Who is one potential breakout player for each AFC West team in 2013?
Denver Broncos: Ronnie Hillman. Hillman showed flashes as a rookie but has work to do with the finer points of the game, such as pass protection. This offseason -- along with the tutelage of Peyton Manning -- should help quite a bit. Denver has other bigger options in its backfield and could draft another running back, and Hillman might not be best suited to be an every-down back. But he has a dynamic and explosive running style and big-play ability as a runner and receiver. Also, with all the 11-personnel schemes (one RB/one TE) that the Broncos will use with Wes Welker, Eric Decker and Demaryius Thomas rarely leaving the field, Denver’s running game should see plenty of open space when used. The free-agent addition of Louis Vasquez also should help. Hillman won’t get 20-25 touches per game, but look for him to maximize the touches he gets.
Kansas City Chiefs: Eric Berry. Berry can be great but has yet to truly break out. He was a phenomenal safety prospect when he entered the league in 2010, but injuries derailed his second season. In fact, I think his knee injury hindered him for the first half of 2012 -- maybe even longer. Berry started to look like the player he was in college during the final six to eight games last year. That is extremely encouraging. And with a new attitude in Kansas City and a superior roster, Berry should be ready to flat-out explode in 2013 and soon be among the best safeties in the NFL.
Oakland Raiders: Stefen Wisniewski. There really isn’t much to pick from on Oakland’s roster in terms of possible breakout players, but Wisniewski has been solid at guard in his first two seasons. He isn’t the biggest or most powerful interior offensive lineman around, but he is agile, and his technique surpasses his NFL experience. Wisniewski is already very good in pass protection, which usually takes longer to develop than run-blocking skills. And with the Raiders likely changing from a zone- to a more of a man-blocking scheme, Wisniewski’s run-blocking could catch up to his abilities in protection. There aren’t many bright spots for the Raiders, but Wisniewski is one of them.
San Diego Chargers: Melvin Ingram. I was extremely high on Ingram a year ago as a draft prospect. While he didn’t set the league on fire as a rookie, I still expect him to develop into one of the better 3-4 outside linebackers in the league. As expected, Ingram has a lot of work to do as a coverage player, but San Diego would be wise to have this explosive playmaker coming forward on the majority of snaps. And with Shaun Phillips unlikely to be back, Ingram is now in line for many more snaps -- both in the base defense and in sub packages, where he has the skill set to be moved all over the defensive front. San Diego has its share of problems, but with young front-seven players such as Ingram, Donald Butler, Kendall Reyes and Corey Liuget (who really broke out last season), the Chargers’ defense has quite a bit to build upon.