Oakland Raiders offensive tackle Jared Veldheer at 2012 mini camp (photo by Levi Damien)
We now move from the defense to the offense in my position rankings. And just like I did with the defense, we start with big men in the trenches. More specifically; the offensive tackles.
The AFC West has a few great pocket passers at quarterback. Protecting the pocket and keeping them upright will be crucial to the success of each team's offense. If the offensive tackles can't keep the pass rushers out of the backfield, it will disrupt any plans the offense may have. And at that point, it won't matter much how good the quarterback or the receivers are. They can't get the ball downfield from their backs.
Here are the AFC West team rankings by the offensive tackle position:
LT Brandon Albert, RT Eric Winston
The Chiefs were not a great pass blocking team last season but most of the problem was right tackle Barry Richardson. He's gone now and has been replaced by Eric Winston. He is a sizable upgrade to this unit, as he would be to any unit. He sets up on the right side with solid left tackle play from Brandon Albert who is among the best in the league in pass blocking efficiency.
LT Jared Veldheer, RT Khalif Barnes
Trust me, putting the Raiders second in the division among offensive tackles shocks me as much as it does you. But there's no denying it. Veldheer played fantastic at left tackle last season after coming on strong near the end of his rookie season. Barnes catches a lot of flak for his penalties but he made vast improvements last season, which was his first full season as the starting right tackle. The Raiders hope Joseph Barksdale can eventually step up and be the next right tackle but at this point, Barnes has been making quite a case to keep it. Both Veldheer and Barnes are smart players which is a requirement with the team switching to the zone blocking scheme.
LT Jared Gaither, RT Jeromey Clary
The Chargers got a coup when they signed Jared Gaither to replace the injured Marcus McNeil at left tackle last season. Gaither had been rejected by the Raiders and the Chiefs before the Chargers signed him out of desperation. In 165 pass blocking snaps, he allowed no sacks and just three pressures. Gaither's main concern is his health which is why he wasn't signed until midway through the season. But he showed that when he is healthy, he is a brick wall on that left side. Clary on the other hand, is not so good. Outside of the aforementioned Barry Richardson, Clary was the worst in the AFC West in pass blocking efficiency, giving up 56 pressures last season.
LT Ryan Clady, RT Orlando Franklin
Among the worst offensive lines in the NFL with 42 sacks allowed in 2011. Ryan Clady was once considered a great left tackle. He only gave up a half sack as a rookie, but the past three seasons he has been horrific, giving up 24.5 sacks over that time. In 2011, he gave up a career high nine sacks and was penalized 12 times. Overall, the Broncos were among the worst in the league in allowing pressures to turn into sacks. And that was with the fleet-footed Tim Tebow back there most of the season. Peyton Manning may be in trouble.
Also see: Ranking the AFC West: Defense