Steelers 2010 6th Round Draft Pick, Antonio Brown, WR
Every year in the NFL, there are a few guys like Arian Foster who seem to come out of nowhere and have a monster season. Some are drafted or undrafted rookies with lower expectations, while some are former draft picks who took a little longer to develop and get up to NFL speed.
Sometimes a change in scheme or shedding a nagging injury will push a player to break through and reach their full potential. Sometimes they just come out of nowhere.
Despite the NFL lockout costing teams valuable OTA and evaluation time, there are a number of potential breakout candidates. Some are obvious, while others may surprise you.
Just last year in the 2010 regular season, the NFL blogosphere and Twitter alike were abuzz with talk of former undrafted free agent Arian Foster blowing up the run game for the Texans.
This year, another second-year running back could be due for a breakout season.
The Texans drafted Ben Tate out of Auburn in the second round of the NFL draft, thinking he was going to be the big, explosive complement to the smaller former starting Texans running back Steve Slaton.
Arian Foster came out of nowhere in training camp, and Tate ended up on the Injured Reserve list after breaking his ankle in the team's season opener.
Despite his rookie year being a wash, Tate has immense potential and has looked good so far in the 2011 preseason.
With Arian Foster suffering from a lingering ankle issue, there is a chance Tate could get a good workload. Foster has had durability issues since his days in Tennessee, which led to his being undrafted.
If Foster continues to be impaired by injuries throughout the season, expect Tate to get anywhere from 800-1,000 yards rushing and possibly 10-plus touchdowns.
The Pittsburgh Steelers seem to have an uncanny skill for signing and drafting 3-4 linebackers.
From Greg Lloyd and Kevin Greene to Jason Gildon, Clark Haggans and Joey Porter to Harrison and Woodley, the Steelers have had ridiculous pass rushers for the past 20 years.
Almost all of these guys, with the exception of Greene, were trained on the Steelers special teams for a year or two and then set loose. Jason Worilds looks like the next great Steelers' pass rusher.
The Steelers drafted Worilds in the second round out of Virginia Tech, hoping for him to become the heir-apparent to James Harrison.
Harrison doesn't have tons of wear and tear despite his age, because he didn't become a full-time starter until his late 20s.
However, Harrison suffered a major back injury. By his own account, he is only up to 80 percent health-wise.
There's a decent chance that, due to the incredibly physical and explosive way Harrison plays, Worilds will get even more spot duty this year.
In limited playing time last year he got two sacks. Two sacks as a rookie in Dick Lebeau's complicated fire zone scheme is unheard of. After a full year of the system and some more playing time, expect Worilds to get close to 10 sacks and maybe a few forced fumbles this year.
Sergio Kindle's rookie season was pretty much nonexistent.
After falling down a set of stairs and fracturing his skull, he was ruled out for the entire 2010 season and his professional football career was in jeopardy before it even began.
While Kindle still has to get up to speed following the NFL lockout, he looks healthy enough to get on track for a starting position opposite Terrell Suggs, or at least in competition for snaps with Jarret Johnson.
If "SergKind" can crack the starting lineup, he could be a force to be reckoned with.
The Ravens defense is formidable and should suit Kindle well.
Haloti Ngata, Terrance Cody and Cory Redding will eat up space while Suggs and Kindle pin their ears back and blaze off the edges at opposing QBs. Terrell Suggs will demand two blockers, while Kindle can take advantage of mismatches in blocking schemes.
Expect Kindle to approach 10 sacks and become another key cog in a vicious Ravens defense.
The Rams traded for Brandon Gibson in 2009 because of the massive potential they saw.
In 2009, Gibson had one game as a rookie in which he caught seven receptions for 93 yards with the likes of Kyle Boller and Keith Null at quarterback.
Gibson caught 53 balls for 620 yards with only two touchdowns in 2010. However, as of late he seems to have become Sam Bradford's favorite target, which can only mean good things.
He seems to be understanding the game better as well. Also, the Rams now have Mike Sims-Walker and Lance Kendricks who, along with Danny Amendola, can draw coverage away from Gibson.
Expect Gibson to catch upwards of 80 balls, have over 1,000 yards receiving and get around 12 TDs.
Alright, let's keep the moaning to a dull roar.
I know Chad Henne had a pretty bad 2010 season, but I truly believe this is the breakout year for him.
Henne's TD-INT ratio has been horrible for his first two years starting. However, a lot has changed in Miami.
For starters, Henne will not have to face as much pressure up the middle, as Mike Pouncey (brother of Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey), takes over as starting center.
Word out of training camp and preseason observations is that Henne and Marshall are starting to get on the same page. Marshall as a deep threat should open up the middle for the likes of Davone Bess and Anthony Fasano.
This is the make-or-break year for Henne, and I believe he will excel and meet the large potential he had coming out of the University of Michigan.
Every team in the NFL wishes Kevin Colbert, the GM of the Pittsburgh Steelers, would draft their WRs for them.
Since taking over Steelers football operations in 2000, Colbert has drafted Plaxico Burress, Antwan Randle El, Santonio Holmes, Mike Wallace, Emmanuel Sanders and of course Antonio Brown.
Brown, a sixth-round draft pick out of *Central Michigan in 2010, came on late last year and had a clutch reception, sealing the playoff victory against the Baltimore Ravens.
Heading into the preseason, he has looked absolutely explosive and shows no signs of slowing.
He made veteran wideout Randle El expendable and easily grabbed away the No. 3 receiver position from Jerricho Cotchery and recently-injured Emmanuel Sanders.
Ben Roethlisberger seems to look for Antonio Brown for clutch plays like he used to look for Santonio Holmes.
While Brown will probably not put up No. 1 wide receiver numbers, expect upwards of 700 yards and pushing for double-digit touchdowns.
*** Correction: Antonio Brown was drafted out of Central Michigan not Western Michigan
Mario Manningham had a lot of speed and a ton of potential coming out of Michigan with Chad Henne in 2008.
During his first three years, Manningham was largely overshadowed by Plaxico Burress, Hakeem Nicks, Steve Smith and even Domenik Hixon.
Last year, however, Manningham posted respectable numbers, with 944 yards and nine touchdowns.
Manningham will now be the starting receiver opposite Hakeem Nicks.
With receiver Steve Smith and tight end Kevin Boss both gone, look for Manningham to become Eli Manning's second-favorite target behind Nicks. Nicks will draw double coverage most of the time, and Manning will exploit that.
Expect Manningham to break in to double-digit touchdowns and challenge for a Pro Bowl spot.
Koa Misi is looking to have a spectacular 2011 season.
As a rookie drafted in the second round out of Utah, he racked up 4.5 sacks in a Dolphins defense still learning from defensive mastermind Mike Nolan.
This year, Misi is part of one of the best front sevens in the NFL.
Kendall Langford, Randy Starks, second-year pro Jared Odrick and Paul Soliai will take up tons of blocking up front, Karlos Dansby and Kevin Burnett will be big hitters against the run and Cameron Wake and Misi will be free to make huge defensive plays off the edges.
Expect Misi to get around 60 tackles and rack up double-digit sacks. This guy is a future NFL star.
Count me as one of Colt McCoy's biggest critics from last year all the way up to the preseason this year.
McCoy reminded me a lot of Chris Simms, another former University of Texas quarterback.
He seemed undersized, with a weak arm but a lot of guts. However, throughout the preseason and Browns training camp, I have been incredibly impressed with McCoy.
He seems to fit into Pat Shurmur's West Coast Offense like a glove.
McCoy is developing well in the new system and has a decent arsenal of weapons. Greg Little seems ready to have a solid rookie campaign, Mohamed Massaquoi and Brian Robiskie are in their third year and tight ends Benjamin Watson and Evan Moore look to be serious playmakers.
While I don't think McCoy is going to magically turn in to Peyton Manning (he might not even make the Pro Bowl), I do expect McCoy to have a breakout season and prove himself as a legitimate NFL starter.
Expect around 3,000 yards passing, around 23 touchdowns and probably 8-10 interceptions.
Every fantasy football manager in 2010 knew that Jermichael Finley would be a major sleeper.
He went on a tear at the end of 2009 and ended up with 55 receptions, 676 yards and five touchdowns.
During the first three games of 2010, he looked the part, racking up 301 yards and a touchdown in three games. Finley then had a season-ending knee injury that derailed this potential breakout season
In 2011, Finley is back and looking to make a huge impact.
He is reportedly extremely hungry after missing out on the Packers' Super Bowl run and victory.
He seems to be one of Aaron Rodgers favorite targets. Expect over 1,000 yards, 10-plus touchdowns, close to 100 receptions and for Finley to be one of the tight ends named to the Pro Bowl.
Jermichael Finley looks like a total beast!