Projecting Each NFL Team's Breakout 2013 Star
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
It seems that every NFL season brings a handful of players who breakout to become stars. These players are the ones who completely outplay every expectation that they have heading into Week 1.
Last year, we saw running back Alfred Morris of the Washington Redskins break out in a huge way. Cornerback Richard Sherman of the Seattle Seahawks also went from being a good cornerback to becoming one of the best in the game during the 2012 season.
Today, we're going to project each NFL team's breakout star in 2013.
Arizona Cardinals: Michael Floyd, WR
The 2012 season wasn't very kind to rookie receiver Michael Floyd of the Arizona Cardinals. He finished his first year in the league with a pedestrian 45 receptions, 562 yards and two touchdowns.
However, some of the issue with Floyd was the quarterback play in Arizona. That'll change this year, as the Cardinals brought in big-armed veteran Carson Palmer. Palmer should be able to instantly improve the passing game.
As the 13th overall pick in the 2012 draft, there is no doubting that Floyd has the physical gifts to be a top-tier receiver in the league. The addition of Palmer should push him toward becoming a legitimate star in Year 2.
Atlanta Falcons: Desmond Trufant, CB
The Atlanta Falcons have talent all over the field with legitimate stars on both sides of the ball. That's why rookie cornerback Desmond Trufant is their breakout candidate for the upcoming season.
Trufant was the Falcons' first-round pick this year to help shore up a secondary that struggled at times last year. What makes Trufant such a talented player is that he's a polished corner who excels in coverage with the ability to make plays against the pass.
Don't be surprised if Trufant puts together a great season by year's end.
Baltimore Ravens: Courtney Upshaw, OLB
With so many players leaving the Baltimore Ravens in the offseason, they have a handful of candidates on the roster who could become breakout stars in 2013.
However, the most likely one to do so is outside linebacker Courtney Upshaw. He'll likely start the season coming off the bench, but his all-around ability will force the Ravens to get him onto the field.
Upshaw has the ability to succeed in the run game and against the pass, and he is also able to get to the quarterback. These types of complete linebackers don't grow on trees, and the Ravens will quickly find out that he's a star in the making.
Buffalo Bills: Stephon Gilmore, CB
Last year wasn't easy for cornerback Stephon Gilmore. Both Gilmore and the Bills struggled throughout the season, with Gilmore finishing as the 80th-best cornerback in the league, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
However, where Gilmore excelled as a rookie was in pass coverage. Receivers only had a catch percentage of 56.3 against Gilmore. That wasn't the best percentage in the league, but it was a great showing of how talented Gilmore is in coverage.
As long as he can continue to shut down receivers, the rest of his game should catch up to him in Year 2. Look for Gilmore to establish himself as a premier young cornerback in the league after this season.
Carolina Panthers: Josh Norman, CB
Much like Stephon Gilmore, cornerback Josh Norman struggled throughout his rookie season. However, whereas Gilmore proved he was great in coverage, Norman didn't quite do that.
So, why is Norman a candidate to be a breakout star for the Carolina Panthers? It's Norman's athleticism that will separate him from his peers. Everyone knew Norman was going to be raw at first, but the fact that he held his own at times was an extremely pleasant surprise for the Panthers.
Not only should Norman improve greatly with another full offseason of training, but his understanding of the game should also catch up with his natural gifts. Once that happens, Norman will become a dangerous weapon in the Carolina secondary.
Chicago Bears: Alshon Jeffery, WR
Heading into the 2012 NFL draft, wide receiver Alshon Jeffery was considered a player with some character concerns. However, Bleacher Report's own NFL lead writer Matt Miller proved that these concerns were nothing more than a myth.
While Jeffery did struggle at times, it wasn't due to being overweight or any other character concerns. In fact, unless you were receiver Brandon Marshall you weren't catching many passes from Jay Cutler last year.
This year, the Chicago Bears have a new head coach in Marc Trestman who should instantly improve Cutler and the passing game. That'll make Jeffery even more valuable, where his size and natural abilities should be able to shine.
Once Jeffery begins to feel success, it'll be hard to slow him down. He should easily establish himself as a top deep threat by the end of the year.
Cincinnati Bengals: Devon Still, DT
When you're playing behind one of the best defensive tackles in the league in Geno Atkins, it's hard to get noticed. That's exactly what happened to rookie defensive tackle Devon Still last year.
However, Still brings a disruptive nature to the line that the Cincinnati Bengals will enjoy in 2013. He has the ability to be a factor against both the pass and the run. That type of versatility won't be ignored, as Still will see much more playing time in Year 2.
