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Every NFL Team's Biggest Breakout Year Candidate

James DudkoFeatured Columnist IVOctober 9, 2016

Every NFL Team's Biggest Breakout Year Candidate

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    Scheme changes and expanded roles are sure to produce breakout years for several NFL players. Among them is a second-year running back ready to lead his offense in the NFC East.

    He is not the only youthful back who will emerge this season. One AFC East outfit is also trusting its rushing chores to a 2012 draft pick.

    Over in the NFC North, two young defensive linemen are also primed for breakout campaigns.

    Here is a complete breakdown of every NFL team's biggest breakout year candidate.

    Rookies have not been trusted to qualify for this list before they have played a pro down. The list begins with the top potential breakout stars in the NFC.

1. Dallas Cowboys: Bruce Carter, OLB

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    The decision to switch to a 4-3 defense run by Monte Kiffin will help Bruce Carter become a star this season. The fleet-footed outside 'backer suits Kiffin's speed-based system.

    He is an ideal fit for the weak side in Kiffin's scheme. This player has most of the underneath coverage responsibilities in this defense.

    Carter missed five games in 2012 with an elbow injury. But if he stays healthy this term, he should deliver a monster year on a defense that could surprise many.

2. New York Giants: David Wilson, RB

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    The New York Giants have made the right decision making David Wilson their featured runner. As a rookie, he showcased a natural flair for the big play, thanks to true game-changing speed.

    The Giants have lacked this kind of potential in the running game for a while. They may need to alter the design of some of their core running plays to let Wilson flourish.

    If they can include some sprint draws and quick counters, Wilson can produce major numbers. He should also still be a factor in the return game.

3. Philadelphia Eagles: Mychal Kendricks, LB

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    The Philadelphia Eagles plan to deploy a hybrid defense this season, according to Their new scheme will be a version of the under front, that mixes 3-4 and 4-3 principles.

    Linebacker Mychal Kendricks should be one of the linchpins of this chameleon-like system. He will spend more time in the middle next to DeMeco Ryans this season.

    That will position him to use his quickness and instincts to be in on more tackles. He will also be free to be a factor in coverage. Kendricks has the athleticism and intelligence to excel in both areas.

4. Washington Redskins: Jarvis Jenkins, DE

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    The Washington Redskins defense needs to improve this season and end Jarvis Jenkins can play a key role. Jenkins missed his rookie year in 2011 with an ACL injury, but rebounded to be a solid performer last season.

    He is a powerful lineman who can act as a natural anchor in the type of 3-4 scheme the Redskins operate. He has the frame and strength to hold double-teams and also split gaps and be a force in the backfield.

    If Jenkins improves his initial quickness and adds a threat as a pass-rusher, he could dominate. Playing on the same front as Stephen Bowen and Barry Cofield could free Jenkins to be the playmaker on Washington's three-man line.

5. Chicago Bears: Alshon Jeffery, WR

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    Alshon Jeffery enjoyed only a modest rookie year with the Chicago Bears in 2012. The arrival of new head coach Marc Trestman and the introduction of a more expansive offense could make him a breakout candidate.

    Trestman will run a West Coast offense that will use more creative pass concepts than Chicago relied on in 2012. At 6'3" and 216 pounds, Jeffery has the right size for the demands of the West Coast-style passing game.

    If Trestman can design more slants to let Jeffery work the inside, he will quickly become very productive.

6. Detroit Lions: Nick Fairley, DT

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    Nick Fairley is no hidden gem, but he has shown only glimpses of his awesome potential so far. At times last season, Fairley was truly destructive.

    His brute force and eye-catching first-step quickness often destroy plays at their source. Fairley is equally adept at shutting down the run game as he is at pressuring the passer.

    Being lined up next to Ndamukong Suh might make Fairley's job easier. However, that argument works both ways, and the former Auburn standout is rapidly becoming an elite player in his own right.

