Eric Berry and 10 Defensive Players Who Are Ready To Break Out This Season
The NFL is the most exciting time of the year with MLB playoffs starting and basketball right around the corner well (or at least that's the case every other year). I am a die-hard Chicago Bears fan, but I also consider myself an NFL fan.
I think the NFL is also fun because including the playoffs, it only takes up 21 weeks of the year, so it's not too watered down. No other sport can compare, nor does any sport besides the NFL have one single game where the whole country is watching.
In terms of fantasy football, it's easy to find breakout players and up-and-coming stars, but the defensive side doesn't get much love. This is why I have compiled a list of the top 10 up-and-coming defensive stars who I think will have breakout seasons.
I want to make a list of unknown players who are less publicised than others. For example, Ndamukong Suh will not be on this list because he is well-publicized, appearing on numerous television advertisements and ESPN shows.
Let's take a look.
10. Brandon Flowers
Brandon Flowers gain tackle
Tim Umphrey/Getty Images
Team: Kansas City Chiefs
Brandon Flowers has already emerged as a key component to the Chiefs' young secondary. Flowers has the ability to be one of the best all-around corners for years to come. He isn't the fastest cornerback, running a 4.50 40 time.
However, Flowers did show the ability to match up with some really good slot receivers. Flowers has good cover skills, can hit and can close in on the ball. Look for Flowers to turn heads and make the Pro Bowl this year.
Prediction: Flowers is the leader of what could be a top-five secondary in the league.
9. Aqib Talib
Team: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Aqib Talib is in some trouble following an aggravated assault with a deadly weapon charge, as he could be suspended by commissioner Roger Goodell for a few games this season before his trial in the spring of 2012. However, if Talib isn't gone for long, he could really break out this season.
If Talib can get his head on straight, he has the quickness, agility and explosiveness when changing directions to shut down receivers for many years. Talib also has the speed to keep up with almost any receiver, as he posts a 4.4 time in the 40-yard dash.
Talib has also shown he can play in many nickle and dime situations, coming off the edge when needed, as he has shown signs of improvement in tackling.
Prediction: He should make the Pro Bowl as a shutdown corner.
8. Rolando McClain
Team: Oakland Raiders
Position: Inside linebacker
The NFL is becoming more of a pass-happy league, where more attention is going to the rush outside linebackers who get sacks and land on ESPN.
In this era, however, if teams don't shut down the run, it opens up the play-action pass. Before you know it, offenses are unstoppable.
Which is exactly why Rolando McClain is a really valuable commodity. Despite the Nnamdi Asomugha departure, Raiders fans still have a lot to look forward to. McClain had 85 tackles in his rookie season, showing he has all of the toughness for the NFL. Just take a look at the video of the RAM SLAM.
Bold Predictions: McClain should become one of the most reliable tacklers in all of football this season, hitting around the 120-130 tackle range. McClain reminds me a lot of Carolina Panthers LB Jon Beason and should continue to impress.
7. Malcolm Jenkins
Team: New Orleans Saints
Malcolm Jenkins may just be one of the most important players on the Saints defense.
Jenkins was quickly slotted into a starting free safety role after Darren Sharper started the season on the PUP list. Jenkins thrived in the position and has started there ever since.
If that's not enough, during training camp recently, Jenkins picked Drew Brees off twice.
While at cornerback, Jenkins is already one of the most physical players and sure tacklers in the league. Jenkins can knock receivers off their route right from the snap. Jenkins likes to play off the ball with his quickness, but he can recover if needed and close on the ball. He showed great promise last year.
Bold Prediction: Nine interceptions with a Pro Bowl appearance.
6. Vontae Davis
Team: Miami Dolphins
Recently, ESPN's Total QB Rating was announced.
If there was such a rating for cornerbacks, Vontae Davis would definitely be at the top of the list. He has already established himself as a premier corner in the league, although he does not get enough recognition.
I like to call Davis the poor man's Darrelle Revis, the Jets cornerback who went up against each team's No. 1 receiver and consistently shut them down, or at least contained them. Davis has all the intangibles to be one of the NFL's best shutdown corners.
