While the NFL season is a fair distance away, it is never too early to predict the next wave of stars and superstars across the NFL. However, every team has one piece that fails to live up to the hype entering the new season. The AFC West teams are no different. “Bust” is a relative term. Not all of these players will be bad in 2022, but they could underachieve based on the expectations they have for the season. Rookies are ineligible and will not be included.
Check out the AFC West’s potential breakout stars here.
Kansas City Chiefs – JuJu Smith-Schuster
After the Chiefs traded Tyreek Hill to the Miami Dolphins, Kansas City had a glaring hole in the passing attack. There are three primary options to fill this hole including Smith-Schuster, rookie Skyy Moore, and Mecole Hardman. Smith-Schuster has the highest expectations out of the three as he is a former Pro Bowler (as a receiver). However, Moore is the most likely option to ascend to the No. 2 role in the passing attack, resigning Smith-Schuster to more of a placeholder role.
While the placeholder role is valuable to the offense, Smith-Schuster might not be as productive as one would imagine. He has just one season with more than 1,000 yards, in 2018. While he has been a solid receiver for the last few seasons, he has not been the star he was hoped to be after Antonio Brown left Pittsburgh. For the Chiefs, Moore is more likely to develop into that star.
Las Vegas Raiders – Chandler Jones
Jones is coming off of a season with 10.5 sacks and 47 pressures. However, five of the sacks and seven of the pressures came in Week 1. After Week 1, Jones had a 60.2 PFF grade including a 38.3 run-defense grade and 81.0 pass-rush grade. While he can be the Robin to Maxx Crosby’s Batman in Las Vegas, Jones has deteriorated as a run defender in recent seasons. The Raiders have a weak run defense as is, and Jones will only exaggerate the problem.
Jones is only two years removed from a 75-pressure season (and 90.0 pass-rush grade), but he is entering his age-32 season. His best days are almost certainly behind him. Jones is devolving into a one-trick pony, and his one trick is not quite it once was. After Week 1, Jones only had one game with five pressures, and five is the same number of games that he had zero pressures.
Los Angeles Chargers – Khalil Mack
Mack is coming off his worst season as a pro. While the lack of counting stats can be attributed to him missing 10 games, the underlying tape is concerning. From 2014 to 2020, Mack never had a full season grade below 86.0. Similarly, he never had a full-season run-defense grade below 83.0. In 2021, he set career lows in both overall grade (73.0) and run-defense grade (64.7).
Mack was still a good player, but he took a step in the wrong direction in 2021. He is being viewed as a game-changing superstar moving from the Chicago Bears to the Chargers, but like Jones, he is likely better suited for a No. 2 role across from the real superstar (Joey Bosa). Mack should be a better run defender than he was in 2021, but the days of being an All-Pro pass rusher are likely in the past.
Denver Broncos – Javonte Williams
Williams had a productive rookie season, rushing for over 900 yards and scoring four touchdowns. The underlying metrics love Williams as he posted a 76.0 PFF rushing grade, averaged 3.42 yards per carry after contact, and broke 63 tackles on 203 attempts. However, the issue for Williams in 2022 will be the workload. The Broncos are stubborn in their commitment to the two-back committee with Williams and Melvin Gordon. Williams was the better back in 2021, but the Broncos insisted on feeding Gordon. Despite playing one fewer game, he had the same number of rush attempts as Williams.
When Russell Wilson is factored in, Williams does not appear that he will have the opportunity to be the breakout superstar he has flashed. Even if the 50-50 rushing share begins to skew in Williams’ favor, the Broncos will likely pass the football more, continuing to ruin the volume Williams could put up. He will be one of the most efficient backs on a per-carry basis, but fantasy football fans (as well as Broncos fans) should temper their expectations.
Follow Ryan Potts on Twitter @MrSplashMan19
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