Hyped NFL Prospects Who Won't Break Out in 2015
With the NFL's spring workout season now in full swing, so too is the season of preseason hype. Despite the fact that players will not even participate in any fully padded practices until July, the league's potential next breakout stars are already being promoted based on how they are performing in shorts and shells.
Given that there has not been a live NFL game played for more than four months, it's easy to get caught up in reports of players performing well in workouts or even just quotes from coaches or teammates giving praise to a player's progress.
In many cases, though, the hype from May and June never materializes once the real games begin in September. Remember last spring, when Jacksonville Jaguars running back Toby Gerhart, Seattle Seahawks running back Christine Michael and San Diego Chargers tight end Ladarius Green were being projected as players on the verge of breakout seasons?
Ultimately, there are likely to be players on every NFL team who fail to live up to the preseason expectations levied upon them by hopeful teammates, coaches and fans. That said, the following handful of players are among those who have already been talked up regularly this offseason yet might not have the abilities or opportunities to do what their supporters think they can.
Tyrod Taylor, QB, Buffalo Bills
As the Buffalo Bills start preparing for their first season under new coach Rex Ryan, one of the rumors out of Orchard Park has been that Tyrod Taylor—an offseason free-agent signing who has zero starts in four NFL seasons—could end up emerging as the No. 1 quarterback for 2015.
According to Sal Maiorana of the Democrat and Chronicle, Taylor has been splitting first-team quarterback repetitions with Matt Cassel and EJ Manuel in organized team activities, and furthermore, "several people within the organization believe Taylor has a great chance to be the man under center on Sept. 13 when the Bills open against the Indianapolis Colts."
Taylor could bring some intriguing qualities to the Bills offense. He is the most athletic quarterback on the roster and has the running ability to offer a true dual threat. He has enough arm strength to be dangerous throwing the ball deep, though Manuel has a stronger arm.
Realistically, though, the biggest reason anyone might be lobbying for Taylor to start is not that he has the skills to be a good starting quarterback, but that he is not known to be bad. In this case, being the unknown commodity gives him promise in comparison to Cassel, who has been subpar as a starting quarterback, and Manuel, who has failed to establish himself as a franchise quarterback through two disappointing seasons to start his career.
A sixth-round pick in the 2011 draft out of Virginia Tech, where he never completed 60 percent or more of his passes in a season, Taylor has no track record of being an accurate downfield passer from the pocket. He did not attempt a single pass in 2014, but when he has seen limited action in the past, he has not put anything on tape to suggest he can be a prolific NFL passer.
Taylor has drawn rave reviews so far this offseason. Bills linebacker Nigel Bradham told SiriusXM NFL Radio on Tuesday that Taylor has "been accurate and he's elusive." In a separate interview with SiriusXM, a Baltimore Ravens running back said, "Don't be surprised if [Taylor] breaks out this year. He's an athletic freak."
All the praise will fade away quickly, however, if Taylor doesn't show significant improvement as a passer when the actual games begin. He deserves a legitimate opportunity to win the starting job, given his underwhelming competition and that he never had a legitimate opportunity to start with the Ravens. Any hopes that Taylor can be the savior to the Bills' quarterback woes, however, will likely prove to be wishful thinking.
Joseph Randle, RB, Dallas Cowboys
The Dallas Cowboys lost arguably the NFL's best running back, DeMarco Murray, in free agency this offseason. Their only additions at the position were Darren McFadden and 2014 practice squad member Ryan Williams, two players whose NFL careers thus far have been derailed by injuries. That leaves Joseph Randle, a fifth-round pick in the 2013 draft, as the projected top candidate to replace Murray in the lineup.
No one thinking rationally would expect Randle to match the 2014 production of Murray, who led the league with 1,845 rushing yards, nearly 500 more than any other NFL running back. But Randle will have to come close, especially in light of his recent comments, to live up to the bar that has been set for him, in part by himself.
In a quote that could look foolish by the end of the season, Randle recently told reporters he "felt like there was a lot of meat left on the bone" by Murray last season, according to Brandon George of the Dallas Morning News.
Randle, for his own part, performed well in limited action. With 343 yards on 51 carries, his 6.7 yards-per-carry average was actually the highest achieved by any non-quarterback with at least 50 rushing attempts last season. However, as Bob Sturm of the Dallas Morning News noted, that average—given Randle's low number of touches—was largely the result of three big-play runs that went for 65, 40 and 38 yards.
Randle is evidently capable of home run plays, but that doesn't mean he can put together a season like last year's by Murray, who averaged 4.7 yards per carry on nearly eight times as many rushing attempts (392, to be exact). With just 105 rushing attempts so far in his career, Randle faces a significant uptick in carries next season, and he will have to prove he can handle it.
It is true that Murray's success benefited from the work of the Cowboys offensive line, which was arguably the best in the NFL last season and could be even better this year with the offseason addition of La'el Collins. But it's also true that Murray, who ran for 998 yards after contact last season and has an outstanding combination of speed, agility and strength, is an elite talent at the running back position.
Because of the unit he will have the privilege to run behind, Randle should have at least moderate success as long as he establishes himself as the lead running back. There likely still will be a significant drop-off at the position for Dallas, however, as he lacks the all-around physical skill set of Murray and faces a big adjustment to being a bell-cow back.
