1 Player on Each NFL Team Who Could Break Out Before the 2021 Season Ends

Maurice Moton@@MoeMotonFeatured ColumnistNovember 13, 2021

1 Player on Each NFL Team Who Could Break Out Before the 2021 Season Ends

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    Don't give up on young talent. NFL players need time to develop—some a lot more than others.

    During a season, coaches will notice the growth of a player, which may lead to more opportunities. On the other hand, a rookie starter might struggle before everything clicks for him. 

    Despite slow starts, several players could break out in the second half of the 2021 season if they continue to trend in the right direction or take on bigger roles. 

    We'll highlight a player on each team who's capable of doing so. All of the selections have five or fewer years of pro experience and haven't made a Pro Bowl or an All-Pro roster at an offensive or defensive position. They're unheralded players with opportunities ahead of them or high draft picks from recent classes who have a ton of room for growth.    

Arizona Cardinals: DL Zach Allen

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    Zach Allen missed Weeks 6 and 7 while on the reserve/COVID-19 list, but he's had an expanded role in each of his last three appearances, logging at least 68 percent of the defensive snaps. 

    He made the most of his sizable workload, recording two tackles for loss and a couple of sacks in that span. He'll likely play a big role on the defensive line for most of the second half of the season while J.J. Watt recovers from shoulder surgery. 

    Furthermore, as opposing offensive linemen focus on edge-rushers Chandler Jones and Markus Golden, who have logged 15 combined sacks, Allen will have plenty of opportunities to win one-on-one matchups and take down the quarterback. 

    Thus far, Allen has recorded 17 tackles (11 solo), two tackles for loss, two sacks and a pass breakup. Keep an eye on his pass-rushing production in the coming weeks.

Atlanta Falcons: S Jaylinn Hawkins

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    Jaylinn Hawkins started to leave his mark on the Atlanta Falcons defense in Week 5 against the New York Jets.

    He made his first start of the season against Gang Green, playing every snap and finishing with a tackle and an interception. He had another takeaway in the following outing, picking off Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa in Week 7. 

    Hawkins saw a rise in his snap count over the last three outings, which is notable because rookie second-round safety Richie Grant played just three defensive snaps in the past two contests after seeing the field for 79 percent of the snaps in Week 7. 

    Scott Bair of the Falcons' official website suggested Hawkins is a player to watch.

    "He has a bright future, with the size and smarts to be an excellent, versatile safety in this league," Bair wrote. "He has had some nice moments, and I think there's more on the way."

    If the 6'1", 208-pound Hawkins continues to flash in coverage, he'll hold off Grant as the nickelback in place of Isaiah Oliver, who's out for the season with a knee injury.      

Baltimore Ravens: WR Rashod Bateman

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    Rashod Bateman had a delayed start to the season, missing the first five games because of core-muscle surgery. The Baltimore Ravens haven't wasted any time integrating him into the passing game.

    In all four of his appearances, Bateman commanded at least six targets. He's caught 18 passes for 241 yards. Though the rookie first-rounder hasn't reached the end zone, 15 of his receptions have resulted in first downs. Quarterback Lamar Jackson can depend on him to move the chains in crucial moments.

    Bateman has played at least 55 percent of the offensive snaps in each of his games, so he should maintain a steady role with wide receiver Sammy Watkins back from a hamstring injury.

    The Minnesota product is part of the Ravens' long-term plan, and he's building a solid connection with Jackson that will remain intact through the second half of the term.

Buffalo Bills: RB Devin Singletary

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    The Buffalo Bills offense needs balance, specifically a running back capable of providing a spark on the ground. Quarterback Josh Allen is second on the team in rushing yards (319), averaging 7.1 carries per outing.

    Running backs Devin Singletary and Zack Moss have logged fewer than nine carries in each of the last three games. With that said, the former has shown more burst on the ground, averaging 4.9 yards per attempt compared to the latter's 3.6.

    While the Bills will likely move forward with a two-man backfield, Singletary made the case for an expanded role in Week 9. He caught a career-high seven passes while on the field for 72 percent of the offensive snaps. Moss left the game against the Jacksonville Jaguars in the third quarter because of a concussion.

    If Buffalo struggles to move the ball on the ground, offensive coordinator Brian Daboll doesn't have to rely on Moss in the short passing game. Singletary can handle that responsibility as well. 

    As the more efficient rusher, Singletary has the potential to see a spike in production if the Bills make a concerted effort to establish the run in certain matchups.   

