In each NFL season, there are always players who seem to come out of nowhere and have excellent seasons for their respective teams, putting up incredible numbers. In 2011, for the eventual Super Bowl champion New York Giants, the breakout stars were Victor Cruz and Jason Pierre-Paul. Cruz shattered the record for the Giants’ single-season receiving record. Rob Gronkowski also had a great year, catching 17 touchdowns.
Last season, Colin Kaepernick burst onto the scene in San Francisco after Alex Smith’s concussion. It was also the year of the rookie quarterback, with the “Big 3” of rookies (Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III, and Russell Wilson), who led each of their teams to the playoffs.
This year, who will be those breakout players that decide a season’s fate for a team? I’ve compiled a list of players, not in any order, who I think have legitimate potential to break out.
Ryan Tannehill, QB, Miami
I am expecting a big season out of the Dolphins in 2013. Same goes for quarterback Ryan Tannehill in his second season as a pro. Last season, Tannehill did show some flashes of excellence. Now, with his growth into the offense and the addition of speedy receiver Mike Wallace, Tannehill will be expected to produce.
I think he will lead Miami to the postseason and put up tremendous numbers, marking his second year as a pro as his breakout season that launches him into the top level of NFL quarterbacks. He will prove his worthiness of being a top 10 pick in the draft.
Andy Dalton, QB, Cincinnati
Like Tannehill, Andy Dalton is questioned as a starter. Why? It doesn’t make any sense, with Dalton leading the Bengals to two playoff appearances in his first two seasons. However, critics question his arm strength, something that he has been working on. Dalton possesses an excellent sense of anticipation in his throws, which may account for his “lack” of arm strength.
He has A.J. Green, perhaps one of the top 3 receivers in the league. The Bengals also added tight end Tyler Eifert via the draft, so Dalton has a plethora of weapons to work with. He has the potential to carry the Bengals on his back and proving himself (if that is even needed).
Cam Newton, QB, Carolina
In Newton’s case, “breaking out” will most likely mean that he is taking the Panthers to the postseason. His rookie season was great, shattering several quarterback records. This year, Newton can put up the monster passing numbers he has over the last two seasons, and he can carry his team like 2012 rookies Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III, and Russell Wilson did.
Steve Smith is returning and the defense is improving. Newton has more physical tools and naturally given talent than either of the abovementioned quarterbacks, so there is no reason that Newton can’t have what is classified as a breakout year.
Randall Cobb, WR, Green Bay
I don’t classify Cobb’s 2012 campaign as a breakout year for multiple reasons. He did not surpass 1,000 yards, was injured for multiple games, and did not start much during the season. However, in 2013, he should contribute as a top receiver in Green Bay, especially with Greg Jennings gone to Minnesota (or what some Packers players call “the purple team over there”).
Cobb is insanely agile and has a good combination of speed and route-running ability. He also contributes as a kick and punt returner, making him even more versatile. He will line up as a starting receiver opposite Jordy Nelson and could become Aaron Rodgers’ favorite target, and can put up incredible numbers, as well as help Green Bay go deep into the playoffs.
Aldrick Robinson, WR, Washington
A 4.42 40-yard dash time speaks for itself. He’s just fast. His route-running needs polishing, but Robert Griffin III can make any throw needed. He flashed at times last season, catching touchdown passes of at least 45 yards in back-to-back games.
Robinson is not likely to start this season (Pierre Garcon and Joshua Morgan will), but he could be the third or fourth receiver. The competition between him and Santana Moss for that third receiver spot, or slot receiver, will be interesting. He could evolve into a starting receiver by the end of the season. He possesses everything coaches look for in a receiver, and he has the work ethic to make big things happen in D.C. this year.
LaMichael James, RB, San Francisco
After barely playing at all in the 2012 regular season, James was featured during the playoffs with Colin Kaepernick at the helm, especially in the pistol offense. James added another dimension of speed to the San Francisco offense and could be used more in this type of role next season.
In a crowded backfield (Frank Gore and Marcus Lattimore), James is probably the quickest of the backs. Gore will still start, but James will make the most out of his playing time and could break out in 2013.
Ryan Kerrigan, LB, Washington
Kerrigan’s first game in the NFL started out with a bang, with a pick-six of Eli Manning in Week 1 of the 2011 season. Kerrigan has a relentless motor and uses his hands well, but still gets held often. Kerrigan’s production experienced a slight drop-off in 2012 partly because of Brian Orakpo’s absence (torn pectoral), but made the Pro Bowl anyway.
Orakpo’s return should provide Kerrigan with a boost and he might not get double-teamed every offensive play. He is capable of double-digit sacks any given year. Kerrigan can have a huge 2013 season and contribute largely to a Redskins defense that gave up many big plays last season. After all, it starts up front.
Honorable Mentions: Denarius Moore, WR, Oakland; Mohamed Sanu, WR, Cincinnati; Mike Wallace, WR, Miami; Cecil Shorts III, WR, Jacksonville; David Wilson, RB, New York; Lamar Miller, RB, Miami; Delanie Walker, TE, Tennessee; Brooks Reed, LB, Houston
Topics: Aldrick Robinson, Andy Dalton, Breakout Players, Cam Newton, Carolina Panthers, Cincinnati Bengals, Green Bay Packers, Lamichael James, Miami Dolphins, Randall Cobb, Ryan Kerrigan, Ryan Tannehill, San Francisco 49ers, Washington Redskins