With another offseason to continue to add strength, Still should carve out a nice niche in Cincinnati and help boost one of the best defensive lines in the league.
Cleveland Browns: Trent Richardson, RB
Despite going for over 1,300 total offensive yards and 12 touchdowns last year, running back Trent Richardson is still the Cleveland Browns breakout candidate.
The amount of pure talent that Richardson has is just ridiculous. He has the ability to become a top-five running back in the league, which is something that many people felt Richardson would do as a rookie.
While injuries kept Richardson back in 2012, he's now at full strength and ready to take the league by storm. As long as the former Alabama star can stay healthy, he should become a legitimate superstar this year.
Dallas Cowboys: Morris Claiborne, CB
Rookie cornerback Morris Claiborne didn't disappoint the Dallas Cowboys when they traded up to draft him. He certainly went through some rookie growth spurts but looked good overall on the year.
Where Claiborne really showed why he was such a coveted prospect was in coverage. He proved he's got the ability to become a true shutdown cornerback in the league rather quickly.
With Brandon Carr continuing his strong play, look for Claiborne to improve and give Dallas one of the best cornerback duos in the league.
Denver Broncos: Chris Harris, Jr., CB
For the casual fan, cornerback Chris Harris Jr. might not be a name well recognized. However, Harris had an incredible 2012 and should become a household name by the end of the 2013 season.
Harris was the fifth-best cornerback last year according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required). He was an absolute stud in pass coverage, where he kept quarterbacks to a pedestrian quarterback rating of 68.2 when throwing his way.
With Champ Bailey's age continuing to show in his overall play, Harris will become the next elite cornerback in Denver.
Detroit Lions: Reggie Bush, RB
Despite entering his eighth season in the NFL, running back Reggie Bush is the Detroit Lions' breakout candidate.
The main reason for this is that we still haven't seen Bush become the running back many expected him to be coming out of USC. In terms of playmaking abilities, few backs have the natural skills that Bush does. However, Bush was never able to put his full talents on display for either the New Orleans Saints or Miami Dolphins.
A change of scenery will be nice for Bush, and he should excel in the pass-happy offense that the Lions run. Not only will he be a valuable weapon in the passing game, but he should also excel on the ground due to the opposing defenses' unbalanced attention toward Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson.
Look for Bush to have a career year in his first year in Detroit and finally live up to the high expectations he had coming out of college.
Green Bay Packers: Nick Perry, OLB
Injuries ended outside linebacker Nick Perry's rookie season prematurely. While Perry struggled at times, it was definitely easy to see that he was a young and talented player.
The biggest thing that kept Perry back when he was on the field was the switch from defensive end at USC to outside linebacker. Now that he has a year under his belt at OLB, he should be much more comfortable with what's asked of him heading into Year 2.
Playing opposite one of the best in Clay Matthews will also help Perry. With offenses focusing on Matthews, Perry should see plenty of opportunities to get after the quarterback.
Houston Texans: Jared Crick, DE
What made defensive end Jared Crick fall to the fourth round of the 2012 draft was the fact that he didn't have a very high ceiling. He was an NFL-ready player who was already polished.
However, just because a player doesn't seem to have a high ceiling doesn't mean he can't become a star. The former Cornhusker has the ability to make an impact in both the run and pass game with his high motor and football smarts.
Even though it's hard to see him surpassing either J.J. Watt or Antonio Smith on the depth chart, Crick should still see the field often enough to make a big impact for the Houston Texans.
Indianapolis Colts: Coby Fleener, TE
When the Indianapolis Colts drafted tight end Coby Fleener in Round 2 and paired him with his college quarterback Andrew Luck, everyone thought Fleener would have a monster rookie season.
Unfortunately, injuries derailed Fleener from getting any type of momentum. He's an extremely talented receiver, and his relationship with Luck will certainly help him. Don't be surprised if Fleener puts up some huge numbers during his sophomore campaign.
Jacksonville Jaguars: Jonathan Cyprien, SS
Few rosters lack legitimate stars like the Jacksonville Jaguars do. That's why second-round pick Jonathan Cyprien is the breakout star candidate for the Jaguars.
Cyprien will enter the season as one of the best players on the Jaguars defense despite having never played an NFL snap. With his elite athletic ability and knack for making plays in the secondary, Cyprien should enjoy a great amount of success in the league.
He'll likely become one of the best young safeties in the game by the end of the season and a key piece to the Jaguars defense moving forward.
