Every NFL Team's 2022 Breakout Player Candidate

Alex KayContributor IJune 24, 2022

Every NFL Team's 2022 Breakout Player Candidate

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    KANSAS CITY, MISSOURI - JANUARY 16: Mecole Hardman #17 of the Kansas City Chiefs reacts after a punt return in the first quarter of the game against the Pittsburgh Steelers in the NFC Wild Card Playoff game at Arrowhead Stadium on January 16, 2022 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by David Eulitt/Getty Images)
    David Eulitt/Getty Images

    With minicamps over and training camp on the horizon, there’s no better time to look over every NFL team’s roster and highlight some breakout candidates.

    Although these players may not have accomplished much of note during their professional careers to date, all are set to put themselves on the map during the 2022 season.

    Whether they’ve finally gotten healthy, emerged atop the depth chart at their respective positions or landed with a team that can maximize their talents, these breakout contenders have found themselves in a situation where they can thrive.

    With that in mind, here’s a look at one candidate from each team who's on the verge of having a career-best showing.

Arizona Cardinals: RB Eno Benjamin

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    SANTA CLARA, CALIFORNIA - NOVEMBER 07: Eno Benjamin #26 of the Arizona Cardinals runs the ball for a touchdown during the third quarter against the San Francisco 49ers at Levi's Stadium on November 07, 2021 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images
    Thearon W. Henderson

    While the Arizona Cardinals added speedy wideout Marquise Brown in a draft-night trade, an unheralded running back could be their breakout player this year.

    Eno Benjamin spent his first two NFL seasons buried on the Cardinals' depth chart. The 2020 seventh-round pick saw the field for the first time last year, playing in nine games, but he finished with only 118 yards and a touchdown on 34 carries and 42 yards on six receptions.

    Benjamin has the potential to do far more. He was a shifty, dangerous back during his tenure at Arizona State and proved his worth as a pass-catcher, reeling in 77 receptions over his final two seasons in Tempe.

    Former Cardinals running back Chase Edmonds signed with the Miami Dolphins this offseason, which opens the door for Benjamin to see significantly more work than the 95 offensive snaps he received in 2021. Edmonds played 58 percent of Arizona's offensive snaps in the 12 games in which he appeared last season.

    James Conner is still around and figures to be the Cardinals' workhorse tailback after scoring 18 rushing touchdowns last year. But Benjamin should be able to take over Edmonds' role and serve as Arizona's primary pass-catching back.

Atlanta Falcons: WR Bryan Edwards

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    LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - JANUARY 09:  Wide receiver Bryan Edwards #89 of the Las Vegas Raiders throws his gloves to fans as he walks off the field after the team's 35-32 overtime victory over the Los Angeles Chargers at Allegiant Stadium on January 9, 2022 in Las Vegas, Nevada.  (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
    Ethan Miller/Getty Images

    The Atlanta Falcons are set to feature a new-look receiving corps this season. Rookie No. 8 overall pick Drake London will be a focal point, but Bryan Edwards should also play a big role for them.

    The Falcons acquired Edwards, who spent the first two years of his NFL career with the Las Vegas Raiders, and a 2023 seventh-round pick for a 2023 fifth-round pick in mid-May. He's coming off a promising sophomore campaign in which he snagged 34 receptions for 571 yards and three touchdowns.

    While Edwards may not be the second coming of Julio Jones, he should provide stable, reliable production for a receiving corps that lost Calvin Ridley to a season-long suspension and Russell Gage in free agency.

    The Clemson product can capitalize on the defensive attention that London and rising star tight end Kyle Pitts draw, allowing him to take advantage of single coverage against lesser corners.

    It helps that Edwards already comes with some built-in rapport with Marcus Mariota, Atlanta’s projected starting quarterback this year, as the pair spent the last two seasons together in Vegas. They should quickly get in sync as they take on bigger roles with their new club.

Baltimore Ravens: WR Rashod Bateman

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    PITTSBURGH, PA - DECEMBER 05:  Rashod Bateman #12 of the Baltimore Ravens in action on against the Pittsburgh Steelers on December 5, 2021 at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
    Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

    One of the main reasons the Baltimore Ravens could feel comfortable parting with Marquise Brown this offseason was the in-house replacement they already have lined up.

    Rashod Bateman is ready to take on a larger workload in 2022 after a promising rookie campaign. In 12 games (four starts), last season, the first-round pick hauled in 46 receptions for 515 yards and one touchdown.

    Bateman got off to a relatively slow start after he landed on IR while dealing with a groin injury that required surgery. He wasn’t activated until mid-October and didn’t have his first 100-yard game until December, but he flashed potential as he became more familiar with the offense and the speed of the NFL.

    The Minnesota product is now one of the more proven pass-catchers on Baltimore’s roster. Along with star tight end Mark Andrews, Bateman will be one of Lamar Jackson’s top targets this year.

    Bateman should be up for the task. By using his big 6’2”, 210-pound frame, huge catch radius and crisp route-running abilities, the wideout will put up big numbers in 2022.

Buffalo Bills: WR Gabriel Davis

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    KANSAS CITY, MISSOURI - JANUARY 23: Gabriel Davis #13 of the Buffalo Bills celebrates after scoring a 75 yard touchdown against the Kansas City Chiefs during the fourth quarter in the AFC Divisional Playoff game at Arrowhead Stadium on January 23, 2022 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
    Jamie Squire/Getty Images

    Gabriel Davis gave a sneak peek of the big plays he'll regularly be making this year during the Buffalo Bills’ playoff run this past season.

