NFL Studs Who Will Make Leap to Stardom in 2013
Here's a group of guys ready to make the leap forward next season and really put themselves on the map. They may not become household names, but they will become very recognizable stars around this league for years to come.
Rick Stewart/Getty Images
Former No. 1 overall pick Sam Bradford thrived in new head coach Jeff Fisher's first year on the job.
The Rams went 7-8-1 and made improvements over past seasons. Heading into the draft, the team has plenty of options after the RGIII trade landed them a boatload of picks from the Redskins.
Bradford threw for over 3,700 yards and 21 touchdowns last season and played in all 16 games. The offensive line performed much better, keeping him upright consistently.
At only 25 years old, Bradford will continue to improve under Fisher's regime. Star running back Steven Jackson is likely to jump town, with the possibility that Bradford's favorite target Danny Amendola may follow him out the door.
Look for the Rams to target big playmaking receivers early in the draft to ease Bradford's development. If they can get him another weapon or two alongside the surprising Chris Givens, and with Daryl Richardson seamlessly replacing Jackson this team could make some noise behind their young quarterback next season.
Bradford will be asked to air it out much more without Jackson in town and should be in line for a huge season.
Sam Greenwood/Getty Images
Rookie sensation Justin Blackmon got off to a slow start in Jacksonville last year. Despite the abysmal quarterback combo of Blaine Gabbert and Chad Henne, he came on strong towards the end of the season, with the highlight being his 236-yard shredding of the powerhouse Houston Texans.
Blackmon put up a very respectable 865 yards and five touchdowns during his rookie year, showing flashes of his sky-high potential. If Jacksonville can get their quarterback situation solved, it will make Blackmon a lock for stardom. Maurice Jones-Drew's return will take much of the load off of the rest of the offense and further ease Blackmon's path to stardom.
The Jags receiver led all rookies in catches and showed why he was worthy of the seventh overall pick in this past draft with all of his touchdowns coming after Week 8. He is a good bet to make a huge leap forward next year and make his presence felt across the NFL.
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
Randall Cobb went into last season no higher than fourth on the Packers' depth chart among receivers. But he emerged as force for the Packer offense in 2012, finishing with 80 catches for 954 yards and eight touchdowns, while tossing in 132 rushing yards and maintaining his status as an electric return man.
With Greg Jennings very possibly leaving via free agency and Donald Driver retiring, the door is open for Cobb to step in and do monumental damage. At only 22, Cobb has already proved that can be a favorite target for Aaron Rodgers and only stands to improve upon a stellar 2012 campaign with an increased role in the offense.
Cobb will have many more targets coming his way, and the speedster should run his name right into the household of even the most casual of NFL fans this season.
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
Ray Lewis retired. He left huge shoes for his replacements to fill. Simple as that.
Paul Kruger had a big season with nine sacks for the Super Bowl champs. The Ravens obviously are going to need everyone to step up collectively to replace a legend like Lewis, and it starts with Kruger.
He will be up to the challenge, as he came up huge in this year's playoffs with 4.5 sacks. His time to rise to stardom is now, and the Ravens desperately need Kruger to step up in the wake of Lewis' departure.
Recording 12-15 sacks in 2013 is very doable for Kruger. He will need to sustain his play in order to help Dannell Ellerbe switch to his role as the new middle linebacker. All signs point to Kruger having a huge impact for Baltimore in 2013 and filling those shoes left by Ray Lewis as much as he possibly can.
Rob Carr/Getty Images
Much like the recently cut Ahmad Bradshaw once did the Giants, David Wilson will hit the ground running—both literally and figuratively—as New York's featured running back in 2013.
Wilson came on very strong in the last quarter of the 2012 season after seeing his role increase with Bradshaw's injuries. His steady production and explosiveness likely played a part in Bradshaw being cut, as the team was confident handing over the reins to the 21-year-old speedster.
Wilson put up five yards per carry last year, and he will look to capitalize on the opportunity presented to him. He has electric ability and should have no problem holding off Andre Brown for the starting running back job.
With Wilson getting a featured role behind a solid offensive line, huge things are in store for the diminutive back out of Virginia Tech.
Don't sleep on this guy.