Which player had the biggest breakout for each team last season?

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Indianapolis Colts RB Donald Brown

With Ahmad Bradshaw injured and Trent Richardson not making good on the first-round pick the Colts shipped to the Cleveland Browns for him, it was Donald Brown who carried Pep Hamilton’s ground game. After averaging over four yards per carry just once in his previous four seasons, Brown averaged a hefty 5.3 yards per pop last year on 102 carries for 537 yards. While that wasn’t a career-high in yards and might not qualify as a true breakout, he had a career-high eight total touchdowns and 27 receptions for 214 yards. Brown parlayed this production into a significant contract with the San Diego Chargers, which was a bit of a strange move for the Chargers since they already have Ryan Mathews and Danny Woodhead. In any case, Brown had a very nice 2013 season for the Colts.

Note: I did not give this to T.Y. Hilton, since he was already very good as a rookie.

Tennessee Titans WR Kendall Wright

I know I passed up on a terrific, second-year wide receiver as the Colts breakout player because he was too good in 2012 to qualify, so I’m going back on that by tabbing Kendall Wright here. But it was more difficult to pick a clear-cut breakout player for the Titans, since there were a few decent picks on defense but nobody who stood out nearly as much as Wright.

The former Baylor standout caught 94 passes for over 1,000 yards last season after hauling in 64 passes in 2012, and Wright definitely deserves more national attention as one of the NFL’s premier slot receivers. Yes, premier. This guy is an elite route-runner, and the Titans allowed him to free-wheel routes like he did back in college. Wright has steady hands, good physical tools, and he definitely knows how to get open. I think Wright will have 100 catches in his third season, and he’s a great safety net for any quarterback.

Jacksonville Jaguars CB Alan Ball

Gus Bradley lived up to his billing as a defensive backs guru in his first season with the Jacksonville Jaguars, immediately turning three cornerbacks who weren’t well-known into a talented CB trio. Dwayne Gratz, Alan Ball, and Will Blackmon are still relative unknowns, but at least those familiar with these corners know how solid they are. Gratz has great press-man skills and immediately looked comfortable as a rookie, Blackmon is the best playmaker of the three, but Ball is the best player overall among the Jaguars cornerbacks.

Ball spent the 2012 season with the Houston Texans as a JAG after playing for the Dallas Cowboys in his first five seasons. His first year out of the state of Texas was a smashing success under Bradley, as he defended 14 passes and actually looked like a steady, No. 1 corner. Ball was one of the biggest breakout players last season in the secondary, even if his breakout was a quiet one.

Houston Texans RG Brandon Brooks

It was incredibly difficult to find a true breakout player on the NFL’s worst team, but Brandon Brooks stood out as a very surprising and pretty clear-cut pick for the Texans. Brooks is a big 6’5″, 335-pound, road-grading right guard who played in 15 games last season (started all of them) after netting just six appearances in 2012 as a rookie. Brooks is a pretty spotty pass blocker and helped form a rocky right side in pass pro with the horrible Derek Newton, but he more then made up for it with some incredible run blocking for Arian Foster, Ben Tate, Dennis Johnson, and the rest of the bunch.

Just how good was Brooks as a run blocker? Let’s take a look at some stats from Football Outsiders. The Texans were 14th in the league and 29th in the league on a per-carry basis when rushing off the left end and left tackle, but they were third up the middle, 18th off right tackle, and 3rd off of the right end. That’s a significant difference, and it’s mostly due to Brooks’s terrific play as a run blocker and not Newton’s work at right tackle.

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  • dolphinmofo

    Odrick had a good year granted. But how do you not pick out of brent grimes, charles clay, or olivier Vernon. Crazy talk.

    • http://www.musketfire.com/ Joe Soriano

      Clay is an excellent choice, but why would I pick Brent Grimes as a breakout star? He’s always been an excellent player. I thought Odrick played better than Vernon last year, and Vernon had more positive buzz around him coming into the season.

      • dolphinmofo

        Grimes more of a come back player I’ll give you that. We both agree on clay but we’ll have to agree to disagree on Vernon. He wasn’t hyped coming in the season. He wasn’t even a starter. Odrick was our starting de. We even traded up to get jordan. Vernon did so well he made Odrick change positions and jordan never saw the field. And he led the team in sacks over cameron wake.

        • http://www.musketfire.com/ Joe Soriano

          Vernon was actually hyped a bit before the season, as I remember several positive articles written about him and a potential breakout year, whereas people had soured on Odrick so much coming into a scheme shift that he was even in trade rumors. Vernon is a good player and had more sacks, but there’s more to evaluating players than sacks. Firstly, DTs have a more difficult time recording sacks or any pressure for that matter. Secondly, total pressure > sacks, and pressures are also harder to come by at DT. According to PFF, Vernon put pressure on the QB four more times, but he had 20 more snaps rushing the passer. Vernon had better numbers than Odrick, but that flips when you take position into account. For me, the thing that swings it is run defense.

