NFL Predictions: James Starks and the Top 20 Players Who Will Break Out in 2011
Every season, there are players that come out of somewhat obscurity and are able to overcome the odds and have terrific seasons. Next year, a lot is still in question in terms of the Collective Bargaining Agreement and how that process is going to be handled. Also, rookies for next season have not been taken into account.
But with that said, there is still a good chance that some amount of football should be played at the highest level next season. Every team has players that could make the next step onto national prominence, and perhaps super stardom.
And so, here are some players that could be having monster years next season.
20. Pat Angerer
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The guy with the perfect name for a linebacker.
Pat Angerer was a stout overacheiver at Iowa that finished his career with an Orange Bowl victory. Upon coming into the league last season as a second round pick, he led the NFL in tackles in the preseason. He would get his chance to start after injuries plagued the Colts defense, and he would never look back. The Colts might have a player that will be solid on defense for the next 10 years.
19. Kenny Britt
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Kenny Britt is going to have a lot to prove to live up to some of the expectations that he faced coming out of Rutgers.
Since coming to the NFL, Britt has shown flashes of brilliance while having good chemistry with Vince Young. But with Young most likely out of the picture and a new coach in Nashville, it could be interesting.
18. Martellus Bennett
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Jerry Jones has been quoted as saying that Martellus Bennett has breakthrough potential. In his first three seasons in the NFL, it has been seen sporadically at times.
The physical tools are amazing for a player of his size. His basketball career has been well documented. The key has been the logjam at tight end in Dallas in the form of Pro Bowler Jason Witten. Bennett's role could change though with Jason Garrett taking the reigns. Finally, people will see what he is capable of.
17. Brian Cushing
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If there is one player that wants to have a monster season next year, it has to be Brian Cushing of the Houston Texans.
After seeing what his former college teammate Clay Matthews was able to accomplish by winning what should have been Defensive Player of the Year and a Super Bowl, Cushing should be motivated to do just as well. Last season was more than difficult for the USC star and former Rookie of the Year with his performance-enhancing drug issue. Next season is a fresh start and a chance to exorcise those demons.
16. Chris Long
Not many thought or currently think that Chris Long is anywhere near being as good as his Hall of Fame father. But, that really does not matter all that much, as Chris Long is already making a difference for a Rams team that could turn the corner sooner then people think.
Long was the second overall pick a couple of seasons ago and has switched defensive end spots a couple times. Next season could be the year that he erupts in the sack category though.
15. Johnny Knox
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The man that was a draft pick in the trade that brought Jay Cutler to the Bears, Johnny Knox could truly set himself apart next season for the Bears.
Upon being a fifth round pick by Chicago, he made a difference immediately. He became a speedy deep threat and was key on special teams, even making the Pro Bowl in his rookie season. Next year will be year two under Mike Martz, and Jay Cutler should make an Eddie Royal-type out of one of the receivers, and it could be Knox.
14. C.J. Spiller
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Some players have amazing rookie seasons that are followed up by "sophomore slumps". But in C.J. Spiller's case, it might end up being quite the opposite.
Though his rookie season did not go according to plan, Spiller still possess some of the best speed and talent of any player in the league. And with the departure of Marshawn Lynch in the middle of last season, it clearly showed that Buffalo is willing to put all their stock in the young former Clemson back.
13. Charles Johnson
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One of the names on this list that many people may not know about yet, Charles Johnson was one of the best pass rushers that you've never heard about before last season with the lowly Panthers.
The former Georgia Bulldog has progressed exponentially in a positive way since Julius Peppers has left town. He broke out last season when the Panthers needed some positive signs for the future. With defensive minded coach Ron Rivera at the helm, it should only benefit Johnson.
12. Sidney Rice
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The breakthrough may have come during Brett Favre's magical return to greatness in 2009, but Sidney Rice is going to need to have a big season all over again to prove he is an elite wide receiver.
The man who caught the most touchdown passes in a playoff game and made the 2009 Pro Bowl will have to show that he can take control of a ball game. It is currently unknown who will be throwing him the pig skin, but no matter who it is, the Vikings need No. 18 to perform at the highest level.
11. Jordan Shipley
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Colt McCoy's favorite target in college, Jordan Shipley certainly had talented and experienced receivers to learn from his rookie season last year. TO and Ochocinco are as accomplished wideouts as you will find, but it is unknown what, if any, wisdom was shared to the young former Longhorn.
