Players on the roster bubble, bounce back candidates and potential breakout stars. Training camp is the place where all the above can happen, jobs are won and lost, and one unknown player will make a huge play to determine their organisation’s fate – perhaps resulting in lifting the Lombardi Trophy.
With that in mind, let’s drip into each team in the AFC West and look at one player to keep tabs on throughout the season ahead.
Los Angeles Chargers, Desmond King, cornerback:
King’s role in the Charger D will become even more prominent with the loss of Jason Verrett. His 2018 season vanished to a torn Achilles during a conditioning test.
An encouraging rookie campaign should excited LA for what is to come from their former fifth-round pick. Adding more experience and first team reps under his belt, King could very well make the leap in 2018.
Reports from OTAs and camp have faired well for Casey Hayward, Gus Bradley has spoken glowingly about the two-time All-Pro. A leader and player of that calibre in the defensive backs meetings will help bring King along in his second year.
The sophomore defensive back feature in all 16 games for Los Angeles in 2017, starting four contests. King totalled five passes defended, an impressive four sacks and his lone interception went for a 90-yard touchdown against the Dallas Cowboys.
Kansas City Chiefs, Anthony Hitchens, linebacker:
Kansas City had many holes in its defense in 2017. During the offseason General Manager Brett Veach attacked a position of need, signing former Dallas Cowboys linebacker Anthony Hitchens to a five-year $45 million contract.
Entering his fifth year, the Iowa product has proven to be a reliable defender. However, Andy Reid will be hoping the number of total tackles produced from Hitchens will climb and in turn help what was a floundering run defense last campaign.
Hitchens does not have to be a superstar inside linebacker to be considered a success. KC only drafted on the defensive side of the ball and Eric Berry is returning from a torn Achilles which ended his season after only one quarter of the season against New England.
If the former fourth-round selection can bolster his tackle numbers, Hitchens never hit the 100-tackle mark, and add to his sack total – he has just three and a half across 60 games – then he could be the unsung hero of Bob Sutton’s defense.
Oakland Raiders, Jon Gruden, Head Coach:
I never stated the ones to watch had to be exclusive to players. How could you ignore the second coming of Jon Gruden in Oakland?
When the Super Bowl winning Head Coach accepted a ten-year $100 million contract to oversea the Raiders and their move from the Bay Area to Las Vegas, he said he was “trying to throw football back to 1998.”
The offseason additions made by Gruden and General Manager Reggie McKenzie suggest that is still the goal. Running back Doug Martin, full-back Keith Smith and blocking tight end Derek Carrier were all brought in, which speaks to a team which will look to control the ball and the clock, before airing it out in the passing game.
Perhaps no Head Coach has faced more scrutiny entering their first season as HC, be they a first time one or one returning to the game. The bravado of the move, the discomfort of Oakland moving to Las Vegas, the money involved and of course, if Gruden has kept up and can coach in the 2018 NFL landscape.
Players are usually the boom or bust commodities in the NFL, but that extends to coaches. Gruden will certainly be viewed as a boom or bust guy.
Denver Broncos, Su’a Cravens, safety:
Cravens lost his 2017 season to injury as well as personal issues. Denver parted with a fifth-round pick to acquire the former USC defensive back from the Washington Redskins.
Cravens is a versatile defender who can play in the box as a run defender on one down and be breaking passes up over the middle the next. Denver has room to improve at the strong safety spot, should the 2nd year pro bounce back after being placed on Washington’s reserve/left squad list then a fifth-round pick will be a bargain for a player who flashed moments of brilliance during his rookie season. His ceiling is sky high.
During their run to Super Bowl 50 the Broncos boasted an opportunistic and punishing secondary. T.J. Ward’s physical presence has not been replaced since he was cut last offseason, Cravens could be the tone setter from the Broncos’ secondary.
Photograph Copyright: Raiders.com