    The second-year wideout exploded against the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC divisional round. Kansas City had no answer for the shifty, 6’2”, 210-pound playmaker as he gashed them for 201 yards and four touchdowns on eight receptions.

    Buffalo appeared to have unlocked Davis’ potential late in the 2021 season. The UCF product scored four of his six regular-season touchdowns during a three-game stretch between Weeks 13 and 15 before going on to add five more scores in the postseason.

    With Cole Beasley and Emmanuel Sanders no longer on the roster, Davis should be a much more reliable contributor in 2022. Stefon Diggs is still the clear-cut No. 1 wideout in Buffalo, but superstar quarterback Josh Allen will likely look to Davis far more often this season.

    Diggs and Jamison Crowder will provide a steady flow of chain-moving receptions, but Davis will be the big-play specialist who finds the most paydirt in this offense.

Carolina Panthers: TE Tommy Tremble

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    CHARLOTTE, NORTH CAROLINA - DECEMBER 26: Tommy Tremble #82 of the Carolina Panthers makes a catch against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during their game at Bank of America Stadium on December 26, 2021 in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)
    Grant Halverson/Getty Images

    Tommy Tremble was an intriguing breakout candidate after the Carolina Panthers traded away tight end Dan Arnold three weeks into the 2021 season.

    Despite teasing his potential and starting 11 of the 16 games he was active for, the rookie out of Notre Dame caught only 20 balls for 180 yards and one score.

    That production should see a sizable boost in 2022 for several reasons.

    The Panthers are likely to have better quarterback play—regardless of whom ends up winning the starting job—after improving an offensive line that Pro Football Focus ranked as the league’s second-worst this past season. The presence of first-round pick Ikem Ekwonu alone will lift this unit and better protect the signal-caller.

    Tremble is also likely to retain his starting role and receive plenty of volume as a hybrid tight end/possession receiver in Carolina’s offense. The club has a new offensive coordinator in former New York Giants head coach Ben McAdoo, under whom tight end Evan Engram had a career-best season in 2017.

    Tremble should be in line for a much better sophomore campaign, one that could put him on the path to stardom.

Chicago Bears: Edge Trevis Gipson

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    DETROIT, MICHIGAN - NOVEMBER 25: Trevis Gipson #99 of the Chicago Bears recovers a fumble by Jared Goff #16 of the Detroit Lions during the second quarter at Ford Field on November 25, 2021 in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Mike Mulholland/Getty Images)
    Mike Mulholland/Getty Images

    By trading away Khalil Mack, the Chicago Bears opened the door for third-year edge-rusher Trevis Gipson to shine.

    Gipson looked fantastic during his limited reps last year, tallying seven sacks while playing fewer than 50 percent of Chicago’s defensive snaps.

    At 6’4” and 253 pounds, Gipson has the frame and athleticism to speed-rush past his defenders and cause chaos in the backfield.

    The Tulsa product was a disruptive force in his sophomore NFL campaign, notching 17 pressures, eight hurries, seven tackles for a loss, five forced fumbles and a quarterback knockdown in addition to his impressive sack count.

    If the Bears don't trade Robert Quinn, he and Gipson should form one of the more dangerous pass-rushing tandems in the league. Gipson appears to be a star in the making and could become a household name if he continues his current trajectory.

Cincinnati Bengals: TE Hayden Hurst

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    ATLANTA, GA  DECEMBER 26:  Atlanta tight end Hayden Hurst (81) catches a fourth quarter touchdown pass during the NFL game between the Detroit Lions and the Atlanta Falcons on December 26th, 2021 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, GA.  (Photo by Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
    Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

    The Cincinnati Bengals elected not to retain C.J. Uzomah in free agency. They instead signed 2018 first-round pick Hayden Hurst to a one-year, $3.5 million deal to replace him.

    While Hurst has gotten off to a relatively disappointing start, he’ll have a chance to turn his career around in Cincinnati. The 28-year-old spent the last two seasons with the Atlanta Falcons and caught a career-high 56 passes for 571 yards and six touchdowns in 2020.

    Hurst hauled in only 26 receptions for 221 yards and three scores last season, but the Falcons collectively took a step back during a down campaign. The 6’4”, 260-pound tight end still has a shot at living up to his first-round billing, particularly now that he'll be catching passes from Bengals star quarterback Joe Burrow.

    According to James Rapien of All Bengals, head coach Zac Taylor said he has “high expectations” for Hurst. The South Carolina product is gearing up to play in his third system in six years, but Taylor claimed the tight end quickly grasped his squad’s offense during spring practices.

    That understanding, coupled with his athleticism and pass-catching skills, should help Hurst reach new highs while serving as the Bengals' first-string tight end.

Cleveland Browns: LB Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah

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    CLEVELAND, OH - DECEMBER 12: Cleveland Browns linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah (28) on the field during the fourth quarter of the National Football League game between the Baltimore Ravens and Cleveland Browns on December 12, 2021, at FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland, OH. (Photo by Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
    Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

    The Cleveland Browns pulled off one of the steals of the 2021 draft when they selected Notre Dame linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah at No. 52 overall.

    The rangy linebacker wasn’t as impactful last season as Cleveland might have hoped due to nagging injuries. However, he displayed plenty of promise and finished second on the team in tackles despite missing three games and starting only 10 times.

    JOK made some plays last year as well, generating five pressures, defensing four passes, forcing two fumbles and collecting 1.5 sacks across his 598 defensive snaps. The Notre Dame product whiffed on 17.4 percent of his tackles as a rookie, but he should improve that figure this season.

