to the division. Whitehead flew under the radar in Oakland's spending spree that featured mostly players who are damn near older than the NFL itself, but he was likely their strongest acquisition. He does good work against both the pass and the run and is a tackling machine who almost never gets injured. Hitchens comes over from the Cowboys, where he blossomed from a part-time player into a full-time starting at middle linebacker. He can be victimized in coverage at times but he is a solid overall player who should upgrade the interior of the Kansas City defense by adding a bit more speed than they've had the past few years.
With both Marcus Peters and Aqib Talib being traded out of the division and to the Los Angeles Rams, cornerback was an easier position to pick than it's been in quite a while. Harris and Hayward are two of the five or so best cover corners in the league right now. Both players can work both on the outside and when bumped down into the slot, and Hayward in particular has shown an ability to rack up interceptions. Harris doesn't get many picks, but teams also rarely throw his way and he gets a ton of deflections. Hayward has become a full-blown start since leaving Green Bay for the Chargers.
Williams was a breakout force at the spot opposite Hayward last year, and will get a chance to build on his success thanks to (heavy sigh) the season-ending injury to Jason Verrett. The Chargers have a chance to be one of the NFL's best defenses and Williams' rapid and impressive rise is a reason why.
Berry is coming off a ruptured Achilles tendon suffered during last year's season opener, an injury that was a big blow to the Kansas City defense that snowballed throughout the year. But Berry beat cancer and came back to resume his status as an elite NFL safety and be named a first team All-Pro each of the next two seasons. We're not about to doubt his ability to do the same after a lower-body injury.
James is one of very few rookies to have made any of our all-division teams. It remains nonsensical that he dropped to L.A. at No. 17 overall, given his transformational potential on the back end of a defense. He can play center field, come down into the box and tackle against the run, cover tight ends and running backs, work against slot receivers, and even line up as a corner on the outside. He's the real deal.
King is the best punter in football and the Raiders will regret cutting him. Butker had a very strong debut season, connecting on 38 of his league-high 42 field goal attempts. Benjamin may have his offensive role usurped a bit for the Chargers, but he should remain a strong option returning both punts and kicks.
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