While every team has some second year players that are ready to breakout, each team in the AFC West has at least one second year player that is ready to jump up and become a core player on either offense or defense.
Manti Te’o – San Diego Chargers
After a very strong 2012 season in which Te'o led Notre Dame to the National Championship game, Te’o won just about every defensive honor that a player could be awarded. Then the “Catfishing” scandal hit, and his life got turned upside down.
Te’o was thought to be a sure fire top 15 pick, but now people questioned his integrity, and his football stock plummeted. A poor 40-yard dash at the combine didn’t help matters.
Te'o came back to run better at the Notre Dame pro day, but the damage was done, and instead of being a first rounder, he slipped to the second round. Te’o had a strong camp but injured his foot in the opening pre-season game. He missed the rest of the pre-season and the first three games on the 2013 regular season.
He played in 13 games and finished with 61 total tackles; good, but not what was expected. It turned out he played the entire season with a broken foot and had surgery to repair the fracture shortly after the season ended.
Now healthy, Te’o should be able to play the way he did in 2012, where he showed top instincts, pass rush skills, and cover skills.
Travis Kelce – Kansas City Chiefs
The Chiefs drafted Kelce in the third round with the idea that he could be an athletic move tight end, stretch the field, and his speed and athleticism would create mismatches. That never materialized last season as Kelce was injured in the second game and underwent knee surgery and missed the rest of his rookie season.
Kelce was cleared to participate in the off season program, but he has yet to participate in OTA’s. It is expected that he will be full go by training camp, and what the Chiefs hoped they had last year, they will have this year. If Kelce stays healthy, he could put up some big numbers in Andy Reid’s offense.
D.J. Hayden – Oakland Raiders
During practice in November of his final year at the University of Houston, Hayden was involved in a horrific collision in practice that caused a severe heart injury. He had surgery and made a strong recovery, allowing him to be drafted by the Raiders in the first round of the 2013 draft.
During OTA’s last season, Hayden suffered a setback and had to have a second surgery to remove scar tissue formed from the previous surgery. After a long recovery, he was ready to go in training camp.
Because of missing so much time, Hayden played in only eight games as a rookie and started two. He suffered a groin injury in his eighth game and was placed on injured reserve, missing the rest of the season.
Now healthy and ready to go, Hayden will be the starter at left corner and should become the shutdown corner the Raiders were looking for when they drafted him last year. He has the size, speed, and skill set required to be that type of player.
Montee Ball – Denver Broncos
Ball was drafted by the Broncos in 2013 with an eye toward the future. They already had Knowshon Moreno as their bell cow running back, but he was going into the final year of his contract. During this off season, Moreno signed with Miami as a UFA. The starting job falls to Ball, and he is an ideal back to handle the load.
While at Wisconsin, Ball was a touchdown machine. In his last two seasons at Wisconsin, Ball rushed for over 3,700 yards and an astonishing 55 touchdowns. When he is near the goal line, there is no stopping him!
Ball has ideal size (5104 – 218) and speed (4.48) to be a prolific rusher in the NFL. As a rookie, he rushed for 559 yards and a 4.7 yards per carry average. He also caught 20 passes. Now that the top job is his, I expect him to put up some big numbers.
Follow Greg on Twitter @greggabe