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In evaluating AFC, Colts have perfect blend of blue-chippers

Last year, Bill Simmons, The Sports Guy at ESPN.com and a good friend of mine, presented a column idea to me that was interesting. He wanted me to come up with a system to rank every NFL team by determining how many blue- and red-chip players each club had and by assigning a point value to these players, as well as factoring in the coach.

Before I rank all the teams (that's coming Sunday), I'll break down the teams in each conference by how many blue-chip (those among the top 10 at their position) and red-chip players (top 15) each team has. Along with the players, I will also grade a team with a blue-chip head coach (there are only six in the NFL).

David J. Phillip / Associated Press
Wes Welker was a blue-chip player last year, but a devastating knee injury could slip him to red ... or lower.
A CHIPPY GAME

Michael Lombardi's definitions for blue- and red-chip players:

Blue-chip player: Rates among the top 10 at his position in the league. He is good enough to create mismatches vs. most opponents. He must also be one of the team's featured players and have a direct impact on the outcome of the game.

Red-chip player: Plays the game with no real weaknesses, is a solid starter, and will be able to capitalize on certain opponents, but is never consistently dominant. He might not play as well against the league's very best, but shows up each week and has a high degree of competitiveness, ranking among the top 15 at his position.

Then a point system will be assigned to each player's position, because we all know having a blue-chip quarterback is more important to winning then having a blue-chip center, and therefore there must be a way to differentiate the two.

Below is a breakdown of the AFC teams. I'll analyze the NFC on Thursday.

BALTIMORE RAVENS

Blue-chip players: DT Haloti Ngata, DE Terrell Suggs, OT Michael Oher, RB Ray Rice, MLB Ray Lewis, FS Ed Reed, FB Le'Ron McClain.

Red-chip players: C Matt Birk, WR Anquan Boldin, OLB/DE Jarret Johnson, NT Kelly Gregg.

No brainers with Ngata, Suggs, Oher and Rice, but the hard part was deciding on Lewis and Reed as they are not the same players they once were. Yet, in the final analysis, they are still in the top 10. Boldin is a good player and will help the Ravens, but he is not a blue-chipper.

BUFFALO BILLS

Blue-chip players: None.

Red-chip players: WR Lee Evans, LB Paul Posluszny, FS Jairus Byrd.

Wonder why the Bills have been losing? They better hope this rookie class has some blue players in it.

CINCINNATI BENGALS

Blue-chip players: WR Chad Ochocinco, DE Antwan Odom, CB Johnathan Joseph, CB Leon Hall, RB Cedric Benson.

Red-chip players: DT Domata Peko, QB Carson Palmer, C Kyle Cook.

All of the Bengals' blue players deserve their status, but I struggled with Palmer. He did not play well last year (injuries) but still is among the top 15 quarterbacks in the league.

CLEVELAND BROWNS

Blue-chip players: OT Joe Thomas, WR/RB Josh Cribbs, NT Shaun Rogers.

Red-chip players: CB Eric Wright.

The Browns still have a very long way to go, but what worries me most about them is they did not add any blue or red players in the offseason. A bad team with money should be able to add at least one red player.

DENVER BRONCOS

Blue-chip players: OT Ryan Clady, DE Elvis Dumervil, CB Champ Bailey.

Red-chip players: OT Ryan Harris, LB D.J. Williams, RB Knowshon Moreno, TE Daniel Graham (blocking), FS Brian Dawkins.

Many of the Denver defensive players are older and have potential to be red players, but they were injury-plagued last season and these grades are based on last year only.

HOUSTON TEXANS

Blue-chip players: WR Andre Johnson, TE Owen Daniels (receiving), DE Mario Williams, QB Matt Schaub, LB DeMeco Ryans.

Red-chip players: LB Brian Cushing (was Blue before suspension).

For Houston to break the door down and get into the playoffs, they must find more offensive and defensive lineman at the red and blue levels. Second-year defensive end Connor Barwin might be one to emerge.

INDIANAPOLIS COLTS

Blue-chip players: QB Peyton Manning, DE Dwight Freeney, DE Robert Mathis, LB Gary Brackett, WR Reggie Wayne, TE Dallas Clark.

Red-chip players: FS Antoine Bethea, C Jeff Saturday.