7. Green Bay Packers: James Jones, WR

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    James Jones became more of a feature for the Green Bay Packers in 2012. This season he should be even more productive, given the departure of excellent veteran Greg Jennings.

    Jones has improved his hands, something that was a major issue before last season. He is still a superb route-runner with the strength and speed to damage a defense over the middle or on the outside.

    Randall Cobb will play a big part in Green Bay's offense this season, but teams won't be able to ignore Jones. He should set career-best marks for yards and receptions this term.

8. Minnesota Vikings: Everson Griffen, DE

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    Everson Griffen finally began to deliver on his potential for the Minnesota Vikings in 2012. As a deadly situational pass-rusher, Griffen produced eight sacks.

    He is a truly versatile rush-end who adds plenty of flexibility to the Vikings defense. He has the speed to outrun blockers around the corner.

    Griffen also possesses the brute strength to collapse the edges of pass protection. He can be lined up at end or tackle in passing situations.

    Griffen should see more snaps this season after dominating late last campaign.

9. Atlanta Falcons: Jacquizz Rodgers, RB

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    Diminutive scat-back Jacquizz Rodgers showed his ability to be an X-factor for the Atlanta Falcons last season. He has the chance to be even better in 2013.

    That is not despite the addition of the great Steven Jackson, but because of it. Jackson may handle the primary rushing duties, but Rodgers can be a perfect complement to the veteran's bruising power.

    He will also still be an invaluable outlet on passing plays. His speed should be utilized in more ways across the formation. Rodgers caught 53 passes for 402 yards last season and the Falcons should commit to finding more ways to use him as a receiver.

    One consequence of Jackson's arrival is that Rodgers will still remain a feature of the return game. He averaged 25.7 yards per return and produced 19 returns of more than 20 yards last season.

    The Falcons will count on him for big plays on both offense and special teams. The pint-sized speedster can deliver.

10. Carolina Panthers: Josh Norman, CB

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    Josh Norman's play was a pleasant surprise for the Carolina Panthers in 2012. The young cornerback started 12 games. He made 73 tackles, broke up seven passes and recorded his first pro interception.

    The 25-year-old should be even more productive this season. He will benefit from the Panthers efforts to boost their pass rush and front seven in the draft.

    Having young tackles Star Lotulelei and Kawann Short pushing the interior of the pocket will create more pressure up front. With increased pressure, Norman will have more chances to snare errant throws.

    The second-year pro has already emerged as the jewel of Carolina's secondary. Norman should produce bigger numbers during this campaign.

11. New Orleans Saints: Keenan Lewis, CB

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    This slide was originally dedicated to how well outside linebacker Victor Butler would perform in the New Orleans Saints' new 3-4 scheme. However, since original publication, news has broken that Butler has torn his ACL, according to The Times-Picayune.

    With Butler on the shelf, the Saints next best candidate for a breakout year is cornerback Keenan Lewis. The former Pittsburgh Steeler has the right attributes to be an asset in the blitzing scheme new coordinator Rob Ryan should favor.

    Lewis is a crafty and physical cover man who should have been starting in Pittsburgh long before the 2011 season. His experience with the Steelers will be invaluable on Ryan's defense.

    Ryan often challenges his cornerbacks to handle single coverage responsibilities, to support heavy blitzing up front. Lewis knows how to cope with this challenge from his time operating in the Steelers' fire zone schemes.

    Ryan likes man coverage and at 6'0" and 208 pounds, Lewis has the size to play press. His knowledge of zone concepts will also be useful when playing off-coverage techniques.

    The 27-year-old's aggression, nerve and savvy will make Ryan's brand of pressure defense work.

12. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Da'Quan Bowers, DE

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    Da'Quan Bowers will be given every chance to be a breakout player for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers this year. He will be tabbed to replace Michael Bennett as the Buccaneers' premier pass-rusher.