    Owusu-Koramoah still has the size, speed, athleticism and instincts that made him a prized prospect. If he can stay healthy, the Browns should have one of the league’s better linebackers anchoring the middle of their defense in 2022.

Dallas Cowboys: RB Tony Pollard

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    ARLINGTON, TEXAS - JANUARY 02: Tony Pollard #20 of the Dallas Cowboys carries the ball against Dennis Gardeck #45 of the Arizona Cardinals in the second half at AT&T Stadium on January 02, 2022 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
    Tom Pennington/Getty Images

    Ezekiel Elliott is no longer the game-changing running back that he was early in his career. After he averaged a career-low 58.9 yards per game on the ground last season and barely reached the 1,000-yard mark despite playing in all 17 games, the Dallas Cowboys are ready to give Tony Pollard a much bigger share of the carries.

    According to Clarence E. Hill Jr. of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Pollard was informed that he'll be receiving a larger role on offense. He was spotted doing drills as both a running back and receiver during OTAs as he prepares for a campaign in which he will line up in the backfield and in the slot.

    Pollard has been a much more efficient back than Elliott in each of his first three seasons. The 25-year-old just averaged a career-best 5.5 yards per carry while racking up 719 yards and two touchdowns on only 130 carries. He also showed his value as a pass-catching back with 39 receptions for 337 yards.

    Pollard finished with only 27.5 percent of the Cowboys' carries last season, but he should be in line for a bigger workload this year. PFF gave Pollard the highest rushing grade of any running back last season.

    Pollard will likely wind up closing the gap with Elliott and receive a more even split of carries this year. The Cowboys will have to rely on their backfield more heavily than they have in recent years after trading away Amari Cooper this offseason, but the Memphis product should help in that regard.

Denver Broncos: WR Jerry Jeudy

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    DENVER, CO - NOVEMBER 14: Denver Broncos wide receiver Jerry Jeudy (10) runs after a catch during a game between the Denver Broncos and the Philadelphia Eagles at Empower Field at Mile High on November 14, 2021 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Dustin Bradford/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
    Dustin Bradford/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

    The Denver Broncos will finally get a chance to see their talented receiving corps on full display during the 2022 season.

    Denver's wideouts have been held back by a string of middling quarterbacks ever since Peyton Manning retired prior to the 2016 season. The Broncos aimed to rectify that issue by acquiring former Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson in a blockbuster trade.

    Jerry Jeudy may be the biggest benefactor of this upgrade under center. The wideout is oozing with potential but has caught only 90 passes for 1,323 yards and three touchdowns since coming into the league as a first-round pick in 2020.

    The 23-year-old now has a chance to work with an elite quarterback for the first time in his career. He should see a major spike in production with Wilson running the offense after suffering through tough years with Teddy Bridgewater and Drew Lock under center.

    Jeudy should be back to full strength after suffering a high ankle sprain in Week 1 last year, which forced him to miss six games and limited him upon his return in Week 8. The Alabama product’s health and upside combine to make him one of the biggest breakout prospects of this upcoming season.

Detroit Lions: CB Jeffrey Okudah

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    GLENDALE, ARIZONA - SEPTEMBER 27: Jeff Okudah #30 of the Detroit Lions celebrates after tackling DeAndre Hopkins #10 of the Arizona Cardinals during the first quarter at State Farm Stadium on September 27, 2020 in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images)
    Norm Hall/Getty Images

    Detroit Lions cornerback Jeff Okudah is dangerously close to being labeled one of the bigger draft busts in recent history. After participating in only 10 games over his first two seasons and struggling when he has been active, he needs a breakout year to reverse his fortunes.

    Okudah has only 51 tackles, three pass defenses and a single interception since the Lions took him with the No. 3 overall pick in 2020. The Ohio State product has allowed 44 of the 57 targets he’s faced to be completed for 703 yards and three touchdowns.

    The 23-year-old earned an abysmal 42.5 PFF grade as a rookie and posted a still-concerning 53.0 grade in his lone game as a sophomore. Okudah went down with a core muscle injury in 2020 and tore his Achilles tendon in the 2021 opener, but head coach Dan Campbell told ESPN's Eric Woodyard that the corner should be healthy in time for the start of the 2022 campaign.

    Fellow Lions cornerback Amani Oruwariye believes Okudah will make an “immediate impact” when he gets back on the field, according to John Maakaron of SI.com.

    The Lions used such a high pick on Okudah due to his unteachable blend of size (6’1”, 202 pounds), athleticism and quickness. If he improved his recognition abilities while studying film and rehabilitating, Okudah could be one of the NFL’s most improved players this coming season.

Green Bay Packers: WR Amari Rodgers

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    BALTIMORE, MD - DECEMBER 19: Packers wide receiver/punt returner Amari Rodgers (8) returns a kickoff during the Green Bay Packers versus Baltimore Ravens NFL game at M&T Bank Stadium on December 19, 2021 in Baltimore, MD. (Photo by Randy Litzinger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
    Randy Litzinger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

    After losing wideouts Davante Adams and Marquez Valdes-Scantling this offseason, the Green Bay Packers need someone else to fill that void. Amari Rodgers could be in line for a much bigger role as a result.

    The 2021 third-round pick was projected to be the team’s slot receiver and return specialist as a rookie. But after the Packers traded for Randall Cobb, they used Rodgers almost exclusively on special teams. He played only 103 offensive snaps in 16 games, catching four of his eight targets for 45 yards and rushing once for 11 yards.

    According to Brad Senkiw of All Clemson, Rodgers admitted he lost confidence as a rookie, but he's ready to be successful in his second season. He said he’s improved his conditioning and fitness during the offseason, dedicating himself in the gym after a disappointing first year.

