Every year there are players who surprise the NFL world with a fantastic season and put themselves in the headlines. There are rookies who make the mental leap from Year 1 to Year 2, back-ups who finally get their chance, and sometimes they just come completely out of nowhere (Yes Buffalo, I'm talking about Stevie Johnson).
With NFL viewership at an all-time high, thanks to outlets like fantasy football, fans are always looking ahead at the next great player.
Under the assumption that there will be a new CBA in place next year, here are five NFL players poised to take the next step from good to elite in 2011.
A second-year player out of Missouri, William Moore quietly had a very successful season with the 13-3 Atlanta Falcons.
After an injury-plagued rookie season, Moore stepped in for the incumbent Erik Coleman early in 2010. Coleman was the team’s leading tackler in 2009 and it was expected that he would return to the starting lineup when healthy. But Moore never left the starting lineup.
His 72 tackles were good for fifth on the team and he countered his strong run defensive play with a team leading 5 interceptions. He proved to be the pivotal figure in a young Falcon’s secondary.
He has already built a reputation as a hard-hitter and in an NFL where a game-changing safety is necessary for a great defense (Polamalu, Reed) the Falcons seem to have found their guy to build around for the future.
Tramon Williams intercepts Matt Ryan in the NFC Divisional Playoffs
When you think of Green Bay defensive backs, the first names that come to mind are Charles Woodson and Nick Collins. But it is Tramon Williams’ playoff performance in 2010 that has forced fans to meet the best cornerback you’ve never heard of.
Despite grabbing 9 interceptions over the previous 2 seasons, Williams was a relatively unknown defensive presence in a loaded Green Bay secondary that features 2 perennial Pro-Bowlers.
But in 2010 Williams has proved that he’s the team’s best cover corner raking in 6 interceptions in the regular season.
The unheralded cornerback has made his presence known in the playoffs with his 3 interceptions in 3 playoff games. These interceptions came in a very big way.
He sealed the deal against Michael Vick and the Eagles with 33 seconds to play and his pick-six to end the half against Atlanta may be the biggest knockout punch of the entire postseason.
His clutch play has been a big part of this year’s Packer Super Bowl run and it will only get better next year and beyond. This momentum should carry him in 2011 as one of the game’s best corners
Philly fans know that DeSean Jackson isn’t the only dynamic speedster that teams need to worry about.
The highlight reel standout from Missouri has taken big strides at the receiver position in his second NFL season. He jumped from 773 yards and 4 TDs in 2009 to 964 yards and 10 TDs this year.
With Jackson being as injured as he was, Maclin was often the team’s No.1 option and stepped up for the team in a big way.
He found the end zone more than any receiver on the team. That’s right more than DeSean Jackson. His two touchdowns late against the Giants were key to the team’s historic comeback.
Andy Reid is a great offensive coach. With another off-season in Reid’s system, expect Jeremy Maclin to be a go-to guy on one of the league’s most explosive offenses.
Amid the Cowboys’ miserable season, fans got to catch a glimpse of their future offensive force. Many questioned the validity of drafting Bryant in the first-round after being suspended by the NCAA for his final college season.
Despite some character concerns, he proved that he was too good to keep off the field in Dallas. Despite battling an ankle injury and playing a large portion of the year with backup Jon Kitna, he scored 8 total TDs in only 12 games. He even showed his diversity by taking 2 punt returns for touchdowns.
Many players have stated that he is the best receiver on the team. While Miles Austin is a solid receiver, he does not have the No. 1 receiver potential that Bryant does.
He does have some character issues that need to be addressed before he can join the game’s elite wideouts. With Jason Garrett’s leadership, the return of Pro-Bowl QB Tony Romo and a healthy ankle, Dez Bryant could be on his way to a fantastic 2011.
The Rams decided in last April’s draft that the best way to rebuild their 1-15 team was to draft a Heisman Trophy winning QB coming off of a throwing shoulder injury. I don’t think they’re losing too much sleep about it either.
Playing with the worst receiving corps in football, he passed for 3,512 and 18 TDs. That’s more than Ben Roethlisberger and Michael Vick had. He became the first QB in NFL history to have 300 yards or more, 3 TDs, and no interceptions in a road victory.
He broke the rookie-passing record for completions. The guy he beat…Peyton Manning.
And despite playing with rookies on the offensive line and throwing more passes than 30 of the league’s teams, Bradford had 2009’s worst team within one game of a division title.
Bradford holds a slew of rookie accomplishments and is already being compared to some of the best quarterbacks in recent memory. And to make things even better for Rams fans, new offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels is the perfect pairing for Bradford’s great arm talent.
McDaniels will do wonders for Bradford’s progress in 2011 and if the Rams can get a play-making receiver in the fold, look out. Sam Bradford is scary good and well on his way to being one of the best players in the league.