    If Bowers can finally stay injury free, he can be a success. A naturally gifted 4-3 pass-rusher, Bowers has the frame and quickness to cause havoc in Tampa Bay's system. The youngster has already talked up his potential to deliver double-digit sacks, according to The Tampa Tribune.

    The presence of star tackle Gerald McCoy and fellow rush end Adrian Clayborn should help Bowers face plenty of one-on-one matchups.

13. Arizona Cardinals: Michael Floyd, WR

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    Michael Floyd flopped as a first-round pick for the Arizona Cardinals in 2012. However, the tall wideout can be more productive in new head coach Bruce Arians' vertical pass attack.

    Arians likes to feature deep strikes, and that suits what Floyd does best. The former Notre Dame flanker boasts the size, leaping ability and straight-line speed to stretch and outrun vertical coverage.

    New quarterback Carson Palmer still has the arm to make these throws. Darren Urban of has noted Floyd appears primed for bigger things.

    With defenses naturally focusing on the superb Larry Fitzgerald, Palmer can help Floyd make a greater impact in year two.

14. San Francisco 49ers: LaMichael James, RB

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    Without injured wide receiver Michael Crabtree, the San Francisco 49ers must get even more creative on offense. That should involve coordinator Greg Roman scheming additional ways to use nifty runner LaMichael James.

    The 5'9", 195-pounder is a natural fit for read-option and Wildcat plays. The 49ers were willing to use some of those wrinkles in 2012 to help free dual-threat quarterback Colin Kaepernick.

    They should do the same for James. He has the speed and the quick-cutting moves to get free for big plays. He showed the ability to contribute during last season's latter stages.

    That was only in fleeting glimpses. With Crabtree on the shelf, the 49ers have lost a lot of big-play capability. Featuring James is the answer to that problem and could lead to a breakout year.

15. Seattle Seahawks: K.J. Wright, LB

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    K.J. Wright is often overshadowed on a fearsome Seattle Seahawks front seven. But the punishing outside linebacker should come to the fore this season.

    Wright finished two stops short of 100 tackles in 2012. His fierce hitting and aggressive downhill instincts make him a force against the run. But Wright could be more active in pass-rush schemes.

    The Seahawks are set to be without their best pass-rushers, Chris Clemons and Bruce Irvin, early this season. To compensate, head coach Pete Carroll might turn to the blitz more often.

    Carroll has always favored an attacking brand of defense and he could turn linebackers like Wright loose more often. Wright will make more than his share of tackles and should also make a greater impact against the pass.

16. St. Louis Rams: Jared Cook, TE

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    Jared Cook has not quite fulfilled his potential so far. Returning to the tutelage of head coach Jeff Fisher should help Cook flourish for the St. Louis Rams this season.

    Cook has real potential to be a versatile and dynamic weapon at tight end. He fits the mold of the modern prototype at his position.

    Despite a powerful frame, Cook has legitimate downfield speed and wide receiver-like skills. He can create multiple matchup problems for any defense.

    The Rams drafted prolific receiver Tavon Austin to boost their offense. Cook can do the same, and Fisher and his staff must be bold enough to move him all across the formation.

17. Buffalo Bills: Marcell Dareus, DT

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    Marcell Dareus has been solid, but far from spectacular during his first two seasons. That should change in a new defensive scheme for the Buffalo Bills this year.

    Coordinator Mike Pettine will blend fronts more often. Pettine's scheme will resemble the aggressive, multiple system he ran for the New York Jets.

    Those defenses often relied on a versatile playmaker along the interior of the defensive line. From Kris Jenkins to Sione Pouha and currently Muhammad Wilkerson, Pettine often relied on a dynamic tackle to define his varied fronts.

    Dareus is that kind of player. He performed a similar job for Nick Saban's complex blend of defenses at Alabama.

    The 6'3", 331-pounder knows how to play all the line techniques. He will set the strength of the Bills' fronts and live up to his draft billing as the third pick taken in 2011.