    That hard work should pay off for the Clemson product. His role should expand in 2022 even with Cobb returning for his 12th season given how thin the team at wide receiver.

    With reigning MVP Aaron Rodgers returning to the fold on a new contract, the 22-year-old wideout finds himself in a great situation and should get plenty of opportunities to showcase his talents.

Houston Texans: Edge Jonathan Greenard

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    GLENDALE, ARIZONA - OCTOBER 24: Defensive end Jonathan Greenard #52 of the Houston Texans reacts after a defensive stop during the game against the Arizona Cardinals at State Farm Stadium on October 24, 2021 in Glendale, Arizona. The Cardinals beat the Texans 31-5.  (Photo by Chris Coduto/Getty Images)
    Chris Coduto/Getty Images

    Jonathan Greenard was one of the few bright spots for a dismal Houston Texans team last year.

    The second-year edge-rusher played only 413 defensive snaps during the 12 games he appeared in, but he dominated when he was on the field. He racked up 33 tackles, nine tackles for a loss, 19 pressures, 12 quarterback hits, eight sacks, five knockdowns, four pass defenses and a pair of forced fumbles.

    Those are impressive numbers for a third-round pass-rusher on a bad defense, and they should only improve with more action in 2022.

    Standing a sturdy 6’3” and 263 pounds with long arms, Greenard has both the strength and athleticism to become a regular Pro Bowler if he continues at this pace.

    The 25-year-old possesses the type of deep and varied move set that most young edge defenders lack, which allows him to beat his defender in several ways. He’s only going to improve with more reps, which the Texans should have no issues giving him as they continue their rebuild in 2022.

Indianapolis Colts: Edge Kwity Paye

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    INDIANAPOLIS, INDIANA - OCTOBER 17: Davis Mills #10 of the Houston Texans runs with the ball against Kwity Paye #51 of the Indianapolis Colts in the second half at Lucas Oil Stadium on October 17, 2021 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images)
    Michael Hickey/Getty Images

    The Indianapolis Colts have one of the league’s most intriguing pass-rushers coming up for their defense.

    Kwity Paye, the No. 21 pick in 2021, made an early impact as rookie. He started in all 15 games that he played and racked up 32 tackles, three tackles for a loss, 16 pressures, 10 quarterback hits, six knockdowns, five hurries, four sacks, two fumble recoveries and a forced fumble.

    While those are decent numbers for a first-year edge-rusher, Paye has the potential to make a massive leap in 2022. The Michigan product had little support last year, but PFF still gave him the highest pass-rushing grade on Indy’s roster and a top-35 grade league-wide.

    Paye is in line for a boost in production due to Indy’s addition of Yannick Ngakoue in free agency. The proven veteran should alleviate some attention on the second-year defender.

    With more support around him and another offseason of preparation, Paye could cement himself as one the NFL’s most feared pass-rushers this season.

Jacksonville Jaguars: QB Trevor Lawrence

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    JACKSONVILLE, FL - JANUARY 09: Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Trevor Lawrence (16) makes a pass on the run during the game between the Indianapolis Colts and the Jacksonville Jaguars on January 9, 2022 at TIAA Bank Field in Jacksonville, FL (Photo by Icon Sportswire)
    Icon Sportswire

    The Jacksonville Jaguars were nothing short of a mess last year. Urban Meyer’s disastrous stint as head coach and a general lack of talent on the roster may have hamstrung the start of Trevor Lawrence’s career, but the No. 1 overall pick in 2021 is poised for a breakout sophomore season.

    The Clemson product went only gone 3-14 as a starter last season while completing 59.6 percent of his passes for 3,641 yards and 12 touchdowns against 17 interceptions and 32 sacks. However, he noticeably polished up his game throughout the season and looked far more comfortable late in the year.

    Over the final month of the campaign, Lawrence had only one outing in which he threw any interceptions. He completed 64.7 percent of his passes for 906 yards and three touchdowns during that four-game stretch.

    The 22-year-old made the best of a tough situation, showing incremental improvement each week while adjusting to NFL defenses and a new offensive system.

    With more weapons around him—the Jaguars brought in Christian Kirk and Evan Engram in free agency and get Travis Etienne back after the first-round running back missed his entire rookie campaign with an injury—and a proven NFL head coach in Doug Pederson, Lawrence should build on his promising finish to last season and pick up right where he left off to start the 2022 campaign.

Kansas City Chiefs: WR Mecole Hardman

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    KANSAS CITY, MO - JANUARY 23: Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Mecole Hardman (17) runs to the end zone during the AFC Divisional Round playoff game against the Buffalo Bills on January 23rd, 2022 at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by William Purnell/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
    William Purnell/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

    The Kansas City Chiefs heavily relied on Tyreek Hill to shoulder their pass-catching load over the last half-decade. After trading the three-time All-Pro this offseason, the Chiefs may now put more of that on Mecole Hardman's plate.

    Hardman has been a tantalizing talent during his first three years in the league, making some big plays but struggling with consistency as a receiver. He’s coming off a career-best season, although he still finished with only 59 catches for 693 yards and a pair of touchdowns.

    The Chiefs will need Hardman to become more reliable now that Hill is gone. The 5’10”, 187-pound burner can not only take the top off defenses and exploit mismatches with slower corners, but he also has a familiarity with quarterback Patrick Mahomes that the slew of free-agent pickups and rookies Kansas City brought in lack.