Carolina Panthers: TE Tommy Tremble

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    Tommy Tremble will have every opportunity to make his presence felt in the passing attack.

    Late in September, the Carolina Panthers traded tight end Dan Arnold to the Jaguars, which opened up more offensive snaps for Tremble.

    Since Arnold's departure after Week 3, Tremble has started in every game. He's played at least 51 percent of the snaps for three of the last four contests, which is a slight increase from earlier weeks when he took over the starting job. 

    Tremble only has nine catches for 78 yards and a touchdown. But he's a rookie third-rounder, and the Panthers clearly want him involved in the offense. Of course, his production will hinge upon the performance of quarterback Cam Newton, who's expected to eventually take over for P.J. Walker in place of Sam Darnold (fractured scapula).    

    As an experienced starter, Newton could elevate the aerial attack and develop a connection with Tremble, who has the potential to become a decent big-bodied target (6'4", 250 lbs) on third downs and in the red zone.

Chicago Bears: QB Justin Fields

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    Leading up to Week 3, the Chicago Bears turned the offense over to Justin Fields. Despite some rough starts, he's progressed in the past couple of games.

    In Week 8 against the San Francisco 49ers, Fields showcased the dynamic aspect of his skill set, rushing for 103 yards and a touchdown. He threw for a career-high 291 yards on the Pittsburgh Steelers defense in the following week. During that contest, the rookie signal-caller had several wow moments, connecting with five different pass-catchers on 20-plus-yard completions. 

    The Bears ran the ball 26 times for 136 yards and a touchdown against the Steelers, but Fields added another dimension to the offense with big plays over the top. Despite the 29-27 loss, head coach Matt Nagy seemed pleased with the young signal-caller's late fourth-quarter touchdown drive. 

    "When you talk about the growth for him, the offense and just the team as a whole, that’s a moment," Nagy told reporters. "That's a moment." 

    After the Bears' Week 10 bye, Fields may continue to show progress as he gains more experience. 

Cincinnati Bengals: LB Germaine Pratt

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    Compared to fellow linebacker Logan Wilson, Germaine Pratt's production doesn't jump off the screen, but he's a downhill defender who's played well in an improved Cincinnati Bengals defense.

    Pratt has recorded 45 tackles, five tackles for loss, a forced fumble, a pass breakup and an interception. He's a key cog in the Bengals' ninth-ranked run defense. The third-year pro has also made strides in coverage, allowing an 87.3 passer rating, which is a notable drop from his 111.1 rating last year.

    Since Week 7, Pratt's snap count has trended up, and he took the field for a season-high 92 percent of the plays last week, which bodes well for his outlook through the remainder of the term.

    With a steady workload, Pratt could finish the season with career highs in tackling categories. Thus far, he's matched his number of tackles for loss from the previous campaign.     

Cleveland Browns: WR Donovan Peoples-Jones

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    Because of Odell Beckham Jr.'s departure and wideout Jarvis Landry's role in the slot, Donovan Peoples-Jones will have a prime opportunity to fill a spot on the perimeter.

    Prior to the Browns' decision to part ways with Beckham, Peoples-Jones had shown flashes. In his last three games, he's racked up 11 receptions for 257 yards and three touchdowns.

    At 6'2", 204 pounds, Peoples-Jones is a big-bodied receiver who can stretch the field. He's averaging 20.9 yards per catch for the year. As a probable starter for the remainder of the season, the Michigan product can add some volume to his production. 

    With Landry averaging 10.2 yards per reception as a possession receiver, Peoples-Jones offers a different dimension to the Browns offense. He's already garnered quarterback Baker Mayfield's attention in the passing game, which bodes well for his breakout potential.        

Dallas Cowboys: DT Osa Odighizuwa

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    Osa Odighizuwa has taken advantage of his opportunities with defensive tackles Neville Gallimore (dislocated elbow) and Trysten Hill (torn ACL) recovering from injuries. He opened the season in a starting role and showed promise as an every-down defender.

    The third-round pick is a key cog in the Dallas Cowboys' 10th-ranked run defense and generates pressure on the interior of the defensive line. He's notched 18 tackles (nine solo), four tackles for loss and two sacks while on the field for 63 percent of the snaps. 

    Though Gallimore and Hill could return to the rotation in the near future, Odighizuwa has probably carved out a steady role. Hill, who's back on the practice field, has only started in five games through two seasons. Meanwhile, the Cowboys are being cautious with Gallimore's rehab progress.

