Ryan Fitzpatrick, LeGarrette Blount and The NFL Breakout Stars Of 2011
The 2010 NFL Season is nearly over and with it comes thoughts of 2011.
We all know who the top stars in the NFL are, guys like Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Ray Lewis, and Troy Polamalu.
But who are the lesser known guys who will come to the forefront next year?
Who can take the success that they have had in 2010 and not only repeat it but build on it?
We have seen LeGarrette Blount and Ryan Fitzpatrick start to come into their own this year and show their respective teams that they have what it takes to be key members of a playoff contending teams.
So who will join them on this list?
Here are the 16 to look out for in 2011. These are players whose games will evolve and their talents will shine throughout the year.
Ryan Fitzpatrick, QB, Buffalo Bills
2010 Stats: 81.8 QB Rating, 3,000 Yards Passing, 23 Touchdowns
The Bills have been looking for a quarterback ever since Jim Kelly retired nearly 15 years ago. They may have finally found one in Ryan Fitzpatrick who can take the reins and lead this Bills team back to prominence.
Fitzpatrick has quietly put together a very solid season for the Bills this season. The team hasn’t had the results to match but with a couple more pieces added these Buffalo Bills might not be far away from contention.
LeGarrette Blount, RB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
2010 Stats: 941 Yards Rushing, 5.2 Yards Per Carry, 6 Touchdowns
LeGarrette Blount has come a long way from the player who was suspended at Oregon last year for punching an opposing player. He went undrafted coming out of college and signed a deal with Tennessee and was waived before the start of the season.
Tampa Bay picked him up, and he looks to be the steal of this rookie class. Blount has averaged over five yards per carry in his rookie season and has dazzled with numerous plays in which he has hurdled over defenders.
Tim Tebow, QB, Denver Broncos
2010 Stats: 100.7 QB Rating, 449 Yards Passing, 3 Touchdowns Passing, 5 Touchdowns Rushing
When Denver made Tim Tebow a first-round draft pick there was some controversy surrounding the decision. There were questions about Tebow’s mechanics and his ability to lead a pro-style offense.
He has only started two games but so far things look very promising. Even with all the questions, there are few men who work harder and are more dedicated to being great then Tebow is. He will be good for a long time.
Dez Bryant, WR, Dallas Cowboys
2010 Stats: 561 Yards Receiving, 6 Touchdowns, 2 Punt Return Touchdowns
Dez Bryant fell a lot further in the 2010 NFL Draft than most figured that he would. There were some concerns about his character, but Dallas was happy to give him a chance and took him with the 24th pick.
His skills as a receiver still need some time to develop, but he was very good this year as a return man for the Cowboys. His season was cut short due to a fractured ankle, but he has the talent to have a monster year in 2011.
Matthew Stafford, QB, Detroit Lions
2010 Stats: 91.3 QB Rating, 535 Pass Yards, 6 Touchdowns
The Detroit Lions have been improving slowly and next year could be the year that they get back to .500. They will need to address their secondary and keep Matthew Stafford on the field.
The Lions have given him a number of weapons to play with, led by the freakish Calvin Johnson. If he can stay on the field for 16 games, his numbers could be off the charts good. Look out for Stafford and the Lions in 2011.
Sam Bradford, QB, St Louis Rams
2010 Stats: 78.0 QB Rating, 3357 Pass Yards, 18 Touchdowns
Sam Bradford has had a really good season for the St Louis Rams, especially when you look at the talent, or lack thereof, that he has to throw to. The Rams skill position guys could be the worst group in the National Football League.
Bradford has exceeded expectations this year, throwing for well over 3000 yards and nearly 20 touchdowns in his rookie season.
If the Rams can get some talent at the receiver position they can get back to the days of “The Greatest Show On Turf.”
Michael Crabtree, WR, San Francisco 49ers
2010 Stats: 694 Yards Receiving, 6 Touchdowns, 13.6 Yards Per Catch
Michael Crabtree has earned a reputation as a diva. He comes off as a cocky, ungrateful, spoiled child at times. He earned this reputation while he was at Texas Tech.
When he was drafted by San Francisco in 2009, he missed the first six games of the year because he wanted to be paid like a top-3 pick.
He has struggled at times in his first two seasons, running weak routes and not getting good separation from defenders. However, part of the problem could be with the quarterback position.
Given how unstable the position has been in San Francisco the last few years doesn’t make it easy on the receiving group they have there. If the 49ers can get a quarterback, Michael Crabtree can be the guy that they drafted 10th overall in 2009.
Tim Hightower, RB, Arizona Cardinals
2010 Stats: 706 Yards Rushing, 5 Touchdowns, 5.0 Yards Per Carry
When the Arizona Cardinals made their Super Bowl run two years ago, they had Kurt Warner and a high-flying offense and virtually no running game to speak of.
