After looking at the offence, it’s time we delve into the other half of the ball game by comparing the Chiefs’ defence. If you haven’t read the offence article what are you waiting for? Go check it out first and then come back here after! Anyway, with a few questionable decisions in this year’s offseason as far as the defence is concerned let’s take a look at how we stack up against the rest of the AFC West.
1st – Denver Broncos (B+)
Up first I put the Denver Broncos. Despite losing Aqib Talib in the off-season to the now-stacked LA Rams, the cornerback situation in Denver is still strong. Chris Harris Jr and Bradley Roby create solid starters based on their experience in the league and performance last season. Combined they had 3 interceptions in 2017 (2 for Harris, 1 for Roby), 24 passes defended (7 for Harris, 17 for Roby), 2 forced fumbles (1 a piece) and 1 sack for Roby too. It’s not the most extraordinary stats for the two CBs but they do their job and appear to be very versatile. A corner’s job isn’t to just go up there and get interceptions; the forced fumbles, sack and passes defended shows this. Roby also only started in 4 games in 2016 due to the presence of Talib on the team. Therefore, with Talib gone, I predict higher starts and, consequently, a larger production from Roby in 2018.
2nd – Los Angeles Chargers (B)
1st and 2nd places were very close for me as I believe Hayward is the best corner in the division and definitely a top 5 in the league. However the depth in Denver stopped me from putting LA at the top spot. Hayward has had 2 confident years at the Chargers. In 2016 he led the league in interceptions with 7, tied second for passes defended with 27 and allowed a mere 53.4 passer rating when QBs threw to him and made it to the pro-bowl. This is combined with 4 interceptions, 1 forced fumble and 2 fumble recoveries in 2017 as well as another pro-bowl selection that year. It’s near impossible to not include Hayward when talking about the NFL’s best corners.
However the players alongside Hayward are a cause of concern for Chargers fans. In 2016 and 2017 the second best CB on the team, Jason Verrett only played 5 games (4 in 2016 and only 1 in 2017). With only 4 interceptions in his 4 year career despite starting 92% of his games played (23 games started, 25 games played) Verrett needs a big comeback season next year to help out Hayward. However he does seem fully healthy for the 2018 season which is a plus for them. Aside from Verrett and Hayward, other notable corners on the roster include Trevor Williams, who filled in for Verrett’s absence last season with 15 game starts but only 2 interceptions, 13 passes defended and 46 tackles and Desmond King, who just finished his rookie year with the Chargers with only 1 interception, 5 passes defended but a whopping 61 tackles in the 5 games he started in. The situation aside from Hayward, only emphasises what an absolute stud he is in that Chargers secondary but because his fellow corners do let him down slightly, I put the Chargers in at 2nd.
3rd – Kansas City Chiefs (C)
Are you surprised the Chiefs’ didn’t come last after the departure of Marcus Peters to the Rams? I wouldn’t be. Losing a top 5 cornerback in the league is definitely a huge blow but I feel like the Chiefs aren’t completely lost at this position just yet. With a couple of new offseason acquisitions such as Kendall Fuller from the Redskins and David Amerson from the Raiders, it’s not as strong as it was last season but it’s still respectable. With 4 interceptions, 10 passes defended and 1 forced fumble Fuller was ranked the number 1 slot defender in the league last season whilst in Washington. Although the numbers don’t seem to showcase this very well, his skill mainly came from an aspect of his game that’s difficult to show on a stat sheet; and that’s his reaction speed. Fuller has incredible reflexes and can keep tight with receivers on short sharp routes like slants and outs making him a valuable slot defender for the Chiefs. However without another exceptional player at the CB position I wouldn’t be surprised if defensive coordinator Bob Sutton decided to put him out wide instead as the primary cornerback on the field. Either way he’s no Marcus Peters but he’s an acceptable replacement.
Taking Amerson away from a divisional rival was also a great move from the Chiefs as, despite missing 10 games in the 2016 season from a foot injury, concussion and light shoulder injury, he appears to be fully healthy and ready for his 2018 campaign. In 2015 and 2016 Amerson had a combined total of 6 interceptions, 47 passes defended and 112 solo tackles which is definitely respectable.