    With his workload, Odighizuwa has a chance to finish the season as one of the most productive rookies at his position.    

Denver Broncos: Edge Malik Reed

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    Malik Reed quietly had a solid 2020 campaign, recording eight sacks and 33 quarterback pressures. He could top those numbers this year.

    The Denver Broncos traded star edge-rusher Von Miller to the Los Angeles Rams. Bradley Chubb went into the season with an ankle injury and underwent surgery to address the issue after Week 2. He's still on injured reserve. 

    With Chubb on the sideline and Miller in Los Angeles, Reed can make a name for himself as the lead edge-rusher and key playmaker within the front seven. 

    This season, Reed has played 85 percent of the defensive snaps in a starting role, which gives him a chance to log a career-high in sacks. Currently the lead pass-rusher on the roster, the third-year pro may post big numbers before he goes into the offseason as a restricted free agent. 

Detroit Lions: WR Amon-Ra St. Brown

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    The Detroit Lions will likely acquire wide receivers next offseason, but in the meantime, they can develop one of their young talents currently on the roster.

    The Lions don't have a go-to wideout, so Amon-Ra St. Brown could become a fixture in the passing attack. A month ago, quarterback Jared Goff talked about feeding the rookie more targets: 

    "Saint's done a great job and I think it's our job to get him involved more. It's on me, it's on how we're doing things. We need to get him the ball a little bit, and I think last week we did that (seven catches for 65 yards). [...] He's stepped up and he's a guy that four or five years from now, I expect to be in the tops of the league of guys in the slot or even outside that can make those plays and do those things that you'd like to see him do."

    Though St. Brown's production has leveled off since his 65-yard performance in Week 5, he's played at least 73 percent of the offensive snaps in two of the last three outings.

    Detroit placed Quintez Cephus on injured reserve with a broken collarbone and waived Tyrell Williams with an injury settlement. Even though the Lions claimed wideout Josh Reynolds, Goff's former Rams teammate, St. Brown should have plenty of opportunities through the remainder of the season.  

Green Bay Packers: WR Allen Lazard

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    Before the Green Bay Packers placed Allen Lazard on the reserve/COVID-19 list, he caught touchdown passes in consecutive outings. The fourth-year wideout also saw an increase in his snap count and played a season-high 91 percent of the offensive plays in Week 7.

    In his Week 9 return, Lazard scored a touchdown with Jordan Love under center. Once Aaron Rodgers (reserve/COVID-19 list) rejoins the team, expect him to continue building a rapport with the young receiver. 

    Tight end Robert Tonyan, who is third on the team in targets (29), tore his ACL in Week 8. Even with Marquez Valdes-Scantling back from a hamstring injury, Lazard will likely soak up some targets, especially in the red zone because of his 6'5", 227-pound frame. 

    Furthermore, over the last four years, Lazard has had a much better catch rate (70.2 percent) than Valdes-Scantling (50 percent), so we shouldn't be surprised to see Rodgers lean on the former as the No. 2 outside receiver behind Davante Adams.     

Houston Texans: WR Nico Collins

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    Nico Collins turned heads during the offseason. He had a chance to command a steady number of targets after wideout Anthony Miller suffered a shoulder injury and then lost his roster spot in early October, but that didn't happen.

    Collins sat out between Weeks 3 and 5 with a shoulder injury. Shortly after his return, he played through an ankle issue. On top of that, the rookie wideout had to build a connection with a fellow 2021 draftee in quarterback Davis Mills, who replaced an injured Tyrod Taylor in Week 2. 

    Still, Collins has flashed in glimpses, hauling in 13 passes for 152 yards over the last four games. His snap count has trended up in that stretch. 

    Though Taylor had a rough outing in Week 9 in his return from a six-game absence, he could build a rapport with Collins once he's settled in the pocket. They connected on a 32-yard pitch-and-catch completion in Week 2, which may be an indicator for some big plays in the upcoming games.

    Collins has some momentum and a developing role in the passing attack. He has a shot to complement speedy wideout Brandin Cooks as Taylor's 6'4" 215-pound big-bodied target.   

Indianapolis Colts: Edge Kwity Paye

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    Coming out of Michigan, Kwity Paye didn't have impressive sack numbers, logging 6.5 through his junior term and two in four games in 2020. He went into the 2021 draft as a solid run-stopper and versatile defender who can line up in multiple spots across the defensive line.

