Every year a player will come out of nowhere and put up huge numbers.
Sometimes they are an expected source of big numbers and take that next step to stardom, and others realize their potential and pull out of mediocrity.
This list contains both. Seven players that will break out from mediocrity, or improve to pro bowl caliber.
7) Ray Edwards, DE, Minnesota Vikings
As a former fourth-round pick with character concerns, Edwards has yet to prove himself.
I don’t know if he’s noticed that yet.
He has been quoted as saying he is going to break Michael Strahan's single-season sack record. I wouldn't go that far, but don't sleep on him.
With Erasmus James gone to Washington and Kenechi Udeze fighting Leukemia, Edwards will be the starter opposite of newly acquired Jared Allen.
He’s a physical specimen at 6’5" and 270 pounds, with a good pass-rush set, and with all of the attention being paid to Pat Williams, Kevin Williams, and Allen on the line, he should be able to break out with anywhere from eight to double-digit sacks.
6) Michael Huff, FS, Oakland Raiders
Finally, the Raiders have realized this guy was born to play free safety.
He’s been playing strong safety since being drafted as the seventh-overall pick in 2006 and has yet to see any success. That will all change this season when he starts at free safety.
Oh, and their secondary is sick.
Pro Bowl corner DeAngelo Hall was added this season to play opposite of fellow Pro Bowler Nnamdi Asomugha, another shutdown corner. On top of that, Al Davis signed Super Bowl champion Gibril Wilson from the Giants this offseason to a six-year deal.
Since the secondary is now one of the top five in the NFL, Huff will be allowed to roam the field and be the ball-hawk that Raiders fans have always envisioned him as being.
5) Tamba Hali, DE, Kansas City Chiefs
For a defense that lost sack leader Jared Allen, the Chiefs have a lot to look forward to in the future.
You could look to their 2008 draft, in which they selected Glenn Dorsey, Brandon Flowers, DaJuan Morgan, and Brian Johnston. You could look to stud outside linebacker Derrick Johsnon.
Or you could look to Tamba Hali. I see Hali, the pass-rushing sack artist out of Penn State, as the brightest spot in this high-potential defense. He broke out in his 2007 campaign with 59 tackles, two forced fumbles, and 7.5 sacks.
With Dorsey manning the middle to command double teams, Hali will further his progress into becoming one of the premier ends in the league.
4) Michael Griffin, FS, Tennessee Titans
After Griffin spent a lot of time at corner early on in his rookie season, the Titans woke up and put him at free safety, and he never looked back.
He finished his rookie campaign with 54 total tackles, seven pass deflections, and three interceptions.
He is the best player in their secondary now that Adam Jones is in Dallas, and he will continue to prove it in 2008.
But not without the help of his defensive line.
Albert Haynesworth is a force in every sense of the word and is as valuable to his team as any other player in the league. Kyle Vanden Bosch will bring heat off the edge, forcing rushed passes and that should lead to Griffin racking up the INTs.
3) Reggie Bush, RB, New Orleans Saints
He has to be. He has too much talent and help around him to not become a force in the NFL.
Everybody quickly forgot his rookie year, in which he lead all rookies in receptions and his punt return for a touchdown in the NFC Championship game against the Bears.
He was very injury prone last season, which led to a very sub-par sophomore campaign. That won’t continue in 2008.
The Saints have arguably top five talents at quarterback in Drew Brees, tight end in Jeremy Shockey, and wide receiver in Marques Colston. Not to mention that they have one of the best offensive linemen in the NFL in Jammal Brown.
Deuce McAllister is too injury prone to be counted on anymore, and that will leave Bush to help bring the Saints to the Promised Land.
2) Calvin Johnson, WR, Detroit Lions
I had a hard time putting Calvin Johnson on this list for statistical purposes. The Lions are going to try to run the ball as much as they pass, but I doubt that will work, as they will be playing from behind a lot and are made to pass the ball with Roy Williams, Johnson, Shaun McDonald, and Mike Furrey.
Kevin Smith, who has a slender frame, had 450 carries in college last year and he’ll be their starter.
But the main reason Johnson is No. 2 on my list is because he is Calvin Johnson.
He is the man, that, at 6’5" and 230 pounds, ran a 4.35 forty. He’s the man that had 48 receptions, 756 yards, and four touchdowns as a rookie. He’s the same guy who had five catches and 102 yards against San Diego’s elite secondary in Week 15. He’s the man hailed as a once-in-a-lifetime prospect.
He’s too good to not become an elite player this season and in the next 12 alike.
1) Gaines Adams, DE, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The No. 4-overall pick in last year’s draft was very sub-par in his rookie season.
That is, until about Week Eight, after which he started every game and notched 38 total tackles, six sacks, two forced fumbles, and two pass deflections, not to mention sacking Eli Manning in the playoffs.
Another reason he’ll become a star this year is the combination of his 6’5", 260-pound frame and a 4.66 forty.
On top of all of that, his style of play is tailor-made for Tampa Bay’s defense. He’s an intense pass-rusher and applies consistent pressure on the opposing quarterback.
Tampa’s secondary is one of the best in the NFL ,with Ronde Barber and the emergence of Tanard Jackson.
Oh, one more thing. I looked up his sacks on downs and 3.5 of them were on third down, which is crucial.
So take a secondary that covers well and add a pass rusher who had six sacks in eight games, which projects to 12 sacks in 16 games, and you get a perfect storm. He will make the Pro Bowl this year and be feared by all quarterbacks soon enough.
So when you’re talking to your buddy about who will become the next Greg Jennings or Mario Williams in terms of breaking out, mention these players and you will look very smart by season’s end.