The AFC West is filled with top defensive talent.
Defensive ends Khalil Mack (Oakland Raiders) and Von Miller (Denver Broncos) finished one-two in last year's Defensive Player of the Year voting. Los Angeles Chargers edge rusher Joey Bosa is also a rising star. However, I would argue that Kansas City Chiefs cornerback Marcus Peters should be a part of the conversation if you were to start a team with one defensive player from the division.
Peters is the NFL’s top playmaker at an important position. He either breaks up the pass or records an interception almost 20 percent of the time he’s targeted in coverage over two NFL seasons -- a league high. The Chiefs had a weak pass rush last year, and due to injuries and poor play, they fielded an ever-changing cast of cornerbacks other than Peters. They still compiled the third-best opponent passer rating in the league in large part because of the second-year corner, who has a knack for making big plays at the right time. In the final minute of a tie game at Carolina last season, Peters went for a strip after Kelvin Benjamin caught a short pass in front of him. The cornerback was able to knock the ball loose and recover the fumble, and the Chiefs went on to kick a field goal and seal a walk-off victory.
If you could start a team with any one AFC West defensive player, who would it be and why?
Jeff Legwold, Denver Broncos reporter: If you’re going to start a team, you need an impact player at a foundation position -- edge rusher -- or a standout interior rusher. You could also go with a playmaker at a spot that Broncos VP John Elway considers a foundation position: cornerback. To that end, Mack, Bosa and cornerbacks Chris Harris Jr. and Peters are certainly in the conversation.
But in my view, it’s still Miller, who just turned 28 years old in March. He has started at least 15 games in all but one of his previous six seasons. (He tore an ACL in 2013.) He has posted double-digit sack totals in five seasons and topped 13 sacks in three seasons. He has been a Super Bowl MVP and a key player in one of the league’s best defenses over the past four seasons. The Broncos have finished No. 1 in pass defense and among the top three in sacks in each of the past two seasons. Much of how opponents align themselves against the Broncos' defense has to do with Miller's position on the field.
Although Miller may have had his best all-around season in 2016, he still has room to grow. He’s an elite player who has yet to reach his ceiling.
Eric D. Williams, Los Angeles Chargers reporter: I have to go with Bosa here because of his age (he'll turn 22 on Tuesday) and his potential to develop into one of the more dominant pass-rushers in the league for the next decade. Bosa finished with 10.5 sacks in 12 games during his rookie campaign, and many of his teammates felt he should have made the Pro Bowl. He has a chance to earn Defensive Player of the Year honors in 2017. “He’s got Hall of Fame potential,” Chargers safety Dwight Lowery said. “And that’s after seeing him play just a couple games and seeing him practice. Just his size and physical attributes, he can be as good as he wants to be.”
Paul Gutierrez, Oakland Raiders reporter: The old Mack vs. Miller question, eh? Yeah, I know Bosa might garner some support, as will Eric Berry. But while Miller and Berry might have already cobbled together Canton-worthy résumés, Bosa and Mack’s best days are still ahead. And Mack is already a reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year. So I’m going with Mack, but not simply because of his accolades. Mack showed he could take over a game without receiving veteran treatment from referees. Or did you miss the numerous holding calls that coulda-woulda-shoulda been called on opponents blocking Mack, who still finished the season with 11 sacks and strung together an eight-game sack streak? Mack has also picked up a penchant for closing games with sacks, and had a clutch 6-yard pick-six off quarterback Cam Newton. Now that’s performing under duress, as well as laying the foundation for a team.