First off, I need a bench mark. After a player’s rookie year, for me, his age becomes a bigger factor than years of experience. If you come into the NFL at 24, you better take less time to get adjusted because your career won’t last as long as a 21 year old. Nor will teams hold out to play the upside card as long. So for my purposes, I’m taking players under 25 during the bulk of the 2012 season when I consider best young player in the NFL. Guys like Eric Decker and Jamal Charles are 25 so they don’t qualify for this post. Those guys, for my purposes, are considered to be in their prime (25-29 years of age).
My list of the Top 10 best young players in the AFC West.
- Von Miller / Denver (23): Other than JJ Watt, I can’t think of a defensive player with more trade value than Von Miller. It is an honor to watch this guy play football. He has 1st ballot HOF potential and is already playing at that level in his fledgling career. Enough said.
- No one is close enough to Miller to merit the # ranking 2
- See above.
Okay… that seems like enough distance.
- Justin Houston (23) / Kansas City: This guy can really bend and get after the passer. Great burst, but a one trick pony right now. It’s a great trick though. Between him and Hali, KC has some nasty threats on the outside to match what we have in Denver. A fantastic 3rd round pick by Paoli.
- Eric Berry (23) / Kansas City: He’d have been #2 after his rookie year, but he is having a tough time with the ACL recovery and hasn’t played all that well this season. Still, a sublime talent that should be a thorn in our side for a decade. I’m giving Berry the benefit of the doubt with this ranking because the two guys right below him are having much better seasons in 2012.
- Demaryius Thomas (24) / Denver: The guy is on pace for a 96 catch, 1,600 yard season. Maybe 8 TDs. Those stats will rightfully land you in the Pro Bowl every single season. Hopefully they stop that stupid game and just make it an honor in name only. With a free trip for two to Hawaii. If Josh McJedi were half as good at coaching as he was as a GM, he’d have been able to crank out a few 6-10 seasons before Bowlen fired him.
- Donald Butler (23) / San Diego: Best young ILB in the division, by far. So much better than Ronaldo McClain. This guy makes impactful plays. He is athletic and instinctive. Pro bowl potential. AJ Smith jumped one pick ahead of Denver in 2010 to take this guy. Then we took JD Walton, whom was doing pretty good this year. Great move AJ Smith, but at least McJedi didn’t crap his pants. Josh took Eric Decker a few picks later in his most productive round in his two drafts. Getting off topic. Anyway. Donald Butler is bad a**. Bummer for the rest of the AFC West.
- Orlando Franklin (24) / Denver: This guy is a better NFL player than college player. Orlando is a starter since day one rookie year, better than Clady in run game and so-so in pass protect (but not vastly overmatched like other RTs I see weekly). Has NFL top-10 RT potential.
- Stefen Wisniewski (23) / Oakland: Day one starter on a bad team. Shows position versatility along the interior of the O-line. I like him as a player. Good draft pick by Al Davis. Runs a 5.22.
- Corey Liuget (22) / San Diego: This guy scares me. He looked great vs New Orleans. You can tell he is gifted and he is still so very young. Kind of a disappointment as a rookie, but coming on strong in year 2. Could move up this list with more consistent performances. Damn.
- Derek Wolfe (22) / Denver: Another day one starter as a rookie. I’ve noticed some weaknesses on Denver’s D, but this guy isn’t one of them. On pace for 7 sack season. Another position versatile D-linemen. Has a few tackles for loss. Great ability with his hands and can really fight off a blocker with those paws. He looks like a solid 10 year starter to me. That is great 1st round pick value. Stop bitching about this pick people. I don’t care if you and Gil Brandt didn’t know his name going into the draft.
- Denarius Moore (23) / Oakland: This guy is a better and more productive WR than Jon Baldwin. He doesn’t have #1 WR talent, but he should be a long term NFL player. Another player I like from a team I think is very close to the bottom in the NFL in terms of overall roster talent.