    After seeing 83 targets last year, Hardman’s volume should see a massive bump this coming season. If the 24-year-old shows he can handle the No. 1 role in this offense, he has a legitimate chance to emerge as a star.

Las Vegas Raiders: S Trevon Moehrig

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    LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - NOVEMBER 14: Trevon Moehrig #25 of the Las Vegas Raiders breaks  during the second half in the game at Allegiant Stadium on November 14, 2021 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Getty Images)
    Chris Unger/Getty Images

    The Las Vegas Raiders appear poised to take a step forward on offense after hiring Josh McDaniels as head coach and trading for star wideout Davante Adams, but a safety could be their breakout player in 2022.

    Trevon Moehrig is one of the most promising talents on the Raiders’ roster following a strong rookie performance. The 2021 second-round pick started all 17 games last season and piled up 55 tackles, six pass defenses and an interception.

    The 23-year-old didn’t miss a single defensive snap and was equally reliable in coverage, allowing only 14 of the 24 passes he was targeted on to be completed for 181 yards and two touchdowns.

    Moehrig will be an anchor for a secondary that has some tough challenges on the horizon. With Russell Wilson joining the AFC West this offseason, Vegas’ defensive backs will be facing a slew of elite quarterbacks in 2022.

    Fortunately, Moehrig should only be better this season, elevating a secondary that will need to be locked in to make another playoff run.

Los Angeles Chargers: CB Asante Samuel Jr.

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    INGLEWOOD, CALIFORNIA - OCTOBER 31: Asante Samuel Jr. #26 of the Los Angeles Chargers warms up before the game against the New England Patriots at SoFi Stadium on October 31, 2021 in Inglewood, California. (Photo by Meg Oliphant/Getty Images)
    Meg Oliphant/Getty Images

    Injuries cost Asante Samuel Jr. a significant portion of his rookie season, but the young cornerback gave a glimpse of his potential during the 12 games he appeared in.

    If the 2021 second-rounder can stay healthy this season, the Los Angeles Chargers are primed to get a nice return on their investment.

    The 22-year-old already proved his lack of size—he's only 5’10” and 180 pounds—wasn’t a deterrent to providing rock-solid coverage. He allowed a 62.1 percent completion rate when targeted, giving up 479 yards and four touchdowns last year.

    Samuel flashed playmaking skills and tackling ability in equal measure, securing a pair of picks to go along with 11 pass defenses and 43 tackles. The Bolts should feel secure in Samuel’s ability to continue manning an outside cornerback slot across from free-agent pickup J.C. Jackson, but he can also cover the slot if needed.

    If Samuel can stay healthy, Los Angeles will boast one of the most reliable sets of starting corners in the NFL.

Los Angeles Rams: LB Ernest Jones

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    HOUSTON, TX - OCTOBER 31: Los Angeles Rams linebacker Ernest Jones (50) celebrates after a interception during a game between the Los Angeles Rams and the Houston Texans at NRG Stadium on October 31, 2021 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Jordon Kelly/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
    Jordon Kelly/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

    Although the Los Angeles Rams haven’t had much draft capital following a series of blockbuster trades, the organization has unearthed a surprising amount of value with its precious few picks. They might have found another gem in linebacker Ernest Jones, the No. 13 overall pick last year.

    The South Carolina product appeared in 15 games as a rookie, starting seven of them, and tallied 61 tackles, four pass defenses, two interceptions and a sack while playing only 43 percent of the Rams' defensive snaps.

    Jones came up big for the Rams late in the season, providing a reliable option in the middle after the team struggled to get consistent linebacker play earlier in the year.

    He had one of his best games in the Super Bowl, logging 57 snaps and accumulating seven tackles, two tackles for a loss, a trio of quarterback hits and a pass deflection to help L.A. capture the Lombardi Trophy.

    The Rams can now pencil Jones in as a starter alongside free-agent pickup and future Hall of Famer Bobby Wagner. Their linebacker corps has been one of the weaker points on an otherwise standout defense in recent seasons, but that should no longer be the case this year.

Miami Dolphins: WR Jaylen Waddle

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    MIAMI GARDENS, FLORIDA - JANUARY 09: Jaylen Waddle #17 of the Miami Dolphins in action against the New England Patriots at Hard Rock Stadium on January 09, 2022 in Miami Gardens, Florida. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
    Michael Reaves/Getty Images

    The Miami Dolphins spared no expense upgrading their offense this offseason. While pricey additions like Tyreek Hill will help them in their quest to return to the postseason, one of their best weapons is a holdover from last year's squad.

    Wideout Jaylen Waddle made an immediate imprint after the Dolphins selected him with the No. 6 overall pick last year. Although Miami was a middle-of-the-road passing offense and scored only 21 times through the air last year, the Alabama product led the team in receptions (104), targets (140) and receiving yards (1,015).

    Waddle displayed impressive chemistry with quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, whom the Dolphins have since committed to this offseason. With Hill now helping to keep defenses honest, Waddle should feast against single coverage and lesser cornerbacks in 2022.

    Don’t be surprised if he makes the first of what should be a string of Pro Bowl appearances following a breakout season.

Minnesota Vikings: CB Cameron Dantzler

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    MINNEAPOLIS, MN - OCTOBER 31: Minnesota Vikings Cornerback Cameron Dantzler (27) looks on during a game between the Minnesota Vikings and Dallas Cowboys on October 31, 2021, at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, MN. (Photo by Nick Wosika/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
    Nick Wosika/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

    Few players should be happier than Cameron Dantzler about the Minnesota Vikings’ decision to make a regime change this offseason. The third-year pro was clearly Minnesota’s best cornerback last year, but he started only seven games and was even a healthy scratch in Week 1.

