Kansas City Chiefs: Justin Houston and Other Breakout Candidates for 2013 Season

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COMMENTARY | The Kansas City Chiefs took the proper steps this offseason to distance themselves from last season's debacle, when they finished as the NFL's worst team with a 2-14 record. But it will take much more than looking better on paper to guarantee that happening.

The Chiefs return a solid nucleus in addition to replacing some of the spots that directly led to the team's shortcomings a year ago. The shuffling happened right out of the gate, as Kansas City brought in former Philadelphia Eagles head coach Andy Reid to run the show on the sidelines and traded for former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Alex Smith to direct his offense.

Though there were other moves made by the Chiefs, it is no secret that teams live and die by the success of the head coach-quarterback relationship. It is also apparent that these two men can't do it alone and that everyone within the organization has a part to play.

It is when certain players exceed expectations, or finally match production with the hype when teams make the kind of leap forward the Chiefs seek this season.

Here are four breakout candidates for Kansas City in 2013.

Justin Houston

Houston is entering his third season in the NFL and will be a huge factor in whether or not the Chiefs can soon become respectable once again. Though his career got off to a slow start, the outside linebacker's arrow is definitely pointing upward.

Since Week 13 of his rookie season in 2011 -- a span of 21 games -- Houston has tallied 15.5 sacks, including leading the team with 10 as a full-time starter last season. It was the first time since Jared Allen during the 2007 season that anyone but Tamba Hali led the team in sacks.

Hali is still a formidable pass-rusher, but his role with the team is evolving with Houston's emergence on the opposite side.

Though much of the team's overall success is tied to the production of its pass rush, Houston has the chance for a special year with the Chiefs this season.

Dexter McCluster

Before the Chiefs selected McCluster with the 36th pick back in the 2010 draft, Reid and the Eagles had their eyes set on the running back out of Ole Miss. It will be interesting to finally see the vision the head coach might have had for McCluster in this league.

The West Coast offense is designed to let the pass-catcher or ball-carrier work in space. Luckily for McCluster -- who has yet to settle in to just one position in the NFL -- his role under Reid should finally highlight his do-it-all tendencies on the field.

McCluster is entering the final year of his rookie contract and will earn $1.4 million in 2013, so motivation could also help lead to a breakout season.

Dontari Poe

Going into his second season with the Chiefs, Poe will look to make a large leap forward with how he is regarded on the football field. Reid is certainly excited to be his coach.

"He's easy to be excited about. He's a big kid. He's a real big kid. He is very athletic. He's very intelligent. He wants to be the best. He has a strong work ethic. I think he is going to be a heck of a player. The sky is the limit for him."

With the nose tackle position comes little fanfare, however, as most of what Poe is able to do will allow his teammates to make the flashier plays. So if Hali, Houston, Derrick Johnson and Eric Berry have their names called often throughout games, a lot of that will have to do with Poe taking care of business in the trenches.

Travis Kelce

With tight end Tony Moeaki out until training camp -- and possibly beyond -- the Chiefs will find out quickly if Kelce was worth the third-round pick they used on him in April. While Anthony Fasano will be leaned on for his veteran presence, Kelce's playmaking ability could result in a larger and more consistent role.

Kansas City got just 44 catches for 587 yards and two touchdowns from its tight ends in 2012, so it is not a stretch to assume there will be an increased focus on incorporating the position more into the offense this season.

In a chat with Adam Teicher of The Kansas City Star, Kelce compared his skill-set to that of Jeremy Shockey. If the Chiefs get half of that passion and talent from their rookie, Kelce is in line for a very successful 2013 season.

Jeremy Sickel has successfully created and operated numerous websites, including Podcast to Be Named Later--where he is the co-host of the site's up-and-coming podcast. Jeremy's work can be read on Yahoo! and Bleacher Report, and he has also appeared on various sports talk shows around the country.

Interact with Jeremy on Twitter @JeremySickel

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