    Thus far, Paye has remained true to his collegiate mold, logging 16 tackles, one tackle for loss, a pass breakup and two fumble recoveries. He hasn't generated much pocket pressure but had a couple of close encounters in a matchup with the Jets last week, notching two quarterback hits

    In Week 3, Paye suffered a hamstring injury that kept him out for two weeks, which may have stalled his progress a bit. However, in each of the last three games, he's played at least 70 percent of the defensive snaps. With that workload, the rookie first-rounder could take a significant leap in his development as a pass-rusher.    

Jacksonville Jaguars: TE Dan Arnold

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    The Jaguars acquired Dan Arnold from the Panthers late in September, and he's made an immediate impact with his new club.

    In three of his five games with the Jaguars, Arnold has finished with 60-plus receiving yards. He's not going to earn a Pro Bowl nod with that production rate, but the fourth-year tight end may see a steady increase in his production with an offense that leans on the pass more than the run.

    The Jaguars rank 12th in pass attempts, so Arnold should have plenty of opportunities to top 100 receiving yards as he builds his connection with rookie quarterback Trevor Lawrence.

    Arnold has played 61 percent of the offensive snaps in Jacksonville. Since Week 5, he's commanded 30 targets. Look for him to finish within the top three on the team in catches and receiving yards behind wideouts Marvin Jones Jr. and Laviska Shenault Jr.  

Kansas City Chiefs: LB Willie Gay

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    The Kansas City Chiefs need an emerging defender who can contribute on all three downs. The club ranks 21st against the pass and run.

    Willie Gay can help turn around a bottom-tier unit with his versatile skill set. He could come downhill to plug holes in the run defense and drop into coverage to defend tight ends and chase down running backs.

    Since his Week 5 return from a toe injury, Gay has recorded 16 tackles, two pass breakups and two interceptions. He forced those turnovers in two of the last three outings, which underscores his second-year development. The Mississippi State product didn't record a takeaway in coverage during his rookie term. 

    In recent weeks, the coaching staff put more trust in Gay, expanding his role. He's logged at least 63 percent of the defensive snaps in three consecutive outings. That's a significant increase from playing 25 percent of the snaps last year.

Las Vegas Raiders: WR Hunter Renfrow

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    Last week, the Las Vegas Raiders released wideout Henry Ruggs III, who's facing five charges, including four felonies, as a result of a car crash that killed Tina Tintor and her dog, per TMZ Sports.

    The Raiders signed wideout DeSean Jackson to bolster the wide receiver group. Bryan Edwards isn't a consistent playmaker with 18 catches for 346 yards and a touchdown this season. In 34 games with the Silver and Black, Zay Jones has 41 receptions for 436 yards and two scores. In Week 9 against the New York Giants, they recorded one catch for 20 yards combined.

    Nonetheless, quarterback Derek Carr has a strong connection with Hunter Renfrow, a shifty, sure-handed receiver with a 72.1 percent catch rate. They've played together for three seasons.

    Renfrow isn't just a slot receiver. He's lined up for a significant number of snaps on the outside, which indicates his role may expand even with Jackson in the mix. The Clemson product tied or led the team in catches for Weeks 8 and 9, hauling in seven passes in both games.

    Renfrow might eclipse 1,000 receiving yards this season.     

Los Angeles Chargers: DT Justin Jones

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    Opposing teams will try to exploit the Los Angeles Chargers run defense, which allows the most yards leaguewide. As a result, the interior linemen may see a ton of action in the trenches.

    After appearing in the season opener, Justin Jones missed five consecutive contests because of a calf injury. Since his return in Week 8, he's played at least 64 percent of the defensive snaps in games. 

    Following L.A.'s 27-24 loss to the New England Patriots, head coach Brandon Staley commented on the significance of Jones' presence.

    "I felt like our run defense actually took an incredible step forward today," Staley said. "A huge step forward, I thought we tackled extremely well, I thought we were really physical. I thought getting Jones back was important."

    In that contest, New England ran for 142 yards but averaged 3.6 yards per carry. That's a positive sign even though the Chargers took a step back against the Philadelphia Eagles, who rushed for 176 yards, averaging 4.5 yards per carry last week.

    If Jones is effective in plugging the middle on early downs, L.A. could force teams into more 3rd-and-long situations, which doesn't show up on the stat sheet but changes the complexion of games.   

