As we sit here only a few months away from another exciting NFL season, it is time to start looking at who could burst onto the scene this year. Last year, we had players like Odell Beckham Jr. and Cam Newton emerge as NFL superstars. This season, there will undoubtedly be another class of players who separate themselves from the pack.
There are many candidates to chose from when deciding who could have a breakout year. Some players are primed to show out this season based on the way they ended last season. Some players had the potential, but an injury slowed them down and now they are ready to catapult to the front of the pack. With that said, we will keep this strictly to players who have not yet been the face of a franchise, but could definitely be the face of their respective team come season’s end.
It is always interesting to see how a player will react to the pressure of expectations. Some will thrive and it will drive them to become even more than people thought they could be. Some will buckle under the pressures and fold to the scrutiny. The players on this list all have expectations for this coming season, and they will be under the microscope to perform up to those expectations. Many teams are relying on their young talent to materialize this year.
If you are checking out this list, it is a safe bet to assume you probably play fantasy football, right? Well if you do, and I bet you do, this list will also serve as a little cheat sheet for you. When you are in the middle of your fantasy draft, open up this list and make sure to swoop up a couple of these players in the later rounds of your draft. I promise you they will help you this season.
15. DeVante Parker
The Miami Dolphins hired ex-Bronco coordinate Adam Gase this offseason. Gase will be implementing his offense in Miami and Parker is primed to become the number one receiver for the Dolphins. Look for Parker to get many targets from Ryan Tannehill this season and he could be a prime-time player for the Fins this year. He has spent his offseason learning the routes of all the receiver slots, so he is expected to be on the field in many different positions to succeed.
14. Marcus Mariota
Expect the Titans quarterback to be more consistent this season as he gets more and more comfortable on the NFL stage. Mariota had a few flashes of greatness last season. He also had some flashes of what a rookie quarterback normally looks like. He is primed to have a great season this year in large part due to his level of comfort and familiarity with receiver Dorial Green-Beckham, and the newly signed DeMarco Murry will offer Mariota much comfort in the backfield.
13. Quinten Rollins
The raw cornerback for the Green Bay Packers is set to make an impact this season. With the departure of Casey Hayward to San Diego, look for Rollins to get more of a chance to shine this year. Rollins didn’t give up a single touchdown last season, while piling up a couple of interceptions. He also only played one season at Miami (Ohio), so he is still learning the game. Expect big things form this uber athletic defensive back.
12. David Johnson
Johnson was stuck behind a rejuvenated Chris Johnson out in Arizona last season. Due to late season injuries to the former CJ2K, David Johnson was able to get on the field and prove his worth. Already one of the better receiving backs in the game, Johnson proved he could carry the ball as well. He is a hard-nosed physical back, with break away speed to go along with his powerful approach. Arizona’s offense is expected to be high octaned again, so expect Johnson to be a big part of it.
11. Teddy Bridgewater
Bridgewater actually made the Pro Bowl last season, thanks to about 20 other guys ahead of him dropping out. This season, Bridgewater could actually earn his way onto the Pro Bowl squad, if he doesn’t drop out himself. With Adrian Peterson getting into the later stage of his career, it is time for Teddy to step up and carry the load for the Vikings. He finally has a solid receiving core and he has shown great strides in his maturity and level of comfort in the pocket. Expect a breakout season in Minnesota.
10. Thomas Rawls
With the retirement of the Seahawk great Marshawn Lynch, it appears to be Rawls’ time in the Pacific Northwest. Rawls had more than a few chances to show his talents last season, with Lynch missing time due to injury. Rawls took full advantage of those opportunities, including Week 11 against the 49ers where Rawls accumulated 255 all purpose yards and a couple of touchdowns. Expect to see more of the same up in Seattle this season.
9. Brock Osweiler
Osweiler opted to leave the friendly confines of the Denver Broncos organization after winning a Super Bowl. The Houston Texans could be the big beneficiaries. If Osweiler can duplicate the success he had last season during his time filling in for Peyton Manning, the Texans and Osweiler could be in line for a deep playoff run. Brock has everything in place to have a breakout season this year. Expect him to come through for the Texans and help them get back to respectability.
8. Sammy Watkins
Sammy Watkins has been a very solid contributor for the Buffalo Bills in two seasons. He has the ability to stretch the field and defenders always look to him first. Watkins has had a pair of 60-catch seasons, but has yet to become the game breaker the Bills envisioned him as when they traded up to get him. He scored nine touchdowns this past season, but that will be nothing compared to what you’ll see from Watkins this season. With Tyrod Taylor more comfortable after a year under his belt as a starter, he will be more accurate, which will result in eye popping stats for Watkins.
7. Cliff Avril
Pete Carroll has put together the best defense of this generation and it is incredible that a player as talented as Cliff Avril still has not had a breakout season. That is simply a credit to what the Seahawks have been able to put together. Avril has been overshadowed by the likes of Richard Sherman, Earl Thomas, and Michael Bennett, but with the departure of Bruce Irvin, expect Avril to get more opportunities this season, and expect him to take full advantage.
6. Derek Carr
The Raiders are a team on the rise. Many experts are even picking the Raiders to make the playoffs this season. Much of the praise and expectation can be attributed to Derek Carr. Carr is getting more familiar with his weapons on offense and he is clearly becoming more comfortable with the speed of the NFL defenses. Carr and Amari Cooper, as well as Clive Walford (who was also a candidate for this list), are beginning to show signs of great things to come It is only a matter of time before the Raiders get back in the conversation and it will be, without question, thanks to their quarterback.
5. Jameis Winston
Winston was the first overall selection of the 2015 draft and he had a good rookie season last year. He progressively got better as the season went along and there is no reason to believe his growth should be stunted this season. He and receiver Mike Evans have started working out in the off-season in hopes of building off the solid second half of last season. There is much potential in Jameis and many experts compare him to Cam Newton. If he can become something like Cam the league is going to be in trouble.
4. Tyler Lockett
Lockett had a sensational rookie season with the Seahawks last year. He scored eight touchdowns including six receiving, one kickoff return and one punt return. Seattle, and especially Russell Wilson, is excited for Lockett this season. The Seahawks have had a three-year run of dominance, largely without a top notch wideout. Expect Lockett to change that narrative up in the northwest this season.
3. Jadeveon Clowney
Clowney was the number one overall selection two years ago, but he has only played in 17 NFL games thus far. He has suffered some minor, yet limiting injuries, but he is set to be ready for this season. Clowney posseses all the skills needed to be a hyper-effective force for the Texans this year. With J.J. Watt opposite him, he should see many one-on-one match-ups that he could exploit. Unfortunately for Clowney, another injury can earn him the “injury-prone” tag, so he has a lot to play for this season.
2. Amari Cooper
Cooper established himself last season as he and Todd Gurley fought for the NFL Offensive Rookie-of-the Year Award. Cooper and Raider QB David Carr have found something with one and other. They are on their way to becoming one of the best receiver QB combos in the entire NFL and Cooper is already being mentioned in the elite receiver talks. Expect Cooper to continue his stellar play from last season, and even to build on it to become even better.
1. Kelvin Benjamin
Kelvin Benjamin was poised to have a huge season in Carolina last year, but an ACL injury in training camp ended his season. He had to watch as the Panthers went 15-1, only to lose Super Bowl 50 to the Broncos. A big weakness for the Panthers were their WRs. Newton had Ted Ginn Jr. as his top target and is probably doing cartwheels knowing Benjamin is coming back. Expect a trip to the Pro Bowl and for Benjamin to take the Panthers offense to a new level.
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