Kansas City Chiefs: Dontari Poe, DT
Few prospects were considered as big of a project as defensive tackle Dontari Poe was. There was no doubting his ridiculous upside, but Poe was considered an extremely raw prospect.
However, the Kansas City Chiefs threw him into the starting lineup, and while it wasn't always pretty, it was hard to ignore the potential. With his combination of athleticism and strength at 6'3" and 346, Poe has the ability to become an absolute nightmare for offensive lines.
Look for Poe to make huge strides this year and inch much closer to his extremely high ceiling.
Miami Dolphins: Ryan Tannehill, QB
While he certainly struggled at times, Ryan Tannehill also proved to be much more polished than anyone thought he would be.
Tannehill proved during his rookie season that he's definitely the future franchise quarterback for the Miami Dolphins. He's got great arm strength to combine with good athleticism. The addition of wide receiver Mike Wallace should also help Tannehill's development.
As long as Tannehill can improve his decision-making, he should establish himself as one of the best young quarterbacks in the league.
Minnesota Vikings: Joe Webb, WR
Joe Webb could be considered a bust at quarterback, but the jury is still out for his new position: wide receiver.
He's been receiving high praise throughout OTAs for his solid hands. His ability as a dynamic athlete should help him see the field despite being rather raw at receiver.
Webb's versatility could make him an extremely valuable asset for the Minnesota Vikings.
New England Patriots: Ras-I Dowling, CB
With cornerback Alfonzo Dennard getting into some trouble recently, he could end up in the doghouse of the New England Patriots. That'll leave an opening for Ras-I Dowling to get some valuable playing time.
While Dowling has been rather unimpressive throughout the early parts of his career, he's got all the tools to become a great NFL corner. Injuries have certainly played a part in Dowling's struggles, so he'll need to stay healthy in order to have a breakout season.
While the Patriots are reportedly not interested in releasing Dennard, he could see his name move down on the depth chart. If Dowling can take advantage of the early boost in playing time, he could become a special player in New England's secondary.
New Orleans Saints: Martez Wilson, OLB
With outside linebacker Victor Butler shelved for the season with a torn ACL, the New Orleans Saints will be depending on third-year linebacker Martez Wilson to pick up the slack.
Wilson is used to playing defensive end, but should thrive in the team's new 3-4 defense. In fact, Wilson was reportedly pushing Butler for the starting job to begin with.
Look for Wilson to look extremely good at outside linebacker under new defensive coordinator Rob Ryan.
New York Giants: David Wilson, RB
With running back Ahmad Bradshaw now a member of the Indianapolis Colts, second-year running back David Wilson will get an early chance at becoming the No. 1 back on the depth chart.
Despite having an up-and-down season for the New York Giants last year, it was easy to see just how talented Wilson is. His greatest asset is his incredible speed, which he uses to get easy separation from defenders.
While Andre Brown could ultimately steal some carries away from Wilson, it'll be Wilson's starting job to lose. If he starts out hot, he could be in for a monstrous season in New York.
New York Jets: Jeff Cumberland, TE
To be completely honest, it was difficult finding a breakout candidate on the New York Jets roster. Defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson had a breakout season last year and is already a star in the making.
That leaves tight end Jeff Cumberland as the choice for the Jets. Someone on the offensive side of the field has to make their presence known in 2013, and Cumberland has all the tools to be that player. With the departure of Dustin Keller, Cumberland now becomes the No. 1 tight end.
Without receivers to throw to, Mark Sanchez or Geno Smith will likely rely heavily on Cumberland. That'll ultimately lead to Cumberland having a productive season this year.
Oakland Raiders: Lamarr Houston, DE
Unless you're a hardcore Oakland Raiders fan, it's likely that you aren't familiar with defensive end Lamarr Houston.
Houston was rather unproductive during his first two seasons in the league before experiencing a mini-breakout during the 2012 campaign. He finished in the top 10 for 4-3 defensive ends, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
He's already an elite talent against the run, but if he can add in a more polished repertoire in pass-rushing, he could end up as one of the most complete defensive ends in the league. Without much talent on either side of the ball, Houston will likely be one of the few bright spots for the Raiders this year.
Philadelphia Eagles: James Casey, H-Back
During his time with the Houston Texans, H-back James Casey proved to be one of the most versatile players in the league. Unfortunately, the Texans never used him to his full capabilities.
That should change now that Casey is a member of the Philadelphia Eagles. In head coach Chip Kelly's new uptempo offense, the Rice product should become a rather valuable weapon.
