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Scouting the AFC West: Defensive Line

A position breakdown of the AFC West defensive line. Who is the best player? Has the biggest attitude? Is the true unsung hero? Who has the most to prove? Who will improve the most? Are any San Diego Chargers on the list? <a href="http://sdboltreport.com">SDBoltReport.com</a> tackles these questions and many more.

Mr. Overrated: Warren Sapp (DT/E) Oakland Raiders

Warren Sapp can still play in this league, but the best years of his career are clearly behind him. Sapp is still a household name because of his off the field antics more than his recent accomplishments. Nevertheless, he should be a very welcomed addition to the Raiders. Sapp still draws double teams, and if anything, will help create mismatches for Ted Washington and Tyler Brayton. Sapp can still be solid, but a top ten lineman he is not. He certainly has a dedicated following, but there is a reason Tampa Bay let him go.

Mr. Underrated: Jamal Williams (NG) San Diego Chargers

When healthy, Williams can be a very dominant run stuffer. Williams went down with a knee injury both in 2001 and 2002. But last year, Williams was able to start fifteen games and produced his second best season to date. Williams is currently in his prime, but even with that said, many have questioned whether he can be a nose-guard in the 3-4. Williams is ideal for the position. He has a low center of gravity and will take up two offensive linemen. Williams has never been a pass rusher per say, so the position change should maximize what he does best.

Old faces, new places: Ted Washington (NG) Oakland Raiders

Needless to say, Washington is a very welcomed addition to a defense that was rank last in the AFC in defending the run. Washington proves to be a very big band aid for a defensive front that never stopped bleeding from injuries at the beginning of last season. But can he hold this line together? The move to the 3-4 should allow Oakland to improve their depth since they have one less down lineman. Washington is a twelve year veteran, and inevitably, the questions of his endurance will arise. Washington is smart and savvy, but how long can his health keep up with his massive 350+ frame?

Is he Yoda or a waste of space: Marco Coleman (DE) Denver Broncos

Coleman has been iron-man through out his career starting 169 of 183 games. Considering he was a backup last season, one can imagine Coleman's durability during his prime. Expect much of the same from him this season. Coleman should serve as a valuable back up for Denver, but nothing more. There was some speculation that Coleman was going to retire before the start of the season, but the prospects of playing for a potential Super Bowl contending team was too much for him to pass on.

Put up or shut up time: Ryan Sims (DT) Kansas City Chiefs

Sims was apart of an amazing defensive line class when he was drafted two years ago. In fact, the Chiefs were so impressed with his ability they traded up to get him. As of now, he has not proved he was worth the pick. Sims did start all sixteen games last season, which is nice and all, but did very little in improving the Chiefs defense. No one doubts Sims's size and athleticism, but the Chiefs' patience is beginning to wear thin. If Sims does not turn the corner this year, he might be lost in the shuffle of a very young defensive front.

Same name, new player: Luther Elliss (DT) Denver Broncos

Before last year, Elliss was a very solid defensive tackle for the Detroit Lions. Despite his efforts, Detroit was still a pitiful franchise. Assuming he is fully recovered from last year's injury, Elliss has an opportunity to start fresh. Even though he is aging, Denver is loaded with seasoned defensive lineman. What will be asked of Elliss in Denver is no where close to the responsibilities he had in Detroit. His snap count will be limited, and consequently, Elliss will be able to keep himself fresh and contribute through out the season. Elliss will not set the world on fire, but he will play a solid role in what could be the best defense in the AFC West.

Not quite there yet: Tyler Brayton (DT/E) Oakland Raiders

The defensive woes for Oakland last season were not because of the play of Brayton, who played well as a rookie. With the move to the 3-4, Brayton's responsibilities will change. Brayton is better defending the run than the pass, so the change might have better long term implications for him. Because of his adjustment in duties, it might be in Brayton's better interest to put on another ten to fifteen pounds. Ultimately, Brayton has an incredibly bright future and will be making waves for Oakland for years to come.