Nelson is the last notable cornerback on the roster that’s worth a mention. I’m a bit worried about him as a third year player on the Chiefs. There were multiple times last season where big plays were given up by the Chiefs by the fault of Nelson. This could’ve been because of Peters’ tendency to only line up on one side of the field, exposing the other half to air raids; however it was still not the best performance from our, then, CB2. He needs to improve in 2018 for the Chiefs secondary to stop more of those shock plays from happening. Let’s hope that Amerson can bounce back well from the injuries so that Fuller and him can split the field evenly, taking the weight off of Nelson’s shoulders a bit more.
4th – Oakland Raiders (D+)
If I’m being brutally honest, there isn’t much to talk about with regards to the Raiders’ cornerback situation. They’ve made some considerable moves this season by sending David Amerson to Kansas City and drafting Nick Nelson in the most recent draft. However both moves have only made their CB core weaker, in my opinion. Understandably, Amerson was injured last season, hence the move, but before his injury he was a decent corner. Nick Nelson’s stats in his senior year at Wisconsin wasn’t very impressive with no interceptions, only 26 solo tackles and no forced fumbles.
Leon Hall, the 10 year veteran who spent only spent 1 season at the 49ers last season also had no interceptions in 2017, only started in 1 game and only had 15 tackles. The only slight saving grace of this struggling position for the Raiders is Shareece Wright. Wright will be going into his 8th season in the league and spent last season in Buffalo where he had 1 interception, 35 solo tackles, 1 forced fumble and 2 fumble recoveries. Although it is better than the other corners on the roster its still not looking very good for Oakland.
1st – Denver Broncos (B+)
As well as topping the list for CBs I had to put the Broncos number 1 for safeties too and here’s why. Denver also have two very different safeties who are strong in their own ways. Justin Simmons had a very confident first two years in the league. With 2 interceptions as a rookie and another 2 in his sophomore year. He’s also had an accumulative total of 148 yards returned from these picks (including a pick 6); showing how he’s definitely a threat as a ball-hawking type player. However he’s another one of those versatile DB’s on the team as tackling is also a strong suit for him. He can fill gaps in the trenches and lay huge hits on running backs who reach the second level of the field. He’s racked up a total of 66 solo tackles (46 in 2017 and 20 in 2016); making him a threat for any opposing offence not only for his ability to take the ball away from opposing receivers but also get down and dirty to make those important tackles .
Alongside him is veteran Darian Stewart who’s already proved himself as a great safety in the league. Before joining the Broncos in 2015 Stewart only had 2 interceptions in his 5 years in the league (4 years at the Rams and 1 at the Ravens). However he really excelled at his time in Denver with a total of 7 picks, 153 totals tackles and 2 forced fumbles (as well as a pro-bowl selection in 2016, a season where he started in all 16 games). The energy and hunger of the young safety Simmons with the veteran know-how of Stewart (combined with the corners Talib and Roby) they’re a scary bunch to deal with in 2018 for the division and the rest of the league.
2nd – Kansas City Chiefs (B)
Did someone say comeback player of the year 2018? I’m certain I just heard that. After strong safety Eric Berry tore his achilles tendon in week 1 of the 2017 season he missed the rest of the 15 games and his lack of presence was very apparent. However he was still a natural leader for the Chiefs’ defence even when he couldn’t be on the field himself. His 7 years in the league, plus 5 pro bowl selections and 3 first team all-pro team appearances means he’s full of advice for the younger, less experienced, members of the secondary. But now his participation in the 2018 season in near certain it’s clear that this’ll help bolster that Chiefs secondary. Totalling up 14 interceptions (5 of which were returned for a touchdown) as well as 4 forced fumbles across his career. Did I mention that he was also diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma (cancer of the chest) in 2014 which caused him to miss half of the season? The guy’s pretty spectacular and is going to be welcomed back onto the Chiefs’ active roster next season where he’s poised to be just as big of a threat to opposing offences as he’s always been.
Alongside Berry, the Chiefs also have Daniel Sorensen who’s going into his 5th season in the league. Sorensen had 4 interceptions in the past 2 years at Kansas City (3 in 2016 and 1 in 2017) and helped to fill the huge gap that Berry’s injury left in the Chiefs’ secondary. He also racked up 66 solo tackles last season alone as he excels as a big-hitter safety rather than a ball hawk like number 29. With these two back together on the defence next season it will be very exciting to see how the Chiefs’ DBs perform together when the season kick starts in September. Despite the loss of Ron Parker to Atlanta during this year’s off season I still believe the Chiefs deserve a spot at number 2 on the list.
3rd – Los Angeles Chargers (C+)
The last two were a really hard choice as both pairs of safeties were talented. However, the 1 thing that edges the Chargers above the Raiders is that I believe Derwin James gives LA that ‘WOW’ factor which Oakland is just missing. As the 17th pick in the 2018 draft, James was, in my opinion, the biggest steal of the draft (in a mock draft I put together in late March I had him going to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 7th overall). His freshman year was the most impressive with a huge 91 tackles (9.5 of them for a loss of yardage), 4.5 sacks and 2 forced fumbles. In his junior year, before entering the draft, James had another great year with 84 tackles (5.5 of them for a loss), 2 interceptions, 11 passes defended in just 12 games. This came alongside some accolades too including multiple All-American and All-ACC honours (the NCAA equivalent of an all-pro selection in the NFL). If James maintains the hype he’ll definitely be a stud at the pro-level for the Chargers.
Alongside him is veteran safety Jahleel Addae; who’s entering his 6th year in the league. He doesn’t have the most impressive stat line across his 5 years as a Charger. With only one interception (in 2016 which he did return 90 yards for a touchdown), 18 passes defended, 3.5 sacks, 3 forced fumbles and 3 fumbles recovered. However I believe that his experience in the league will help James develop into a top player in the league whilst Addae’s 239 tackles, 66 of those coming from last season, are numbers Charger’s fans should feel confident with.
4th – Oakland Raiders (C)
With two safeties who have been in the league for a combined 18 years (11 for Reggie Nelson and 7 for Marcus Gilchrist) it’s only so far that experience and the “know-how” of the game can take you. To put things into perspective, when Reggie Nelson was a rookie, getting 5 interceptions in his first season at the Jaguars, Derwin James was only 10 years old! That’s not to say that Nelson is old and withered now because it was only 3 years ago that he got his career-high for interceptions in a season with a huge 8. However it does seem that his time in the league may be coming close to the end after an impressive career. Last season he had his second career-lowest number of interceptions in a season with only 1 (in 2009 he didn’t have any); however, having said that, last season was also the season where Nelson had his third-highest number of tackles in a season with 60. So Nelson is a tricky one to predict coming into 2018 simply because, despite his great, long-lasting, career as a solid safety, he’s now 34 years old and whether he will continue to produce is unknown. I’m even less convinced by Gilchrist and how he’ll perform in 2018. As a free agent who spent the previous season as a Houston Texan, the 7 year veteran was never a eye-catching player. Last season he only had 1 interception, 6 passes defended, 1 forced fumbled, no fumble recoveries, 1 sack and only 45 tackles. He’s probably the weakest of the predicted starting safeties in the division. Therefore I feel like the Chargers have a stronger, more reliable, pair going into the 2018 season.
1st – Kansas City Chiefs (B+)
The Chiefs. Topping the ranking at a defensive position? You best believe it. I really like the linebacking group for Kansas City for multiple reasons. Firstly, the Chiefs’ defensive scheme is called a 3-4 which means that there tends to be 3 defensive lineman and 4 linebackers on the field. This allows outside linebackers to sit back in coverage, but also gives them the opportunity to come down and rush the passer or fill running lanes when needed. In my opinion, the 3-4 scheme offers more versatility and options for the defence on every snap.
Now onto the players themselves, I think that every good positional group on any NFL team requires experienced veterans with success at the position, who also know the game inside out, as well as young hungry players who are ready to learn and improve (plus a couple of free agents in the mix to fill the gaps can’t hurt). Now let’s break this down; experience first. Justin Houston is a 7 year NFL veteran who was drafted by the Chiefs back in 2011 and has had a very strong career. His most successful year came in 2014 where he was awarded first-team all-pro honours as well as a pro-bowl selection. This was many due to his huge 22 sack season, the highest of his career. However Houston also racked up 4 forced fumbles and 59 tackles in the same year. So it’s fair to say that the outside linebacker has a view tips and tricks that he’s picked up along the way and is still a dominant force on the field as a pass rusher for the Chiefs.
The younger players on the team, such as Dee Ford (4 years experience), Reggie Ragland (2 years experience) and rookies Dorian O’Daniel and Breeland Speaks are all solid players who can combine their skill with experience from Houston to build promising careers in the NFL. To make their linebacking core even stronger Kansas City also brought in free agent Anthony Hitchens from Dallas. Hitchens is a huge hitter and great at filling running lanes on the field with 199 solo tackles, 55 last season, with 9 of them being tackles for a loss. This move should help fill the void left behind by Tamba Hali’s departure into free agency and Derrick Johnson’s move to Oakland this off season.
2nd – Denver Broncos (B)
With arguably the best pass rushing linebackers in the league on the roster it was hard not to put the Broncos first. I chose the Chiefs due to the depth they had in comparison to Denver. Out of his 7 seasons in the NFL, Von Miller has had 6 pro-bowl selections, 3 first-team all-pro selections, 1 Super-bowl MVP award in 2015 and 7 consecutive NFL top 100 selections (coming 2nd in 2016 and 9th in 2017). Now that is quite the trophy cabinet for the weak side linebacker. He’s also got the stats to back it up with 83.5 career sacks (6 of his 7 seasons Miller had double digit sacks), 22 career forced fumbles, 323 total tackles and 17 tackles for a loss in 2017 alone (tied 4th in the league).
However, alongside Miller is Shane Ray, a player with 3 years experience in the NFL and little to show for it. He only has 18 total sacks, 1 forced fumble and 58 total tackles. As well as this, Brandon Marshall, is a 6 year veteran with even less sacks (6.5), 5 forced fumbles, 2 interceptions and 288 total tackles and Todd Davis, who’s only started 33 games in his 4 year long career and has only had 1.5 sacks, 140 total tackles and 1 forced fumble. Therefore, despite the brilliance of Miller as a pass rushing linebacker he’s not been given much help by the other players on the team at this position; hence why I put them second.
3rd – Oakland Raiders (C)
I put the Raiders in at 3rd for a similar reason to the Broncos placement at 2nd one or two good players can’t make a team’s positional group ultimately great. Therefore I simply chose Von Miller over Bruce Irvin and Derrick Johnson when ranking the teams after Kansas City; for obvious reasons. Irvin’s been in the league one year less than Miller but has no pro-bowl selections, all-pro appearances, 46.5 less career sacks and only 181 total tackles. Despite this comparison to Miller, Irvin’s still a solid player on the Raiders’ team and is definitely one of their best players at the linebacker position. Derrick Johnson had a highly respectable 12 year career at Kansas City, as a coverage linebacker, with 4 pro-bowl selections, 1 first-team all-pro appearance, 14 interceptions (4 of which were returned for touchdowns), 77 passes defended and 22 forced fumbles.
However the reason why I still put Miller above him and the Raiders was because Johnson has been in the league for just under double the amount of time as Miller. His prime was between the years of 2009 and 2013 which is apparent as last season he didn’t have any interceptions, 1 forced fumble and 7 passes defended despite starting in 15 games. Therefore I believe Johnson’s long time in the league has decreased his productivity and therefore will not be as much of a defensive monster for the Raiders as he was at the Chiefs. Other notable LBs for the Raiders are Emmanuel Lamur who’s had quite a quite career, only starting 15 of his 71 games in his 5 year career with only 2 interceptions, 1 forced fumble and 0.5 sacks and Tahir Whitehead who’s been in the league for 5 years as well with 93 games players (55 starts), 4 interceptions, 19 passes defended and 3 sacks. Therefore aside from Bruce Irvin and a very old Derrick Johnson, the linebacking core for the Raiders does need some improvement.
