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Friday, July 9, 2010
Breaking out in the AFC West

By Bill Williamson

It is going to be a crucial season for several young players in the AFC West, where training camp begins in three weeks. Here's a look at 10 division players who are expected to have breakout years:

Brandon Albert
Branden Albert will need to shine as the starting left tackle in Kansas City.
Branden Albert, left tackle, Kansas City: This is Albert’s third year with the Chiefs, who took him with the No. 15 overall pick in 2008. He was inconsistent as a rookie, but he made improvements as last season went on. If he continues to make strides, he should be fine. Kansas City gave him a big vote of confidence when it didn’t take left tackle Russell Okung in the first round of the draft this year and move Albert to right tackle. Kansas City selected safety Eric Berry instead with the No. 5 pick.

Antoine Cason, cornerback, San Diego: The Chargers felt good enough about Cason to trade Antonio Cromartie to the Jets this offseason. Cason, the No. 28 pick in 2008, takes over as starting right cornerback in San Diego. He played extensively in his first two seasons and lost playing time early in 2009, but bounced back and finished strong. The Chargers want more consistency and toughness than Cromartie provided. Cason, a smart playmaker, should be up to the task.

Glenn Dorsey, defensive lineman, Kansas City: Dorsey probably shouldn’t be on this list anymore. The No. 5 overall pick in 2008 was expected to already be an established stud going into his third season. While Dorsey has played well occasionally, he has been far from a dominant player. Many scouts and coaches thought he was the top player in the 2008 draft, but he has been a big disappointment. He has had two different coaching staffs in the past two seasons and had a hard time adjusting to the 3-4 defense in 2009. He may be moved around the defensive line this year as the Chiefs try to find the best spot for him. He must perform this season or it could be his last in Kansas City.

Malcom Floyd
Malcom Floyd finished 2009 with 45 catches, 776 yards and one touchdown.
Malcom Floyd, receiver, San Diego: Floyd, who had 45 catches for 776 yards in 2009, came on strong last season as he took over for Chris Chambers as San Diego’s No. 2 receiver. More is expected out of this late bloomer in 2010. Star receiver Vincent Jackson is expected to hold out for several weeks. That means Floyd, who will turn 29 in September, may be Philip Rivers’ top receiving option outside of tight end Antonio Gates. The ball will be flying out of Rivers’ hand and Floyd will be expected to play like a No. 1 receiver. (Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. has more on Floyd here in his Pressure Point story.)

Darren McFadden, running back, Oakland: Like Dorsey, McFadden has been disappointing. Drafted one pick behind Dorsey in 2008, he has had only one good NFL game, in the second week of his rookie season (164 rushing yards). A practice star, McFadden has not made an impact in games and has been injury prone. Running backs have short shelf lives, and the talented McFadden must get it going. The Raiders expect him to shine along with Michael Bush.

Knowshon Moreno, running back, Denver: There also is a lot of pressure on Moreno, the No. 12 overall pick last year. After starting the season fairly well, Moreno nosedived dramatically. He was terrible in the final month of the season as Denver fell out of the playoff race after starting 6-0. He had 173 rushing yards and averaged 2.7 yards a carry in the final four games of the season. He is the starter again, but he must show he can carry the load for the entire season.

Legedu Naanee, receiver, San Diego: Like his teammate Floyd, Naanee will have a lot resting on his shoulders if Jackson decides to sit. Naanee will likely be the No. 2 receiver in that scenario and, in many ways, will have more pressure than Floyd. At least Floyd had nine starts in 2009. Naanee, who only had one start in 2009, must take the leap from role player to starter.

Eddie Royal
Eddie Royal failed to live up to a promising rookie season.
Eddie Royal, receiver, Denver: No one would have expected Royal to be on this list a year ago. After his rookie campaign, Royal already looked established. He had 91 catches and was a spark plug for Mike Shanahan’s offense in 2008 after being a second-round pick. Shanahan’s decision to draft Royal over DeSean Jackson seemed warranted. Now that pick is being questioned after Royal stumbled in Josh McDaniels’ offense, netting only 37 catches for 345 yards last season. Royal, who was the targeted receiver 79 times last season opposed to 129 times the season before, will probably play in the slot this season. Denver thinks he can bounce back. If not, he just may end up being a small backup receiver/return man, which is acceptable, but so much more was expected from him after his breakout year.

Chaz Schilens, receiver, Oakland: Schilens was a seventh-round pick in 2008 and showed promise as a rookie with 15 catches. Because of Oakland’s young receiving crew, Schilens, 24, was Oakland’s No. 1 receiver last season. While he missed the first half of the season with a broken foot, he had a decent finish with 29 catches for 365 yards in eight games. Schilens has the look of a player who can become a fine receiver. But he is still green and must show he can stay healthy. If so, he could be on his way to a big career.

Trevor Scott, linebacker, Oakland: The sixth-round pick in 2008 has 12 sacks in two NFL seasons, including seven last season. He was moved from defensive end to outside linebacker and will be given a chance to start in 2010. If Scott can show he can hold his own in coverage and in running situations, he could be a standout. He has terrific pass-rush skills.