- Chris Harris (23) / Denver: Really 12b. Starter since mid-rookie year. I was quite vexed when we signed D Florence because we had our nickel CB. Harris is a great tackler and possesses top notch blitz ability. I have no idea how this guy didn’t get drafted on day 2 in 2011. This guy is way too good and impactful to leave off this list. Yes, I noticed that he struggled with Wes Welker, the best slot receiver of his generation in a game where our HC and DC were not mentally present until the 2nd half. So for you cry babies, take that paci out of your mouth and shove it where the sun don’t shine.
Players I considered, but didn’t make the final cut (in order)
Melvin Ingram (23) / San Diego: This guy has a ton of talent. Probably only a matter of time before he is putting up consistent and impactful stats. Most likely in the top 10 next year. Maybe even later this season. But he isn’t winning ROY like I saw so many folks project preseason.
Rahim Moore (22) / Denver: He is growing on me and he is still just a baby. Needs to grab some INTs.
Jon Asamoah (24) / Kansas City: Starter and looks alright. May jump up this list, but will be too old next year, so nevermind.
Kendrik Lewis (24) / Kansas City: A starter, but one I’ve seen get targeted and attacked often by the offenses of the other team. Like Berry, I’m probably giving him too much credit.
Kendall Reyes (23) / San Diego: No stats yet, but he does look to have ability. He has earned PT on a good front seven. Someone I’ll continue to watch. I liked the 2012 San Diego draft on draft day and I still do.
Jon Baldwin (23) / Kansas City: Meh. Looks like one of those physically gifted, mentally incapable WRs. The NFL is littered with busts at WR with this exact same makeup. I bet KC wishes they had this pick back.
Miles Burris (24) / Oakland: This is someone I’m watching because I think he has potential to grow into a solid player for Oakland. A solid 4th round pick in what might be the only guy that pans out from the Raiders hideous 2012 draft class.
Quinton Carter (24) / Denver: Bummer that he IR’d himself during TC, even if our staff picked up his injury a month too late. Looked like a potential stud in the post season during our 2011 playoff run. Hopefully he comes back strong in 2013 because I’d like a young FS/SS tandem.
Dontari Poe (22) / Kansas City: Starter by default. Flashes good and bad with what I’ve seen. I’d rather have Wolfe or Reyes along the D-line. This kid does have potential to get much better.
Ronaldo McClain (23) / Oakland: I loved this guy going into the draft and thought he’d be a Pat Willis type of star. Thank goodness we didn’t trade up for him because he sort of sucks. And he is immature. A loose cannon off the field. Ronaldo is a major disappointment as a high 1st round pick. I love typing that. Screw you Raiders!
Javier Arenas (24) / Kansas City: Not really young enough to be on the list, but this is the guy they got for trading away Tony Gonzales. KC, you lost this trade.
Nate Irving (24) / Denver: The joke is on us in this case. I have much higher hopes for Malik Jackson, Trevathan, Hillman, Bolden, V Green and even J Thomas. No 2012 bonus for the Denver scout that loved on Irving so much.
Jonus Mouton (24) / Chargers: You took this guy with a round 2 pick???? AJ Smith… Nice pick jack***. Way to outsmart everyone mister smartest GM in the room. A total McJedi reach. AJ’s Dick Quinn.
If you notice one thing about my list, it’s that Denver is the most represented team AND has the most high end young talent. This isn’t because I’m a homer either. We, from an honest eye, have better young talent than our AFC West rivals. I’m sure the KC fans will whine about that, but they can stuff it. Your team is 1-4 and going nowhere you fake paper tigers. Go ahead and boo Eric Berry the next time some other team’s TE torches him like Gates did a two weeks ago. AJ Smith will get fired when the Dolts fail to make the playoffs this year. His draft resurgence will be too late to save "the Lord of No Rings". Nice hair you prick. Oakland is hurting for the present and future. Very weak roster in terms of young talent. I don’t see this team finishing better than 5-11 and 3-13 wouldn't surprise me. I’m glad I didn't have to find a place for Tim Tebow in this article. The mouth breathers on both sides would have ruined the discourse.