Las Vegas Raiders: One breakout player from each AFC West foe

Just as the Las Vegas Raiders improved over the offseason, so did the AFC West division as a whole. Here are the breakout players from each rival that the Raiders must focus on.

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Mecole Hardman vs. Oakland Raiders (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

The Las Vegas Raiders arguably exceeded expectations last season, finishing with a 7-9 record and at one moment were in contention to take the AFC West division. The Raiders accomplished all this while losing their top receiver before Week 1, going five straight weeks on the road, and facing a revolving door of players at receiver.

After the offseason moves, Las Vegas clearly improved their roster from 2019.

And yet, that sentiment is not mutual with other football analysts. Back on May 26, ESPN released their Football Power Index, and Las Vegas landed at No. 23 overall. Upon further review, that places the Raiders dead last in the AFC West, behind their three rivals. The ranking may be subjective in some eyes, but it is wise to acknowledge that the other three AFC West teams also made upgrades in the offseason.

The Kansas City Chiefs being the defending champions is spoken for, but the Raiders are wise to not write off the Denver Broncos or Los Angeles Chargers as well. As they will face each team twice this season, here is one potential breakout player from each foe that Las Vegas must keep an eye on.

Las Vegas Raiders: One breakout player from each AFC West foe

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Chiefs WR Mecole Hardman (Photo by Daniel Shirey/Getty Images)

Kansas City Chiefs: Mecole Hardman

In the case of the rich getting richer, the defending champion Chiefs could have another breakout player at the receiver position, and that possibility only heightens the importance of the Raiders' secondary making a leap in Vegas. Mecole Hardman flashed his speed and big-play ability in his rookie year, and it could transition into a breakout season in 2020.

Hardman caught 26 catches for 538 yards last season, and his 4.33 40-yard dash was on display in his first career start against the Raiders in Week 2. Hardman recorded his first career touchdown reception against the Silver and Black, averaging around 15 yards per catch in the win.

Kansas City's offense is stacked with Patrick Mahomes throwing to Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce, but in a way that could work to Hardman's advantage. The workload might be light in comparison, but defenses zeroing in on Hill and Kelce gives Hardman ample opportunities to convert big plays downfield, something Las Vegas cannot afford in 2020.

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Las Vegas Raiders: One breakout player from each AFC West foe

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Chargers LB Kenneth Murray (Photo by Ron Jenkins/Getty Images)

Los Angeles Chargers: Kenneth Murray

The Chargers first-rounder could be in for a breakout rookie season, but it's Los Angeles' second selection from the first round, as opposed to the former. Justin Herbert will likely wait for his starting opportunity, but linebacker Kenneth Murray could potentially make an impact much sooner.

The 23rd selection out of Oklahoma, Murray was highly touted by the media as one of the best prospects at his position in this year's draft class. Draft analysts were also high on Murray's skill set and potential, while also noting that he'll have to hone his instincts and dial back some overaggressive tendencies as he transitions to the next level.

Los Angeles has stars on the defensive side of the ball with Joey Bosa and Derwin James, and while it may be far fetched to say Kenneth Murray can become another standout player, he has a great chance of making a significant impact in his first season.

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Las Vegas Raiders: One breakout player from each AFC West foe

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Broncos QB Drew Lock (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

Denver Broncos: Drew Lock

The larger media landscape might be just a bit too high on Drew Lock entering 2020, but it's not a far fetched bet that the second-year quarterback could be Denver's breakout player this season. After all, Lock did finish with a 4-1 record and an 89.7 passer rating, backed up with seven touchdown passes to just three interceptions. One of those victories did come at the expense of Derek Carr and the Raiders.

Helping Drew Lock's stock is the additions on offense that John Elway brought in via free agency and the draft. Melvin Gordon joining Phillip Lindsay in the backfield gives Denver a solid one-two punch, and Courtland Sutton welcoming Jerry Jeudy alongside him gives Lock prime weapons in the passing attack.

Next: 3 Raiders who could be First Team All-Pro in 2020

The weapons are there, now its a question of whether Drew Lock can maximize those additions and elevate the team around him. Despite what fans may believe, Las Vegas would be smart to not write off Drew Lock and the improved Broncos offense in 2020.