Every year there are countless breakout players. Some are young players who finally get a chance to play, high draft picks who finally live up to their potential, contract year players, and some come out of nowhere. Last years breakout players included DeAngelo Williams, Aaron Rogers, and Antonio Bryant. Now onto this years candidates from the NFC.
Dallas Cowboys—Martellus Bennett
Bennett has made a lot of noise this off season for his off the field antics but is also impressing on the field. The talented tight end’s immaturity may be the only thing holding him breaking out. With the rapid development of Bennett the Cowboys will use a two tight end set as their base formation this season.
Combine that will the departure of Terrell Owens and Bennett will be looking at a lot more targets. Even with Jason Witten ahead of him on the depth chart I wouldn’t be surprised if Bennett finished third on the team in receiving.
New York Giants—Terrell Thomas
Thomas has a nice season as a rookie last year and will look to build off that this season. Playing mostly in a nickel and dime role Thomas impressed and even started two games due to injuries. With Aaron Ross currently nursing a nagging hamstring injury Thomas has an opportunity to seize the starting job. Playing opposite Corey Webster will not hurt as well as having perhaps the best pass rush in the game. A complete corner, Thomas could have a big season this year.
Philadelphia Eagles—DeSean Jackson
Jackson was electrifying as a rookie igniting the Eagles offense. He finished the season just short of 1000 yards and looks like the No.1 receiver the Eagles have been searching for ever since Terrell Owens left town. As good as he was last season he still made rookie mistakes, most noticeably prematurely dropping the ball before he crossed the end zone which could have been very costly. With another year of seasoning Jackson should be even better this year as he becomes Donovan McNabb’s clear No.1 target.
Washington Redskins—Jason Campbell
This pick is the most surprising of the bunch but I believe Campbell has a good chance to break out this year. In the off season the Redskins attempted to trade for Jay Cutler and draft Mark Sanchez but failed on both attempts leaving Campbell in a precarious situation. Campbell has kept his cool throughout the entire situation not lashing out to the media about the situation.
Knowing this is his last chance to impress Campbell will give it his all this season. Another year in Jim Zorn’s system can’t hurt either. The possible emergence of second year wide outs Devin Thomas and/or Malcolm Kelly would only help. This also happens to be Campbell’s contract year.
Chicago Bears—Greg Olsen
Olsen has improved in his two years in the league and looks poised to have a breakout year this season. He has shared time with Desmond Clark but is now firmly the starter. Chicago also acquired this guy called Jay Cutler who is a hell of a lot better than Kyle Orton. Olsen will be the primary target in the passing offense which will pass more this season with Cutler at the helm.
Detroit Lions—Cliff Avril
Avril was one of the few bright spots on a win less Lions team. The rookie from Purdue was a constant force in rushing the passer and notched five sacks despite starting only four games. Now Avril will be starting from week one giving him a full season to wreck havoc. If the Lions improve this season he will be a big part of the success.
Green Bay Packers—Jermichael Finley
Finley didn’t play much as a rookie as he was considered raw coming out of college. Finley though, has improved his blocking dramatically and it has earned him more playing time. He has drawn rave reviews for his play in training camp and has torn it up in the preseason. Finley will start the season splitting time with veteran Donald Lee but don’t be shocked when Finley takes over early in the season.
Minnesota Vikings—Tyrell Johnson
Johnson started seven games at free safety as a rookie due to an injury to Madieu Williams and was impressive. The coaches thought so much of him that they decided to let defensive leader Darren Sharper walk in free agency. Following Sharpers release Johnson will slide into his spot at strong safety. Johnson is more of a strong safety than free as he is a better in the box player and this year he will be able to play to his strengths.
Atlanta Falcons- Curtis Lofton
Lofton came in and started at middle linebacker as a rookie last year but looked like a seasoned veteran out there. Now entering his second year Lofton will take on a greater role on defense. With the departure of longtime starter Keith Brooking, Lofton will be the leader on the defense and wear the defensive headset.
He will also now be playing all three downs as opposed to two, which he did lats year. He is a tackling machine who racked up 94 last year and playing all three downs this year will only increase that number. He has shown dedication by shedding eight pounds to improve his coverage skills which would make him a complete linebacker.
Carolina Panthers—Richard Marshall
Marshall is entering his fourth year in the league and this year appears to be the year where he will finally breakout. He has flashed in his three years amassing seven interceptions and returning two for touchdowns but has not had the opportunity to start. The Panthers released Ken Lucas in the off season paving the way for Marshall to step up. New defensive coordinator Ron Meeks likes his corners to play very physical, which is an area Marshall excels in. Marshall will be highly motivated as he in entering a contract year and knows with solid play he will cash in big in the free agent market.
New Orleans Saints—Tracy Porter
Porter was off to a nice rookie campaign before an injury shelved him for the season after only five games. In those five games though, Porter had emerged as the Saints top corner back. He returns this season as a starter in an improved Saints secondary which will benefit him. Porter possess excellent speed and in a play maker in the secondary. Expect porter to be a key component on a much improved Saints defense this season.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers—Gaines Adams
The former fourth overall pick has been solid but not spectacular in his first two seasons in the league. He has collected 12.5 sacks and was off to a nice start last season before fading down the stretch. He certainly has some motivation as his head coach publicly said that if he doesn’t record double digit sacks he will be considered a bust. He will also be helped by the defensive system under Jim Bates. Adams used to line up head on against the left tackle but now will line up wide of the tackle giving him an angle and allowing him to use some of his freakish athleticism. I expect Adams to meet his coach’s goal of double digit sacks.
Arizona Cardinals—Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie
Cromartie had a great rookie year capped by an excellent postseason which saw him emerge as the Cards best corner. He picked off four passes in the regular season and then added two more in the playoffs. Coming out of small school Tennessee State, not much was expected of Cromartie but he proved the naysayers wrong. He possess a rare combination of size (6'2") and speed (4.33) and also has great ball skills as evidenced by his performance last season. Cromartie is on his way into becoming an elite shutdown corner, which are few and far between nowadays in the NFL.
Saint Louis Rams—Donnie Avery
As a rookie wide receiver Avery impressed last season. Although it was viewed as a reach when the Rams selected him as the first wide receiver last year in the draft Avery lived up to the hype. His emergence made longtime veteran Torry Holt expendable for the Rams in the off season. He enters the year as the No.1 target for Marc Bulger, who is looking to rebound after a couple of rough years. The speedy Avery was hurt earlier in camp but now is fully recovered and ready to go for the opener. A 1,000 yard campaign is certainly in reach for the sophomore wide out.
San Francisco 49ers—Josh Morgan
As a sixth round pick last season Morgan was the star of training camp and looked like he was going to make a big impact. Then right before the season he got a staph infection and lost 15 pounds. Morgan returned during the season and had two nice games in a row before getting injured again.
Heading into this season Morgan impressed at OTAs. He has also benefited from the Michael Crabtree holdout and will start the season as the starter and will remain one as Crabtree is likely to have no impact this season if any at all. Although the 49ers want to run a run orientated offense when they pass Morgan will be the go to guy.
Seattle Seahawks—John Carlson
Carlson had a very impressive rookie season for the Seahawks as he led the team in receiving. He was the lone bright spot on a Seahawk offense that was decimated by injuries last year. While that won’t be the case this year with T.J. Houshmandzadeh in town he will be the No.2 target in the offense. Carlson will be helped greatly by a healthy Matt Hasselbeck at quarterback after having to suffer through Seneca Wallace and Charlie Frye last year. He will also benefit by playing in Greg Knapp’s offense which has been very friendly to tight ends in the past.