Defensive end Mike Daniels is poised for a breakout season for the Packers in 2014.
After a somewhat disappointing 2013 season, the Green Bay Packers could really use some breakout performances from some of their younger players. This is especially true on the defensive side of the ball where the Packers had the eighth-worst overall defense according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
The good news for Green Bay is that it has a handful of players who flashed just enough last season to give hope to big campaigns in 2014. Combine that flash with an increase in playing time, and it could really turn into something special for the following players.
Here are six Packers who are bound to break out in 2014.
2013 Season Stats: 49 receptions, 681 yards, three touchdowns
Jarrett Boykin already had a mini-breakout season last year, but expect him to fully break out in 2014. The reason for this is twofold.
First, Boykin will get a full offseason and regular season to work with quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Last year, Boykin only had two full games with Rodgers before the QB fractured his collarbone against the Chicago Bears. Rodgers makes every receiver he throws to look better, and it shouldn't be any different with Boykin.
Second, Boykin should see an increase in playing time this upcoming year. Part of that is due to the flashes of potential he displayed this past season, but most of it is due to the future of fellow receiver James Jones.
Jones is a free agent this year, and there are plenty of needy wide receiver teams out there that may be willing to overpay for Jones' services. While Jones would like to re-sign with the Packers, the team might simply not have the financial capabilities to do so.
With an increase in playing time and one of the best quarterbacks in the league throwing him the ball, look for Boykin to have an extremely productive season this year for the Packers.
2013 Season Stats: 10 total tackles, 3.5 sacks
Many expected Datone Jones to have a breakout season during his rookie year, but that didn't exactly happen. In fact, many would consider Jones' rookie season a disappointment.
Jones struggled to get on the field on a consistent basis for the first handful of games last year. Even when Jones did get into the game, he failed to make much of an impact. He finished the year as the sixth-worst 3-4 defensive end in the league according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
However, there's no denying that Jones improved as the season progressed, and his potential is still ultimately through the roof. With the Green Bay Packers likely doing a major overhaul on their defensive line this offseason, Jones should get a huge opportunity to show what he can do.
His versatility and athleticism are exactly what Green Bay needs on its defensive line. Should Jones have a breakout year, like we expect, the Packers could finally get back to having a championship-caliber defense.
2013 Season Stats: seven receptions, 120 yards, one touchdown
While Brandon Bostick's overall statistics aren't impressive, he also didn't play much this past season. Bostick only participated in 144 snaps in 2013, so recording even mediocre numbers is somewhat impressive.
What ultimately makes Bostick a candidate to have a breakout season next year is opportunity. With the Green Bay Packers unlikely to re-sign Jermichael Finley, the starting tight end job will be a wide-open race this offseason.
Even if Bostick doesn't win the No. 1 job, he should still see a major increase in playing time in 2014. The only other tight ends currently under contract are Ryan Taylor and Jake Stoneburner. Bostick's athleticism and playmaking abilities make him a more intriguing prospect in the Packers offense.
If Bostick can grow mentally as a player, he has the potential to become an extremely dangerous weapon for the Packers.
2013 Season Stats: 23 tackles, 6.5 sacks
Mike Daniels experienced a mini-breakout season of his own this past year. His 6.5 sacks trailed only outside linebacker Clay Matthews on the team, and Pro Football Focus graded him as the sixth-best 3-4 defensive end in the league (subscription required).
What ultimately kept Daniels from fully breaking out was the fact that he was stuck behind guys like B.J. Raji and Johnny Jolly on the depth chart. With both Raji and Jolly free agents this year, it's a definite possibility that Daniels will be a starting defensive end next year.
Giving more playing time to Daniels would be an extremely wise decision on the part of the Green Bay Packers. His ability to rush the quarterback is truly special, and Daniels can also hold his own against the run.
If Daniels can build on a successful 2013 campaign, he has the potential to become one of the premiere defensive ends in the league next year.
2013 Season Stats: six tackles
Considering the struggles of the Green Bay Packers defensive line last year, it should come as no surprise to see three players projected to break out from this unit next year. Defensive tackle Josh Boyd joins defensive ends Datone Jones and Mike Daniels as potential breakout candidates.
Of the three, Boyd easily has the least amount of experience heading into next season. He played sparingly during his rookie season, but that should change in 2014.
For starters, Boyd should get a chance at the starting job thanks to the Packers being unlikely to re-sign former starting defensive tackle Ryan Pickett. Boyd did just enough last year for Green Bay to feel good about him as a future starter.
In Weeks 15 and 16, Boyd combined to play 57 of his 117 snaps on the year. In those two games, he displayed the ability to get pressure on the quarterback, recording four hurries.
If Boyd can add strength and become a better run-stopper, he could join Jones and Daniels to form one of the best young defensive lines in the league.
2013 Season Stats: 55 tackles, one sack, one forced fumble
Due to injuries last year, rookie cornerback Micah Hyde was thrown right into the heat of action. While he certainly struggled through those first few weeks of the season, Hyde really grew as the year progressed.
By the end of the season, Hyde was one of the more consistent defenders in the Green Bay Packers secondary. Where Hyde was the most impressive was in his abilities to stop bigger targets.
For example, the Packers gave the assignment of Cleveland Browns tight end Jordan Cameron to Hyde, and Hyde was a big reason why he only recorded 55 receiving yards in that game. He's not quite big enough to play safety, but he uses his physicality extremely well to slow down receivers.
Next year, Hyde is going to likely be the No. 4 cornerback on the depth chart behind Tramon Williams, Sam Shields and Casey Hayward. However, the NFC North is definitely a pass-first division, so Hyde should still see plenty of the field.
His development will go a long way toward repairing the Packers secondary. By building on the strong final weeks of his 2013 season, Hyde could truly enjoy a breakout campaign next year.