The NFC East is arguably the best division in the NFL every year. It is no coincidence that football’s elite division features some of the league’s most talented players.
Eli Manning, Michael Vick, DeMarcus Ware and Brian Orakpo are all productive contributors who lift their respective teams to new heights. In 2011, the NFC East watched as new stars were born, with breakout seasons for unlikely players such as Victor Cruz, Laurent Robinson and Mike Jenkins.
These players and their timely emergence delivered an exciting NFC East race that came down to the final week of the season. Who will be the next breakout stars to take the NFC East by storm? Here is a prediction of who could be the emerging superstar for each team within the division.
Dan Connor joins the Cowboys with an opportunity to play alongside former Penn State teammate Sean Lee as part of the team's fearsome defensive unit.
Connor struggled to stay healthy at times during his tenure with the Carolina Panthers and battled for playing time when he was not injured. Coming off a season with a career-high 75 tackles, he will compete with second-year linebacker Bruce Carter for the Cowboys' vacant starting inside linebacker spot and should see plenty of valuable playing time.
Teaming with Lee, an enlightening star at inside linebacker for the Cowboys, Connor will have the best year of his NFL career excelling in the same defensive system his college teammate has. The duo should be a force against the run, and it would not be surprising to see both men near or above 100 tackles each by season’s end.
Henry Hynoski, FB, New York Giants
During the Giants’ historic Super Bowl run, fullback Henry Hynoski garnered himself plenty of attention with outstanding play, especially in Super Bowl XLII against the New England Patriots.
Hynoski emerged as a proficient run blocker, pass catcher and presence on the gridiron. In 2012, expectations will be high for the undrafted bull from Pittsburgh, and he will be more than happy to live up to them.
Certain to see more time and be healthy, Hynoski will give the Giants the lift they need for their run game. Brandon Jacobs’s claims about poor blocking hurting his performance may have been an unsurprising remark from the former Giants running back, but it was not entirely untrue.
Hynoski should help to alleviate some pressure off an inconsistent offensive line and blow open some holes from the Giants running back in 2012. Meanwhile, the fullback will also play a key role in the Giants passing game, emerging as one of Eli Manning’s favorite last-ditch options out of the backfield.
Nate Allen, S, Philadelphia Eagles
The Eagles have loved what they have seen from safety Nate Allen thus far in his NFL career. In 2012, they hope to see much more from the third-year safety, and they hope he will be healthy doing it.
Allen was lackluster at times during the 2011 campaign and ignited concern regarding the Eagles at safety. However, his performance toward the end of the season improved dramatically and should give Eagles fans a lot of optimism about the young stud going forward.
As part of a lethal Eagles defense that has become even better this offseason, Allen should see a lot of opportunities to make some big plays in Philadelphia. He won’t make anyone forget about Brian Dawkins, but his 2012 season will easily be the best for an Eagles safety since the long-time fan favorite left for Denver.
Evan Royster, RB, Washington Redskins
Many are expecting second-year running back Roy Helu to be the starter for the Redskins in 2012, and that is likely true. By season’s end, though, do not be surprised if it is another former Penn State Nittany Lion handling the rushing duties in Washington.
Royster, who carried the football just 57 times for 5.9 yards per carry, earned more time carrying the ball in 2012 after being impressive nearly every time he did so. The second-year back created a reputation for himself as a difficult running back to take down, sparked by eight missed tackles forced by the shifty back despite limited opportunities.
Redskins head coach Mike Shanahan is well known to make nobody running backs into superstars—at least while playing for a season or two—and Royster could be one of those lucky players that benefits from his past success.
It helps that Royster performs well in pass protection and is a capable receiver out of the backfield. The likeliness of him performing as one of the top-tier rushers in the NFL is slim, but he could easily emerge as the second-best ball-carrier behind the Eagles’ LeSean McCoy.