Los Angeles Rams: LB Ernest Jones

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    After Week 7, the Los Angeles Rams traded Kenny Young to the Broncos, which opened up a pathway for a new starter at inside linebacker.

    In his first game with the starting lineup, Ernest Jones showcased his playmaking ability, recording a team-high nine tackles (seven solo), an interception and a half-sack against the Houston Texans.

    Head coach Sean McVay expressed satisfaction with Jones' Week 8 performance.

    "I was really pleased with Ernest," McVay said. "I thought he flew around. I thought he was able to learn from a couple things early on in the game where he could be a little bit more decisive, a little bit better with some of the concept-trigger and recognition, but once he settled in, you could see, this guy's a football player." 

    Jones played 89 percent of the defensive snaps in that contest. Though he saw a drop-off in snaps last week (62 percent), the rookie third-rounder will probably hold on to the first-string position following Young's departure. He's in line for a big workload and a strong finish.    

Miami Dolphins: S Jevon Holland

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    Through the first four weeks, Jevon Holland struggled in an inconsistent role, playing more than 50 percent of the defensive snaps in two outings and less than 33 percent for the other two contests.

    Now Holland rarely comes off the field on game day. In a full-time starting position, he's played at least 97 percent of the snaps for six consecutive outings. More importantly, the rookie second-rounder has attacked the football with solid results.

    Since Week 6, Holland has five pass breakups, including an interception, in addition to 18 solo tackles. 

    The Miami Dolphins have used Holland all over the field. Though he's primarily a free safety, the versatile defender also lines up in the box and pressures the quarterback on designed blitzes.

    Holland showed he can handle multiple responsibilities in different spots. This season, he's capable of finishing top-three on the Dolphins in interceptions and pass breakups with an impressive number of tackles for a deep safety.        

Minnesota Vikings: TE Tyler Conklin

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    While tight end Irv Smith Jr. recovers from meniscus surgery, Tyler Conklin has filled in adequately as a starter. He's hauled in 32 passes for 342 yards and a touchdown.

    Through eight contests, Conklin has taken the field for 79 percent of the snaps. His involvement in the offense isn't likely to change much going forward, and he's seen a steady number of targets in recent weeks.

    With seven targets in each of the last two games, Conklin caught 10 passes for 102 yards in total. He's not going to surpass wideouts Adam Thielen and Justin Jefferson in the pecking order among the Minnesota Vikings' pass-catchers, but the fourth-year pro can show some consistency as the third option.

    Already above his career high in receptions and yards, Conklin might have some big games in an offense that must offset a leaky 28th-ranked defense that's allowed an average of 27.3 points per game over the last three contests. Quarterback Kirk Cousins may have enough targets to spread around for three highly productive pass-catchers this season.    

New England Patriots: QB Mac Jones

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    Mac Jones' passing numbers look ordinary on paper. He's thrown for 10 touchdowns and seven interceptions through nine games, but he's played far better than fellow rookie first-round quarterbacks Trevor Lawrence, Zach Wilson, Trey Lance and Justin Fields.

    Jones is the only rookie signal-caller with more touchdowns than interceptions with a completion rate above 60 percent. He's more advanced than the numbers suggest, though. 

    Los Angeles Chargers head coach Brandon Staley praised Jones for his ability to see the field and put the ball in the right spots.

    "I see a guy that’s an outstanding decision-maker. I think his processing is at a premium for a young quarterback; you can really see that he can see the game. [...] He has that kind of command over their system, and I think he has really good anticipation as a thrower. I think that's a big asset of him just as a pure passer — he has great anticipation and his ball placement is outstanding." 

    Because of Jones' grasp of the pro game, coming out of a pro-style system at Alabama, he may develop a bit faster than some of his peers. We could see him take a big leap in the coming weeks.     

New Orleans Saints: WR Deonte Harris

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    Without star wideout Michael Thomas, the New Orleans Saints don't have a go-to option on the perimeter in the passing game, but they may have found an unheralded playmaker who can help fill that void. 

    Despite his 5'6", 170-pound frame, Deonte Harris has become a primary option in the aerial attack over the past couple of outings. He led the Saints in targets for Weeks 8 and 9 with 15 in total, converting that into nine catches for 87 yards.

    Harris hasn't played 50 percent of the offensive snaps in any game this season, but he's recorded 52-plus receiving yards four times. The All-Pro special teamer, who leads the league in yards per kick return (27.6), has a team-leading 323 receiving yards with a 67.7 percent catch rate.

