Jared Veldheer was the most improved player in the AFC West last season, according to ProFootballFocus.com, who had him increasing from a 2010 player rating of -27.2 to his 2011 mark of 5.9, a net improvement of 33.1 points.Chiefs lineman Brandon Albert was voted the second most improved player in the AFC West with a net improvement of 19.7.The honor isn't the only recognition bestowed upon Veldheer after his second NFL season. The six-foot-eight lineman was among NFL.com's biggest bargains of 2011. RELATED: Raiders' Veldheer among NFL's best bargains
Veldheer surrendered just four sacks last season. He turned in his signature game Week 11 against the Vikings, shutting down veteran pass-rusher Jared Allen; the shutout snapped Allen's streak of 11 consecutive games with a sack."Not many guys play that well against that guy," Carson Palmer was quoted after the game. "And he didn't have any help either. We came in and put him one-on-one, didn't put a tight end on his side to help. The coaches asked before the game if he was up to the challenge, and he said yeah. He was, obviously."Veldheer, 24, was an unknown quantity coming into the league. The Raiders took a chance on the big lineman in the third round of the 2010 NFL Draft, granting Veldheer the rare jump from D-2 Hillsdale College to the NFL. Out of his rookie training camp, Veldheer stole the starting center position from Samson Satele and started 11 games. By his sophomore season, he was cemented as the team's left tackle; he started all 16 games in 2011.Veldheer is on a four-year, 2.685 million contract that will make him a free agent at the conclusion of the 2013 season. That gives him two more seasons to shoot for more reasons for recognition.
Nate Stuhlbarg is a web producer with CSNBayArea.com. Follow him on Twitter @StuhlbargCSN.