The 2011 NFL season saw a great deal of turnover, with some new stars, such as Cam Newton and Rob Gronkowski, emerging.
The 2012 season will be upon us sooner than we think. And the question is, which of these stars will repeat or improve upon their success, and which of them will stagnate?
Let's take a look at five of the biggest breakout players from this past season.
Despite a great deal of doubt from pundits, Newton proved all the critics wrong by throwing for over 4,000 yards in his rookie season, throwing for 21 touchdowns and rushing for 14. The future for Newton will certainly be very bright.
Yet, he will most likely slump in his sophomore year. This is not a knock whatsoever on Newton as a quarterback, but more so a compliment to his amazing rookie season.
As the NFL begins to adjust itself to his playing style, Newton will be hard-pressed to repeat his rookie success. He will likely still put up 18 touchdowns through the air, 3,500 yards passing, and six touchdowns on the ground, but critics will still consider that a down season.
The sky is the limit for Newton, but he will most likely cool down a bit in 2012.
Fred Jackson was averaging an amazing 5.5 yards per carry and had amassed 934 yards before being lost for the season after 10 games. Jackson was leading the NFL in Pro Bowl votes at the time, but he will likely be a candidate to slump in 2012.
Jackson is a player who relies more on power than on speed, and in the present NFL, that kind of playing style is harder to sustain. That, combined with his rehabilitation of his broken lower right leg, will make it difficult for him to repeat his 2011 success.
Jackson also received a bit of help from the unexpected strong play of quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick for much of the season. Fitzpatrick, however, slowed down towards the end of the season when defenses began to learn how to game-plan against him. And, as Jackson may have to split carries with C.J. Spiller, Jackson is a player who will most likely not be entering the category of elite running backs in the future.
The young tight end had one of the greatest seasons in NFL history for his position, catching 90 balls for 1,327 yards and an insane 17 touchdowns. While such numbers are phenomenal, the question now is, can Gronkowski keep up such a phenomenal level of play?
I believe he can. The athletic receiving tight end is the future of the NFL. From Jimmy Graham to Jermaine Gresham, it is becoming very important, almost essential, for a quarterback to have a big reliable target to go to in the passing game.
And with Tom Brady throwing him the ball, as well as the difficulty for defenses to cover the tight end position (due to the necessity for agile linebackers), Gronkowski can be expected to repeat his success next season.
After finally get a shot due to injuries to the Giants receiving corps, Victor Cruz emerged as not only one of the best wide receivers on the roster, but one of the best in the entire NFL.
Cruz's blinding speed and great route-running have made him a nightmare to defend against. Defenses chose to double-team Cruz down the stretch in 2011, rather than Hakeem Nicks.
And unfortunately for NFL defenses, Cruz's career is just getting jump-started. He has a bright future and will replicate, if not improve, on his 2011 breakout year.
Cruz caught 82 passes for 1,536 yards and nine touchdowns after starting just seven games. Those are phenomenal numbers. An improved Eli Manning and a full offseason to learn the playbook will also continue to benefit him.
After a breakout 2010 with 12.5 sacks, Babin shocked the NFL by improving on those numbers in 2011 with 18 sacks. Can he keep it up in 2012?
Most likely not. Babin will continue to be a great player and will be reliable for nine or 10 sacks per season, but he will not be able to consistently get more than 12.
NFL offensive lines next year will begin to prioritize him more over Trent Cole. And at 31 years of age, Babin is not getting any younger. With the Eagles also looking to bring in help at linebacker, the Eagles may also be more willing to blitz more, which would result in more sacks for linebackers and safeties than for linemen.
He will continue to be an excellent defensive end, but don't expect 18 sacks per season from now until retirement.