This week, we here at Last Word On Pro Football will be selecting starting lineups consisting of the best players from each division. In this article, the AFC West defense is the focus. Since most teams in the division run a 3-4, that’s the format we’ll be using.
2017 AFC West All-Division Team: The Defense and Special Teams
Defensive End: Khalil Mack
Nobody in the NFL has more sacks over the last two years than the reigning Defensive Player of the Year, Khalil Mack. The only man in NFL history to be named first-team All-Pro at two different positions in one season is an absolute monster. In 2016, he managed to register 11 sacks, a pick six, and five forced fumbles on one of the NFL’s worst defenses. Mack had almost half of Oakland’s sacks last year, and he didn’t even get to sack Brock Osweiler five times in one game like he did in 2015.
Defensive Line: Derek Wolfe
Derek Wolfe doesn’t get the hype that his teammates do, but make no mistake, he’s a vital part of the Denver defense. He hasn’t had a 10 sack season yet, and he doesn’t make the flashiest plays, but he makes it so much easier for the other Denver rushers to get to the passer or rusher. Opposing running backs are sheep that just can’t escape this wolfe.
Defensive End: Joey Bosa
Yes, believe it or not, there are Los Angeles Chargers on this list. Every team in the AFC West has an elite pass rusher, and for the Chargers, that’s Joey Bosa. Joey Bosa missed the first quarter of the season, but he still ended up registering 10.5 sacks. In his first game, he earned two sacks, and he never looked back. The reigning defensive rookie of the year is at home on the All-AFC West team.
Outside Linebacker: Von Miller
A five sack season is good, not great. You’re still a productive pass rusher, but you’re not an elite guy. For Von Miller, that was his worst year. In every other season of his career, he’s had at least 11 sacks. Over the last two seasons, only one player in the NFL has more sacks. If you need a reason why Von Miller is the number one outside linebacker in the AFC West, just go back and watch what he did to Tom Brady and Cam Newton in the playoffs two years ago.
Inside Linebacker: Derrick Johnson
There’s a good argument for Denzel Perryman or Jatavis Brown for this spot, but Kansas City’s Derrick Johnson has to get the nod. And here’s why. A bad injury shut Johnson down for the Chiefs last year, and it ended up costing them their season. The Pittsburgh Steelers knocked the Chiefs out of the playoffs in a game that ended 18-16. Pittsburgh failed to score a single touchdown, but Le’Veon Bell chewed yards and time as the Steelers simply suffocated the Chiefs. Would that have happened if Johnson was playing? Hard to say, but you’ve gotta have your doubts.
Inside Linebacker: Brandon Marshall
Brandon Marshall, like his teammate, Wolfe, is an underrated part of the Denver Broncos defensive machine. Before an injury sidelined him in 2016, Marshall was coming off of seasons where he had at least 100 tackles, a sack, a forced fumble, and an interception. He’s a talented, versatile backer that can do just about anything. The Broncos struggled against the run last year, but they’d be completely lost against it without Marshall.
Outside Linebacker: Justin Houston
Justin Houston is a hard player to rank. On one hand, he had one of the best pass rushing seasons in NFL history. On the other, he’s barely played in two years. The reason that Justin Houston gets the nod over Melvin Ingram? Because on the rare occasion that Houston has been able to play, he’s dominated. Just go back and watch what he did against the Denver Broncos last year.
Cornerbacks: Chris Harris and Aqib Talib
Instead of creating two slots, as if the Denver Broncos didn’t have the best corners in the AFC West, both men will be named the All-AFC West corners. Aqib Talib and Chris Harris helped lead a Broncos team that started Trevor Siemian at quarterback to a winning record in the NFL’s best division. There’s no real argument for anyone in the division over these two.
Free Safety: Eric Berry
Duh? Eric Berry is a top three safety in the NFL, behind perhaps only Harrison Smith and Earl Thomas. Was anyone else even a candidate for this spot? Certainly not someone like Reggie Nelson. Eric Berry had a pick six and a two point conversion attempt return in one game less than two years after being diagnosed with cancer. Unreal.
Strong Safety: T.J. Ward
T.J. Ward has the NFL’s easiest job. He plays with two stud corners and arguably the NFL’s best pass rusher. All he has to do is hit anyone that actually manages to catch a ball and chase bad passes. He gets to cherry-pick his plays, and plays a great part on Denver’s defense.
Kicker: Brandon McManus
This is the pick that will enrage members of the Raider Nation everywhere, but yes, Brandon McManus is the best kicker in the AFC West, not Sebastian Janikowski. Why? Because McManus did more than Cairo Santos and was more consistent than Janikowski. His longest field goal of the season was only one yard shorter than Janikowski’s, and he almost didn’t lead the NFL in missed field goals.
Punter: Marquette King
Marquette King is the most entertaining punter of all time. That’s not hyperbole, the guy makes punting fun to watch, and that’s without mentioning the time he took off and picked up a first down. King has a monster of a leg, averaging almost 49 yards per punt on 81 punts. Maintaining an average like that over that many punts is insane.
Returner: Tyreek Hill
Obviously, right? Could anyone else seriously be considered for this spot? Tyreek Hill isn’t the fastest player on Madden because one of the developers fell asleep at his desk. He caught 61 passes for 593 yards last year, but he was able to earn 592 yards on punt returns alone. Throw in 384 kickoff return yards and three total return touchdowns, and not even Cordarrelle Patterson, one of the NFL’s best returners, could take Hill’s spot.