Bold Prediction: Davis makes his way into most top-five cornerback lists after this year.
5. Brian Orakpo
Team: Washington Redskins
Position: Outside Linebacker
I may be pushing it with Brian Orakpo, as he has received some notoriety, but I think he still deserves to make the list.
Orakpo has the burst and athletic ability of most of the really good pass rushers in the league. He can blow past offensive bigger offensive linemen with finesse, agility and speed. Orakpo is a high-motor guy who is relentlessly after the quarterback. He is one of the five strongest linebackers in the NFL.
Orakpo can also drop back to cover the pass if needed and fits perfectly in the Redskins' 3-4 defense. If the Redskins get another decent outside linebacker opposite Orakpo, the former Texas defensive lineman could easily turn into a top-five rush linebacker.
Bold Predictions: Orakpo finishes with double-digit sacks en route to a Pro Bowl.
4. Gerald McCoy
Team: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Position: Defensive Tackle
With the departure of Barrett Ruud, Gerald McCoy is already the defensive leader on the Buccaneers. In limited time McCoy had 28 tackles (seven for a loss), three sacks and four passes defended. McCoy seems to have the ability to be an all-around defensive tackle who can stop the run, rush the QB and block passes too.
The Buccaneers drafted Da'Quan Bowers, who fell in the draft because of knee issues. This could greatly benefit McCoy and the Bucs. If Bowers reaches his full potential, this could help McCoy explode this season, as he will receive fewer double teams from offensive linemen and thrive in one-on-one matchups.
Bold Prediction McCoy could have a really productive season and could easily make the Pro Bowl by 2012, if not this year.
3. Earl Thomas
Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images
Team: Seattle Seahawks
Free safety Earl Thomas stormed into the NFL with 76 tackles and five interceptions, and he only looks to get better his sophomore year. Thomas is asked to take on many responsibilities, and he has good cover skills and tacking abilities.
Thomas has great instincts and knows how to anticipate where the ball is going, which helps him make a play on the ball. He is also really physical and does not hold back at laying someone out. Unfortunately, the NFL doesn't like big hits anymore, and he got fined last year for $7,500.
Thomas is defiantly like a young Troy Polamalu, who does a little bit of everything. I think Thomas can be a better cover safety than Polalmalu.
Bold Prediction Earl Thomas becomes a top-tier safety in the league next year. However, his play may be hindered a little bit with the lack of pass rush in Seattle, so I can't guarantee a Pro Bowl.
2. Joe Haden
Team: Cleveland Browns
Cleveland Browns star cornerback Joe Haden is entering his second season. Yes, I branded Joe Haden a star already. Haden showed flashes of greatness in just his rookie season last year with the Browns.
Haden already has greatness in mind. It's obvious every corner wants to shut down the opposing receiver, but Joe has the swag, confidence and skillset to do so. In training camp, Joe Haden has shut down every Browns cornerback, which isn't saying much, but it's a good start to the season.
I'm anxious to see the receivers Joe goes up against in the 2011 season and how he develops right in front of our eyes.
Bold Prediction: Haden will make the 2011 Pro Bowl in only his second season, climbing the top-10 cornerback rankings and shutting down most of the receivers he faces in the 2011 season.
1. Eric Berry
Team: Kansas City Chiefs
Eric Berry may already be a star in his second season. As a rookie, he had 92 tackles and four interceptions with two sacks and a forced fumble. If that doesn't spell versatility, I don't know what does.
The do-it-all safety could be the next Ed Reed, with great cover skills and the ability to take it to the house on every pick. Clearly, with 92 tackles, Eric Berry is already one of the best tackling safeties in the league.
As far as Berry vs. Earl Thomas, I see a tad more upside in Berry because of his return skills on picks. Those two safeties could have an Ed Reed/Troy Polamalu type of debate for years to come.
Bold Prediction: Eric Berry will make the Pro Bowl and should be a top-five (maybe even top-three) safety in the league next year.