NFC West: Predicting Players Due for Breakout Years

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NFC West: Predicting Players Due for Breakout Years
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images
Aldon Smith was the division's breakout player of the 2011 season.

Several players in the NFC West broke upon the scene last season and made themselves household names.

San Francisco had several of them—a big reason the 49ers found themselves in the NFC Championship Game. Rookie Aldon Smith finished the year with 14 regular-season sacks and two more in the playoffs; quarterback Alex Smith had his best season as a pro; NaVorro Bowman equaled the play of fellow linebacker Patrick Willis and earned a Pro Bowl berth; and wide receiver Michael Crabtree busted out for 72 catches for 874 yards.

St. Louis defensive end Chris Long continued to improve and ended the season with a career-high 13 sacks. His three sacks of New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees helped lead to an upset of the Saints—one of just two St. Louis wins on the year.

Arizona Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson had an immediate impact as a rookie in the return game. Peterson had four returns for touchdowns, including one punt return in each win over the Rams.

Seattle cornerback Brandon Browner made the most of his first season in the great northwest. After five seasons playing in Canada, Browner made the Pro Bowl after picking-off six passes. Rookie cornerback Richard Sherman blew up with four interceptions and exceeded all expectations for a fifth-round draft choice.

Here are some players for each NFC West team that will have breakout years in 2012.

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