I am aware that the Associated Press only names All-Pro teams for the entire league, but we’re going to pretend that each division gets their own squad. Here’s my prediction for what the AFC West All-Pro team would look like by the end of the upcoming season:
Quarterback: Peyton Manning (DEN)
Let’s just say this position didn’t require as much thought as some of the others. When a guy is the reigning MVP and is coming off of the best regular season ever in the history of quarterbacks, it’s safe to assume he will be the best in his division the following season. Will Peyton Manning throw for almost 55 touchdowns and almost 5,500 yards again? Probably not. But with weapons still all around him, his numbers are going to be ridiculous yet again. A 6th MVP award is absolutely a realistic goal.
Running Back: Jamaal Charles (KC)
Like with Peyton Manning, this was one of the easier decisions to make. Arguably the best running back in the league in 2013, Charles sprinted his way to the Pro Bowl and First-Team All Pro. He led the league with 19 total touchdowns and also ran for almost 1,300 yards. While his rushing abilities alone would be enough to declare him as the best running back in the AFC West, it is the addition of his receiving skills that place him among the NFL’s elite. His numbers of 70 receptions for almost 700 yards and 7 touchdowns would be very good for a wide receiver. There might not be another player in the league who is more of a threat to score when the ball is in his hands.
Fullback: Marcel Reece (OAK)
There isn’t a fullback in the NFL who has been more consistently productive than Reece over the past couple of seasons. He is coming off of a year where he rushed for over 200 yards, caught 32 passes, and scored 4 touchdowns. Those might not be numbers that convince you to draft Reece for your fantasy team, but they are elite for a fullback nowadays.
Thomas has been among the NFL’s best receivers for two years now, but I think he could potentially be the best receiver in 2014. Last season he caught 92 passes for over 1,400 yards and 14 touchdowns, and that was with Eric Decker posting similar numbers across the field from him. Sure, the Broncos brought in Emmanuel Sanders to replace Decker and still have Wes Welker and Julius Thomas. But now Thomas is undoubtedly the man in Denver, and he’ll play like it. He could potentially put up some legendary numbers in 2014.
Allen, on the other hand, is only coming off of his rookie season. But after posting 71 catches for over 1,000 yards and 8 touchdowns in his first season, he has all NFL fans sitting on the edge of their seats to see what he can do in 2014. His chemistry with Phillip Rivers is only going to get better, and it’s not like the Chargers are loaded with receivers who are going to take targets away from him. He might not be the fastest or biggest guy, but he knows how to get open and catch balls. And expect him to do A LOT of that in this season.
Tight End: Julius Thomas (DEN)
A former college basketball player at Portland State, Thomas burst onto the scene in 2013. He caught almost 800 yards and scored 12 touchdowns, and that was in his first season playing with the first-team offense. Now that he has some experience under his belt, look for Thomas to refine his tight end skills and get even better. I’m betting he breaks the 1,000-yard mark and scores double-digit touchdowns in 2014.
Tackle: Ryan Clady (DEN), D.J. Fluker (SD)
Clady barely played in 2013 after a foot injury in Week 2 ended his season, but there is no doubt that he is still one of the best at his position. A three-time Pro Bowler, Clady is the total package at left tackle. While his skills might go unnoticed since Peyton Manning gets rid of the ball in basically less than a second, Clady is a force as both a pass and run blocker.
Fluker plays on the opposite side of the line, but he has a similar impact for the San Diego Chargers. He was one of the best offensive rookies in 2013 and was a huge reason for the emergence of Ryan Mathews. With 2014 being his second full season, a Pro Bowl berth is definitely a possibility.
Guard: Louis Vasquez (DEN), Orlando Franklin (DEN)
Vasquez was a simple selection, as he is one of the best guards in the league and has the All-Pro experience to prove it. He was underrated reason behind the records of Peyton Manning and success of Knowshon Moreno in 2013. However, putting Franklin on this hypothetical team is more of a gut feeling. Franklin was a solid right tackle for the Broncos last season, but they are completely shaking things up and moving him to left guards for 2014. It’s a risky move, considering Franklin is way bigger than most NFL guards and has very little history at the position. But he is a talented lineman and will be playing inside of Clady and Vasquez, so I think it will all work out just fine.
Center: Stefen Wisniewski (OAK)
Raiders fans, I didn’t forget about your team. There just really are not many guys who even contended for a spot on this list that wear the silver and black. But don’t get me wrong: Wisniewski earned his spot. The line as a whole might not be very good, but Wisniewski himself is and he should be the anchor for years to come.
Defensive End: Corey Liuget (SD), DeMarcus Ware (DEN)
He might only be 24 years old, but Corey Liuget is already one of the best 3-4 defensive ends in the NFL. He registered 5.5 sacks from the position in 2013, which is especially incredible considering he is the only true impact player in San Diego’s front seven. He deserves some recognition from the league, and 2014 could be the year he gets it.