    Dantzler’s stat line—53 tackles, eight pass defenses, one forced fumble and one interception— doesn’t tell the full story of his coverage skills . The 23-year-old allowed a meager 54.1 percent completion rate to opposing quarterbacks, giving up only 349 yards and three touchdowns across the 686 defensive snaps he played.

    The 6’2”, 190-pound defensive back has the build and athleticism to lock down almost any wideout. He still needs to work on his consistency, but a fresh start with a new coaching staff should do wonders for Dantzler.

    Dantzler should play a major role on this revamped defense along with second-round pick Andrew Booth Jr. If both enjoy the breakout seasons many are projecting, the tandem could make life difficult for opposing offenses for years to come.

New England Patriots: S Kyle Dugger

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    FOXBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS - NOVEMBER 14: Kyle Dugger #23 of the New England Patriots looks on during the game against the Cleveland Browns  at Gillette Stadium on November 14, 2021 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
    Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

    The New England Patriots lost one of their most reliable contributors when longtime safety Patrick Chung retired following the 2020 campaign. After some searching, the club seems to have finally developed an in-house replacement with Kyle Dugger.

    The Patriots raised some eyebrows when they took Dugger in the second round out of Lenoir-Rhyne University back in 2020. While it took him some time to get up to speed after playing Division II ball—he logged only 518 defensive snaps as a rookie—the 26-year-old made a noticeable leap last season.

    Dugger appeared in 15 games (including 13 starts) and amassed 92 tackles, five tackles for a loss, five pass defenses, four interceptions and a fumble recovery. PFF gave him a grade of 71.8, an improvement over the 64.1 he posted as a rookie.

    Dugger’s strength is clearly his tackling. He missed only 8.9 percent of his attempts this past year while recording at least five tackles in all but four of his 15 games. He appears to be more comfortable with his role and will rarely give up a big play now that he’s adapted to the pro game.

    While Dugger still needs to hone his coverage skills—he gave up 32 completions for 295 yards and three touchdowns on 50 targets last season—the rising star safety will likely shine even brighter in 2022.

New Orleans Saints: DL Payton Turner

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    LANDOVER, MARYLAND - OCTOBER 10: Payton Turner #98 of the New Orleans Saints celebrates after a game against the Washington Football Team at FedExField on October 10, 2021 in Landover, Maryland. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
    Rob Carr/Getty Images

    New Orleans Saints defensive lineman Payton Turner had a rough rookie year. The 2021 No. 28 overall pick played in only five games because of calf, elbow and shoulder injuries.

    Now that he's healthy again, he's a prime candidate to break out in 2022.

    A late riser in the predraft process due to his strong testing numbers, Turner quickly rewarded the Saints’ faith in his abilities. In his NFL debut, the 6’6”, 270-pound lineman compiled five pressures, three tackles for a loss and a sack while playing only 31 snaps.

    Although Turner isn't the most powerful player, he can line up at several positions in New Orleans’ defensive scheme. That versatility will increase as he gets more experience and adds some bulk to his frame.

    Turner’s upside on the edge is undeniably high despite a rather limited pass-rushing moveset. The 24-year-old displayed growth in that area last year, and the Saints will want him to continue honing those skills this summer.

    The Houston product has all of the physical traits to be an excellent defender capable of filling several roles at a high level. If Turner can stay healthy and expand his repertoire, he will be a nightmare for opposing offenses to deal with.

New York Giants: WR Kadarius Toney

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    ARLINGTON, TEXAS - OCTOBER 10: Kadarius Toney #89 of the New York Giants fights for yards during the third quarter against the Dallas Cowboys at AT&T Stadium on October 10, 2021 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Richard Rodriguez/Getty Images)
    Richard Rodriguez/Getty Images

    New York Giants wideout Kadarius Toney is off to a polarizing start to his NFL career. He had some memorable outings as a rookie but was held back by inconsistency, some immature moments and health.

    Toney’s best performance came against the Dallas Cowboys in Week 5. He exploded for 10 catches and 189 yards against Big Blue’s NFC East rival, exploiting soft spots in the Dallas defense and beating All-Pro cornerback Trevon Diggs several times in one-on-one matchups.

    The Florida product was also ejected from that contest after he threw a punch at safety Damonte Kazee, a disappointing end to an otherwise masterful showing. Toney then struggled to replicate his production from that game going forward, failing to top 40 yards in any game over the rest of the season and never once finding the end zone.

    Toney missed seven games with ankle, quad, oblique and shoulder injuries, and he underwent knee surgery in May that kept him sidelined during OTAs. His outlook is better in 2022, as he’ll be one of the focal points in an offense that should improve courtesy of a regime change.

    With head coach Joe Judge and offensive coordinator Jason Garrett being replaced by Brian Daboll and Mike Kafka, respectively, the G-Men should feature a much more creative and explosive scheme than the one they used in recent years.

    Expect the Giants to work diligently to get Toney the ball this season, even if it takes a variety of screens, sweeps and gadget plays to make it happen. The 23-year-old is an electrifying playmaker who was woefully underutilized as a rookie, which this new coaching staff should quickly rectify.

New York Jets: WR Elijah Moore

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    EAST RUTHERFORD, NEW JERSEY - DECEMBER 05:  Elijah Moore #8 of the New York Jets attempts to catch a pass against the Philadelphia Eagles at MetLife Stadium on December 05, 2021 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Steven Ryan/Getty Images)
    Steven Ryan/Getty Images

    By drafting Elijah Moore last year, the New York Jets secured one of the most dynamic wideouts on the board and a player who could develop into a superstar.

    Despite his upside, the Ole Miss product failed to get in sync with fellow rookie Zach Wilson early on, catching just one pass on four targets for minus-three yards in the season opener.

    By Week 7, Moore had totaled only nine receptions for 79 yards.

    But in Weeks 8-13, Moore went off for 459 yards and five touchdowns on 34 catches. The 22-year-old was sidelined with a quad injury after that, ending the promising surge on a sour note.

    He will be back and better than ever this year as part of a loaded Gang Green offense, a unit that finally seems ready to carry the team out of its rebuild.

    The Jets drafted another potential star wideout in Garrett Wilson at No. 10 this year. His presence—along with Corey Davis and Braxton Berrios—will make it impossible for defenses to focus on Moore, creating an opportunity for the shifty playmaker to shine.

Philadelphia Eagles: RB Kenneth Gainwell

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    TAMPA, FL - JANUARY 16: Philadelphia Eagles running back Kenneth Gainwell (14) looks on during the game between the Philadelphia Eagles and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on January 16, 2022 at  Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, FL. (Photo by Andy Lewis/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
    Andy Lewis/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

    The Philadelphia Eagles were one of the best rushing teams in the league last year. But rookie running back Kenny Gainwell never carved out a role.

    Gainwell did have encouraging showings—including the season finale in which he drew his lone start and had 12 carries for 78 yards and a score—and made nice plays as a receiver out of the backfield, finishing with 253 yards and a touchdown on 33 receptions.

    Because of starter Miles Sanders' well-known durability issues—he appeared in only 12 games in each of the last two seasons—and backup Boston Scott's limitations as a pass-catcher, the door could open for Gainwell to become the feature back.

    No team ran the ball more than the Eagles last season—they rushed on nearly half of their offensive snaps—and that trend is likely to continue after the ground game led Philadelphia to a playoff appearance.

    Even if the club continues to use a committee approach, Gainwell should get enough volume to separate himself from the pack as a versatile option out of the backfield.

Pittsburgh Steelers: TE Pat Freiermuth

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    KANSAS CITY, MO - JANUARY 16: Pittsburgh Steelers tight end Pat Freiermuth (88) in the first quarter of an AFC wild card playoff game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Kansas City Chiefs on Jan 16, 2022 at GEHA Field at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, MO. (Photo by Scott Winters/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
    Scott Winters/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

    It's notoriously difficult for a rookie tight end to make an immediate impact in the NFL. Few have made the college-to-pros transition look as easy as Pat Freiermuth did during his first campaign with the Pittsburgh Steelers last year.

    The Penn State product established himself as an up-and-coming player, appearing in 16 games and drawing nine starts while catching 60 of his 79 targets for 497 yards and seven touchdowns. After sharing time with Eric Ebron for the first half of the season, Freiermuth is now the unquestioned No. 1 option.

    He will likely log more snaps after earning just 683. The 23-year-old's statistics and playing time will see a bump after Pittsburgh elected not to retain Ebron in free agency.

    Freiermuth largely worked as a safety valve for Ben Roethlisberger during the quarterback's final season. The offensive line barely gave the signal-caller time to get the ball out, so Freiermuth averaged 8.3 yards per reception.

    Even with the Steelers transitioning to a new quarterback, that figure could improve significantly thanks guard James Daniels and center Mason Cole joining the offensive line.

    Thanks to his hulking size and large catch radius, the 6'5", 258-pounder will remain a focal point in the red area regardless of which signal-caller wins the starting job.

San Francisco 49ers: QB Trey Lance

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    SANTA CLARA, CALIFORNIA - JANUARY 02: Trey Lance #5 of the San Francisco 49ers warms up before the game against the Houston Texans at Levi's Stadium on January 02, 2022 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images)
    Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images

    The San Francisco 49ers are ready to enter a new era with Trey Lance. While Jimmy Garoppolo remains on the roster, it's Lance's time to shine in the Bay Area.

    The second-year signal-caller's unique skill set will allow the Niners to get creative with their play-calling. The team already features one of the most unique offenses in football under Kyle Shanahan, but the head coach has been limited by Garoppolo's inability to create on the move the way Lance can.

    The No. 3 pick in 2021 earned valuable starting reps as a rookie, replacing the injured Garoppolo twice and leading the team to a 1-1 record.

    Lance completed 41 of 71 passes for 603 yards and five touchdowns against two interceptions, adding 168 yards and a score on 38 rushes.

    That experience will only help Lance hit the ground running in Year 2. According to Jennifer Lee Chan of NBC Sports Bay Area, NFL analyst and former 49ers fullback Michael Robinson said Lance will lift his offense in a way no other quarterback has in a decade:

    "I truly believe that if you have a quarterback with some movement skills like a Trey Lance, it just takes this Kyle Shanahan offense to new heights.

    "I don't think we've seen it since maybe when RG3 was running this style of system. That wasn't truly able to evolve to what it was capable of because the next year he got hurt. Trey Lance, once he owns this offense, I think the sky is the limit for the team."

    The 6'4", 224-pounder has a cannon arm and quickness that few other quarterbacks can match. While he was criticized for facing lesser competition during his collegiate days at North Dakota State, Lance has already proved capable of navigating defenses.

    With a full training camp to prep as the starter and Shanahan guiding him, Lance is ready to have a breakout season.