18. Miami Dolphins: Lamar Miller, RB

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    Lamar Miller will get his chance to lead the running game for the Miami Dolphins this season. He averaged 4.9 yards per rush in limited action in 2012.

    Miller has the speed and subtle moves to be a success as a featured back. He is also an above-average pass-catcher and should become more of a factor as a receiver.

    Opposing defenses will be primarily focused on the deep threat posed by new wideouts Mike Wallace and Brandon Gibson. That will leave room for Miller to be a feature in the underneath passing game.

    Head coach Joe Philbin and offensive coordinator Mike Sherman need Miller to assume the role Reggie Bush occupied. That means getting the ball in his hands often.

19. New England Patriots: Chandler Jones, DE

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    Ankle injuries derailed a promising rookie campaign for Chandler Jones. He was establishing himself as a dangerous pass-rusher.

    Jones will be even more destructive in year two. He has the right attributes to be the roving, hybrid pressure specialist Bill Belichick's multiple defenses rely on.

    His long arms and initial quickness can easily overwhelm blockers on the outside. Jones should get more opportunities to rush from various stances and alignments this season.

20. New York Jets: DeMario Davis, LB

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    The release of Bart Scott has created the chance for DeMario Davis to make an impact for the New York Jets. The active and physical linebacker has the right attributes to be a success in head coach Rex Ryan's defense.

    He is an aggressive thumper who will fit well alongside David Harris. Playing behind a powerful line featuring Muhammad Wilkerson and Sheldon Richardson will also give Davis the space to attack.

    He made only 36 tackles in 2012. Expect that number to more than double this season.

21. Baltimore Ravens: Arthur Jones, DT

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    Arthur Jones is ready to enjoy a breakout year. He became a key figure along the Baltimore Ravens' defensive front during their Super Bowl run.

    Jones will be even more effective this season. A major force in the middle, the 27-year-old creates consistent pressure on the line of scrimmage.

    He has the bulk to drive blockers into the backfield. Jones is also quick enough to dart through gaps and create negative yardage.

    The Ravens need him on the field more often than the six starts he made in 2012.

22. Cincinnati Bengals: Marvin Jones, WR

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    The Cincinnati Bengals have a host of new offensive weapons but still need a wide receiver to emerge as a complement to A.J. Green.

    Marvin Jones has the talent and potential to be that player. He is a tall target for quarterback Andy Dalton to aim for and averaged 15.7 yards per reception in 2012.

    Jones also displayed some useful skills as a runner. He can take on an even bigger role this season.

23. Cleveland Browns: Jordan Cameron, TE

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    The arrival of new coordinator Norv Turner is great news for several members of the Cleveland Browns offense. Tight end Jordan Cameron could be one of the biggest beneficiaries.'s Bucky Brooks rightly identified Cameron as a potential "X-factor" in Turner's offense. Brooks emphasized Cameron's athleticism and Turner's known fondness for a quick tight end.

    Turner likes to use vertical routes on the outside to create room over the middle. While his wide receivers attack deep, Turner usually relies on an athletic tight end to work underneath.

    He used Jay Novacek with the Dallas Cowboys and Antonio Gates with the San Diego Chargers in a similar way. Cameron is a tall, quick pass-catcher able to outrun intermediate coverage.

    He tallied over 11 yards per catch in 2012. Cameron can be even more prolific in Turner's offense.

24. Pittsburgh Steelers: Emmanuel Sanders, WR

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    The Pittsburgh Steelers made the effort to stop Emmanuel Sanders from bolting to the Patriots. They will rely on him to fill the void created by Mike Wallace's departure.

    Sanders will not be the same kind of deep threat, but he does have the quickness to make plays in the open field, either from the slot or on the outside.

    The 26-year-old has good hands and will benefit from an expanded role.

25. Houston Texans: Whitney Mercilus, OLB

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    Whitney Mercilus was a smart first-round choice by the Houston Texans in 2012. The pure pass-rusher is ready to thrive in coordinator Wade Phillips' defense.

