Today's question: Who is the rising star in this division?
Jeff Legwold, Denver Broncos: Raiders quarterback Derek Carr is the young up-and-comer and, if he continues to develop, Oakland could end its playoff drought. But in terms of being at the intersection of opportunity and ability, Broncos’ third-year running back C.J. Anderson is poised for a potential breakout. Coach Gary Kubiak has promised a greater concerted focus on a more efficient ground game. Anderson’s conditioning and offseason work will determine if he indeed gets his expected carries. And there is the element of how quarterback Peyton Manning will call games at the line of scrimmage once things get going. But Anderson has the one-cut ability, the vision -- he showed it with 648 rushing yards over the last six games of the '14 regular season -- to flourish in the new offense. He must hold off Montee Ball to do it, however, and that just may be his biggest obstacle to what could be a career year.
Adam Teicher, Kansas City Chiefs: I’m torn here between Oakland linebacker Khalil Mack and Kansas City tight end Travis Kelce. His health willing, Mack will be a problem for opposing offenses for a lot of years. A rookie last season, Mack might be the best player in the 2014 draft class. He had four sacks as a rookie. Once he bumps that total and the Raiders win a few more games, he’ll get the recognition he’s due. Kelce is a matchup problem for opposing defenses. He’s fast for a 260-pound player. He can get down the field to catch passes but also runs well after the catch, so he’s a threat on underneath routes. His presence is one reason the Chiefs weren’t more aggressive about bringing in another wide receiver after signing Jeremy Maclin. Runner-up here goes to San Diego’s rookie running back Melvin Gordon. He’ll give the Chargers a rushing game they’ve lacked for years.
Bill Williamson, Oakland Raiders: I expect big things from Mack. The No. 5 overall pick in last year’s draft had a strong rookie season. The outside linebacker had four sacks and was a strong, complete player. I think Mack will take the next step in his career in 2015. The new Oakland coaching staff is ready to unleash Mack. They want him to be a pass-rushing star. Oakland badly needs a pass-rush spark. The team had just 22 sacks last season, which was tied for the second fewest in the NFL. New Oakland coach Jack Del Rio coached Von Miller in Denver the past few years. Mack is going to be Del Rio’s Miller. Expect Mack to move around from outside linebacker to the defensive line more this season in some packages. His sack numbers should increase and we should see many big plays from Mack, who in the near future will be among the very best defensive players in the NFL.
Eric D. Williams, San Diego Chargers: The Raiders just scratched the surface of what Mack can do defensively. Mack showed that he can play solid in the run and make plays all over the field. He had just four sacks last year. But in his second season, I believe Mack will develop into an elite pass-rusher and one of the best players in the AFC West.