          Vernon vs. Odrick is a tough argument, though, and I gave very strong consideration to both Vernon and Clay. In fact, I’m starting to regret picking against Clay here.

          • Terry Moore

            They all were good but you have to give the edge to Clay…

  • Travis Crouch

    What about the rams rb no one expect him to be the starter I can’t remember his name

    • http://www.musketfire.com/ Joe Soriano

      Stacy? He would be a great choice if I were adding rookies, but I omitted rookies from this list. Why? Because it technically isn’t a breakout year if it is your first year.

  • SmartThinking

    You omitted Dallas’ 1,000+, Pro Bowl running back, Murray from your list. Beasley’s deceptive and flies under the radar while Murray took it right to opposing defenses. If he’d had those three extra injury weeks back, he could easily have gone for 1,300, maybe fifteen hundred yards. Bigger impact, mon!

    • http://www.musketfire.com/ Joe Soriano

      I omitted the likes of Murray and Jurrell Casey largely because I’ve always seen them as top players. I have no qualms with adding those guys on the list, and I probably left Murray off because of my personal bias; I liked him a lot going into the season.

      • SmartThinking

        Your a headline denotes “biggest break out.” Murray broke out. Beasley made a few plays and two TD’s. Not to decrease Beasley’s efforts but Murray’s contribution resulted in at least one win, maybe two, all on his efforts. That’s break out to me.

        • http://www.musketfire.com/ Joe Soriano

          Yes, “I have no qualms”, therefore I agree with your logic. I just went in a different direction, as I didn’t want to stack things up with too many well-known players. I agree with your logic, especially the second and third sentences in the comment above.

  • Billy Schwandt

    What about Paterson for the Vikings?

    • http://www.musketfire.com/ Joe Soriano

      Patterson did some very nice things last year, especially as a returner, but, as I stated, I don’t think rookies count as breakout players. I mean, it’s their first year in the league, so they technically didn’t break out. I guess that’s a bit unfair for people like Zac Stacy, though. Anyway, Patterson’s true breakout year should happen next season, and he’s definitely an exciting player to watch.

  • David Thompson

    Dolphins – Olivier Vernon way more so than Odrick. Odrick has always been a solid if unspectacular player who’s natural position was 4-3 DT. Vernon went from 3.5 sacks to 11.5 and from 25 tackles to 46. Not even the coaches saw that coming.

    • Johnny

      And TE Charles Clay.. These 2 are way more obvious then Odrick?? Clay came from nowhere and even made the “Top 100″.. And your Vernon also, with his team leading 11.5 sacks… Both had better years than Odrick.. And both were more unknown…

      • David Thompson

        Oh dude I brain farted. Focused only on the D – line lol. It’s definitely Clay

  • Maria Marry

    No no I am not agree with that because http://bit.ly/1tFDwSM

  • powderBLUE801

    I really like how king Dunlap smacked down all the non believers last year. He is a huge body and a great addition to our O-line.

    • http://www.musketfire.com/ Joe Soriano

      I was a non-believer haha, but I’m glad he proved me wrong.

      • powderBLUE801

        I’m not going to lie cuz he proved me wrong as well.

  • Amar S.

    This is completely random, but, you are a much better writer than any of the authors on NFL.com

    • http://www.musketfire.com/ Joe Soriano

      Thanks for the kind words, Amar. I would definitely put the likes of Wesseling, Silver, and Rosenthal (among others) ahead of myself, but that’s awesome praise nonetheless.

  • Johnny

    Dolphins.. Odrick??? Really??? How can you NOT say TE Clay???…

    • http://www.musketfire.com/ Joe Soriano

      Haha, sorry guys. I guess I dropped the ball on that one, but at least Odrick makes sense, right? I mean, the guy finally made good on his first-round draft stock, and he was one of the most productive interior pass rushers in the league last year. Seriously, compare his PRP among 4-3 DTs to Vernon’s PRP (Pro Football Focus stat “Pass Rushing Productivity in case you have a subscription) among 4-3 DEs…the results are pretty interesting.

      But yes, I should have put in Clay for the Dolphins and, while we’re at it, Mike Mitchell as the guy for the Panthers. As I said in the first paragraph, plenty of teams have multiple candidates worth mentioning, and I just so happened to go in a different direction than most people. Does that make me wrong? No, but I would have changed the pick to Clay in hindsight. Hope this helps.

  • Robert Fairbanks

    CHARGERS: Hands down third round draft pick rookie WR Keenan Allen.

    • http://www.musketfire.com/ Joe Soriano

      Keenan Allen was a total beast, and I’m glad I hyped him up before the draft even when his stock fell. That said, I omitted rookies from this list, since it technically isn’t a breakout season.