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

The Chiefs have a pair of ascending stars in quarterback Patrick Mahomes and running back Kareem Hunt. Isaiah J. Downing/USA TODAY Sports

Is this the beginning of Patrick Mahomes' reign in the division or will he just ride behind the talented Kareem Hunt? Our roundtable takes a look at who will be the biggest rising star in the AFC West:

Jeff Legwold, Denver Broncos reporter: With a slight nod to the Chargers' Melvin Ingram and the Broncos' Bradley Chubb, it's Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes. Mahomes, who the Chiefs traded up to select in the first round of the 2017 draft despite already having Alex Smith, has only one regular-season start on his résumé. But that 284-yard day against the Broncos in the 2017 regular-season finale was enough for the Chiefs to deal Smith this offseason and move the power-armed Mahomes into the job. With Tyreek Hill, Travis Kelce and Kareem Hunt, as well as new arrival Sammy Watkins, the Chiefs have positioned Mahomes to succeed if they can protect him from the division's list of dominant edge rushers. How prepared Mahomes is for the first six games may tell the tale as the Chiefs will face the Chargers, Steelers, 49ers, Broncos, Jaguars and Patriots.

Eric Williams, Los Angeles Chargers reporter: A third-round selection out of Toledo last year for the Chiefs, running back Kareem Hunt had an impressive rookie season. He led the NFL with 1,327 rushing yards and had 11 total touchdowns, but lost out to Alvin Kamara for offensive rookie of the year honors. At 5-foot-10 and 216 pounds, Hunt is a physical runner with an ability to hit the home run and create explosive plays, serving as the engine for a potent Kansas City offense. Hunt averaged a hefty 4.9 yards per carry in 2017 and tied LeSean McCoy of the Buffalo Bills for the league lead in runs of 20 yards or more (12). According to ESPN Stats & Statistics, Hunt also led the NFL in yards after contact (635). With Patrick Mahomes taking over as the team's quarterback, the Chiefs will lean on a running game led by Hunt.

Adam Teicher, Kansas City Chiefs reporter: Here's how eager the Chiefs were to install Patrick Mahomes as their starting quarterback: They agreed to the trade that sent Alex Smith to Washington before the Super Bowl, or about 1½ months before the opening of trade season. The Chiefs brought Mahomes along slowly during his rookie season. He still made big gains from start to finish, as he showed in his one start, a December win over the Broncos. Mahomes appears to have the physical skills to be a star, and also the intangible qualities such as mental makeup and work ethic. He'll hit some bumps in 2018, as most first-year starting quarterbacks do. But over the next 10 or 12 seasons, Mahomes will be the AFC West's best quarterback.

Paul Gutierrez, Oakland Raiders reporter: From a Raider Nation perspective, this should be Derek Carr. Or Khalil Mack. Or even Amari Cooper, no? Well, since you could make the argument that Carr, who has already finished tied for third in NFL MVP voting, and Mack, a former NFL defensive player of the year, have already arrived, and that Cooper, who was the third player in NFL history to have a pair of 1,000-yard receiving seasons to begin his career, is actually in need of a comeback season, let's turn our attention to Middle America. Chiefs running back Kareem Hunt fumbled on his first NFL carry last season and then never looked back. The third-round pick from Toledo didn't fumble again and finished with an NFL-leading 1,327 rushing yards. He also caught 53 passes for 455 yards and three more scores. With the Chiefs having traded away Raiders killer Alex Smith (he is 10-2 against Oakland in his career) and rolling with second-year QB Patrick Mahomes, Kansas City will have to rely on Hunt to keep defenses honest.