10 second-year NFL players poised for a breakout season
Many rookies enter the NFL with unparalleled or even unfair expectations, and then fail to live up to that billing. But one season does not generally make or break a player.
New York Giants safety Landon Collins is perhaps the best recent example of this, as he struggled throughout his rookie campaign only to catch fire and set historical marks during his sophomore season, very nearly winning the NFL Defensive Player of the Year award.
So, who will be the Landon Collins of 2017? Here’s a look at 10 second-year players who are poised for a breakout 2017 season.
10. Darian Thompson, safety, New York Giants
It seems somewhat ironic that in referencing Landon Collins to open this article, we immediately pinpoint another second-year Giants safety as a potential breakout star.
A third-round pick in the 2016 NFL Draft, Thompson was supposed to join a talented Giants secondary and provide a ball-hawking, center fielder alongside the bone-crunching, run-stopping Collins. Unfortunately, a foot injury limited Thompson to only two games, and the Giants were never able to see the full potential of that tandem.
But for those who cover the team on a daily basis, the talent Thompson possesses is evident. Thompson is a true coverage safety capable of shutting down tight end seam routes — one of the team’s biggest area of concerns — and he is a turnover-creating machine. Above all else, he picked up the defense rapidly and become a leader in the secondary before ever stepping foot onto the field in a meaningful game.
If Collins can continue his progression at strong safety, there’s no telling how productive Thompson can be by fitting into a role that could not be more perfectly suited for him.
9. C.J. Prosise, RB, Seattle Seahawks
With the addition of Eddie Lacy — a true workhorse at running back — there may not be as many opportunities for C.J. Prosise as he would like. But that doesn’t mean the Seahawks won’t carve out a key role for him, because there’s no mistaking how dominant he looked at times last season.
Although he comes with some injury concerns, having been limited to only six games in 2016, Prosise has been soundly praised by his coaches for multiple reasons.
When he was healthy and on the field, Prosise showed the ability to make quick decisions, quick cuts and tally a good number of yards per carry (5.73). Even beyond that, he proved to be a legitimate threat out of the backfield, using his soft hands to haul in 17 passes for 208 yards.
That sort of dynamic play was never more evident than in a Week 10 game against the New England Patriots when Prosise gained 153 total yards from scrimmage. And it’s also why his coaches will ensure he’s a significant part of their offensive gameplan.
8. Corey Coleman, WR, Cleveland Browns
A first-round pick in the 2016 NFL Draft, Corey Coleman looked like the answer at wide receiver for the Browns early on. He hauled in seven receptions for 173 yards and two touchdowns over his first two professional games, but then he suffered a broken hand in practice and his production fell off dramatically.
Add in lingering issues at quarterback for the Browns, and consistency became nearly impossible. The chemistry simply wasn’t there and playing wide receiver with a broken hand is far from easy (talk about stating the obvious).
Still, there’s no denying the sort of flashes Coleman showed at times — particularly early on — and the impressive athleticism he displayed. And while he never again topped 45 yards in a game after returning in Week 9, a little health and consistency at the quarterback position could go a long way in 2017.
7. Hunter Henry, TE, Los Angeles Chargers
After hauling in 36 receptions for 478 yards and eight touchdowns as a rookie in 2016, it’s hard to say Henry will “break out” given that he already has done so, to some degree. But those numbers, even with the continued presence of Antonio Gates, pale in comparison to what he could produce in 2017.
Coming out of college, Henry was already a well-polished route runner, and he only improved upon that after a year in the NFL. He also drastically cut into Gates’ offensive snaps, almost earning a 50-50 split.
With Gates soon turning 37 years old, it might be time for the Chargers to move in a younger direction. And while Henry won’t steal all of Gates’ snaps, it’s become clear he’s the tight end of the future in Los Angeles.
So long as Henry can remain healthy, he’ll not only supplant the future Hall of Famer, but he may also develop into one of the most dynamic tight ends in all of football.
6. Shaq Lawson, DE, Buffalo Bills
There were several teams interested in snagging Shaq Lawson in the 2016 NFL Draft, but he ultimately went to the Bills at No. 19 overall and was expected to become a disruptive pass rusher out of the gate.
Injuries limited Lawson to only 10 games as a rookie, where he finished with just 13 tackles and two sacks. But despite the limited production, there were moments where it was obvious why he was so highly regarded.
Time may be what separates Lawson from his struggling rookie campaign and the player he can be. Playing under new head coach Sean McDermott, who comes with a defensive mindset, could be exactly what the doctor ordered for the 22-year-old.
With McDermott switching the defense back to a 4-3 from a 3-4, Lawson should have a better opportunity to rush the passer with his hand in the dirt.
“Oh man, a lot easier,” Lawson told NYup.com of the 4-3 defense. “The 3-4 was very difficult for me last year. I’m back with something I’m comfortable, back to a 4-3. It’s a lot easier.”
Comfort plus health could mean a big, big year for Lawson.