The Kansas City Chiefs dominate the AFC West, but the other three teams have a lot of promising talent. Andy Reid’s team arguably got worse this offseason, which leaves the door open for the other teams to make significant gains. Denver, Las Vegas, and Los Angeles all need some young players to step up, but they already had a few players make strides in 2020.
Rookies weren’t included in this article’s selection process because they only have one season under their belts. Even if a player like Clyde Edwards-Helaire made strides throughout 2020, including him in an article looking for year-to-year improvement at the NFL level doesn’t make sense.
This article is the fourth edition in an eight-part series.
Denver Broncos- Garett Bolles, OT
No one benefited more from referees easing up on holding penalties than Bolles. The former 20th overall pick from 2017 entered this past season with his NFL future on the line. While Bolles appeared in over 1,000 offensive snaps in each of his first three seasons, the Utah product struggled mightily. According to Pro Football Focus (PFF), Bolles committed 45 penalties and allowed 14 sacks during his first 48 appearances.
The Broncos felt so poorly about Bolles’ future NFL prospects that they declined his fifth-year option. The 28-year-old responded with a breakout performance that resulted in a Second-Team All-Pro selection and a four-year extension. In his 15 appearances, Bolles played over 1,000 offensive snaps but only committed seven penalties and didn’t allow a sack. He posted a 90.6 PFF grade, which narrowly trailed Trent Williams’ 91.9 for the highest mark among offensive tackles in 2020.
Kansas City Chiefs- Bashaud Breeland, CB
Breeland joined the Chiefs in 2019. While he’s not a standout player, the former fourth-round pick is a quality starter capable of contributing to a winning franchise. Teams always try to upgrade from players like Breeland, but they also desperately need players of his caliber to stay under the cap and win games.
According to PFF, Breeland only has three seasons with a grade over 65.0. This past season was the most recent occurrence (67.7) after the Clemson product hadn’t cracked 60.0 since 2017. Breeland is a free agent and could become an impact player on a short-term deal once the second wave of free agency begins.
Las Vegas Raiders- Nelson Agholor, WR
Too bad the Raiders don’t get to profit immediately from Agholor’s breakout season. The former first-round pick is heading to New England on a two-year, $22 million deal. Playing with Derek Carr might’ve saved Agholor’s career. The USC product flamed out in Philadelphia after five seasons, but he set or tied career-highs with 896 yards and eight touchdowns last year.
While inconsistent production and occasional drops remain a concern with Agholor, the 27-year-old proved he’s capable of filling the vertical threat role in an offense perfectly. His 18.7 yards per reception in 2020 ranked second among qualified receivers, and Agholor only trailed Darren Waller on the Raiders in overall production.
Los Angeles Chargers- Jerry Tillery, DT
The Chargers had high expectations for Tillery when they selected him with the 28th pick in the 2019 NFL Draft. Tillery was the sixth defensive tackle prospect off the board in a draft class that included college stars Dexter Lawrence, Ed Oliver, Jeffery Simmons, Christian Wilkins, and Quinnen Williams. However, Tillery only recorded 17 tackles on roughly 350 defensive snaps as a rookie.
Tillery made strides in his second season. While the Notre Dame product still hasn’t lived up to his draft stock, he’s headed in the right direction. Tillery played in nearly 750 defensive snaps this past year, amassing 30 tackles, three sacks, 22 pressures, and two forced fumbles.