Ranking the AFC West returners

This is the 1oth in our series of position-by-position rankings. It is a little different this season because we’re ranking the players before free agency starts and before rosters are set. We will adjust accordingly as we go along. On to a strong group of returners.

1. Jacoby Ford, Oakland: He’s becoming one of my favorite players. He is a star. Ford had three kickoff returns for touchdowns in the second half of last season. He has a chance to be special. He wants to return punts. Because he is expected to be a starting receiver, he will probably only return punts on occasion, if at all.

2. Javier Arenas/Dexter McCluster, Kansas City: This was mostly Arenas’ gig last year, because McCluster was hurt. But, ideally, the Chiefs want to use both of these players. Both showed electric skills as rookies in 2010.

3. Darren Sproles, San Diego: Sproles is still a standout, but he is aging and very well could leave the division as a free agent. The combination of his possible departure from San Diego and the youth in Kansas City is the reason he is third. If Sproles leaves, rookies Jordan Todman and Marcus Gilchrist are primed to take Sproles’ place as returners.

4. Eddie Royal, Denver: Royal is a solid punt returner. He’s always a threat to break off a long run. Denver will probably go with receiver Eric Decker as a kick returner.