With NFL training camps beginning soon, fans will be looking at how the stars and the high draft picks for their favorite team will do this season. What fans often do not look at are potential sleepers that could make a big impact unexpectedly.
Today, we look at the AFC West: a division with playoff contenders all around and the home to some of the NFL’s emerging stars.
Taken in the third round of this year’s NFL Draft, Henderson impressed at the combine with his overall athleticism and his film from Louisiana Tech proved he stood out when better competition came.
His 5’11” and 199 lbs frame makes him an ideal receiver for both the number two or slot positions. Although he won’t surpass Demariyus Thomas or Emmanuel Sanders this year, he will become a productive member of this wide receiving corps.
Going undrafted out of Rice in 2015, Taylor signed with the Denver Broncos just hoping he would make the team. Last year was monumental for Taylor as he made an incredible one hand catch in training camp, which got a few people noticing his athleticism.
Last season, Taylor had an impressive season for someone who was listed fifth on the depth chart for wide receivers. Taylor eclipsed 209 receiving yards and 2 touchdowns. Although those numbers won’t attract anybody, it shows he is being utilized within this offense and will have a larger role come this season.
Formerly of the Houston Texans, defensive end Jared Crick has had an overall quiet NFL career. Going into his sixth season, Crick has made himself known in the Broncos’ locker room as someone who is consistent and is worthy of being a starter. His 2016 stats of 31 tackles, 22 assisted tackles, 3 sacks and 2 forced fumbles have made him a formidable player in this league.
So should we expect the same stats from him this year? Well, one could believe that he could actually do better this year. With the retirement of future Hall of Famer Demarcus Ware, Crick will be presented with more opportunities to get after the quarterback. Expect Crick to have a career year this season.
Kansas City Chiefs
Coming into his second season, undrafted tight end Ross Travis is widely unknown in the NFL world. His 2016 stats of 15 receiving yards and 0 touchdowns while starting 3 games are abysmal, but there’s reason to believe he could become a bigger part of the Chiefs’ offense.
During this year’s NFL Draft, the Chiefs traded their number two tight end James O’Shaughnessy to the New England in order to move up in the draft. This gives Travis an opportunity to become the number two tight end and make his money in the red zone and also be a serviceable blocker.
Taken in the second round of the 2015 NFL Draft out of Missouri, Morse was considered to be one of the higher ranked interior offensive linemen in that draft. Coming into his third year as the Chiefs’ starting center, Morse is bound to become one of the premier centers in the NFL.
With another year comes another year of experience under Morse’s belt, and he could make this mediocre offensive line into a respectable one with stout play throughout this year.
Taken in the sixth round of the 2016 NFL Draft, White’s role as a rookie was largely based on special teams and a handful of reps at corner. Last season, White recorded 10 tackles, 1 assisted tackle, 1 interception and 3 pass defended.
In his second year, however, more responsibility will be given to him and down the stretch, White could become a valuable asset to the emerging Chiefs secondary.
Los Angeles Chargers
Going undrafted this year, there was some surprise that Scott was not selected, but the Chargers may have found a valuable piece to their receiving corps.
While his 4.61 40 yard dash time isn’t impressive, Scott showed at Clemson that he can play at a productive level.
This season may become a bit of a deja vu for Scott, since he had to step up when star receiver Mike Williams got injured, and now Scott’s role will become more vital since–you guessed it; Mike Williams is injured and may need season-ending surgery. Look for Scott to see playing time if the Chargers need to rely on new guys to step up to the plate.
Taken in the third round of this year’s draft, Dan Feeney, a guard out of Indiana, could make a big impact this upcoming season. This deteriorated offensive line saw an upgrade in this draft as they drafted both Feeney and second round pick Forrest Lamp, a fellow guard out of Western Kentucky.
Feeney has the chance to start day one at either guard position and make the latter years of Phillip Rivers’ career healthy. Both Feeney and Lamp will become pivotal parts of this offense for years to come.
Taken in the fifth round of the 2015 NFL Draft, Emanuel, a small school standout from North Dakota State, was selected by the Chargers.
Emanuel had a solid second year. In starting 11 games, Emanuel totalled 36 tackles, 22 assisted tackles, 0.5 sacks and 1 forced fumble.
His third year could become big, as fellow linebacker Manti Te’o left for New Orleans. Look for Emanuel to contribute much more this season.
Going undrafted in the 2016 NFL Draft, Richard proved many wrong by having a strong rookie campaign. He eclipsed 491 rushing yards, 194 receiving yards, 1 rushing touchdown and 2 receiving touchdowns.
Going into year two, Richard has the chance to make him a solid number two back under Marshawn Lynch. He’s a much different runner than Lynch, so he’ll be a true change-of-pace back.
Taken in the fourth round of this year’s NFL Draft, Sharpe, a large tackle from Florida, was selected by Oakland. Sharpe’s massive frame of 6’6″ and 342 lbs. will be unparalleled to the competition he’ll face.
With Menelik Watson departing to Denver, Sharpe as the opportunity to compete for the starting right tackle position. With perhaps a slightly slimmer frame and refinement to his blocking, Sharpe could become a valuable piece to this superb offensive line.
Taken in the seventh round of this year’s NFL Draft, Hester is a widely unknown defensive tackle out of Toledo. However, his tape is impressive and his size at 6’2″ and 300 lbs. makes him strong, yet mobile at the same time as an interior rusher.
With inadequate depth at the defensive tackle position, look for Hester to make an unexpectedly decent impact this upcoming season.