It may be hard to believe, but training camps are just around the corner, and that means meaningful football isn’t far off. It also means that previously injured players, under-performers and sophomores have another opportunity to prove they belong in the hard-hitting NFL.
Here’s a look at 32 players — one from each team — who are ready to make the leap entering the 2018 season.
Arizona Cardinals – Budda Baker, S
With the departure of Tyrann Mathieu, the Cardinals have an obvious void to fill in their secondary. Enter second-year safety Budda Baker, who is expected to take on a much larger defensive role for Steve Wilks. In an aggressive system (Wilks blitzed on 44 percent of the defensive snaps in Carolina), Baker should find himself in a position to excel as a sophomore and potentially even improve upon his already impressive 84.5 Pro Football Focus grade from a season ago.
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.