10 NFL Players Drafted in 2011 Poised to Break Out in Their Sophomore Seasons

Wes StueveContributor IIIMay 10, 2012

10 NFL Players Drafted in 2011 Poised to Break Out in Their Sophomore Seasons

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    In the upcoming NFL season, fans and analysts alike will be focused on the fresh acquisitions from the 2012 NFL draft. But don't forget about the 2011 guys.

    Players like A.J. Green and Cam Newton have already broken out and are considered elite players at their respective positions. But what about the guys who haven't made their mark yet?

    In 2012, several second-year pros are going to make an impact, solidifying themselves as premier players. Will your favorite player be one of them?

Patrick Peterson

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    In 2011, Patrick Peterson established himself as an elite return man. In 2012, he's going to establish himself as an elite cornerback.

    Peterson is clearly a fantastic athlete, but he was raw as a rookie. Even so, he played pretty well matched up against apposing team's No. 1 wide receivers. Now that he has improved his technique, Peterson is ready to dominate.

J.J. Watt

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    J.J. Watt was outstanding in 2011. The Wisconsin product racked up 5.5 sacks, while playing 5-tech in Houston's 3-4 scheme, and he was excellent against the run.

    However, Watt isn't yet consistently mentioned as an elite 5-tech. In 2012, that will change, as Watt will continue to put on a show.

Julio Jones

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    Despite putting up excellent numbers as a rookie, Julio Jones isn't considered an elite wide receiver. Jones struggled some with injuries last year and still played at an extremely high level.

    With more experience and hopefully a clean bill of health, Jones should be able to dramatically improve his play. Physically, Jones has the ability to be one of the game's best, and he will be.

Nick Fairley

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    Nick Fairley's rookie campaign was derailed by injuries and Detroit's fantastic interior line depth. In 2012, Fairley elite skill set and athleticism will take over on the field.

    Though he isn't a great fit next to Ndamukong Suh, Fairley will make plays in the backfield. The Auburn product has incredible potential, and it will soon start to show.

Jimmy Smith

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    Jimmy Smith was available for the Baltimore Ravens at No. 27 because of off-the-field issues. Based on talent, Smith should have been drafted much earlier. The 6'2", 211-pounder has 4.4 speed to go along with his size and strength.

    Smith contributed down the stretch for the Ravens, and he even picked up a couple interceptions. It's possible that Smith will be Baltimore's No. 1 cornerback in 2012, and he should perform well against opposing team's best wideouts.

Jonathan Baldwin

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    Because of an injury suffered before the 2011 season, Jonathan Baldwin got off to a late start on his career. However, Baldwin is a terrific talent, and he is playing alongside some great talent on the Chiefs.

    At 6'4", 230 pounds, Baldwin is massive but has great speed and burst. As he improves as a route-runner, Baldwin will put together some dominant performances.

Jake Locker

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    Though he didn't start as a rookie, Jake Locker showed flashes of greatness. Locker has an elite skill set but needed some time to develop, so Matt Hasselbeck started in 2011. 

    It's not yet known who will start the season for Tennessee, but Locker will play sooner rather than later. The former No. 8 overall pick, his arm strength and feet will help him make some incredible plays. There may be growing pains, but Locker will provide a spark to the Titans' offense.

Greg Little

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    Despite being suspended for his final season at North Carolina, Greg Little caught 61 passes and gained 709 yards as a rookie. He'll be Cleveland's No. 1 wideout in 2012, so he will be receiving plenty of looks.

    Little isn't exactly a deep threat, but he's a physical player with good speed and burst. He will make plays with the ball in his hands and provide a solid red-zone target for the Browns.

Robert Quinn

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    The No. 14 pick in 2011, Robert Quinn offers a terrific pass-rushing skill set. He has had injury issues, though, and he needed to develop as a rookie.

    Quinn wasn't ready to start last year, but in 2012, he'll be ready to make a huge impact. Playing opposite Chris Long, Quinn will be able to focus on rushing the passer and making plays.

Torrey Smith

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    In 2011, Torrey Smith was a one-dimensional deep threat, and he still gained 841 yards. After improving his overall game, Smith is ready to serve as a legitimate target in all situations.

    At Maryland, Smith made plays on all levels of the field. He will do so again for Baltimore, and he should put up more than 1,000 yards as the Ravens' most dynamic receiver.