    In need of a spark through the air, the Saints should increase Harris' snap count and role within an offense that could use his speed (4.35 40-yard dash) and ability to extend plays. He's averaging 15.4 yards per catch for the season.

New York Giants: Edge Quincy Roche

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    The Pittsburgh Steelers selected Quincy Roche in the sixth round of the 2021 draft, but they waived him with their final roster cuts. Soon after, the New York Giants signed him. He rose through the ranks and took advantage of his chance to shine. 

    While fellow rookie edge-rusher Azeez Ojulari looks like a starting-caliber player with 5.5 sacks and six tackles for loss, Roche had a breakout performance on the opposite side of the Giants' front seven in Week 9 against the Raiders. 

    Roche logged four tackles (two solo) and had a key strip-sack that sealed a win for the Giants. Before his highlight performance, he saw an increase in his snap count and started in Week 8 against the Chiefs.

    Roche has filled in for Lorenzo Carter, who's missed the last two games with an ankle injury. Because the latter hasn't quite turned into a consistent starter in four terms, the Giants may turn to the rookie outside linebacker for a pass-rushing boost on the edge.

New York Jets: RB Michael Carter

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    Wide receiver Elijah Moore deserves an honorable mention, though Michael Carter seems like the safer choice because he's emerged as the New York Jets' lead running back.

    At the beginning of the season, the Jets had a crowded backfield with Tevin Coleman, Ty Johnson and Carter.

    Coleman has missed the last three outings with a hamstring injury. Johnson became a backup, logging more than five carries in just one contest this season. Meanwhile, Carter has recorded double-digit carries in each of the last five games, but he didn't show signs of a potential breakout until Week 7.

    For three consecutive games, Carter has eclipsed 85 yards from scrimmage. In Weeks 7 and 8, he led the Jets in catches and receiving yards. 

    Though Carter has only averaged more than 3.8 yards per rush attempt in two out of eight outings, he's well on his way to leading Gang Green in yards from scrimmage because of his involvement in the short passing game. The rookie fourth-rounder is second on the team in catches (27) and receiving yards (263), with a 69.2 percent catch rate.

Philadelphia Eagles: TE Dallas Goedert

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    Though the Philadelphia Eagles have employed a run-heavy game plan in recent weeks, quarterback Jalen Hurts and his pass-catchers may benefit from that approach. 

    While the volume in Hurts' passing numbers would continue to take a hit, he may see bigger throwing windows with a safety out of deep coverage and dropping into the box. As a result, one of his primary targets, Dallas Goedert, should have more clean looks downfield.

    Furthermore, Goedert doesn't have to compete with tight end Zach Ertz for targets. Philadelphia traded the latter to the Cardinals after Week 6. 

    As the secondary pass-catching option behind lead wideout DeVonta Smith, Goedert might top his career highs in receptions (58) and yards (607). Don't be surprised to see him add a second and third 100-yard performance to his resume in the final eight games. Thus far, he's served as a reliable target with a 73 percent catch rate.  

Pittsburgh Steelers: TE Pat Freiermuth

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    Tight end Eric Ebron has missed the last two contests because of a hamstring injury. He may not have much of a role upon his return thanks to Pat Freiermuth's recent contributions in the passing game.

    Freiermuth looks like a natural pass-catcher, and he's effective in the red zone. Over the past two weeks, the rookie second-rounder has recorded nine receptions for 87 yards and three touchdowns. He wins battles for contested targets and serves as a big-bodied (6'5", 258 lbs) safety value in the aerial attack, with 16 of his 27 catches resulting in first downs

    In a short period, Freiermuth seems like the most well-rounded tight end on the roster because of his growing confidence as a blocker and ability to catch passes in crucial moments. Ebron never earned much credit for his blocking technique, so he might play in a limited capacity going forward.

    Freiermuth played more than 70 percent of the offensive snaps in each of the last two outings. Because of his skill set, he could hold on to the starting position for the remainder of the season.

San Francisco 49ers: DL Charles Omenihu

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    If the San Francisco 49ers planned to field a defense that resembles the unit that helped lead them to Super Bowl LIV, they had to add a potential playmaker along the front line. General manager John Lynch checked that box when he acquired Charles Omenihu from the Texans at the Nov. 2 trade deadline.

    Other than defensive end Nick Bosa, the 49ers don't have a consistent pass-rusher, and opponents have pushed them around on the ground. San Francisco has recorded the sixth-fewest quarterback pressures (67) and ranks 26th in run defense. On top of that, defensive tackle Javon Kinlaw underwent knee surgery, and he'll miss the remainder of the season.

    Omenihu hasn't suited up for the 49ers yet, but based on his track record and the 49ers' willingness to acquire him, he can bring an immediate boost to the defensive line.

    Last season, while on the field for 52 percent of the defensive snaps for the Texans, Omenihu recorded 16 quarterback hits, which included four sacks. 

    At 6'5", 280 pounds, Omenihu can line up inside or on the outside, which will likely lead to a sizable workload.

Seattle Seahawks: DE Darrell Taylor

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    Darrell Taylor had a scary experience when he went down with what seemed like a neck injury in Week 6. He had been carted off the field on a stretcher and sent to the hospital for testing after a collision with teammate Al Woods.

    Fortunately, Taylor didn't suffer a serious injury and only missed one game. He returned to his normal workload in Week 8, playing 46 percent of the defensive snaps.

    Taylor leads the Seattle Seahawks in sacks (four) and quarterback pressures (11). Because Seattle's pass defense ranks 29th in yards allowed, the coaching staff may increase his snap count after the team's Week 9 bye. 

    While on the field for 47 percent of the defensive snaps, edge-rusher Carlos Dunlap has made little impact, recording just 12 tackles (six solo), four pass breakups and a half-sack. Taylor, who's played 40 percent of the snaps, could eat into his workload on the edge.    

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Edge Joe Tryon-Shoyinka

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    The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have a solid trio of pass-rushers who have logged 10 sacks combined in Shaquil Barrett, Jason Pierre-Paul and Joe Tryon-Shoyinka.

    A few weeks ago, head coach Bruce Arians talked about tinkering with Tryon-Shoyinka's snaps to pair him with Pierre-Paul in certain situations.

    "We can decrease or increase his snaps and get them out there together as much as we can," Arians said.

    While Arians won't take one of his best players off the field just for the sake of a rookie's development, Pierre-Paul has already missed two games because of hand and shoulder injuries. The Buccaneers may dial back on the 32-year-old pass-rusher's snaps to keep him healthy for the postseason. 

    Tryon-Shoyinka proved that he can make an impact on passing downs with a strong performance in his last start, logging two sacks while on the field for 85 percent of the defensive snaps against the New England Patriots in Week 4.

Tennessee Titans: DT Jeffery Simmons

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    In Week 9 under the Sunday Night Football spotlight, Jeffery Simmons had a statement game, logging six tackles and three sacks against the Los Angeles Rams.

    Simmons can use his most recent performance to spur a strong run through the second half of the term. In nine games, he's topped his career high in sacks (5.5) to go along with 30 tackles (22 solo) and seven tackles for loss. 

    In addition to his own momentum, Simmons can benefit from playing alongside Harold Landry III and Denico Autry, who have 14 combined sacks. With the ability to win one-on-one matchups, he could become a one-man wrecking crew on the interior. 

    If Simmons shows some consistency in collapsing the pocket while also stopping the run, he could produce Pro Bowl-worthy numbers. On the field for 84 percent of the defensive snaps, the third-year pro has a key role in the trenches.

Washington Football Team: LB Jamin Davis

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    Scott Taetsch/Getty Images

    Despite his first-round draft pedigree, Jamin Davis had a modest role early in the season, playing no more than 56 percent of the defensive snaps in his first six contests. He logged just two tackles in three of those games.

    The Washington Football Team lost a key starter in linebacker Jon Bostic, who suffered a pectoral injury in Week 4. A couple of games later, Davis led the team in total tackles (11) against the Chiefs. He joined the first unit in the last two outings, playing 98 and 79 percent of the defensive snaps.

    Head coach Ron Rivera highlighted Davis' recent strides as a reason for optimism:

    "We've seen some really good things from him that really get us excited as coaches, especially defensive coaches when you watch a guy that now he's using his full skillset. When you see and range from one side to the other, I mean, that's what we saw on tape coming out of Kentucky. He was the best linebacker coming out of the SEC for a reason, a very productive guy. We’ve seen that in the last two weeks.” 

    Bostic's absence will allow Davis to play through his growing pains, though he's trended in the right direction with more responsibility in the middle of the defense.


    Maurice Moton covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @MoeMoton.