4th – Los Angeles Chargers (D)
However not as much improvement as the LA Chargers need at the linebacker position. They seem to have similar struggles as the Raiders without that one standout solid player to provide some kind of anchor for the team. Their main starters at the linebacker position, in their 4-3 defensive scheme, are Denzel Perryman, Hayes Pullard and Kyle Emmanuel and each have 3 years experience in the league. Combined they have 4 interceptions in their careers (1 each except for Emmanuel who has 2) 2 forced fumbles (1 for Perryman and 1 for Emmanuel) and only 7 sacks (4 for Perryman and 3 for Emmanuel).
Instantly it seems apparent that Pullard is the weakest of the 3 but that’s not really saying much as all of them seem to have struggled to get their footing at the pro-level. The only real hope for the Chargers’ linebacker core is their 2nd round pick out of the University of Southern California, Uchenna Nwosu. Over Nowsu’ 4 year college experience he racked up a solid 12.5 sacks, 169 total tackles (20.5 of those being for a loss) and an interception. These are all highly commendable stats and is a highly needed player for LA, if his talent transfers to the pro-level.
1st – Los Angeles Charger (B+)
There’s no denying it, the combination of Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram is one of the best defensive duos in the NFL right now. Bosa’s only been in the league for two years now but he’s
definitely a force to be reckoned with. Totalling up 23 sacks in just two years (10.5 in 2016 and 12.5 in 2017), 28 tackles for a loss (17 in 2016 where he was joint first in the league and 11 in 2017), 4 forced fumbles, and a pro-bowl selection in 2017; he’s off to a flying start. Coupled up with Ingram who’s got a bit more experience at the pro-level. His 6 years in the league has seen him get better and better with a pro-bowl selection in the same year as Bosa. In his rookie season Ingram only had 1 sack, 1 forced fumble and 16 tackles which isn’t very impressive but as the seasons went on his production skyrocketed. Last season he had 10.5 sacks (his career high that he also reached in 2015), 1 forced fumble, 2 fumble recoveries, 43 tackles, and 17 tackles for a loss (which put him joint 4th in the league). It’s hard to not be scared of these guys as a Chiefs fan and without a doubt the best in the division.
2nd – Oakland Raiders (B-)
The AFC West is a particularly strong division as far as the defensive line is concerned. The Raiders number 1 guy on the d-line, Khalil Mack, has had 3 straight pro bowl selections and 2 first-team all-pro appearances as well as 3 consecutive double digit sack seasons (15 in 2015, 11 in 2016 and 10.5 in 2017). Mack’s also one of the healthiest players in the league playing, and starting, every single game that he possibly could since joining the league in 2014. As if this wasn’t scary enough, Mack is also one of the most consistent backfield threats as well by consistently being high in rankings for tackles for a loss: 2014 (10th – 16 TFL), 2015 (2nd – 23 TFL), 2016 (7th – 16 TFL), 2017 (11th – 15 TFL). However aside from the brilliance of Mack, the Raiders don’t have much reliable depth on the line.
However there are two rookies that need an eye being kept on in the 2018 season. Arden Key was selected in the third round of the 2018 draft following a 20 sack college career alongside 24.5 tackles for a loss, 129 total tackles and 3 forced fumbles. He’s definitely not one to forget. As well as this the raiders also further bolstered up their defensive line with 5th round pick Maurice Hurst Jr. His college campaign lasted one year longer and had similar stats to Key: 13.5 sacks, 32 tackles for a loss, 130 total tackles and 2 forced fumbles. It’s only a matter of time before we see how the 3 come together once the 2018 season kicks off in September.
3rd – Kansas City Chiefs (C)
I feel like the Chiefs are in a fairly similar position to the Raiders; minus a superstar like Mack. They have a few experienced players mixed in with a couple of rookies to fill in the gaps and bring some a breath of fresh air to the d-line. Allen Bailey has been in the league for 7 seasons (however he was out for most of the 2016 season where he had no sacks, and only 5 tackles). The rest of his time at the pro-level has been questionable with his two best seasons being in 2014 and 2015 where he totalled 9.5 sacks (5 in 2014 and 4.5 in 2015), 53 tackles (27 in 2014 and 26 in 2015) and 2 forced fumbles.
