At any time when a daily season involves an finish, there’s usually greater than a handful of gamers who not solely exceed expectations however elevate their stature within the league as one of many recreation’s stars. Some you’ll be able to kind of see coming, however most of the time there are those that fully burst onto the scene out of left discipline. Within the AFC in 2020, you can level to Payments quarterback Josh Allen leaping to celebrity/MVP-caliber standing final 12 months for example. To a lesser diploma, even Jaguars undrafted rookie James Robinson got here out of nowhere to change into one of many higher operating backs within the league in 2020.
These are two strong examples to spotlight how these breakouts can come from anybody and anyplace throughout the NFL, so you will should maintain your head on a swivel to establish them. Who’s on deck for the same leap in 2021? That is what we’ll attempt to be predict right here. Beneath, we’ll roll via every staff within the AFC and choose one under-the-radar participant that could be poised for an enormous breakout marketing campaign subsequent season.
For those who’re searching for a breakout participant on Baltimore’s roster, the commonest title you will hear will in all probability be second-year operating again J.Okay. Dobbins, particularly after the discharge of Mark Ingram this offseason and his sturdy rookie marketing campaign. Whereas Dobbins definitely seems poised for a stellar second season within the league, Marquise Brown could also be getting slept on a bit. The Ravens receiver had a really sturdy finish to his 2020 season, averaging over 4 catches for 56 yards and a landing in his last six regular-season contests. Within the playoffs, Brown additionally appeared to take one other leap in his growth, catching 11 of his 16 targets over two contests for 196 yards. Over that eight-game run to complete his season, Lamar Jackson seemed Brown’s far more than seven occasions per-game, which is especially noteworthy.
If that continues, Brown could possibly be on the verge of a profession 12 months as he enters his third-season within the NFL. It additionally does not harm that the Ravens added Sammy Watkins and rookie Rashod Bateman to the receiver unit to take some protection off Brown.
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A.J. Epenesa was arguably a first-round expertise popping out of Iowa in 2020, however Buffalo was capable of scoop him up within the second spherical. He appeared in 14 contests for the Payments throughout his rookie season, however performed sparingly (27% of the defensive snaps). When given extra of a possibility within the later a part of the season, nonetheless, Epenesa did not disappoint. His lone begin of the season got here in Week 17, when he totaled a season-high three tackles for a loss together with a quarterback hit. The rookie additionally was a noticeable presence in the course of the AFC Championship Sport in opposition to the Chiefs. As he heads into his second season, coach Sean McDermott will seemingly give Epenesa much more alternative to develop inside this protection. As Buffalo seems to be to contend within the AFC in 2021, Epenesa might show to be a key piece alongside that unit to go with Josh Allen on the opposite aspect of the ball.
A number of occasions, a breakout largely is about up because of a gap on the depth chart creating an avenue for the participant to ascend via. With linebacker Josh Bynes now not on the Bengals roster, that does open the door for linebacker Logan Wilson to take a bigger position throughout the protection. The 2020 third-round decide appeared in 12 video games for Cincinnati final season and was productive, totaling 33 tackles, two interceptions, three passes defended, a sack, and two quarterback hits. He was beginning to discover a groove in direction of the tip of final season, however an damage in Week 14 sidelined him for the remainder of the 12 months. As long as he stays wholesome, there’s quite a bit to love in regards to the Wilson heading into 2021, the place he might turn into an each down linebacker.
Cleveland has come up aces all through this offseason and introduced in quite a few high quality gamers that make them a sneaky Tremendous Bowl candidate heading into 2021. Because it pertains to somebody who might assist elevate the offense for Baker Mayfield, let us take a look at tight finish Harrison Bryant, who is about to enter his second season within the league. Sure, it is a somewhat crowded place group with Austin Hooper and David Njoku additionally on the roster, however that did not appear to cease Bryant from making an instantaneous influence over his rookie marketing campaign. He began 9 video games within the common season and was within the beginning lineup for one in every of Cleveland’s two playoff matchups final 12 months. Whereas the statistical numbers might not pop off the web page, there have been occasions the place Bryant did not appear to be a rookie and had some strong chemistry with Mayfield. Usually, tight ends take a bit longer to actually get away within the passing recreation, however Bryant has already proven a powerful knack for Kevin Stefanski’s offense. With a 12 months of data beneath his belt, Bryant could possibly be in for a strong sophomore season.
We solely obtained a glimpse of Okwuegbunam throughout his rookie season, however what we noticed was spectacular within the passing recreation. The 2020 fourth-round decide made his NFL debut in Week 6 and proved to be a dependable receiving weapon catching 73.3% of his targets. The 23-year-old’s season was lower quick after simply 4 video games attributable to a torn ACL in Week 8. So long as he can return to full energy, he does add an attention-grabbing layer to Denver’s offense. The Broncos might deploy extra 12-personnel as they pair Okwuegbunam alongside Noah Fant.
The Houston quarterback scenario continues to be in a state of uncertainty with Deshaun Watson’s off-the-field points unresolved, however even when Watson isn’t with the Texans in 2021, Tyrod Taylor continues to be somebody who can ship the soccer. One pass-catcher who might develop to be a favourite goal for whoever is beneath middle in Houston is rookie Nico Collins. The receiver was taken within the third spherical of the 2021 draft out of Michigan and is a big-bodied goal, standing at 6-foot-4, 215 kilos. