Every year offers a fresh start for aging veterans, guys who lost prior seasons to injury, or young players who haven't proven themselves yet. And while only a handful of players truly take that opportunity and make something of it, it's never any less exciting when it all unfolds.
Last year it was Arian Foster, Peyton Hillis, and Brandon Lloyd. The year before it was Sidney Rice and Miles Austin.
Who will be the break-out stud no one saw coming in 2011? Perhaps it will be one (or all) of these five guys. Let's get it started at the quarterback position:
1. Tim Tebow (Denver Broncos)
People can down-talk Tebow all they want about his throwing mechanics or his ability to succeed overall in the NFL. The fact is, in just three starts in his rookie year, he had one 300-plus yard passing game, a game-winning touchdown run and a 40-plus yard touchdown run on a broken play.
He ran for a touchdown in each of his final three games, and displayed enough smarts and skills to offer solid optimism toward the future. Even if he's not meant to be a great quarterback, there's little doubt that his athleticism and role should give him a chance to be a solid fantasy performer. And as long as he's starting, that's exactly what he'll be.
2. Matthew Stafford (Detroit Lions)
Stafford has the most potential as a pure pocket passer out of any of the quarterbacks on this list. He has a cannon arm, a fiery passion for the game, and a moxie that can't be taught.
On top of that, he has an uncanny connection with superstar receiver Calvin Johnson. In fact, he connected with Johnson for three touchdowns against the Washington Redskins last season, offering great promise for the future.
Unfortunately, Stafford missed a ton of action over his first two seasons, and all of the enticing possibilities in the world can't make up for the fact that he can't stay on the field. If he can finally make it through a full slate of games, however, there's a decent chance he'll put up some very impressive numbers.
3. Sam Bradford (St. Louis Rams)
Bradford already impressed many by leading his Rams within one win of the playoffs while tossing for over 3,000 yards and 18 touchdowns as a rookie. He faded down the stretch a bit, but Bradford was remarkably consistent and controlled for much of his first season, which suggests his second season could be a true breakout year.
Add in the fact that offensive guru Josh McDaniels is taking over as offensive coordinator, and the development of Bradford could be a very interesting story-line to track in 2011. The Rams still need to pin-point Bradford's top weapons for the new season, but once everything is in order, he could be primed for a huge 2011.
4. Kevin Kolb (Philadelphia Eagles)
After enticing in 2009 and disappointing in 2010, it's likely now or never for Kevin Kolb. Rumors have flown wild for months that he's headed for Arizona as soon as trades are allowed, while Seattle is also a leading candidate for his services.
The smart money looks to be on Arizona, where Kolb will be paired with a can't-miss stud receiver in Larry Fitzgerald. While Kolb's arrival in Arizona won't necessarily mean the Cardinals should be prepping for the playoffs, it should easily register as an upgrade at the quarterback position, while at the same time significantly raising Kolb's fantasy value and giving him a chance to be a breakout player for 2011.
5. Alex Smith (San Francisco 49ers)
Throughout his career, Smith has been called inconsistent and erratic (and rightfully so). However, what many people don't know is that Smith has battled terrible luck and circumstances, as he's never had the same offensive coordinator in back-to-back seasons, and he's had a sketchy injury history. On top of these two issues, he's also rarely had the full backing of his coaching staff and/or franchise.
However, if Smith resigns and wins the starting job in 2011, he should have a completely fresh start with new head coach Jim Harbaugh, which would give Smith a realistic shot at finally getting things right since being drafted. With weapons such as Vernon Davis, Frank Gore, and Michael Crabtree at his disposal, Smith could take off in 2011.
For more 2011 fantasy football advice, check out NFLSoup.com!