    He will replace Connor Barwin and become the unit's top outside rusher. Phillips blitzes both his outside linebackers on most plays and that should suit Mercilus.

    He was the top sack artist in college football in 2011. He has the quickness, range of movement and lean to terrorize offenses in this scheme.

26. Indianapolis Colts: Dwayne Allen, TE

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    As a third-round pick in 2012, Dwayne Allen outperformed second-rounder Coby Fleener. The youthful pass-catcher can be even more productive in the new season.

    A powerful in-line tight end, Allen is a crafty and sure-handed receiver. He recorded 45 catches as a rookie and was an invaluable safety valve for young passer Andrew Luck.

    The Colts would be smart to expand Allen's role this term. He can be a greater threat further down the field, as well as still being the key to the underneath passing game.

27. Jacksonville Jaguars: Tyson Alualu, DE

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    Switching to defensive end could be the best thing for Tyson Alualu. The former first-round pick has not developed into a stellar playmaker during three seasons with the Jacksonville Jaguars.

    He should fit as the "Elephant" end in new head coach Gus Bradley's hybrid defense. As a former tackle, Alualu has the size to man the 5-technique position.

    That will make him a key part of the run front. He still might not post eye-popping stats, but Alualu will be more highly regarded after this season.

28. Tennessee Titans: Akeem Ayers, OLB

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    Akeem Ayers has already produced quality performances worthy of a breakout year. This will be the season the rest of the league notices.

    Ayers is a dynamic 4-3 outside linebacker. He is a dangerous blitzer and registered six sacks in 2012. Ayers was also in on 106 tackles and made himself a factor in coverage.

    His ability to make an impact at every level of a defense will let Ayers enjoy an even better year.

29. Denver Broncos: Derek Wolfe, DL

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    Derek Wolfe produced some solid performances as the Denver Broncos' top draft pick in 2012. Wolfe should do more this season after Denver's efforts to bolster their defensive front.

    The Broncos added mammoth tackle Terrance Knighton to plug the middle against the run. They also drafted cat-quick interior pass-rusher Sylvester Williams.

    That tandem will create some one-on-one matchups for Wolfe. He tallied six sacks as a rookie and will have better chances to make more plays in the backfield in his second year.

30. Kansas City Chiefs: Jon Baldwin, WR

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    Jon Baldwin has been a bust since being drafted in the first round in 2011 by the Kansas City Chiefs. Baldwin has started just 10 games and caught 41 passes in two seasons.

    However, his stalling career could be set for a major turnaround this season. The arrival of new head coach Andy Reid will prompt the Chiefs to use a more expansive offense.

    That will mean getting the ball into the hands of receivers like Baldwin more often. Reid's credentials as a guru of the passing game are well known.

    Along with a more credible quarterback throwing the passes, Reid's influence will help revitalize Baldwin.

31. Oakland Raiders: Vance Walker, DT

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    Vance Walker showed some promise as a rotation player for the Atlanta Falcons. He has a chance to produce a breakout year as a more regular contributor for the Oakland Raiders.

    The 26-year-old defensive tackle boasts promising pass-rush skills. Head coach Dennis Allen will rely on Walker to provide pressure through the middle.

    At 6'2" and 304 pounds, Walker is the right build for the 3-technique position. Allen should let him attack single gaps and get after quarterbacks.

32. San Diego Chargers: Corey Liuget, DT

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    Corey Liuget opened some eyes when he posted seven sacks for the San Diego Chargers in 2012. More people will take notice of the stellar, young defensive tackle after this season.

    Few interior linemen can match Liuget's speed off the snap. He also uses his hands well and displays variety in his pass-rush moves.

    The Chargers feature a lot of power and talent up front. Nose tackle Cam Thomas and young end Kendall Reyes will draw some attention away from Liuget.

    He will make any team that opts against double-teaming him suffer.

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