The Colts have the perfect blend of blue players at the right positions.

JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS

Blue-chip players: RB Maurice Jones-Drew.

Red-chip players: WR Mike Sims-Walker, CB Rashean Mathis, LB Daryl Smith.

The Jaguars are a young team and they need a few of their older players, specifically QB David Garrard and DE Aaron Kampman, to have great years.

KANSAS CITY CHIEFS

Blue-chip players: DE Tamba Hali (pass rusher).

Red-chip players: RB Thomas Jones, WR Chris Chambers, RB Jamaal Charles, FS Jarrad Page.

The Chiefs need their investments in drafting defensive linemen to pay off. They also need QB Matt Cassell to take a giant leap forward. Two of their red players were acquired through free agency (Jones) or waiver claims (Chambers).

MIAMI DOLPHINS

Blue-chip players: OT Jake Long, RB Ricky Williams, WR Brandon Marshall, LB Karlos Dansby, FB Lousaka Polite.

Red-chip players: RB Ronnie Brown (would be blue if not for injury), OT Vernon Carey, DE Kendall langford, DT Randy Starks.

The Dolphins have so many players that can become red or blue, but much depends on what transpires this season. If QB Chad Henne continues to develop and improve, he can become a red and that should significantly improve the Dolphins this year.

NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS

Blue-chip players: NT Vince Wilfork, WR Wes Welker, OG Logan Mankins, QB Tom Brady, HC Bill Belichick.

Red-chip players: WR Randy Moss, OT Sebastian Vollmer, OT Matt Light, DE Ty Warren SS Brandon Meriweather, LB Tully Banta-Cain.

Brady is still in the top 10 among quarterbacks, but like many Patriots he will need to play better in 2010 then he did last season. Welker was a blue-chipper last year, but I'm not sure he can regain that level coming off his knee injuries. Linebacker Jerod Mayo did not make the list because of the knee injury that kept him out of the first four games last year and slowed him thereafter. The Patriots need him to be an effective player again.

NEW YORK JETS

Blue-chip players: CB Darrelle Revis, OT D'Brickashaw Ferguson, OC Nick Mangold, NT Kris Jenkins, OLB Calvin Pace, LB David Harris, WR Santonio Holmes.

Red-chip players: OG Brandon Moore, LB Bart Scott, TE Dustin Keller (receiving).

The key for the Jets this season will be the development of quarterback Mark Sanchez and the ability of their team to come together and not worry about the contract issues.

OAKLAND RAIDERS

Blue-chip players: CB Nnamdi Asomugha, DE Richard Seymour, P Shane Lechler.

Red-chip players: DE/LB Kamerion Wimbley, TE Zach Miller, PK Sebastian Janikowski.

The Raiders have some talented pieces, but they need newly acquired quarterback Jason Campbell to bring all the talent together. Chaz Schilens and Louis Murphy might become red-chip players once consistency arrives at the quarterback position.

PITTSBURGH STEELERS

Blue-chip players: SS Troy Polamalu, QB Ben Roethlisberger, NT Casey Hampton, OLB LaMarr Woodley, OLB James Harrison.

Red-chip players: DE Aaron Smith, TE Heath Miller, LB James Farrior.

The Steelers need Smith to come back to his old "blue" form and they really need some of their offensive linmen to take huge jumps forward.

SAN DIEGO CHARGERS

Blue-chip players: WR Vincent Jackson, OT Marcus McNeill, QB Philip Rivers, TE Antonio Gates, P Mike Scifres.

Red-chip players: RB Darren Sproles, C Nick Hardwick, WR Malcom Floyd, CB Quentin Jammer, LB Shawne Merriman, K Nate Kaeding.

San Diego must find a few players to become red or blue on defense. Even though I placed Merriman as a red, I am not sold on him being an impact player on passing downs. For the Chargers to take the next step, they need a few defensive players to step up.

TENNESSEE TITANS

Blue-chip players: OT Michael Roos, RB Chris Johnson, DT Tony Brown, HC Jeff Fisher.

Red-chip players: TE Bo Scaife, CB Cortland Finnegan, FS Michael Griffin.

This is another team (like Miami) that has many players with the potential to become red or blue, but just needs to be more consistent with their play. Vince Young had moments of being a red-chip player last year and if he continues to improve, watch out.

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