Charles Sims, RB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The fall of Doug Martin from the ranks of the NFL's top ball-carriers has been as precipitous as his rise into it. Projected to be the league's next great running back after gaining 1,454 rushing yards and 472 receiving yards in his rookie season, he has totaled just 960 rushing yards and 130 receiving yards over the course of two injury-riddled seasons since.
As a result, many believe the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will bench Martin, whose fifth-year option was not picked up by the team this offseason, and make Charles Sims, a third-round draft pick last year, their feature running back. While Buccaneers general manager Jason Licht told NBC Sports Radio (h/t JoeBucsFan.com) that the job is Martin's to lose, Buccaneers coaches are reportedly "very high" on Sims, according to ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas.
As Yahoo Sports fantasy football writer Brad Evans recently noted on Twitter, the hype around Sims "could reach Toby Gerhart-proportions as summer heats up." Unless he becomes a significantly more impressive runner than he was as a rookie, Sims could end up being just as disappointing this year as Gerhart was last season, though.
There are some legitimate reasons to be excited about what Sims offers. As he already began to show with 19 receptions for 190 yards last season, he is a skilled pass-catcher out of the backfield. He also has quick feet to cut back and make defenders miss in space.
On the other end of the spectrum, Sims has subpar burst and vision for an NFL running back and is not much of a tackle-breaker. Those limitations were evident even in limited action last season, when he averaged just 2.8 yards per carry over the course of 66 rushing attempts.
Sims projects well as a situational third-down back because of his ability to contribute to the offense as a receiver. He lacks the traits of an NFL feature back, however, and will need to hit holes between the tackles more effectively if he is going to supplant Martin on the depth chart and take on a starring role as a runner in the Buccaneers offense.
Jeff Janis, WR, Green Bay Packers
Hyped up for his performance in practices leading up to his rookie season last year, Jeff Janis ended up playing in just three games and catching just two passes in 2014. Despite that lack of production, the seventh-round draft pick out of Saginaw Valley State is already garnering attention once again heading into his sophomore campaign.
"Jeff Janis is definitely moving forward," Green Bay Packers coach Mike McCarthy said last week, according to Mike Spofford of Packers.com. "I thought he really came on at the end of last year. He was definitely ready to play at that point."
From a physical standpoint, there's a lot to like about Janis. At 6'3" and 219 pounds, he ran a 4.42-second 40-yard dash at the 2014 NFL Scouting Combine, demonstrating a top-tier combination of size and speed.
Janis' game speed, however, doesn't match up with his timed speed. While his measurables alone made him dangerous at the Division II level in college, he has to become a more polished route-runner to consistently gain separation and take advantage of his athleticism in the NFL.
Even if he truly has improved significantly from Year 1 to Year 2, he still could have a tough time getting on the field. The Packers have a terrific top trio of wideouts in Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb and Davante Adams, while 2014 fifth-round pick Jared Abbrederis and 2015 third-round pick Ty Montgomery should both provide stiff competition to Janis for the fourth and fifth spots on the wide receiver depth chart.
While Janis has the advantage of length and long speed over Abbrederis and Montgomery, both of those players showed great ability at the college level to extend plays in space with their open-field agility, which could make them more valuable unless Janis emerges as a deep threat.
Josh Hill, TE, New Orleans Saints
By trading away Jimmy Graham this offseason, the New Orleans Saints lost a player who is not only one of the NFL's best tight ends but one of its most dangerous offensive playmakers. With 386 receptions for 4,752 yards and 51 touchdowns in five seasons with the team, Graham provided a consistent ability to create mismatches, both inside and outside, and be a big-play threat at all levels of the field.
Josh Hill, an undrafted player from Idaho State entering his third NFL season, has the tough task of filling Graham's shoes. Despite having just 20 catches to his name through two NFL seasons, Hill is already being hyped as a breakout player; both ESPN.com and Bleacher Report's Alessandro Miglio have ranked Hill as the league's No. 13 tight end for 2015 in preseason fantasy football rankings.
Much of the hype is the result of Saints coach Sean Payton, who expressed his "love" for Hill to reporters in March, as relayed by ESPN.com's Mike Triplett. "Josh Hill is a player that we value a lot," Payton said, adding, "He's a real good tight end, he's versatile in the running game, in the receiving game, as a special teams player."
As the main replacement for Graham, Hill certainly will play a much bigger role in 2015—Payton said so this past week, according to the Saints' official website—and his production should rise as a result. Expecting Hill to be the same caliber of playmaker as Graham, however, might be stretching it.
Like Graham, Hill has a great combination of height and speed. At 6'5" and 250 pounds, he demonstrates the speed to puncture defenses up the seam and to accumulate yardage after the catch when he has room to run.
What truly makes Graham special, however, is the former basketball player's ability to post up against defenders, box them out and haul in contested catches. Hill, at least in his limited action so far, has not exhibited the same ability. To make a similar level impact as Graham, Hill needs to become better at adjusting to the ball in the air and coming up with catches in traffic.
While he is replacing Graham positionally, he won't necessarily see the same amount of playing time and targets that his predecessor did.
Given the Saints' re-signing of running back Mark Ingram, addition of running back C.J. Spiller and potential addition of tight end Jermaine Gresham (who visited the team Wednesday, according to Triplett), New Orleans seems to be moving toward a more run-heavy offense. That could mean more snaps for traditional tight ends like Ben Watson and Gresham, who are not as athletic and versatile as Hill but are better run-blockers.
Dan Hope is an NFL/NFL draft Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report.