Under-the-Radar NFL Players Sure to Make Serious Noise in 2013-14
Every year in the NFL, there are a number of under-the-radar players who come out of nowhere to make serious noise and burst onto the scene with flair and gusto.
Think about last year, when unknown talents such as running back Alfred Morris (Redskins), cornerback Cary Williams (Ravens), receiver Cecil Shorts (Jaguars) and, most especially, quarterback Russell Wilson (Seahawks), among others, all had big years despite not being buoyed by the offseason hype train.
This season, as always, there will be a number of under-the-radar players sure to break out. Here are a few guaranteed to make some serious noise.
Lamar Miller, RB, Miami Dolphins
Folks, it's time to hop on the Lamar Miller bandwagon. There won't be seats available for long, as the new Miami Dolphins starting running back is ready to contribute in a major way.
Miami's fourth-round pick in 2012, Miller averaged 4.9 yards per carry in a complementary role behind Reggie Bush last season. But with Bush off to Detroit, Miller is now the guy in South Beach, and he has all the physical tools to get the job done.
Rotoworld's Evan Silva recently profiled the Miami native, and he's not the only pundit who forecasts big things from Miller in 2013.
With the Dolphins on the cusp of becoming a playoff-caliber team, the contributions of Miller will be necessary to push them to the next level. He'll make serious noise this season.
Shane Vereen, RB, NE Patriots
In all likelihood, New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady will open the season without his top five pass-catchers from last year (Wes Welker, Brandon Lloyd, Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez and Danny Woodhead).
Given that Brady is one of the best signal-callers of all time, it's logical to assume that his production will remain at an elite level. That obviously means that someone new will be the primary beneficiary of the Pats' missing targets.
Running back Shane Vereen has the pass-catching skills to become a top backfield threat. Watch the highlight reel above, specifically his 83-yard touchdown against the Jets on Thanksgiving night. Vereen has excellent hands and speed—a dangerous combination in the Patriots' high-octane offense.
While running back Stevan Ridley will likely carry the load on the ground, it will be Vereen who sparkles in the passing game. He could make serious noise this coming season.
Stephon Gilmore, CB, Buffalo Bills
Buffalo Bills cornerback Stephon Gilmore had an up-and-down rookie campaign last season, but he possesses an elite skill set that has the Bills front office salivating, according to Chris Brown of BuffaloBills.com.
The 10th overall pick in the 2012 draft, Gilmore is a physical cornerback with nice size (6'0", 190) who started all 16 games as an NFL neophyte. While his play needs to even out a bit, his cover skills should only improve, giving him significant breakout potential in 2013.
Muhammad Wilkerson, DE, NY Jets
New York Jets defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson might be flying under the radar now, but he definitely won't be at the end of the season. The 23-year-old DE is a superstar in the making.
The Jets are going to be awful in 2013, but it won't be because of Wilkerson. He will dominate from Week 1 through Week 17 and will become a New York media darling in the process.
David DeCastro, G, Pittsburgh Steelers
When the Pittsburgh Steelers selected Stanford guard David DeCastro in the first round of the 2012 draft, the pick was praised, as DeCastro was one of the most lauded offensive guard prospects in recent memory.
Injures derailed his rookie season—he only started the final three games of the season—but the foundation was laid for a very successful NFL career, as noted by Bucky Brooks of NFL.com.
In the three games he started, DeCastro was impressive, and he will certainly build upon that experience. His play will be critical to the Steelers' season and success.
Rueben Randle, WR, NY Giants
While wide receivers Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz receive all the plaudits in the New York Giants' aerial assault, savvy fans know that second-year wideout Rueben Randle is ready to make some real noise this coming season.
Randle flashed potential as a rookie, specifically in the Giants' Week 17 win over Philadelphia, hauling in two touchdown passes.
Giants offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride has been impressed with Randle's development this offseason, per Michael J. Fensom of the Star-Ledger, which is a very promising sign for the team's offense.
Randle might be under the radar now, but once the season starts and he begins to dazzle alongside Nicks and Cruz in Year 2, everyone will know who he is.
Vincent Brown, WR, SD Chargers
After a promising 2011 that caused many to peg him as a potential breakout player last season, San Diego Chargers receiver Vincent Brown couldn't shake the injury bug and missed the entire 2012 campaign.
But Brown is now healthy and is expected to have a major role in the Chargers' aerial attack, according to Chris Wesseling of NFL.com.
With the Chargers offense largely bereft of talent, Brown will have an opportunity to sparkle—and he'll do so. He'll make serious noise in 2013.
A.J. Jenkins, WR, SF 49ers
The San Francisco 49ers drafted Illinois receiver A.J. Jenkins in the first round of the 2012 draft, but things didn't exactly go according to plan. Jenkins barely saw the field (three games and 37 snaps, total) and didn't record a single catch last season.
And according to Grant Cohn of the Santa Rosa Press Democrat, 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh has been impressed with his offseason work.
Jenkins certainly has the physical tools needed to succeed in coordinator Greg Roman's offense. Remember, general manager Trent Baalke and Harbaugh are among the best talent evaluators in the game, so they deserve the benefit of the doubt as it concerns Jenkins.
Jenkins is flying under the radar now, but once he starts hauling in passes from Colin Kaepernick, he'll be in the Bay Area spotlight.