tackles these questions and many more."> tackles these questions and many more.">

Scouting the AFC West: Linebackers

A position breakdown of the AFC West linebackers. Who is the best player? Has the biggest attitude? Is the true unsung hero? Who has the most to improve? Who will improve the most? Did any San Diego Chargers make the list? <A href=""></a> tackles these questions and many more.

Mr. Overrated: Dwayne Rudd (OLB) Oakland Raiders

Rudd is a super talent that has never quite lived up to his billing. Sure, he has strung together a few solid years, but what he will always be remembered for is taking off his helmet. This is not to say that one incident should define a career, but when a player constantly underachieves that is exactly what is going to happen. Last year, Rudd had 11 total tackles for Tampa Bay. He is hoping the change of scenery and defensive scheme will help re-jump his career.

Mr. Underrated: Donnie Edwards (ILB) San Diego Chargers

It is a shame when the second best linebacker in the division gets this award. But for the past few years in the AFC West, linebacking has been one of the conference's weaker positions. While all the teams in the AFC West rank in the top ten in defensive backs, not one ranks in the top ten in linebackers. With that said, Edwards has been one of the more consistent linebackers in all of football. Last year alone, Edwards had a whopping 162 tackles, and did not receive any post season honors. If the Chargers are able to break .500 this year, hopefully Edwards will start getting his due.

Old faces, new places: Randall Godfrey (ILB) San Diego Chargers

Godfrey is a welcomed addition to the Chargers. In a series of low key moves, Godfrey marks the Chargers biggest free agent addition in the off-season. With the change to the 3-4 defense, San Diego is relying on Godfrey's grit and hard play to rub off on some of the youngsters. Godfrey has done a stellar job with every team he has been associated with. Even though Father Time is starting to catch up with him, he has enough gas in the tank to be solid for a couple more years.

Is he Yoda or a waste of space?: John Mobley (OLB) Denver Broncos

This was a hard choice considering Mobley has not been in the league but eight years. Well folks, along with Edwards and Godfrey, Mobley is the Dean of the AFC West linebackers. Since both Edwards and Godfrey are new to the division, Mobley has been with here longer than any other current linebacker in the AFC West. The "Dean" will lose his seniority rather soon if he does not get his act together. Not only is he coming off an injury, but yet another DUI conviction. As of now, "A Denver roster spot, Mobley wasting he is".

Put up or shut up time: Zeke Moreno (ILB) San Diego Chargers

After being given a chance to shine, Moreno put together a very mediocre season. Many have speculated that the administration had a lot of faith in Moreno, making it a lot easier for Junior Seau to be traded. Moreno is limited in what he can do, but maybe the switch to the 3-4 will allow him to maximize his strengths. Moreno could be a tackling machine as an ILB in the 3-4. As of now he is running first team, but there is no doubt his job will be up for grabs in training camp. If Moreno does not hold his own this year, he will not be with the Chargers next season.

Same name, new player: Kawika Mitchell (ILM) Kansas City Chiefs

Mitchell replaced Mike Maslowski last season when he went down. In starting six games for the Chiefs Mitchell played like, well you know, a rookie. That was then and this is now. Kansas City's new/old defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham is renowned for taking young talent and molding them into manimals. Mitchell is big, strong, and has the game to become a big-time linebacker in this league. Considering the defensive play of the Chiefs last year, they need his help now more than ever.

Not quite there yet: Terry Pierce (MLB-OLB) Denver Broncos

Despite ending the season injured, the Broncos are still relying on their 2003 second round pick Terry Pierce to develop. Denver's linebacking core was so thin that an undrafted free agent, Jashon Sykes, took the majority of the snaps last year. Now, in an ironic twist, the second round pick has to unseat the undrafted free agent. Pierce is really behind the eight ball this year, for he and Sykes will be neck and neck in camp. Also, since Al Wilson will not relinquish the middle spot, Pierce will have to move outside making the task that much harder.

Newest addition with the biggest impact potential: D.J. Williams (OLB) Denver Broncos

Denver has really had a tough time with some of its previous top picks in linebackers. If it were not for Al Wilson, there is no telling the shape this crop would be in. Consequently, Denver used another first round pick on a linebacker when most speculated it would be a running back. Well, luckily for Bronco fans, Williams is a hoss. Coming from what is practically a AAA for the NFL in Miami, Williams is already ahead of the curve. Those Miami boys play at a different level than most other colleges. Do not be surprised to see Williams in contention for Defensive Rookie of the Year.

