I want to thank ESPN’s Matt Williamson for handling our AFC West Eight in the Box project last week while I was on vacation. The subject was 2013 breakout players.
I also wanted to pass my thoughts along on this topic. I chose my players for each AFC West team before looking at his selections. We agreed on one player, although I understand his reasoning for all of his picks. Here are mine:
Denver Broncos, running back Ronnie Hillman: This is Matt’s choice as well. We saw a glimpse of how Hillman can help this team in the playoff loss to Baltimore. He had some crucial carries after Knowshon Moreno was hurt. Denver coach John Fox has raved about Hillman and his role will expand. The team can bring in another running back (perhaps even in the first round of the draft), but Hillman, a third-round pick last year, will have a role as a change-of-pace option and as a receiver out of the backfield.
Kansas City Chiefs, receiver/returner Dexter McCluster: Matt went with safety Eric Berry. I think Berry has already arrived and so I’m going with McCluster because new Kansas City coach Andy Reid can’t stop talking about him. While this will be McCluster’s fourth NFL season, I truly think he is going to be given the chance to take the next step. Reid will design packages for the small McCluster to shine. If he doesn’t make an impact this year, it may be time for the Chiefs to move on.
Oakland Raiders, receiver Rod Streater: Matt went with third-year guard Stefen Wisniewski. I’ve been a Wisniewski fan since his rookie season. He is already a building block on a roster that is rebuilding, so I’m going with Streater. This is a team where everyone will get a chance to show they can be a standout. Streater got a head start as an undrafted rookie last year when he caught 39 passes. I have a feeling we will continue to see growth from him. He is very polished for an inexperienced player and goes about his work the right way. I see a bright future.
San Diego Chargers, defensive end Kendall Reyes: Matt went with 2012 first-round pick Melvin Ingram. I’m an Ingram believer and I think he will be terrific, but I went with Reyes because I see a big, big talent here. The 2012 second-round pick finished his rookie strong. He can be very disruptive and I think the defensive end combination of Reyes and 2011 first-round pick Corey Liuget (who had a big second NFL season) can be special this season.