<
>
Insider

Potential 'step-up' players for 2014

AP Photo/Ted S. Warren

While the NFL combine serves as an extended look for coaches and scouts at the draft prospects who represent the NFL's future, a prevailing theme arose from news conferences held by head coaches and general managers in Indianapolis.

It was that, despite free agency coming around the corner and the draft a couple of months after that, roster construction begins by assessing those players already under contract.

Few believed the Browns had a Pro Bowl-caliber tight end on their roster at this time last offseason. Jordan Cameron quadrupled his catch total from 2012 and finished his 2013 season in Hawaii. Even fewer would have estimated that Josh Gordon would lead the NFL in receiving yards, especially after his two-game suspension to start the season, yet he did.

So while we've entered the period when team needs crystallize, it's important to remember that not all holes are filled by the draft or free agency. In many cases, roster development can be just as critical. With that in mind, below is a look at five players entering their first, second or third accrued seasons in the NFL who have a chance to blossom into more prominent roles and fill a perceived hole for their respective teams.

Donald Stephenson | OT | Kansas City Chiefs

GM John Dorsey said at the combine that the team continues to talk to pending free agent Brandon Albert, the Chiefs' starter at left tackle last season. Should Albert walk, however, as many suspect he will, the Chiefs will have a big hole to fill. Eric Fisher, the first overall pick in last year's draft, is one candidate to take over for Albert, but the team doesn't have to force the issue if it believes he's a better fit on the right side. Stephenson is a terrific athlete with the reactive athleticism to anchor the left side of the line for many years. No matter the side, expect Stephenson to be a big factor for the Chiefs' tackle position in 2014.