Each NFL team’s potential breakout player
Every year, we see NFL players across the league come into their own despite not having much of a track record. They can be all types; many are second- or third-year players who have matured and overcome injury or adapted to the NFL. There are others who were never highly-touted but find themselves in the right situation.
Each NFL team has breakout candidates. Here is a leading candidate from all of them.
Arizona Cardinals — Haason Reddick, LB
The 13th overall pick in last year’s draft flashed potential and appeared in all 16 games, but only started three of them. He still made an impact, with 2.5 sacks and two forced fumbles on the season. The Cardinals plan to move him to inside linebacker, where he’s been studying tape of Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis. That bodes well for a big year two breakout.
Atlanta Falcons — Austin Hooper, TE
Year three could be the one that sees Hooper mature into a big target at tight end. His numbers improved last season, as he caught 49 passes and scored three touchdowns. A more prominent role and regular playing time could await him in 2018 and make him a Matt Ryan favorite. He’ll just have to compete with Julio Jones, Calvin Ridley, and Atlanta’s talented running backs for touches.
Baltimore Ravens — Alex Collins, RB
Ravens fans already know what Collins can do; he rushed for 973 yards and six touchdowns despite starting only 12 games for Baltimore in 2017. The Ravens look committed to the third-year running back and an increased workload looks set to follow. That could mean a thousand-yard season and double-digit touchdowns in his future.
Buffalo Bills — Shaq Lawson, DE
A Lawson breakout is long overdue. The 19th overall pick in the 2016 draft had high expectations attached to him, but he hasn’t been able to stay healthy. He’s shown flashes of what he could do — six sacks over two partial seasons isn’t a bad tally. If he can stay on the field for all 16, it’s a good bet that he can make a huge impact.
Carolina Panthers — Devin Funchess, WR
Funchess is another player who is already well-established at the NFL level, but could have another gear or two to go up. The wide receiver position has been in flux for this team, but Torrey Smith has been brought in to provide another weapon, which could take some of the pressure off Funchess and allow him to shine. Don’t be surprised if he blows past the 840 yards and eight touchdowns he racked up last season.
Chicago Bears — Adam Shaheen, TE
When fantasy football season gets closer, expect to see Shaheen named on a lot of lists of sleeper players you should know about. The tight end had a very limited role in his rookie season, catching just 12 passes, though three of them were for touchdowns. Zach Miller is gone now, and if the Bears see fit to unleash Mitchell Trubisky a little bit more this season, the second-year tight end could be a big beneficiary.
Cincinnati Bengals — John Ross, WR
Ross went from a combine phenom to having a miserable rookie season in which he was injured and then publicly named and shamed by his head coach. There are two ways a young player can respond to that — let it bury him, or prove everyone wrong. As long as he stays healthy, the bet is he’ll do the latter. He has game-changing speed and was the ninth overall pick for a reason. If he starts with a blank slate, he should offer plenty for Cincinnati.
Cleveland Browns — David Njoku, TE
Njoku caught four touchdowns in his rookie season, a feat made more impressive by the fact that he had so little to work with in Cleveland’s offense. Expect things to get better in 2018. Even if Baker Mayfield doesn’t start, Tyrod Taylor is a more better quarterback than anyone the Browns threw out there in 2017, and they’ve done enough to get a few more weapons. That should open things up for Njoku, a rare physical talent who should be a huge red zone threat at the bare minimum.
Dallas Cowboys — Jourdan Lewis, CB
Lewis will be one of the key leaders in a young secondary, and his rookie experience should help him. Though he wasn’t a huge factor, Lewis did have 48 tackles, ten passes defended, and an interception. He showed promise, particularly late in the season, and looks in line for a starting job in Dallas’s defense next season.
Denver Broncos — Carlos Henderson, WR
A third-round pick last season, Henderson missed the entire year due to a thumb injury, which is a real shame. He’s speedy and talented, and the Broncos expect him to be lining up as their slot receiver in 2018. In an offense where the rest of Denver’s receiving corps is aging and with an established veteran quarterback in Case Keenum, Henderson could play himself into a marquee role quite quickly.
Detroit Lions — Kenny Golladay, WR
Golladay was widely regarded as a good third-round value selection in last year’s draft, and though injuries hindered his rookie season, he didn’t do much to prove those opinions wrong. He caught three touchdowns in 11 games. Fully healthy this year, he should add to those totals. The Lions will lean on Matthew Stafford again, meaning Golladay should get plenty of opportunities to make catches.
Green Bay Packers — Jaire Alexander, CB
Expect the Packers’ first-round pick to become an immediate factor in a secondary that is rebuilding on the fly. Alexander battled some injuries in his last year at Louisville, but a strong combine put some fears to rest and convinced the Packers to take him at No. 19. He’ll likely be thrown into an important role right away. Don’t be surprised if he thrives in it.