AFC West Q&A: Who is the rising star in this division?

Who is the rising star in the AFC West?

Jeff Legwold, Denver Broncos reporter: Beyond the Raiders' Derek Carr -- a young quarterback on the upswing -- the division has some players with bust-out potential in the season to come. Take a long look at Broncos outside linebacker Shane Ray. Ray finished second on the team last season with eight sacks even though he was a rotational player when DeMarcus Ware was healthy. Ware has retired, so Ray will start and have Von Miller on the other side of the formation to go with an improved interior rush that will include rookie DeMarcus Walker with Derek Wolfe and Domata Peko. Ray played 58 percent of the Broncos' defensive snaps last season, and if things go as Denver hopes, he is expected to graduate to 70 percent or more in his third NFL season. Whether he cracks the 80 percent threshold, which is what Miller topped last season, remains to be seen. But Ray, who had a three-sack game against the Bengals last September, is poised for a double-digit output in quarterback takedowns.

Adam Teicher, Kansas City Chiefs reporter: The play of Kansas City defensive lineman Chris Jones was at least partially obscured last season by the spectacular debut of teammate and fellow rookie Tyreek Hill. But Jones had an impact. He wound up having to play a lot after Kansas City lost starting linemen Allen Bailey and Jaye Howard for the season to injuries. His role should increase as a full-time starter in 2017. The Chiefs expect Jones, a second-round draft pick in 2016, to be solid against both the run and pass; in particular he showed strong pass-rush skills last season. He displayed the knack for being able to split double-teams and get pressure on the opposing quarterback.

Eric D. Williams, Los Angeles Chargers reporter: Don't sleep on second-year Chargers tight end Hunter Henry. The Arkansas product finished 2016 with 36 receptions on 53 targets for 478 receiving yards and eight touchdowns, seven of which came inside the red zone. With another offseason of work with quarterback Philip Rivers, Henry should be even more productive in Year 2, shouldering more of the workload offensively. Future Hall of Fame tight end Antonio Gates will still get his touches; the 37-year-old needs one more touchdown to break a tie with Tony Gonzalez for career receiving scores by a tight end after totaling 111 through last season. Look for the Chargers to continue to use Gates on third down and in the red zone while Henry becomes their top option at tight end.

Paul Gutierrez, Oakland Raiders reporter: As easy as it would be to go with NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year Joey Bosa and his 10.5 sacks in 12 games for the Chargers, keep an eye on Raiders third-year receiver Amari Cooper. Sure, Cooper already has been named to a pair of Pro Bowls and authored two 1,000-yard receiving seasons. But Cooper, who showed up to offseason workouts looking significantly more muscular without having lost any of his world-class speed, had an air about him. Let Carr explain: “That ... dog in him is coming out, that thing that you saw at Alabama where he'll just take things over,” Carr said. “DBs better know that he's really taking it serious that he's trying to go attack them this year. He's not going to let them come to him anymore. ... The guy has been going off all camp, all offseason.” The Raiders expect it to continue in the regular season.