With the 2018 World Cup upon us, Jeremy Bergman and Adam Rank are divvying up the NFL and selecting the top 11 -- or in, yes, FOOTBALL parlance, all-time XI -- players from each of the 32 teams' history. Today, Bergman presents the top XI for each team in the AFC West.
1) John Elway, QB (1983-1998)
2) Terrell Davis, RB (1995-2001)
3) Steve Atwater, S (1989-1998)
4) Shannon Sharpe, TE (1990-99, 2002-03)
5) Rod Smith, WR (1995-2007)
6) Floyd Little, RB (1967-1975)
7) Champ Bailey, CB (2004-2013)
8) Karl Mecklenburg, LB (1983-1994)
9) Peyton Manning, QB (2012-15)
10) Von Miller, LB (2011-present)
11) Randy Gradishar, LB (1974-1983)
Coach: Mike Shanahan (1995-2008)
No debate at the top. This one's for John. The Bowlens might own the Broncos, but Elway is the Broncos. The Mile High legend's resume: seven division titles, five Super Bowl appearances, two Lombardis -- and, as Denver's general manager, one massive free-agent signing. Speaking of which ... For a QB who brought a franchise to two Super Bowls in just four years, Manning is objectively a little low on this list. But come on -- he's a horse of a different color -- a Colt -- and to honor him as a top-five Bronco would be to belittle the contributions of Atwater, Little, Smith and Mecklenburg, who were nearly all career-long Broncos.
Davis' run in the pros was short but Super, Super sweet: The three-time All-Pro and SB XXXII MVP is one of just seven backs rush for 2,000 yards in a season. Before he spent his mornings shutting up Skip Bayless, Sharpe was Elway's target of choice, and one of the game's most prolific tight ends. Miller has just seven years in the league, but the chicken farmer already has a Super Bowl MVP and three All-Pro selections to his name.
By a half-vote on my super-secretive closed ballot, Orange Crush fixture Gradishar edges out Gary Zimmerman, Demaryius Thomas and Tom Jackson. Sorry, Boom!
Kansas City Chiefs
1) Derrick Thomas, OLB (1989-1999)
2) Tony Gonzalez, TE (1997-2008)
3) Len Dawson, QB (1962-1975)
4) Willie Lanier, LB (1967-1977)
5) Will Shields, OG (1993-2006)
6) Bobby Bell, LB (1963-1974)
7) Buck Buchanan, DT (1963-1975)
8) Priest Holmes, RB (2001-07)
9) Emmitt Thomas, DB (1966-1978)
10) Eric Berry, S (2010-present)
11) Johnny Robinson, S (1960-1971)
Coach: Hank Stram (1960-1974)
As historic as Dawson's contributions are to the Chiefs franchise, and as iconic as this hardcore picture of him smoking a cig during Super Bowl I's halftime is, Thomas and Gonzalez are the superior players. The two were statistical marvels and matchup nightmares in their time and are both top-five all-timers at their respective positions.
After the top six, it's tough sledding. As with Larry Johnson and Jamaal Charles, Holmes had a brief-but-historic run of play with Kansas City after the turn of the century. Of the three tailbacks, Holmes' three-season stretch of 6,566 total yards stands out as the most noteworthy accomplishment. That and his three first-team All-Pros. The back end is dominated by secondary studs, including Berry, the lone active Chief on this list. Seven years into his career, Berry (who is apparently nicknamed the Fifth Dimension?) has already earned a spot, thanks to his consistent play, leadership ability and one hell of a comeback story.
I ran out of room for fan favorites like Charles, Christian Okoye and Otis Taylor.
Los Angeles Chargers
1) LaDainian Tomlinson, RB (2001-09)
2) Junior Seau, LB (1990-2002)
3) Lance Alworth, WR (1962-1970)
4) Dan Fouts, QB (1973-1987)
5) Antonio Gates, TE (2003-2017)
6) Kellen Winslow Sr., TE (1979-1987)
7) Philip Rivers, QB (2004-present)
8) Charlie Joiner, WR (1976-1986)
9) Leslie O'Neal, DE/OLB (1986-1995)
10) Ron Mix, OT (1960-69)
11) Eric Weddle, S (2007-2015)
Coach: Sid Gillman (1960-1971)
The top of this Chargers countdown is -- please pardon the low-hanging imagery -- electrifying. Tomlinson is far and away the Bolts' greatest offensive talent. L.T. single-handedly turned around the franchise in the early 2000s and his record-setting 2006 MVP season coincided with the franchise's best season by record (14-2). (Sure, they promptly fired Marty Schottenheimer after tapping out in the Divisional Round, but we're not ranking worst management decisions here.) What Tomlinson is to Chargers offensive legacy, Seau is to their reputation on defense. A Southern California icon, Seau was the heartbeat of San Diego's '94 AFC title defense and was named first-team All-Pro six times.
Alworth was the Chargers' first star, while Fouts is their best-regarded signal-caller. Rivers outguns John Hadl, but unless the Bolts can muster some success in Carson this year or the next, Rivers' legacy with the franchise will never outshine that of Air Coryell's general. Joiner, Fouts' top target from that era, easily slides in here.
1) Jim Otto, C (1960-1974)
2) Gene Upshaw, OG (1967-1981)
3) Howie Long, DE (1981-1993)
4) Art Shell, OT (1968-1982)
5) Ken Stabler, QB (1968-1979)
6) Fred Biletnikoff, WR (1965-1978)
7) Marcus Allen, RB (1982-1992)
8) Tim Brown, WR (1988-2003)
9) Willie Brown, CB (1967-1978)
10) Cliff Branch, WR (1972-1985)
11) Ted Hendricks, LB (1975-1983)
Coach: John Madden (1969-1978)
Hall of Famers, Hall of Famers everywhere. Ten of the 11 Oakland-Los Angeles-Oakland Raiders listed above are enshrined in Canton, with Branch being the lone exception.
John Madden's Raiders of the '70s don't become perennial contenders (and eventually, Super Bowl champs) without their offensive line, which is why Otto, Upshaw and Shell are in the top four. These silver-and-bulk hulk-humans made up the All-Canton left side of Oakland's offensive line for five seasons from 1970-74, during which the Raiders won four AFC West division titles and made it to three AFC Championship games. Stabler, the personification of John Facenda's voice laid over grainy NFL Films footage, was the QB for two of those teams after taking over for Daryle Lamonica, who just missed out here. As the quarterback for Oakland's first Super Bowl victory and a statistically superior star, Stabler should be better regarded than Jim Plunkett, despite the latter's two titles with the Raiders.
From those early days, Biletnikoff and Willie Brown also earned their spot here. Allen falls a bit, partially because of the talent ahead of him, but mostly due to the tailback's steep statistical fall-off after his 1985 MVP season; it also doesn't help that he made the Pro Bowl and postseason with the hated Chiefs in his second act. Oh, and no Bo.