A team-by-team look at the players I expect to be the most dominant in the AFC West from 2014 to 2016.
The future looks bright in the AFC West. There are several promising young players in the division, and all four teams have hope for the future. Let’s look at the players I expect to have the most success in the middle of this decade.
Von Miller, Broncos linebacker: If the Broncos are going to rebound from their recent drought, it could start with Miller. He is an important figure in Denver and was the first pick of the John Elway/John Fox/Brian Xanders regime. The trio studied several players before deciding on the powerful Texas A&M linebacker for the No. 2 overall pick. Elway said that Miller was the most explosive player in the draft and that he reminds many NFL scouts of former Kansas City great linebacker Derrick Thomas. Miller is smart, extremely fast and athletically gifted. He seems like a can’t-miss prospect. The Broncos need him to be.
Eric Berry, Chiefs safety: Berry is going to be a special player. He is the centerpiece on a roster full of young, exciting talent. Berry was the No. 5 overall pick last year and was an immediate success. Berry was always on the field and made a huge impact. He instantly legitimized a defense that played a major role in a division title. He is a smart player who has a chance to be the NFL’s next great safety. I also considered the spectacular Jamaal Charles, but he will be 30 at the end of the 2016 season. Durability is a question mark about the speedster, so I went with Berry. Still, I expect Charles to be one of the NFL’s best running backs for the foreseeable future.
Lamarr Houston, Raiders defensive lineman: I’m taking Matt Williamson’s lead here. The Scouts Inc. brainiac is extremely high on the Raiders’ second-season defensive lineman. In fact, Williamson believes Houston could be one of the NFL’s best defensive linemen soon. He thinks Houston, a second-round pick from Texas, has no ceiling. Houston has the look of an impact player who plays with a mean streak. He was easy to notice in the preseason last year, and he made one big play after another as a rookie. He looks like he’ll be in the NFL for the next dozen years. He is versatile and can play in virtually every defensive situation. The Raiders have a host of young, intriguing players, including Darren McFadden, Jacoby Ford, Louis Murphy, Matt Shaughnessy, Rolando McClain and Tyvon Branch. But Houston seems like he can be special.
Ryan Mathews, Chargers running back: Mathews wasn’t spectacular as a rookie in 2010. But he showed enough flashes to make the Chargers excited about his future. Mathews was the No. 12 overall pick after the Chargers sent a huge package to Miami to move up 16 spots to take the Fresno State star. Mathews had injury and fumbling issues in 2010, but when he was healthy, he made several big plays and ran hard. He finished the season strong. The Chargers like the way he works and thinks he will be ready to take the next step soon. I was tempted to go with cornerback Antoine Cason or first-round pick Corey Liuget, but I think Mathews has the ability to have a long, productive career in San Diego.