Seattle Seahawks: Edge Darrell Taylor

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    PITTSBURGH, PA - OCTOBER 17:  Darrell Taylor #52 of the Seattle Seahawks in action against the Pittsburgh Steelers on October 17, 2021 at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
    Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

    The Seattle Seahawks may not contend for the Super Bowl this season after trading superstar quarterback Russell Wilson, but they aren't devoid of talent. There are still promising young players who will serve as cornerstones to rebuild around.

    One of those potential building blocks is edge defender Darrell Taylor. A second-round pick in 2020, Taylor missed his rookie year while recovering from a stress fracture in his shin.

    After working his way back, Taylor became an instrumental part of the pass-rushing rotation. He tallied four sacks by the first week of October, a particularly impressive feat given he was on the field for a meager 141 snaps in those five games.

    The 25-year-old slowed down after a neck injury cost him one game and never seemed to be fully healthy after. He finished the campaign with 37 tackles, seven tackles for a loss, 13 quarterback hits, 6.5 sacks and a forced fumble.

    Taylor is likely to benefit from Seattle's switch to a 3-4 scheme. The move to outside linebacker will help him avoid being swallowed up by offensive linemen on running plays, one of the weaker aspects of his game last season.

    That schematic change should result in more snaps for Taylor, giving him even more opportunities to go after opposing quarterback. He could reach double-digit sacks while emerging as one of the league's top young edge-rushers.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: TE Cameron Brate

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    TAMPA, FL - JANUARY 16: Tampa Bay Buccaneers Tight End Cameron Brate (84) runs with the ball after making a catch during the NFL Wild Card game between the Philadelphia Eagles and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on January 16, 2022 at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Cliff Welch/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
    Cliff Welch/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

    Rob Gronkowski's decision to retire for a second time has opened the door for Cameron Brate to shine for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

    Brate isn't your prototypical breakout candidate. He's already 30 years old and heading into his ninth season, but the tight end has never had much opportunity to be his team's main option at the position.

    After working behind Gronkowski and O.J. Howard for much of his tenure with Tampa Bay, Brate is now the only proven tight end on the roster. His main competition will come from rookie Cade Otton, a fourth-round pick who worked primarily as a blocker in Washington's run-first offense in college.

    The Tampa Bay receiving corps isn't as deep as it has been in years past either. Mike Evans may be the only high-end option available at the position early in the season while Chris Godwin works his way back from an ACL injury.

    While Brate hasn't caught more than 36 passes or gone over 311 receiving yards since the 2017 season, he is poised to significantly up those numbers. He tied for ninth in red-zone targets last year and could easily ascend to the top five with less competition around him.

    Brate may not become one of the top playmaking tight ends with Travis Kelce and Mark Andrews, but he's in line for a career season and should rank among the most productive players at the position.

Tennessee Titans: OT Dillon Radunz

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    NASHVILLE, TN - AUGUST 28:  Dillon Radunz #75 of the Tennessee Titans jogs off the field during a NFL Preseason game against the Chicago Bears at Nissan Stadium on August 28, 2021 in Nashville, Tennessee.  The Bears defeated the Titans 27-24.  (Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)
    Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

    The Tennessee Titans used a second-round pick on offensive lineman Dillon Radunz last year but failed to give him a real chance to contribute. The North Dakota State product played outside of special teams in only six games despite the team's inconsistent offensive line.

    Radunz's lone start came unexpectedly. He was tabbed against the San Francisco 49ers with Taylor Lewan and Rodger Saffold out. He performed respectably with little preparation against Nick Bosa and the rest of an elite front, a showing that should give him confidence to take over as a full-time starter.

    The 24-year-old might just be the answer the team has been looking for since stalwart right tackle Jack Conklin left following the 2019 season. David Quessenberry filled the role last year but wasn't retained.

    That departure left a void that Radunz appears best suited to fill. Offensive line coach Keith Carter recently praised the improvements Radunz has shown this offseason, saying the second-year pro is in a "good spot" as he competes for a starting right tackle spot.

    PFF graded the Tennessee offensive line as collectively average last year, noting its ability to run-block at a high level, though pass-blocking was a major area of concern.

    The unit rated 31st in pass-blocking efficiency, an area in which it needs to get better if the team is to improve on its early playoff exit after earning the AFC's top seed.

    Radunz could be the anchor this team needs to get back on track and balance its protection.

Washington Commanders: OT Sam Cosmi

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    PHILADELPHIA, PA - DECEMBER 21: Sam Cosmi #76 of the Washington Football Team walks off the field after the game against the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field on December 21, 2021 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
    Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

    The Washington Commanders found a run-blocking force in offensive lineman Sam Cosmi.

    The second-round pick began his career as the team's starting right tackle before going down with the first of several injuries that cost him eight games. Despite the ailments, Cosmi displayed flashes as a high-end run-blocker with the potential to evolve into a more complete protector.

    The 6'6", 309-pounder earned one of PFF's highest run-blocking grades, but Cosmi did allow four sacks and was flagged for two penalties in 474 snaps. His 74.9 grade was promising but showed there is still plenty of room for improvement.

    A clean bill of health will go a long way toward Cosmi's ascent to top-tier offensive lineman. The Texas product never missed time because of injury during his collegiate career, and his injury-riddled rookie campaign is more likely to be remembered as a fluke than an indication of future unavailability.

    Washington needs Cosmi to stay healthy to improve upon a running game that was solid if unspectacular last year. The Commanders averaged the 12th-most yards per game on the ground, but their 4.3 yards per carry ranked 18th, and their 13 rushing touchdowns were the 10th-fewest in the league.

    Getting Cosmi back in the lineup on a full-time basis to clear lanes for Antonio Gibson and protect quarterback Carson Wentz will help this team improve its offensive production.