10 second-year NFL players poised for a breakout season
5. Paul Perkins, RB, New York Giants
When the Giants originally drafted Paul Perkins in the fifth round of the 2016 NFL Draft, many experts predicted he would take over as the team’s starter before the year was out.
As it turns out, they were all correct.
It took Perkins a few weeks to get his feet under him, but as the season wore on, it was clear just how talented he truly was. He was not only the Giants’ most healthy running back, but he was also their most explosive, averaging 4.1 yards per carry on a team that averaged only 3.5.
Out of the backfield, Perkins also carved out a niche with his hands, averaging 10.8 yards per reception — higher than even pass catcher Shane Vereen — and a catch rate of 62.5%.
Even prior to organized team activities, Giants head coach Ben McAdoo named Perkins the team’s starter, so we can expect to see big numbers out of the sophomore in 2017.
4. Josh Doctson, WR, Washington Redskins
In his final season at TCU, Josh Doctson hauled in 78 receptions for 1,738 yards and 14 touchdowns. And it was that sort of production that led the Redskins to invest a first-round pick in him.
Unfortunately, an Achilles’ injury limited Doctson to only two receptions for 66 yards as a rookie.
As unfortunate as that circumstance was for the potential NFC East star, there’s no doubt he’ll have an opportunity to play a big role in 2017. Both DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon have departed Washington via free agency, which has created an opening for Doctson to burst through.
Doctson has declared himself 100 percent recovered from his injury, and early on in OTAs, he has looked very “impressive.”
“He’s been impressive,” head coach Jay Gruden told the team’s official website. “I think the big thing for him is the confidence in his Achilles and I think he’s got that right now. . . It looks like he can run down the field. He made a good catch down the sideline today and [he has] strong hands, we know that about him. Now we’ve just got to continue to put one day after another after another.”
So far this offseason, Doctson has taken both first-team and second-team reps, but it’s entirely possible that come Week 1, he’s starting alongside Terrelle Pryor.
3. Jared Goff, QB, Los Angeles Rams
The Rams invested quite a bit in order to trade up and selected quarterback Jared Goff No. 1 overall in the 2016 NFL Draft, but things weren’t exactly sparkling out of the gate.
Goff served as Case Keenum’s backup until Week 10, but even after taking over the reigns, his rookie struggles were painfully obvious.
In seven games, Goff completed only 54.6% of his passes for 1,098 yards, five touchdowns and seven interceptions. At times, he looked completely lost and over-matched. Even at this point in OTAs, the Rams still won’t commit to him starting at quarterback in Week 1. Of course, that could just be a line used to help motivate the youngster.
The reality is, Goff still has some growing pains to endure, but there’s a reason he was the No. 1 overall pick. And based on his rookie season, he can only get better from here.
Goff expects to be the face of the Rams franchise and that alone show some maturity. He has the right mindset, but now he just needs to overcome some of his jitters. Once he does that, there’s no reason to believe he won’t develop into a solid NFL quarterback.
2. Carl Nassib, DE, Cleveland Browns
Carl Nassib saw his stock rise quite a bit prior to being selected in the third round of the 2016 NFL Draft, but a calf injury prior to training camp and a broken hand in Week 2 significantly limited the rookie’s production.
Although he managed to fight through 14 games, Nassib wasn’t nearly as impactful as some had anticipated. He recorded just 20 tackles and 2.5 sacks, failing to provide the sort of pass rush the Browns needed.
The good news for Nassib is that he’ll not only return healthy in 2017, but he will also benefit from a switch to a 4-3 defensive scheme — a system he’s far more familiar with and one that fits his style of play. Add in the fact that Myles Garrett will now play at the opposite end of the line, and it should provide Nassib with countless opportunities to rush the passer.
Will Nassib erupt for 15.5 sacks as he had during his senior season at Penn State? Probably not, but there’s little doubt he’ll be far more disruptive this season.
1. Jaylon Smith, LB, Dallas Cowboys
Jaylon Smith was the obvious answer to cap off this list for multiple reasons. Not only is he an exceptional talent who would have made waves in the NFL right away if healthy, but he’ll now enter his second season with intimate knowledge of the NFL game and the Cowboys’ defensive system.
After suffering a devastating knee injury in his final game at Notre Dame — a torn ACL and MCL coupled with nerve damage — Smith was forced to sit out his entire rookie season as he rehabbed. But in doing so, he spent countless hours watching game film and studying.
Although he’s still not practicing on back-to-back days and likely won’t until the regular season, his coaches and teammates have acknowledged he’s well ahead of the curve. Beyond that, he’s carried an optimistic and uplifting attitude that will serve him well when he does finally step onto the field in a meaningful game.