Each NFL team’s potential breakout player
Houston Texans — Will Fuller, WR
Fuller seemed to develop a quick rapport with quarterback Deshaun Watson last season, with four huge games to start his season. His numbers fell off, especially after Watson got hurt. Now that the quarterback is back in action, Fuller, who ended up with seven touchdowns in an abbreviated 10-game season, could see his numbers improve further and perhaps be more consistent.
Indianapolis Colts — Marlon Mack, RB
The early favorite to open the season as the Colts’ starting running back, Mack averaged nearly four yards per carry in limited duty last season. He had four total touchdowns and is something of a dual threat. His numbers could improve if the Colts get Andrew Luck back, as they maintain they will.
Jacksonville Jaguars — Dede Westbrook, WR
Injury hindered much of Westbrook’s rookie season, but the former Oklahoma standout looks a good bet to take a big step forward in 2018. There are roles to be seized in the Jacksonville receiving group, and Westbrook managed 339 yards and a touchdown as he got accustomed to the NFL down the stretch. A full season — and a bigger role — should be enough to make those numbers rise further.
Kansas City Chiefs — Patrick Mahomes, QB
Predictable, perhaps, but true. Sure, Mahomes isn’t exactly flying under the radar — the Chiefs traded away Alex Smith to accommodate him, after all. Still, his brief late-season cameo was enticing. He went 22-of-35 against the Denver Broncos and looked capable, even though he threw for an interception and no touchdowns. He will start for Kansas City in 2018, and he could wind up being one of the more exciting stories of the season.
Los Angeles Chargers — Mike Williams, WR
Everyone is waiting with bated breath for last year’s No. 7 pick to fulfill his potential. Injuries and a difficult adjustment to the NFL made his rookie year one to forget, and he’s still seeking his first NFL touchdown. The physical tools are all there, though, and the talent hasn’t eroded any. If he stays healthy, that bit of experience he picked up in 2017 should help propel him forward.
Los Angeles Rams — Gerald Everett, TE
Another potential breakout tight end, Everett produced a lot despite limited targets in his rookie season last year. He was targeted 32 times but came up with 16 catches and two touchdowns. The Rams have a good offense and Everett has a year experience now, so don’t be surprised to see those numbers tick up in 2018 as long as he stays on the field.
Miami Dolphins — Kenyan Drake, RB
Jay Ajayi is long gone now, and Frank Gore is in the door in Miami. The veteran running back has had a great career, but the future in Miami instead belongs to Drake, who still stands a good chance of getting the bulk of the carries. He ran for 644 yards last season, averaging 89 per game once Ajayi was traded. Despite Gore’s presence, he has the ability to make the position his own.
Minnesota Vikings — Dalvin Cook, RB
A torn ACL is the only thing that prevented Cook’s rookie year from being his breakout. The talented Florida State product had racked up 354 yards and two touchdowns in four games when he went down with the season-ending injury. He’ll be back and featured in the Minnesota backfield with Kirk Cousins under center now, which should be good for him. As long as there are no long-term ill effects from the injury he suffered, Cook has an immensely bright future ahead of him.
New England Patriots — Rex Burkhead, RB
Yes, there’s a huge danger in relying on Bill Belichick to give a meaningfully leading role to a running back, but we’re taking that risk here. Burkhead scored at least one touchdown in each of his last four regular season games last season, so there’s precedent for him being leaned on in the red zone. He’s adept at both the ground game and in the passing game. If LeGarrette Blount can carve out a valuable niche in the Patriots backfield, why not Burkhead? It just depends on how he’s used.
New Orleans Saints — Marcus Williams, S
At this moment in his career, Williams is best known as the guy whose inability to make a tackle cost the Saints a playoff game in Minnesota last season. In the minds of some, that may never change. Williams, is, however, a talented player who had 57 tackles and four interceptions last season, and looks to have a bright future ahead of him. He’ll have a lot of attention on him this season for, initially, the wrong reason. If he can get past that disaster and show everyone what he’s really capable of, he’ll get plenty of publicity for the right reason this time.