Scouts Inc.'s Matt Williamson looks at AFC West players on the verge of a breakout in 2011.
The switch to the Denver Broncos’ new 4-3 defense might favor Robert Ayers more than any other player on Denver’s roster. The former 2009 first round pick fits his new defensive end role better than playing outside linebacker in the old 3-4 scheme. This 25-year-old could be poised to take a big step in the right direction next season.
Ayers is a sturdy end who can secure the edge in the run game. As of right now, he is better versus the run than the pass, but he does have some upside as a pass-rusher. He should benefit from the attention that Elvis Dumervil will demand on the opposite side on most downs and surely the attention that rookie Von Miller will command as a pass-rusher on throwing downs. When Miller does line up with his hand on the ground, Ayers could potentially take on a Justin Tuck-like role as a tough interior pass-rusher who can out-quick his slower interior offensive line opponent. But so far, Ayers has recorded only one and a half sacks in his three seasons in the league. Obviously that isn’t good enough. If Denver adds a defensive tackle or two in free agency with pass-rush skills, Ayers could find himself as a two-down player.
Both Dumervil (knee) and Ayers (foot) missed time with injuries last season. Before his injury, Ayers was playing very well -- even in his new role at linebacker. But he wasn’t the same when he returned after missing five games in the middle of the season. A fresh Ayers could take a big step forward.
Other players that I considered include Perrish Cox and Chris Kuper. Two wideouts also crossed my mind -- Eddie Royal could certainly rebound well and play like he did as a rookie, and Eric Decker's skill set could make him one of the more reliable receivers in this league before long.
Scouts Inc. watches games, breaks down film and studies football from all angles for ESPN.com.