On the hottest seat: Dwayne Rudd (OLB) Oakland Raiders

Even though he was already awarded Mr. Overrated, Rudd's performance this year could possibly dictate his future in the NFL. If he plays as he did in Minnesota, Rudd will probably find a home in Oakland. If he plays like he did last season, this might be his last hurrah. Rudd is still young and is still a capable athlete. As said earlier, with the change of scenery and defense, Rudd is hoping to reinvent his NFL career with this opportunity. As of now, Rudd is penciled in as a starter. Obviously, the rest is up to him.

El numero uno: Al Wilson (MLB) Denver Broncos

Since being drafted, Wilson has not only produced, but has produced at a level that most other linebackers could only dream. If you want sacks, Wilson can get them. If you need tackles, Wilson can get those also. Wilson's career numbers have been sporadic, but not because of inconsistency. In order to compensate for other teams running away from him, Denver has adjusted Wilson's emphasis on the field. And each time, he comes through with style. The tale of the tape is in the gigantic contract Denver awarded Wilson in the off-season. Denver knows that Wilson is not only diverse, but is also one of the best in every facet of the position.


Best against the run: Scott Fujita (OLB) Kansas City

Fujita is still an unknown commodity in the AFC West. He has put together two solid seasons with the Chiefs, and even though he is not a house hold name, opposing running backs are familiar with him. In two years of playing, Fujita has 169 total tackles with only 19 being assisted. The Chiefs were less than stellar against the run last year, but not because of Fujita.

Best pass rusher: Shawn Barber (OLB) Kansas City Chiefs

Barber was arguably the biggest bright spot for a struggling Chiefs defense last year. Barber led all AFC West linebackers with 5 sacks and garnered 113 tackles for his troubles. He is the type of player teams build around.

Best against the pass: Donnie Edwards (ILB) San Diego Chargers

The best term to describe Edwards is range. Yes, not only did he get 25 billion tackles last season, but he added a couple of picks for good measure as well. Since linebackers cover secondary receivers and tight ends, interceptions do not come easy. But Edwards gets them and should add another 2-4 picks again this year.

Most diverse: Al Wilson (MLB) Denver Broncos

As said earlier Wilson can do it all. He is tough against the run, a good pass rusher, and can hold his own in coverage. Denver was more than happy to lock him up for the rest of his career. The rest of the conference, on the other hand, was not.

Plays with the most attitude: Napoleon Harris (OLB) Oakland Raiders

Harris is a hard nose tackler who should do quite well in the Raider's new defense. With his size and speed, Harris is very hard to get the best of. Even though this Napoleon does not suffer from "little man complex", he did garner the attitude. Harris is loaded with potential.

Most consistent: Randall Godfrey (ILB) San Diego Chargers

Godfrey is not spectacular in his play, but is the antithesis of Dwayne Rudd. He gives it his all with every snap, and has remained a consistently solid linebacker through out his career. If he can avoid injuries, the Chargers got themselves a true bargain.


1. San Diego Chargers

It is not that the Chargers are loaded at linebacker, but with the conversion to the 3-4, they put themselves in a position to maximize the strength of their linebacking core. The Chargers have strong potential in pass rushers with Ben Leber and Shaun Phillips (who was one of the biggest steals of the 2004 draft), and very good tacklers in Edwards, Godfrey, and Moreno. If the players can adapt to the new system, this crew should help keep the Chargers in just about every game.

2. Denver Broncos

There are a lot of question marks with this squad, but the talent is certainly there. If Mobley can recover from his injury, and keep out of trouble, then the Broncos will take over the number 1 spot. But, that is a big IF.

3. Kansas City

The Chiefs have two good'uns in Shawn Barber and Scott Fujita, but that is about all. They are relying on injury prone players and pups to fill out the rest of the squad. It should be interesting to see what Cunningham does with this crew.

4. Oakland Raiders

If the Raiders were still running a 4-3, then this ranking would be higher. But with the addition of the extra linebacker, yet another question mark is created. Oakland has talent, but do not be shocked to see a lot of former defensive ends move to OLB to compensate for the lack of depth.

ALL AFC West Linebacking Core

ILB - Donnie Edwards (SD)
ILB - Al Wilson (Den)
ILB - Napoleon Harris (Oak)
OLB - Shawn Barber (KC)
OLB - Scott Fujita (KC)
OLB - Ben Leber (SD)

On deck, the defensive line ...

Byran Martin can be reached at

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