Now, they have Tim Hightower averaging over five yards per carry and they are 5-10.
If they can find a quarterback to get the ball to Larry Fitzgerald, when they aren’t giving the ball to Hightower, the Cardinals can get back to the top of the NFC West.
Lord knows it won’t take much to get to the top of that division.
Colt McCoy, QB, Cleveland Browns
2010 Stats: 81.9 QB Rating, 1367 Yards Passing, 5 Touchdowns
Colt McCoy came out of Texas this year without a lot of fanfare. He was a third-round draft pick and people weren’t sure what kind of quarterback he would be.
McCoy got his chance to start in Week 6 against Pittsburgh and, aside from an ankle injury that forced him to miss a few games, he hasn’t given up that position.
He has put up solid numbers across the board this year, but he hasn’t had a big breakout game yet.
2011 will be Colt McCoy’s big breakout year.
Gerald McCoy, DT, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
2010 Stats: 28 Tackles, 3 Sacks, 2 Forced Fumbles
Gerald McCoy is the “other” defensive tackle from the 2010 NFL Draft. The Detroit Lions drafted Ndamukong Suh with the second pick in the draft and Tampa Bay snatched up McCoy with the third pick.
He started out the year slowly but appeared to get better each week. His rookie season ended prematurely with a torn left biceps muscle.
He can anchor that Bucs defensive line for a long time and he will show why in 2011.
Eric Berry, S, Kansas City Chiefs
2010 Stats: 85 Tackles, 4 Interceptions, 1 Forced Fumble
Of all the players in the 2010 NFL Draft, Eric Berry might have had the most talent of any player in that draft class. He is a ball-hawking safety with excellent tackling and cover skills. He has all the tools and skills necessary to be as good as Troy Polamalu or Ed Reed.
He has been a solid, if unspectacular, player in this his rookie season. He will get better with more experience. He can show off his skills in the playoffs this year and ride that momentum into 2011.
Joe Haden, CB, Cleveland Browns
2010 Stats: 6 Interceptions, 58 Tackles, 1 Forced Fumble
Coming out of college, Joe Haden was thought to be one of the best cornerbacks in the draft. After a poor NFL Combine, people started to question how good Haden was going to be. Now, there are very few questions left.
The Browns have found something special at the cornerback spot with Haden. He was inserted into their starting lineup in Week 11 and has not disappointed since earning the job. He is tied for the NFL lead in interceptions among rookies with 6.
The Browns have found a franchise cornerback to build their defense around.
Ryan Mathews, RB, San Diego Chargers
2010 Stats: 558 Yards Rushing, 4 Touchdowns, 4.2 Yards Per Carry
Ryan Mathews has had a disappointing rookie season with the San Diego Chargers. He was drafted to be the replacement for LaDainian Tomlinson, but things didn’t work out for either side this year.
Mattews has missed time with injuries and hasn’t had a chance to completely develop into the back that people thought that he would be this year.
He has the skills to be successful, he just needs to get a little bit more seasoning before he emerges.
Malcom Floyd, WR, San Diego Chargers
2010 Stats: 660 Yards Receiving, 6 Touchdowns, 18.9 Yards Per Catch
The San Diego Chargers are loaded with weapons at the skill positions. They have Philip Rivers, Antonio Gates, Vincent Jackson, and Malcom Floyd.
Floyd doesn’t get the credit that he deserves because he plays in the shadow of Gates and Jackson but Floyd has the big-play capabilities they have. He averaged nearly 19 yards per reception in 2010 with six touchdown catches.
The Chargers are in danger of losing Jackson, but they have a more than capable replacement already on the roster in Floyd.
BJ Raji, DT, Green Bay Packers
2010 Stats: 38 Tackles, 6.5 Sacks
BJ Raji started out his career kind of slowly, only registering 50 tackles and 3.5 sacks in his first 24 games. Not awful for a defensive tackle but nothing special. Things have gotten better in a hurry for the former Boston College product.
Raji has registered 13 tackles and 4 sacks in his last seven games. He is leading the Packers defensive line and is helping guys like Clay Matthews to put up the kind of numbers that he has put up this season.
BJ Raji can be to this Packers defense what Vince Wilfork is to the Patriots defense.
Kevin Kolb, QB, Philadelphia Eagles
2010 Stats: 85.3 QB Rating, 1035 Yards Passing, 6 Touchdowns
It’s easy to look at what Michael Vick has done with the Eagles offense and forget that Kevin Kolb was the starter for this team when the season started. Assuming that Vick re-signs with the Eagles, they will likely need to move Kolb for financial reasons.
In limited action this year and in 2009, Kolb put up some very impressive numbers. He has thrown for over 1,000 yards this season in only four starts. He has a big-time arm and the ability to lead a team. He just needs to find the right opportunity.
Whether that’s in Philadelphia or somewhere else, 2011 is likely the year that we find out what he’s all about.