Chris Jones is another guy who’s spent 2 years at the Chiefs after being selected by them, in the 2016 draft, 37th overall. His rookie and sophomore seasons have both been particularly successful with 2 sacks in 2016 and 6.5 in 2017, 39 total tackles and 4 forced fumbles he’s definitely an important part of the Chiefs’ defensive line. As well as these two the Chiefs also have two rookies coming in to help out: Derrick Nnadi (Round 3, pick 11) and undrafted free agent (and conveniently named) Dee Liner; yes he exists, look him up. Nnadi was a strong pick by the Chiefs totalling 12 sacks and 24.5 tackles for a loss over the course of his 4 year college career; lets hope he can bring that some production and energy into the pro-level and be a stud on the Chiefs line.
Dee Liner on the other hand spent his time in the NCAA at two different colleges (Alabama from 2013-2014 and Arkansas State from 2015-2017). Over his 5 years as a college player Liner only managed to accumulate 1 sack and 15 tackles for a loss; but it’s also important to take into account that he only played 21 games over 5 years. It’ll be exciting to see how the pair will perform alongside Jones and Bailey; however due to the uncertainty I decided to put them 3rd.
4th – Denver Broncos (D+)
I know this may seem to come to a shock to some, considering the Bronco’s 5th overall pick being spent on the incredibly talented Bradley Chubb; so let me explain myself. There’s no doubt that Denver’s pass rush will be deadly next year with Miller and Chubb on the field at the same time, however this section is focusing on the defensive line alone and therefore doesn’t include Miller. But that doesn’t mean that Chubb is to be ignored; far from it in fact. Over his 4 years at college Chubb had 25 sacks, 54.5 tackles for a loss and 198 tackles as well as 6 forced fumbles. However the truth is that, aside from Chubb, there isn’t much to be excited for as a Broncos fan.
Derek Wolfe has been in the league for 6 seasons and totalled 24.5 sacks which is without a doubt good but not amazing. His best season came in 2016 where he had 5.5 sacks (the second most in his career) and 38 tackles. Last season he dropped off a little with only 2 sacks and 18 tackles whilst only playing 3 less games compared to the year before. One thing the Broncos do have at the defensive line other than a top 5 pick is depth. Currently on the roster they have 13 different defensive linemen and so therefore they have plenty of options. I predict Wolfe and Chubb are the only two players on the line that will have consistent snaps in the 2018 season. Depth is good but risky because 11 below average players don’t add up to 1 good player. That’s why I put them in last on my list.
1st – Denver Broncos (B+)
Despite having the weakest defensive line in the division I still believe they’ll have a nasty pass rush next season with both Miller and Chubb going after the quarterback so I don’t think their line will be too detrimental to their defensive performance next season. Aside from that I believe they’ve got the best secondary in the AFC West and a very strong linebacker core so deserve to be 1st on my list. Mahomes beware, Denver aren’t playing around.
2nd – Los Angeles Chargers (B-)
With one of the best cornerbacks in the league, arguably the best defensive back in the 2018 draft and a nasty duo on the defensive line there’s no reason why the Chargers shouldn’t be second. The one reason I didn’t bump them up to the number 1 spot was simply because the
Broncos have more of an all-rounded team whilst the Chargers depth isn’t promising; despite having 4 potential superstars.
3rd – Kansas City Chiefs (C)
A lot of losses in the off season stopped the Chiefs going higher in my rankings. Marcus Peters, Ron Parker, Tamba Hali and Derrick Johnson were all great players during their time at the Chiefs but have all found new homes in 2018 and, because of that, we’ve taken a few steps backwards defensively. However, despite the losses, a defensive heavy draft and a couple of new introductions (such as Hitchens and Fuller) have stopped us from dropping all the way to the bottom.
4th – Oakland Raiders (C-)
I feel disgustingly under appreciative of the excellence of Mack by putting the Raiders 4th but, aside from him and possibly Bruce Irvin, the Oakland defence doesn’t have much. Their secondary will struggle next year so the Raiders need to hope that their pass rush and run defence on the defensive line and linebacker core is enough to force turnovers before the ball reaches the secondary.