Two summers ago, my brother gave me a call about a young Giants pitcher who’d shot through the farm system in a matter of weeks and was called up to the club. He arrived with electrifying stuff, but he was inconsistent.
My favorite moment of his rookie season was when he threw three innings, arrogant, nasty, and un-hittable, before coming out and getting shelled in the fourth. Although he wasn’t able to keep it up throughout the game, those first three innings were a glimpse into what he could be. His arrival was a shot in the arm that a moribund team needed.
This past season, that pitcher, Tim Lincecum, made the leap. It’s one of the most underrated experiences in sports, that moment or season when the guy you’ve been pulling for makes that jump—when he puts everything together and is able to impose his will on his opponents.
Here are five players in the NFL that have made that leap and have tied themselves to the fortunes of their teams, for better or for worse.