AFC West Superlatives: Best, Underrated & Breakout Players

Photo: Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

Unfortunately, the possibility of a 2020 NFL season seems to be uncertain at this point, but that doesn’t mean we still can’t project forward, look ahead to the future, and most importantly, have a bit of football-related fun.

Second up in our division-by-division series, I analyzed the AFC West and all of its inner-workings, handing out certain “Superlatives” to players and coaches across the division.

Here are the results.

(AFC South Superlatives can be found here.)

Most pressure to succeed: Drew Lock, QB, Denver Broncos

After spending an entire offseason acquiring weapons and protection, John Elway has set the table and cooked the meal. All Drew Lock now has to do is eat the food without making a mess.

Showing promise in limited action as a rookie, Lock is currently viewed as the franchise QB in the Broncos organization, as every single transaction they’ve made since his selection has demonstrated just that. He needs to prove he’s worthy of that prestigious tag this season, however, as poor play may put Denver right back on the map for a new passer. Tackle Garrett Bolles is truly the only weak spot on that offense right now, so Lock has everything at his disposal for a quality season. It’s extremely high pressure for a sophomore to perform under, but if he truly is “the guy”, the high expectations are more than warranted.

Could also win:  

  • Biggest sophomore leap

Most likely to disappoint: Derek Carr, QB, Las Vegas Raiders

There was a point in time when Derek Carr was actually a favorite for league MVP. It seems like that was decades ago, though. Carr has seemingly regressed in a drastic way as a passer since then.  

Admittedly armed with poor weapons a season ago, Carr lacked creativity and aggression at the position in 2019, opting for far too many check-downs and playing the position in a bland and mediocre fashion. After acquiring an absurd amount of weapons in the draft, he won’t have that same excuse this upcoming season, however, especially since his O-line is also considered to be among the league’s best. The time is now for Carr, but with his limited off-script ability and overall arm talent, I fail to see him reaching the expectations currently laid out at his feet. The Raiders are still clinging to that 2015 Carr and if he disappoints once again in 2020, it may be time to let that dream go.

Could also win:  

  • Most likely to throw a check-down on 4th-and-12

Best Offensive Player: Patrick Mahomes, QB, Kansas City Chiefs

No real need to explain this one. After his record-setting contract extension earlier this week, there are more than half a billion reasons why Mahomes is worthy of this superlative.

Could also win:  

  • Worst taste in food (Ketchup on steak? C’mon man)

Best Defensive Player: Tyrann Mathieu, DB, Kansas City Chiefs

This could easily go to the likes of Derwin James, Chris Jones, or even Joey Bosa. Mathieu, however, earns the slight edge after his ridiculously impressive 2019 season. Playing virtually everywhere on a depleted Chiefs defense, Mathieu aligned as a nickel, safety, blitz, and even linebacker on occasion. A literal Swiss Army Knife, his versatility was the catalyst of the entire Kansas City secondary and one of the main reasons that they ended up as Super Bowl champions in February. Racking up four interceptions and 12 pass breakups over the course of 16 games, his importance to whatever franchise he’s on simply can’t be understated at this point in time.

Could also win:  

  • Most versatile player

Underrated Star: Justin Simmons, S, Denver Broncos

This could also go to another Denver player in Courtland Sutton or even Chargers EDGE Melvin Ingram, but Simmons got the slight edge in this scenario.

Forgotten by many in the mainstream media, Simmons may not be the best or even second-best safety in the division (Mathieu, James), but that doesn’t mean he isn’t a superstar in his own right. Earning a franchise tag after a ridiculously good 2019 season, Simmons’ ability as both a playmaker and in run fits is terrific, as he exemplifies true “do-it-all” ability from the back end. Defending 15 total passes and picking off four a season ago, it’s rare for a 6-foot-2, 200-pound safety to be able to play a true single-high role. Simmons can not only do it, but do it at an extremely high level.

Could also win:  

  • Most likely to get a big contract after being franchise-tagged

Most likely to Breakout: Hunter Renfrow, WR, Las Vegas Raiders

Chances are that when you look at Hunter Renfrow, you probably don’t see a potential star wideout. He’s not overly fast, strong, or big. He wasn’t drafted very high, didn’t have great college production, and is now on a team with three new rookie wideouts ready to take starting roles. What you get with Renfrow, however, is elite route-running, dependability, and quickness from the slot position.

Perfectly meshing with Carr’s timid, underneath approach, Renfrow clicked instantly with the passer as a rookie, racking up more than 600 yards in 13 games. Now as a sophomore, he looks poised to threaten the 1,000-yard mark, even with some new additions to the receiving corps. He won’t get plenty of hype, but Renfrow is as solid as a pass-catcher gets.

Could also win:  

  • Best hairline
  • Most likely to be mistaken for an accountant

Rookie of the Year: Jerry Jeudy, WR, Denver Broncos

Chiefs RB Clyde Edwards-Helaire will be the popular pick here (and in most fantasy leagues), but I’m going to go with Jeudy for rookie of the year in this scenario.

Denver’s prized new pass-catcher, Jeudy should be the perfect “Robin” to Courtland Sutton’s “Batman” in Denver, operating as a pure separator compared to Sutton’s more physical, above-the-rim style of play. Lock remains a bit of a question mark, but the former Alabama target should get plenty of opportunities, especially with the No. 3 wideout position likely to be occupied by another rookie in KJ Hamler. Raiders’ wideout Henry Ruggs III should also have plenty of success, but his fit with Carr is questionable, not to mention he has an injury at this point in time. Hence, Jeudy is a clear choice here.

Could also win:  

  • Most likely to make a defender tear an ACL
  • Best highlight reel