It’s midseason and that means midseason awards. Never say that we don’t dig down in detail to give everybody their credit as we now mine into some all division teams to give fans some bragging rights over their fiercest rivals for who has the best individual performers in the division this season.
Turning our attentions to the AFC West this team we’re spoiled for choice with the Broncos pretty much matching their expectations and the other three all outperforming their expectations to provide a far more competitive division than many would have expected.
Quarterback: Peyton Manning, DEN (+22.3)
Life is rough for Philip Rivers, arguably the second best quarterback in the league based on form. This season Rivers can’t even crack his own All-Division team thanks to the presence of Peyton Manning ahead of him. Manning’s consistency this season has been exemplary earning a +1.5 passing grade or higher in each of his first seven starts until a more difficult game against the Redskins. Both in the race for Al-Pro and Pro Bowl nominations Manning and Rivers are well ahead of Alex Smith and Terrelle Pryor in the All-AFC West reckoning.
Running Back: Jamaal Charles, KC (+4.6)
The common theme for the AFC West at running back is high grades in the passing game but not necessarily on the ground. Charles is consistently getting around 20 carries per game but hasn’t been given the workload to really carry the Chiefs to a victory. While he hasn’t had the electrifying play that we all know he is capable of his solid work on the ground, paired with solid contributions as a receiver, gives him the nod.
Fullback: Anthony Sherman, KC (+13.3)
Trading a slot corner for a fullback isn’t the most conventional trade you’re ever likely to see but it has worked out brilliantly for the Chiefs with Sherman contributing 100 yards and a score in the receiving game but excelling as a lead blocker for Charles in the ground game. Yet to be challenged by Marcel Reece within the division who hasn’t re-discovered his 2012 form.
Tight End: Julius Thomas, DEN (+3.2)
Devoid of a true all around tight end, or a really consistent performer in the division, the choice comes down to Thomas and Antonio Gates. Thomas’ early season break through has him just ahead of the veteran Gates. Thomas hasn’t sustained that impact from the start of the season in terms of performance but continues to get across the goal-line and his eight touchdowns are only topped by Jimmy Graham among tight ends.
Wide Receivers: Wes Welker, DEN (+10.6) and Demaryius Thomas, DEN (+9.6)
If this were just for the last month Keenan Allen would figure even greater into the equation here. However, the more sustained production by the Denver duo over the first two months of the season has them linking up with their signal caller in the All-Division team. Welker has found his way across the goal-line nine times while Thomas is recording on average 8.0 yards per reception after the catch which is bettered by only Golden Tate and James Jones.
Tackles: King Dunlap, SD (+10.3) and Orlando Franklin, DEN (+8.6)
A close call at both tackle spots between the Broncos and Chargers’ tackles with a split decision seeing division newcomer Dunlap take the spot at left tackle. Dunlap’s biggest issue thus far has been staying on the field but when he’s played he’s played very well with solid pass protection and some of the best run blocking in the league this season. On the opposite side Franklin has continued to be a safe pair of hands in pass protection though his run blocking is inconsistent. If D.J. Fluker can continue to build on his form he will be in with a shout of unseating Franklin in the second half of the season.
Guards: Johnnie Troutman, SD (+1.3) and Louis Vasquez, DEN (+12.7)
Not the best group of guards in the league but Vasquez does at least cap the group off with some real All-Pro quality. He did settle in quickly with Denver both as a run and pass blocker after his move from San Diego in the offseason. Filling what proves to be something of a troublesome left guard spot in the division the Chargers’ fifth round selection from 2012 has certainly had his struggles in pass protection but has come up with some terrific games as a run blocker since taking over for the injured Chad Rinehart.
Center: Manuel Ramirez, DEN (+11.9)
Completing a very Denver-centric offensive line Ramirez has settled well at center surrendering only five total pressures and showing in flashes some really strong run blocking form. There have been poor games as well (Week 1 and Week 7) in the ground game but his performance against Oakland in Week 3 (+4.6 run block) was about as good as it gets.
In the same way we do in our Team of the Week, here we’ll put forward a hybrid defense that features two edge rushers (4-3 defensive ends or 3-4 outside linebackers), three players on the “interior” of the defensive line (defensive tackles or 3-4 defensive ends) and two linebackers (all inside linebackers and 4-3 outside linebackers).