Newest addition with the biggest impact potential: Igor Olshansky (DT/E) San Diego Chargers

Most gurus had the other Oregon lineman Junior Siavii rated higher than Olshansky in the draft. The AFC West will have the opportunity to find out, for Siavii was taken by Kansas City immediately after Olshansky. The Chargers are convinced that they got the better of the two. On the hoof, Olshansky sure does look the part. He is a massive 6-foot-5, 320lbs with very little body fat and has the nasty streak to go along with it. It would not surprise many fans if Olshansky were to win the starting job in training camp. But before the Chargers get too excited about his potential, he is still a rookie, and the coaches will probably limit his snaps to first down, second down, and obvious running situations.

On the hottest seat: Vonnie Holliday (DE) Kansas City Chiefs

Despite having a decent season last year, Holliday has not lived up to the potential the Chiefs were hoping for when they signed him. If Holliday does not produce to the level a $21 million dollar contract commands, the Chiefs will either ask to renegotiate or cut him next June. Holliday is capable of producing a ten sack season, and that is about what it would take to subdue the grumbling in Kansas City.

El numero uno: Trevor Pryce (DE) Denver Broncos

For the third straight time, a Denver Bronco has won this award. This is why the expectations in Denver are so high. Mike Shanahan knows his talent. When Pryce was selected at the bottom of the first round in 1997, many "gurus" were claiming it was bad pick. As it turns out, Pryce was one of the best picks of the 1997 draft. With the current depth of the Denver line, Pryce should have an outstanding season solidifying his status as one of the best ends in football. After only six years, Pryce is slowly moving up the charts as one of the best defensive lineman in Bronco history.

RANKING THE SKILLS

Best against the run: Jamal Williams (NG) San Diego Chargers

Big, strong, and very hard to get around. Williams is a perfect fit for the nose-guard position. The move will take stress off his knees, and allow him to do what he does best, plug the hole.

Best pass rusher: Trevor Pryce (DE) Denver Broncos

Is there any doubt? Pryce does not have very much competition in this department, which might be the main reason why two teams in the West switched to the 3-4.

Plays with the most attitude: Warren Sapp (DT/E) Oakland Raiders

Again, a no-brainer. The big question is: can Sapp's body keep up with his attitude? No doubt, Sapp has an uncanny ability to get into the opposition's head. Halfway through the season, though, the opposition might be hearing more "talk" than "walk".

Most Explosive: Trevor Pryce (DE) Denver Broncos

With the youth at this position throughout the division, Pryce was a relatively easy choice. Two years from now names like Igor Olshansky, Junior Siavii, Ryan Sims, Tyler Brayton, and Nick Eason could have something to say about that.

RANKING OF THE TEAMS

1. Denver Broncos - Denver should have one of the best defensive lines in all of football. Not only could their front line start for just about anyone, but their second string - although old - is very experienced and should help guys like Darius Holland and Reggie Hayward tremendously.

2. Oakland Raiders - Despite the lack of depth there are too many playmakers on this line not to be ranked this high. The switch to the 3-4 will help with the depth, and the veteran free agents should have a relatively easy time adjusting.

3. San Diego Chargers - The true enigma of the AFC West defensive fronts belong to San Diego. On paper, the player personnel seems to be a perfect match for a 3-4 front. But let's face it, to an average fan this move appears to be more out of desperation than calculation.

4. Kansas City Chiefs - Many might doubt this ranking, but the Chiefs have too many players trying to prove they are not busts. Often enough, players do not become a bust because of their skills or ability. Generally the problem is much harder to fix than that.

ALL AFC West Defensive Line

NG - Jamal Williams
DT - Warren Sapp
DT - Darius Holland
DE - Trevor Pryce
DE - Reggie Heyward
DE - Vonnie Holliday

Up next, Offensive line ...

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