1 NFL X-Factor Who Could Completely Swing Every AFC Division Race in 2023

Getty Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Kadarius Toney.

Much of the roster-building work is done across the NFL.

Whether through free agency, trades, the NFL Draft, there are 32 front offices that believe they have added the pieces necessary to make a run at the Lombardi Trophy and a Super Bowl championship this fall.

So, who are the X-Factors who will breakout and make the biggest impact for their respective teams this season?

As training camps approach, let’s take a look at the X-Factor from each division, beginning with the AFC, who will play a starring role in shaking up the playoff chase during the 2023 campaign.

However, there is one caveat; there no quarterbacks on these lists.

Because few positions in sports make a more significant impact than quarterback, these lists will exclude them, in favor of diving deeper into the other players who just might wind up deciding the division championships this season.

With help from insight gleaned from conversations with coaches and executives around the NFL, here’s a list of the X-Factors for each AFC Division:

AFC West: Kadarius Toney, WR, Kansas City Chiefs

Kadarius Toney had his coming out party on the grandest stage imaginable, playing a vital role in the Chiefs’ win over the Philadelphia Eagles to hoist the Lombardi aloft. But, Toney’s strong showing may only be a harbinger of what’s to come in 2023.

As the Chiefs continue to aim to replace the speed lost with Tyreek Hill’s departure prior to last season, Toney just might be ready to fill the void left behind in Patrick Mahomes’ arsenal.

“He has it in him to be a really good player and have a big impact on their offense,” an NFC Personnel Director told Heavy. “He has enough talent to be a real threat. Kadarius can be a key piece for them.”

Last season, Toney caught 14 passes for 171 yards with a pair of touchdowns, after arriving in Kansas City in a midseason trade with the Giants. Given the former first-round pick’s lightning-quick explosiveness and ability to slash on a dime, don’t be surprised if Andy Reid deploys Toney all over the offense to great effectiveness this season.

AFC East: Jalen Ramsey, CB, Miami Dolphins

If quarterbacks were included, Aaron Rodgers would run away with the crown for the AFC East. But, no addition inside the division, outside of the former MVP and Super Bowl winning quarterback moving eastward to Gotham, will make a bigger impact than Jalen Ramsey joining the Dolphins.

Last season, Ramsey held opposing quarterbacks to a 98.6 passer rating, and how gets the benefit of playing on the opposite side of feared Dolphins corner Xavian Howard.

In an explosive division that houses playmakers such as Rodgers, Garrett Wilson and Randall Cobb, Josh Allen, Stefon Diggs, and Gabe Davis, as well as potentially DeAndre Hopkins, Ramsey playing opposite Howard gives the Dolphins a formidable counter-punch.

AFC South: Calvin Ridley, WR, Jacksonville Jaguars

Last season saw Trevor Lawrence make major strides to resembling the generational prospect he was hailed as coming out of Clemson, working alongside head coach Doug Pederson for the first time, and Calvin Ridley’s arrival may accelerate Lawrence’s development even further.

Few players are likely to be more motivated this season than Ridley, coming off a yearlong suspension for violating the NFL’s sports betting policy (whatever that is, exactly), and after what Ridley already showed he is capable of in Atlanta, he just might be a game-changer in Lawrence’s arsenal.

Ridley, 28, is two years removed from a 1,374-yard and 10-touchdown campaign, but with Lawrence ascending as he arrives in Jacksonville, the prolific receiver might hold the keys to the Jaguars separating themselves from the AFC South and climbing the conference hierarchy this fall.

AFC North: Zay Flowers, WR, Baltimore Ravens

The Baltimore Ravens seem to have come to the realization that the quickest way to unseating the Cincinnati Bengals in the AFC North is to surround Lamar Jackson with elite weapons who will bring out the best in the dynamic quarterback.

If Odell Beckham Jr.’s arrival was a sea-change in philosophy at wide receiver, drafting Zay Flowers in Round 1 was a move that didn’t just reaffirm a new strategy but gave Jackson a potential game-altering weapon with staying power.

“Zay’s the kind of kid who can give them an underneath, run-after-the catch option,” an AFC East Personnel Executive told Heavy. “Putting Zay with Mark Andrews, it gives Lamar Jackson some easy first-read and late-down outlets.”

Flowers has the versatility to line up from the slot, or out wide, and is equally productive from both alignments. Last season, at Boston College, Flowers averaged 6.4 Yards After The Catch Per Reception, while producing 1,077 yards with 12 touchdowns. If that production translates, Jackson and the Ravens’ offense may get really vertical for the first time.