NFL Players Primed for Breakout Years in 2013

Christopher Hansen@ChrisHansenNFLNFL AnalystApril 12, 2013

NFL Players Primed for Breakout Years in 2013

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    There are two weeks left before the 2013 NFL draft, but there’s really not that much left to be said (or at least it feels that way at times). Free agency has died down, so it’s probably time to take an early look at a few players primed to break out in 2013.

    What does a breakout year look like? Is it a statistical jump of some arbitrarily large amount or a baseline performance line that a player must hurdle over? How do you accurately judge a breakout year for offensive and defensive linemen? There’s really no good way to judge a breakout season across the board.

    You may be able to use stats for some positions to judge breakout performances, but that won’t work for others.

    There are a few indicators of a potential breakout year, like a change in role or situation and/or the natural, continued development at certain positions.

    There’s the third-year receiver theory, which is basically a trend that pass-catchers experience a big statistical jump in the third (or more accurately the second, third or fourth) year their pro careers. For running backs a breakout year is likely just due to a good player getting more opportunities. Sometimes a player has a breakout year because his situation changed drastically. There are also players that just need to stay healthy to have their breakout year.  

    What players are primed for breakout years in 2013? Here’s a list to get you started. Add some of your own thoughts in the comments.

Lamar Miller, RB

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    The Dolphins didn’t re-sign Reggie Bush, which opens the door for Lamar Miller to get most of the carries in Miami. Miller was drafted 97th overall in 2012 and generally speaking, players taken in the first 100 picks are expected to become starters.

    Miller certainly looked the part during his rookie campaign, rushing 51 times for 250 yards for a 4.9 yards-per-carry average. In games that Miller had nine or more carries, he averaged 6.4 yards per carry.

    Just because of an expanded workload, Miller has a very good chance to have a breakout year in 2013. Miller’s production in limited action and continued development at the position make him one of the prime candidates.

Michael Floyd, WR

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    The 13th overall pick in the 2012 NFL draft had a productive rookie season. Despite instability at quarterback, Floyd managed to haul in 42 balls for 562 yards and a couple touchdowns. With Carson Palmer as the starting quarterback and Bruce Arians as the head coach, the Cardinals are going to feature more downfield passing. Floyd is going to be able to use his 6’3”, 225-pound frame to separate from defensive backs and win jump balls in 2013.

    Floyd will not have to deal with extra attention thanks to the presence of Larry Fitzgerald on the opposite side. There’s also the theory that receivers break out in their second, third or fourth year. In Floyd’s case, the indications are that his breakout will come in 2013.

Danny Amendola, WR

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    If Danny Amendola could stay healthy, he’d have already had his breakout year. In 11 games in 2012, Amendola had 666 yards on 63 receptions. Projected over a full season Amendola would have been near 1,000 yards in 2012.

    Amendola missed two games in his first two years and has missed 20 games in the last two years, so staying healthy is going to be important. However, if he does stay healthy, there’s reason to believe he’ll have a monster year taking over for Wes Welker in New England.

    Deion Branch is a free agent, Brandon Lloyd was released and Rob Gronkowski’s status could be in jeopardy if doctors can’t get an infection in his arm under control.  Even Danny Woodhead is gone, which leaves the Patriots with just Amendola and Aaron Hernandez as the primary targets for Tom Brady.

    If Amendola can stay on the field, there’s a great chance he'll have a monster season.

Desmond Bryant, DL

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    Despite being one of the top-tier free agents this offseason, Desmond Bryant has never been a full-time starter, but he will be in Cleveland in 2013.

    Bryant had an uninspiring rookie year after going undrafted in 2009, but he came on strong in 2010 as a reserve defensive tackle behind Tommy Kelly and Richard Seymour. When Matt Shaughnessy went down with an injury in 2011, Bryant demonstrated his versatility by playing defensive end for most of the season.

    Last season, Bryant started at defensive tackle when Richard Seymour was injured and performed well. Bryant only has 11.5 career sacks, but defensive coordinator Ray Horton will figure out how to maximize Bryant’s talents. Bryant should emerge as one of the league’s best interior pass-rushers in 2013.

