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5 Signs an NFL Player Is Primed for a Breakout Season

Wes StueveContributor IIIMay 20, 2013

5 Signs an NFL Player Is Primed for a Breakout Season

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    Predicting breakout players and teams is one of the NFL media's favorite pastimes during the offseason. It isn't always so easy to do, but there are some definite signs as to when a player just might be ready to make it big.

    By looking at past breakout players, it's easy to identify traits that they shared. These traits are what allowed them to take the NFL by storm. 

    There are obviously many factors that lead to greatness in the NFL. These five, however, stand out above the rest as signs a player is about to make an impact in a big way.

Pure Physical Ability

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    As important as technique, fundamentals, intelligence and intangibles are, the best players in the NFL are typically physical freaks. Adrian Peterson, Calvin Johnson, Rob Gronkowski, J.J. Watt. Some of the best players in football and, not coincidentally, some of the biggest and most athletic.

    The No. 1 trait among breakout players is incredible physical skills. J.J. Watt didn't necessarily break out in 2012—he was already great, if lesser known in 2011—but he sure did step up his game, leading the NFL with 20.5 sacks while playing defensive end in a 3-4 defense.

    What makes Watt so special? It's probably his 6'5", 290-pound size, 4.84 40-yard-dash time, 37" vertical leap and 34 bench reps of 225 pounds, per NFL.com. Or, at least, it's the ability that allowed him to do that at the 2011 NFL Scouting Combine.

    Players with this type of ability are rare. So when one comes along, expect big things from him. 

Coaches' Endorsements

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    Sure, coaches will often say overly positive things about a bad player. No coach ever wants to admit a position is a weakness, and it's generally bad business to rip on your players.

    Keep one thing in mind, though: NFL coaches are generally smart guys, and they see these players a lot more than we do.

    Every day, coaches see their players in practice, on film and in games. They know players' study habits, work ethics and true talent levels. Essentially, coaches have a huge advantage over the media and fans when it comes to player evaluation.

    The trick here is knowing how to tell the difference between false, I-have-to-say-this positive talk and legitimate excitement. A distinguishing factor is believability. If a coach is hyping up someone with the talent level of Drew Carey, it's probably not smart to buy into it.

    When that guy is Demaryius Thomas? Feel free to believe it.

Previous Year's Late-Season Performance

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    Whether it's for college admissions, a job or the NFL hype train, a positive slope in performance is always a good indication of future performance. 

    Jason Pierre-Paul was the No. 15 overall draft pick in 2010, but his first-year statistics were nothing special—he picked up 4.5 sacks, two forced fumbles and 30 tackles in 16 games. However, he finished the year on a high note.

    In the last six games of his rookie year, JPP picked up 4.5 sacks, 19 tackles and two forced fumbles. 

    Looking at these numbers, it seems like Pierre-Paul had moved past the developmental stage and toward the "dominance" stage. 2011 proved this was true, as he racked up an astonishing 86 tackles and 16.5 sacks.

    A boost in recent performance indicates better play in the future. 

    Sometimes.

An Opportunity

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    The man in the picture—Jordan Cameron—hasn't broken out yet. But he has the opportunity, and many are expecting big things.

    Cameron is the epitome of a great opportunity. He is playing in an offense that uses tight ends like perhaps none other in the NFL.

    Head coach Rob Chudzinski was the tight end coach for Kellen Winslow Jr, Jeremy Shockey and Greg Olsen at Miami. He coached Antonio Gates in San Diego. Over the past two years in Carolina, his tight ends have combined for 1,959 yards. Oh, and offensive coordinator Norv Turner did some pretty impressive things with Gates himself.

    Obviously, Cameron still needs to be talented. And he is. The signs are aligned here—there is an open starting job, and he's entering a great scheme to produce.

    Something as simple as opportunity has proven to be foretelling in the past. Jason Pierre-Paul was entering at defensive end in the Giants' pass-rush-friendly defense. Demaryius Thomas had Peyton Manning at quarterback.

    Talent is still necessary, but sometimes a chance to succeed is more important than anything.

A Lot of Hype

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    Yes, hype can be misleading. On many occasions, both the media and fans have been led astray by a false superstar. Looking at you, Peyton Hillis.

    Just as often, though, hype can be a great indicator of things to come. Jimmy Graham is a superb example here. As a rookie in 2010, Graham didn't do much—he caught just 31 passes for 356 yards.

    Yet before the 2012 season began, the Graham bandwagon was filling. Not many expected the year Graham had, but he was certainly on the radar at tight end.

    There is legitimate hype and fake hype. It's not always easy to tell the two apart, but Graham is just one example of how real the talk can be.

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