NFL Predictions: 5 Third-Year Players That Will Finally Get It
Year three is usually when we can fairly call someone a success or a bust. It's when most players break out. Last year Matthew Stafford led a solid group of third year breakouts, but who will it be this year?
The lack of first round quarterbacks makes it hard to determine. Injuries have also held back many players from this class. Health is going to be a key.
But plenty of other factors are at play. Some guys are finally in a position to succeed, others just needed time to adjust to the NFL. Here are five guys who will break out in 2012.
Rick Stewart/Getty Images
Speed-based running backs traditionally take longer to develop than power backs, and year three is usually when they explode.
Jamaal Charles rushed for 1,467 yards in his third year, essentially matching the total from his first two seasons combined.
Year three was DeAngelo Williams' best season as well, when he went for over 1,500 yards.
Spiller seems poised to be the next in that line. His team finally has an identity with their dominating defensive line. The Bills aren't pushovers anymore.
Fred Jackson will complicate things statistically for Spiller, but by the end of the season there shouldn't be any question who the lead back is. If you're looking for a sleeper at halfback, Spiller is your guy.
Larry French/Getty Images
Jermaine Gresham made the Pro Bowl last year mainly by default. Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez were in the Super Bowl, Antonio Gates was hurt, and nobody else in the AFC really stood out.
Gresham will really have a chance to earn it this year.
The emergence of AJ Green as a legitimate go-to receiver will open things up for the rest of Cincinnati's offense. With no clear cut No. 2 receiver, Gresham should get a ton of targets when Green is double covered.
Andy Dalton is only going to get better in year two. The Bengals have a chance to be a real force in the AFC. A lot of that is going to come down to whether or not Gresham can make the leap to an elite tight end.
His athletic ability is on par with Gronkowski's and he has all of the potential in the world. Now it's time for him to seize it.
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
Two things you need to know about Dez Bryant: He's one of the three most talented receivers in the NFL (along with Calvin Johnson and AJ Green), and he's also one of the three most immature.
Dez Bryant is agonizing to Cowboys fans and fantasy football players alike. He should be the best receiver in the league. He's just been held back by several external factors.
In 2010 he had Tony Romo's injury as an excuse. Last year he was productive, but should have been better.
Well, 2012 is going to show us whether or not he's the star we all know he can be. If he can't grow up after three years in the league, it's probably not going to happen.
The Cowboys fixed their secondary in the offseason and their offensive line should be better as well. If Bryant steps up they should win the NFC East. It'll all come down to him.
Maybe I'm an optimist, but I think this is the year he makes the leap.
Leon Halip/Getty Images
I'm basing a lot of this on my theory that nobody can be as unlucky with injuries as Best three years in a row. I feel relatively confident (and I base this on absolutely nothing) that he'll be able to stay healthy this year.
He has shown flashes of greatness for Detroit. On Monday Night Football against Chicago last year he ran for 163 yards, and he averaged a solid 4.6 yards per carry over the year.
Running for Detroit is easier than it would be for most teams. Most teams don't have Calvin Johnson. He opens things up so much for the rest of the offense that any competent back should be able to explode for the Lions.
If Best is healthy expect him to be a 1,000 yard rusher. He'll never win a rushing title playing for Detroit, but he should be able to give them a respectable runner.
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images
I'm fairly certain the Broncos could install me as their new slot receiver and I'd be able to catch 32 passes with Peyton Manning throwing the ball.
Well, Demaryius Thomas did that last year with Tim Tebow. The jump to Manning alone should be good for an extra 30 catches.
Denver will finally be able to run a traditional offense without worrying about Tebow. Nobody does that better than Manning. Now that Thomas has a real quarterback throwing him the ball and time to master a real offense he should thrive.
Thomas really started to shine towards the end of last year. Everyone saw his big catch against Pittsburgh in the playoffs. He has the pure ability to be a go-to receiver, now he has a quarterback that will actually try to go to him.