A team-by-team look at the most indispensable players (non-quarterbacks) in the division.
In the AFC West, the most indispensable players on teams are not necessarily quarterbacks, anyway. Of the four quarterbacks in the division. only San Diego's Philip Rivers is his team’s best player. So, this list features an important group of players for different reasons.
Without any further ado:
DENVER BRONCOS: CHAMP BAILEY
Truly, Bailey is third on my list for Denver, but because an indispensable player should be healthy, the choice is Bailey. My original choice was linebacker Elvis Dumervil, but he is out until December, at least, with a torn pectoral muscle. My choice also could have been star left tackle Ryan Clady, but he was hurt in April while playing basketball. He returned to practice Wednesday, but there are no guarantees he'll be 100 percent soon. This is not to say Bailey is a slouch. Even at 32, he is a premier player. He is a threat to change the game at any time. As good as Bailey is in coverage, he is as good against the run. He’s the total package. If Denver lost him, it would change its defense. He is a shut-down cornerback, and those are near impossible to replace.
KANSAS CITY CHIEFS: TAMBA HALI
I’m not going as far as to say Hali is the Chiefs’ best player. He eventually could be that guy, but he is a very valuable player. Hali is the best player on a weak front seven in Kansas City. He is the team’s only consistent player in that group, and he is, by far, the Chiefs’ best pass rusher. He consistently hurries the quarterback, and is a constant threat on passing downs. Hali keeps opposing offenses honest. He has to be accounted for at all times. Take Hali away from Kansas City’s defense, and teams would throw at will against it.
OAKLAND RAIDERS: NNAMDI ASOMUGHA
This is a no-brainer. Asomugha is Oakland’s best player. He is a dominant player at a cornerstone position. Teams rarely go after Asomugha because of his immense coverage skills. Eventually, Asomugha shuts down the half of the field in the passing game. Passing against him is not an option. He is also a threat against the run. He is simply a special player. He’s the type of guy offensive coordinators study all week and game plan against. Asomugha’s presence makes Oakland’s defense relevant and potentially special. Take Asomugha out of Oakland’s secondary and opposing offenses would have a field day.
SAN DIEGO CHARGERS: RYAN MATHEWS
This choice might come as a surprise. I’m not totally comfortable picking a rookie in this spot, but I truly believe Mathews is that important to San Diego’s upcoming season. Clearly, so does San Diego general manager A.J. Smith. He identified Mathews as the player he wanted to take over his running game after the LaDainian Tomlinson era ended in February. The Chargers’ run attack slipped badly last season, and it was 31st in the NFL. The Chargers’ offense was still dynamic, but it was all generated by Rivers. Smith ensured himself of getting Mathews and making him the focal point of the new running game by sending a load of picks to Miami to move up from No. 28 to No. 12 in the April draft. The Chargers believe their success rests in a renewed dangerous running game, and that Mathews is the man to supply it. So, despite the fact that there are several high-caliber and important players on this roster, the running game is the key in San Diego. The choice is the youngster from Fresno State.