Originally posted on Football Nation  |  Last updated 7/19/12
Young offensive talent has been a key reason why the AFC West division has been one of the most competitive in the NFL for the past five years, and the four teams are all projected to be better AFC contenders after this year’s offseason additions.

The Denver Broncos, Oakland Raiders, San Diego Chargers, and Kansas City Chiefs all have running games that are crucial to their success, yet troublesome to the rest of the league.

However, in terms of “The Most Elusive” in the open field, all four teams finished in the bottom half of the league for broken tackles in 2011.

Nevertheless, the featured players in this piece have bright futures in the National Football League and are developing the reputation for consistently shedding defenders in the open field.

Darren McFadden - Oakland Raiders

Injury has plagued McFadden since he has entered the NFL, but when he takes the field he stands out as one of the largest impact players in the game. McFadden has drastically improved every year rushing for 499 yards in 13 games in 2008, 357 yards in 12 games in 2009, and breaking 42 tackles in 2010 on 222 carries, breaking tackles on 15.6 percent of his touches.

In his last five games in 2011 he rushed for 614 yards and 5.4 yards per carry before suffering a season-ending foot injury. McFadden has earned the attention of the league as one of the most elusive, unstoppable forces that can take it the distance on every carry, and only time will tell what he can do if healthy for an entire season.

 
Dwayne Bowe - Kansas City Chiefs

Without a premier NFL quarterback, Dwayne Bowe has remained an elite wide receiver for the Chiefs since 2007, peaking in 2010 with 1,162 receiving yards and 15 touchdowns. According to Football Outsiders, Bowe was tied for fifth in the league for broken tackles among wide receivers and tight ends during the 2011 season, evading tackles on 13.4 percent of his 82 touches.

His 1,159 receiving yards were the second most in his career while recording 354 yards post-catch, totaling 754 yards after the catch in the last two seasons. It is tough enough for defensive backs to keep the ball out of the hands of the 6’2, 221-pound physical receiver, but attempting to get him to the ground after he obtains the football is a job that often millions of dollars do not pay for.

 
Jamaal Charles - Kansas City Chiefs

Lining up in the backfield with Dwayne Bowe on the line of scrimmage is Jamaal Charles, a Pro Bowl running back in the 2010 season after a stellar year of 1,541 rushing yards, 759 of them occurring after contact. Charles broke 28 tackles in 2010, averaging 3.2 yards after the contact per rushing attempt.

To further reserve his place on “the most elusive” list, 436 of his 468 receiving yards were after the catch. Like most of the other key offensive players on the Kansas City Chiefs, Jamaal Charles was victim to an injury that shortened his 2011 season after two games, and has been rehabbing after knee surgery ever since.

Look for Charles to be back with the intent to top the league once again in 2012, while leaving a trail of empty-handed defenders behind.


Ryan Mathews - San Diego Chargers

Mathews is likely the most overlooked on the most elusive list, yet the epitome of the type of player that defines it. While rushing for 1,091 yards the hard way in 2011, Mathews earned 463 of them after the defense made first contact. In a blog from Mike Sando of ESPN he notes that 42.4 percent of Mathews’ rushing yards came after contact, ranking him sixth in the National Football League.

With most of the attention on Philip Rivers and the passing attack of the San Diego Chargers, the rushing efforts of Mathews are sometimes written off. Although most NFL fans may not yet recognize the talent of Ryan Mathews, fantasy footballers and defenses alike see the personification of the “most elusive” in the young running back.

 

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