Look for him to be used all over the field and finally do everything that we all expected him to do for the Texans.
Pittsburgh Steelers: Cortez Allen, CB
With Keenan Lewis now a member of the New Orleans Saints, Cortez Allen will be tasked with taking his place in the Pittsburgh starting lineup.
That could turn out to be good news for the Steelers, however. Allen is entering his third year, and he showed last year that he has the tools to become an exceptional defender in coverage.
Look for Allen to consistently cover the opposing team's best receiver and win time and time again. He should establish himself as a top cornerback in the league by the end of Week 16.
San Diego Chargers: Danario Alexander, WR
Wide receiver Danario Alexander didn't record his first reception until Week 9 last year. After that, however, Alexander put up some rather impressive numbers.
In the final nine games of the season, Alexander posted 37 receptions for a whopping 658 yards and seven touchdowns. He was easily quarterback Philip Rivers' favorite target down the stretch, something that shouldn't change in 2013.
As long as he continues the strong play he displayed late last year, Alexander could finish the year as a premier No. 1 receiver in the NFL.
San Francisco 49ers: Glenn Dorsey, DT
Despite being a solid player, defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey never lived up to expectations during his time with the Kansas City Chiefs. A change of scenery could be exactly what Dorsey needs to get his career back on track.
Dorsey will be playing for the San Francisco 49ers this year as a backup to the ultra-talented Justin Smith. There is no better player that Dorsey could learn from than Smith, and Smith's presence should instantly improve Dorsey's all-around game.
In a new environment, Dorsey should revitalize his career and gain more and more playing time with each passing week. By the end of the 2013 season, he should remind everyone why he was the fifth overall pick of the 2008 draft.
Seattle Seahawks: Bruce Irvin, OLB
After enjoying a solid rookie season that saw him produce eight sacks, Bruce Irvin is poised to have a breakout season this year.
For starters, Irvin is making the move from defensive end to outside linebacker for the Seattle Seahawks. This will help his athleticism shine, which is the strongest part of the 6'3", 248-pound Irvin's game.
Everyone thought the Seahawks reached for Irvin last year, but his strong play throughout the year proved them wrong. Now armed with a new position, Irvin will be even more successful and be on his way to become a star in this league.
Even though he'll miss the first four games of the year for a PED suspension, Irvin should begin dominating once he gets back on the field.
St. Louis Rams: Sam Bradford, QB
It hasn't been the easiest of careers for quarterback Sam Bradford. After a strong rookie season, Bradford has struggled to perform consistently.
However, the St. Louis Rams have remained faithful to their young signal-caller. They proved that this offseason by loading up on new weapons for Bradford to play with.
From tight end Jared Cook to receivers Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey, Bradford now has a bevy of playmakers to throw to. Even if his new receivers only play at half of what they're expected to, Bradford will still likely have his best season in the league.
Look for Bradford to post career numbers and finally turn the Rams into a legitimate playoff contender.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Da'Quan Bowers, DE
After struggling with injuries during his first two years in the league, defensive end Da'Quan Bowers is ready to become a star in 2013.
There was no doubting Bowers' talents coming out of college, but he simply hasn't been able to stay on the field. Now that he is healthy, however, he'll be able to display that power and athleticism that made him such a coveted prospect out of Clemson.
The season may start a little slow for Bowers, as he'll still be getting his feet wet, but once he starts getting in the groove, he'll quickly become one of the better young defensive linemen in the league.
Tennessee Titans: Chance Warmack, OG
Offensive guard Chance Warmack was a man among boys while playing for the University of Alabama, and Warmack will step in from day one and continue his dominance for the Tennessee Titans.
The 10th overall pick in April, he'll open up running lanes for Chris Johnson and help keep defenders away from quarterback Jake Locker.
Overall, Warmack will establish himself as an elite player after his rookie season. Don't be surprised to find him on the Pro Bowl roster by season's end.
Washington Redskins: Leonard Hankerson, WR
At 6'2" with great speed and athleticism, wide receiver Leonard Hankerson has the tools to become quite the NFL receiver. While he's shown flashes of that during his young career, he's had trouble doing it on a consistent basis.
He made great leaps from his rookie season to last year, where he posted career highs in every major statistical category. Part of that was due to the improved play at quarterback with Robert Griffin III, but another part was due to the growth of Hankerson.
Now that he's becoming more comfortable with his position in the league, Hankerson could take another step this year toward becoming an even more dangerous option. He'll continue to show chemistry with Griffin, as they'll become one of the top young quarterback-receiver duos in the league.