James Casey, TE

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    James Casey is switching positions from fullback to tight end in Chip Kelly’s offense. Whereas fullbacks are a dying breed, tight ends are becoming more popular. No one knows exactly what Kelly is going to do with Philadelphia’s offense, but there’s a good bet that whatever he has planned includes Casey.

    Casey has 752 receiving yards in his career, but he’s flashed big-time ability in the past. In 2011, for example, Casey had two games with more than five receptions, finishing with 128 yards in one game and 91 yards in the other.

    If Kelly’s offense proves successful, you might also guess that Casey has something to do with it. The very fact that Casey is going to be playing tight end might be enough to suggest a breakout year, but putting him in Kelly’s offense makes him even more interesting.

Randall Cobb, WR

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    You could make a case that Randall Cobb had his breakout year in 2012, with 80 catches for 954 yards, but there’s reason to believe he can be even better next year. Cobb only started eight games, and he really came on strong toward the end of the season.

    The Packers also let Greg Jennings sign with a division rival, which means the team is very comfortable with Cobb as a starter going forward. Cobb is also entering his third year in the league, which could mean a bump in performance as he continues to figure things out at the NFL level.

    There’s a lot to like about Cobb as long as Aaron Rodgers is throwing the ball. 

Vincent Brown, WR

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    After missing the entire 2012 season, Vincent Brown has basically been forgotten outside of San Diego. As a rookie in 2011, Brown had an impressive 329 yards on just 19 receptions. Fans were also critical of the Chargers’ reluctance to play Brown more, and it’s become common for fans to think he was underused.  

    Not only does Brown have a good quarterback throwing to him named Philip Rivers, he’s also entering his third professional season. Not only is Brown in a good passing offense, but the primary targets in that offense are getting older.

    Malcom Floyd is another year older and hasn’t been able to stay healthy, and Antonio Gates is aging as well. Brown will have an opportunity to steal targets in San Diego, and it wouldn’t be a stretch to see him be the top receiver in 2013.

Corey Liuget, DE

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    There are several well-known stars that play 3-4 defensive end and none of them is Corey Liuget. In 2013, though, Liuget could be ready to join J.J. Watt, Justin Smith, Haloti Ngata and Muhammad Wilkerson as one of the best 3-4 defensive ends in football.

    According to ProFootballFocus (subscription), Liuget was third in sacks at the position, behind Watt and Antonio Smith, and was also a solid run defender. He enters his third season, coming off a seven-sack campaign.

    If Liuget can stay on the field close to 90 percent of the time, there’s a very good chance he could record 10 sacks and become a dominating run defender in 2013.

David Wilson, RB

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    The New York Giants haven’t felt the need to re-sign Ahmad Bradshaw because they used the 32nd pick in the 2012 NFL draft to take David Wilson. In spot duty as a rookie, Wilson averaged 5.0 yards per carry on 71 attempts with four rushing touchdowns.

    With Bradshaw out of the way, Wilson’s role should be expanded considerably, even though he may share the load with Andre Brown at times. Wilson had two starts in 2012. In one game, he took over for the injured Bradshaw and averaged 5.8 yards per carry on those 40 runs.

    Wilson was drafted to be Bradshaw’s heir and he appears ready for the job. The Giants certainly don’t want to delay Wilson from getting on the field any more than is necessary.

Josh Gordon, WR

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    How about a big receiver with speed to go along with the deep-passing offense preferred by Rob Chudzinski and Norv Turner? Why not a sophomore receiver that caught 50 passes for 805 yards and five touchdowns as a rookie in 2012?

    Gordon is headed into his second year, which can just as easily be a breakout year as a third or fourth season. Gordon’s size and speed is a natural fit with the new regime in Cleveland. We might not know who is throwing the ball to Gordon, but there’s a good chance that it won’t matter.

    Gordon’s shot at a breakout year becomes even more realistic if the Browns do find a quality quarterback. The sky is the limit for Gordon, and it seems like the new offense in Cleveland will punctuate his strengths.