Both Owens and Johnson could theoretically be gone before the opening snap next year, which, depending on what happens in the draft and free agency would open up a key role for Shipley. Production has been what he has done at every level thus far in his career, and it could be assumed he would up to the task.
10. John Carlson
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The ex-Golden Domer and now Seahawks most recent performance on a football field saw him land on his head and had those in attendance asking if he would ever play again. He was fine after a brutal hit, but John Carlson had already made an impact the week before with a two touchdown playoff performance.
Carlson did not have an extremely productive 2010, but he has the ability to become an elite tight end in the coming seasons.
9. Mike Sims-Walker
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The Jags showed that they are not a team to mess with in the NFL. Amid speculation that they could be moved eventually to Los Angeles or that Jack Del Rio will not be around much longer; they still win football games.
Mike Sims-Walker continues to get better every season, and last year, he clearly showed that he is the top wide receiver for the Jaguars. Next year, Sims-Walker will be a player to watch, as he has a chance to play with David Garrard for another season.
8. Tony Moeaki
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Some people have to "double-take" when looking at Chiefs tight end Tony Moeaki when they believe he is Tony Gonzalez reincarnated. But in comparing the two, it would be difficult to find any Tony Gonzalez catch that is even close to the one-handed TD grab by Moeaki.
Moeaki and the Chiefs have a young core on offense that will be giving the AFC West issues for years to come. Tony battled injuries throughout college at Iowa, but was still one of the most productive offensive players in the Big Ten in his time there. We will soon see if he can match that in the NFL.
7. Matthew Stafford
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Injuries have been the key from seeing Matthew Stafford become the player that the Lions and many others have expected him to be at this point. The former No. 1 overall draft pick still possesses the arm cannon that he had coming out of Georgia that wowed pro scouts.
2011 will be an interesting year for the Lions. If they can improve at some key spots and their skill players can live up to expectations, then they could be a sleeper for a playoff spot.
6. Jeremy Maclin
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While some believe that Mr. Maclin has already broken through the threshold of average to superstar, others will highly argue this claim.
But in any event, he is still considered the second target for Michael Vick on that potent Eagles offensive attack. Desean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin pose themselves as one of the best wideout tandems in the league, but next year, be on the lookout for Maclin to overstep Jackson, who will be covered toughly.
5. Darren McFadden
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"RUN DMC", as he is known in some circles, was an absolute freak in college at Arkansas, as he simply could not get stopped in many games. But in his first two years in Oakland, it looked like he could not make the transition to the NFL.
This was not the case, however, as Darren McFadden ran for 1,000+ yards for the first time. The Raiders will most likely give him the ball on a much more frequent basis next year, and it would be no shock if McFadden was one of the most productive running backs in the league next year.
4. Joe Haden
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A former All-American at Florida, Joe Haden made no plans to "adjust" or "learn" casually his rookie season. Haden burst onto the scene to show that he was worthy of being the seventh overall pick in the draft.
He intercepted four passes in four straight games during one stretch of the year, and next season could become one of the elite corners in the NFL.
3. Brad Smith
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Like Jordan Shipley in Cincinnati, Brad Smith might get his chance as a starter next season based on what the guys in front of him do. Yes, Braylon Edwards and Sanantonio Holmes could be gone from New York; which would leave Smith and Jerricho Cotchery as Mark Sanchez' main targets.
Smith is as versatile of a player as a team could ask for. An accomplished college quarterback at Mizzou, Smith has since become one of the best kick returners in the league. Next year, Smith could shine though as a wide receiver for the first time.
2. James Starks
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The pride of Niagara Falls, James Starks had a "Cinderella" type run from the University of Buffalo to the Super Bowl in his rookie season.
Coming off being a sixth round pick and being on the PUP list until November, Starks immediately took control of the shaky Packers running game and was solid throughout the remainder of the season and beyond. He also produced well in the Super Bowl win over the Steelers.
It will be interesting to see how the Packers use Starks next season with injured Ryan Grant coming back into the fold.
1. Josh Freeman
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In what was an underrated Bucs team all season, Josh Freeman was the young leader of a team that is going to be the favorite on alot of people's lists to win their division next season.
A college standout at Kansas State, Freeman started rather slow his rookie season, but this year he was brilliant, passing for 25 touchdowns with only six interceptions. Next season, he could be even better and might be a wise pickup for some in fantasy football leagues.