DeMarcus Ware already has gotten his fair share of recognition. The seven-time Pro Bowler can already be considered one of the best pass rushers of all time, but he is only 31 years old and believes he still has a lot left in the tank. In a “down year” in 2013, he had 6 sacks even though he was never healthy. If he can stay healthy in 2014, then look for Ware to return back to his dominant form.
Defensive Tackle: Dontari Poe (KC), Terrance Knighton (DEN)
It did not take Poe long to become one of the best nose tackles in the entire league. In just his second season in the league, Poe was named a Second-Team All-Pro after recorded over 50 tackles a 4.5 sacks. He was also (at least) double-teamed on every play, so those stats are extremely impressive. With his physical tools and more experience, Poe might become the best at his position by the end of 2014.
Terrance “Pot Roast” Knighton had a good regular season in 2013, but it was his postseason play that catapulted him into the NFL mainstream. With a revamped defense around him, that high level of play should continue into 2014. Look for Pot Roast to become one of the AFC’s finest defensive tackles.
Outside Linebacker: Von Miller (DEN), Tamba Hali (KC)
In 2012, Von Miller had one of the best seasons by a linebacker in recent memory. He had 18.5 sacks and would have won the Defensive Player of the Year award if not for JJ Watt’s otherworldly season. But in 2013, he was suspended for the first six games of the season and then tore his ACL later in the year. While he did play fairly well when he was on the field last year, many of us seem to have forgotten how good Miller can be. While returning from an ACL tear is an uphill battle, all reports are that Miller will be set for Week 1. I don’t think he will have anything near 18.5 sacks again, but I think he will return to Pro Bowl form.
It might be strange to consider Tamba Hali as a linebacker, because he is only on the field to rush the quarterback. But regardless of how we classify him, Hali is an absolute beast. He had 4 forced fumbles and 11 sacks last season, making it the fifth straight year that he has tallied at least 8 sacks. Hali has an iffy contract situation and did report to training camp overweight, but this guy’s motor is second to none. With other great pass rushers around him, offenses will once again be simply unable to contain Hali for an entire game.
Inside Linebacker: Derrick Johnson (KC), Manti Te’o (SD)
On a defense loaded with big names, Derrick Johnson still remains the leader of the group. And in 2013, he once again proved he has the game to go along with the leadership. He recorded over 100 tackles for the fourth straight year, tied his career high in sacks, and also picked off 2 passes. He made his third straight Pro Bowl, and there is no reason to believe that 2014 won’t be his fourth straight.
While Te’o might be more of a household name than Johnson, it is not for football reasons. But the guy can still play, and in 2014 I think he’ll prove to everyone that he can play really well. He had a promising rookie year, and now he will finally get the chance to be an every down player. I’ll admit this selection does feel a bit like a process of elimination decision, since the AFC West is weak when it comes to middle linebackers. Still, Te’o should be a productive player for the Chargers.
Cornerback: Aqib Talib (DEN), Chris Harris (DEN)
Talib will once again be contending for the AFC title in 2014, but this time around it will be for the Broncos instead of the Patriots. Talib starred in New England for two years, but a six-year, $57 million contract brought him to Denver. Still, he will be asked to do the same thing, and that is to guard the other team’s best receiver. Talib is a physical corner who can match up with just about anyone, and he will give the Broncos a defensive presence they haven’t had at the position since Champ Bailey was in his prime.
Harris will be Talib’s partner in the Denver secondary, and he is a strong player in his own right. He was excellent in 2013 before tearing his ACL in the playoffs. He had 14 passes defended, 3 interceptions, and allowed only a 64.9 passer rating when thrown at. With cornerback being one of the more demanding positions in football, we cannot be sure how Harris will return from such a serious injury. But upon hearing his statement that 2014 is “Super Bowl or bust” for the Broncos, I’m not going to question his confidence. I think he’ll be back and just as good as he was in 2013.
Safety: Eric Berry (KC), Eric Weddle (SD)
These two Pro Bowl safeties might share the same name, but they are completely different players. Eric Berry is a ball hawk who can also drop the hit stick on any wide receiver over the middle. He is one of the most fun players to watch in the league, and at 25 years old should only keep getting better. Weddle, on the other hand, should not even have an official position on the San Diego depth chart. He is often essentially a linebacker, as evidenced by his 115 tackles in 2013. But at the same time, he is a threat to pick off any ball in the air if he drops back into coverage. Berry and Weddle will never be confused for one another, but they both find their own unique ways to be incredibly effective.
Kicker: Matt Prater (DEN)
Punter: Dustin Colquitt (KC)
Kick Returner: De’Anthony Thomas (KC)
Special Teams: Seyi Ajirotutu (SD)