Training camp and pre-season are just a few short weeks away, and every team has a renewed hope about their respective rosters. The AFC West is no different, but what is different is that most of the hype coming from this division is likely warranted.
The AFC West is home to some of the best talent in the league, and is shaping up to be the most competitive and feared division in football; and it keeps getting better.
15 of the 23 All-Pro selections come from AFC West or NFC East. 50% of the 1st team defense is AFC West. Lot of talent in those 2 divisions.— Jeffrey Essary (@JeffreyEssary) January 6, 2017
This division has the potential to put three teams into the playoffs this year; and the crazy part is, no one can decide which three it is going to be, or what order.
Well, we’re not going to attempt that today either. What we are going to do is break down a position group one at a time and rank that group across the division, assigning points for every ranking. At the end, we’ll total up the points and see who has the best roster and the worst roster in the division.
Note: while we are pre-disposed to favor the Broncos, for this exercise we will try to be as objective as possible and welcome debates in the comments.
Today we look at the cornerbacks.
Four of the 10 highest-graded CBs played in the AFC West in 2016— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) May 7, 2017
Chris Harris Jr (#1)
Aqib Talib (#2)
Casey Hayward (#6)
Marcus Peters (#10)
While the AFC doesn’t feature the most feared passing attacks in the league, the cornerbacks are pretty darn good, and have had success both inside and outside the division.
#1 - Denver Broncos
This one is pretty easy. Denver has the two best cornerbacks in the NFL in Aqib Talib and Chris Harris Jr. Former first round pick, Bradley Roby, rounds out their group giving them three corners capable of locking teams up in man to man coverage across the board and shutting down their passing attack.
For the second year in a row, Denver ranked #1 in defensive DVOA according to Football Outsiders, and these three members of the No Fly Zone are a big reason why.
On the other side of the ball, the Denver Broncos held on to finish as our No. 1 defense for the second straight season. The Broncos are only the third defense to ever rank No. 1 in DVOA for two straight years, following the 1993-1994 Pittsburgh Steelers and the 2013-2014 Seattle Seahawks. However, we had never had a No. 1 defense that ranked lower than 16th against the run. The Broncos finish the year ranked 21st against the run, but with the seventh-best DVOA ever against the pass. The difference between Denver and the No. 2 pass defense, Philadelphia, was 19.3% DVOA. That's the same as the difference between Philadelphia and the No. 15 pass defense, Cincinnati.
Chirs Harris Jr., Aqib Talib and Bradley Roby make one good trio of cornerbacks for the Denver Broncos. pic.twitter.com/fRMZ4BOQPi— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) May 24, 2017
#2 - Los Angeles Chargers
I don’t think I’ll ever get used to typing “Los Angeles” before the Chargers.
The Chargers hit on a gem in free agency when they signed Casey Hayward from the Packers, for an insanely reasonable contract (3 yrs/$15M). Hayward had a stellar season shouldering the load as the #1 corner after Jason Verrett went down with injury, and contributed on 92% of the defensive snaps in 2016.
Chargers CB Casey Hayward allowed a QB rating of 53.4 into his coverage last season, third-best in the NFL. pic.twitter.com/8VAzjqniEW— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) May 17, 2017
Before tearing his ACL and missing most of 2016, Jason Verrett was one of the NFL’s best, and most underrated, corners. I loved Verrett coming out of TCU, and even advocated that Denver take him instead of Bradley Roby. When healthy (which is a big question mark so far for Verrett), the Chargers have one of the best cornerback duos in the league, not to mention one of the most affordable.
Behind the starters, depth is something that LA will have to figure out. 2015 3rd round pick Craig Mager figures to see some of the 3rd cornerback snaps, and the Chargers drafted Desmond King, a cornerback out of Iowa, this year as well. Although the prevailing thought among most draftniks was that he would move to safety, I wouldn’t put it past Gus Bradley to try him out at corner as well.
#3 - Kansas City Chiefs
Marcus Peters has made plays at a higher rate than any CB in the NFL over the past three seasons. pic.twitter.com/pdCM9h7YfE— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) April 25, 2017
Marcus Peters is an excellent player and crazy good playmaker. If there were anyone serviceable lining up across from him, the Chiefs might be higher in these rankings.
The Chiefs made a statement in May when they didn’t draft any corners, choosing instead to stand pat with their current crop.
Of that group, Terrance Mitchell came on at the end of the season, and is likely to get first crack at starting opposite of Peters, while Steven Nelson was 6th best in yards per coverage snap allowed in the slot among slot corners.
The potential is there for Kansas City to have a really good set of corners in 2017, but until then, they sit at 3rd in the division.
#4 - Oakland Raiders
Bringing up the bottom of the division is the Oakland Raiders’ cornerback group. When your best cornerback on your team has yet to play an NFL snap, you know you have a weak group.
That said, the Raiders got good value when they drafted Gareon Conley 24th overall out of Ohio State. It was really good luck for the Raiders who were picking late in the round, to still be able to get a top 10 talent at a position of need.
Sean Smith had an excellent year in 2015 for the Chiefs, but wasn’t quite able to replicate that success last year with Oakland (it’s never a good sign when you show up on the list of “worst free agent signings”). He was “ok”, but not great in 2016, while David Amerson struggled to be consistent.
Much like KC, this group could be in a different place at the end of the season, but for now, the Raiders have the weakest cornerback group in the AFC West.
Sound off with your thoughts in the comments, and stay tuned for the rest of the position group rankings over the next few weeks!