Defensive Interior – Ends: Mike DeVito, KC (+14.1) and Malik Jackson, DEN (+8.4)
The Chiefs will, obviously, dominate this all division team up front with the shrewd acquisition of Mike DeVito paying dividends as a cog in the Chiefs’ run defense. DeVito only has eight defensive stops which is dwarfed by many 3-4 defensive ends around him in the rankings. Still, he is a consistent thorn in the side of opposing linemen standing up blocks, squeezing running lanes and re-directing runners. Joining him is Malik Jackson who has emerged as an efficient defender of both the run and the pass in the Broncos’ sub-packages playing across the defensive line.
Defensive Interior – Nose: Dontari Poe, KC (+15.7)
An absolute slam dunk for this team, Poe has been dominant against opposing ground games both in terms of shedding blocks to make stops along with occupying blocks and re-directing runs to allow others to make stops. Poe is also doing more than just existing on the field on passing downs registering 23 total pressures (5 sacks, 1 hit, 17 hurries) serving as a contributor on all three downs from the nose tackle position, a real rarity.
Edge Rushers: Justin Houston, KC (+22.1) and Tamba Hali, KC (+14.3)
Even if Von Miller hadn’t missed the first six games of the season he would have been hard pressed to keep the Chiefs’ twin terrors out of this team. Registering a combined 114 pressures Houston and Hali have already, in just nine games, outstripped their combined production from last season in the Chiefs’ more conservative defense of a year ago. To highlighting his all-round game Houston is also second to only Terrell Suggs among 3-4 OLBs with 29 defensive stops.
Linebackers: Derrick Johnson, KC (+8.2) and Sio Moore, OAK (+1.9)
Rounding out the front seven with five players for the Chiefs is Derrick Johnson who continues to be one of the more consistent linebackers in the league This is particularly true in coverage though he has struggled to really hit his best form as a run defender this season. Alongside him is Moore, the Raiders third round selection, who has been more solid than spectacular thus far though he has registered six stops in his last three games earning a +4.9 overall grade in the same span.
Cornerbacks: Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, DEN (+6.3) and Marcus Cooper, KC (+10.5)
An unlikely pairing of corners if you tried to compile this team before the season. A player always full of potential and talent but short on consistent performance Rodgers-Cromartie has, aside from a poor display in Dallas, flourished in Denver getting his hands to ten passes, intercepting two and surrendering a completion on only 51.1% of his targets this season. Even less likely a candidate is Cooper who in spite of a couple of rookie plays (such as being run by for a score by the Bills Marquise Goodwin) has played astonishingly well. Squeezed out of a stacked cornerback corps in San Francisco before the season started, Cooper has made the nickel corner role his own with the Chiefs and like Rodgers-Cromartie has got his hands to ten passes and is surrendering an even low completions percentage at 38.5%, tied with Alterraun Verner for the best in the league.
Safeties: Eric Berry, KC (+8.1) and Eric Weddle, SD (+2.4)
Perhaps the safety pairing that you would pick on paper but after Weddle’s rough start to the season (eight missed tackles in the first three games) it was not always a guarantee that this would come to fruition. Weddle has recovered since that start with the more customary solid coverage that we are used to seeing and now sits inside the top 10 safeties in the league with 15 stops. Berry is one of those ahead of him (18) and he has been a revelation this season really improving as a coverage defender as our own Sam Monson explored last week.
Kicker: Matt Prater, DEN (+6.3, Field Goals) A perfect 12-of-12 on field goals including 9-of-9 from 40 yards and beyond, Prater has been faultless on the rare occasions the Broncos’ offense falters and needs three points.
Punter: Britton Colquitt, DEN (+12.3) Not often called upon, but extremely efficient when he is. Almost half of his punts have been fair caught with 11 of 28 resulting in the opposing offense starting inside their own 20-yard line.
Returner: Trindon Holliday, DEN (+2.2) Not as productive in the last month but still the only player in the league with both a kick and punt return touchdown this season.
Special Teamer: Husain Abdullah, KC (+2.0) His nine special teams tackles see him tie for second in the league, bested only by Marcus Easley of the Bills. One of our highest-graded players in punt coverage.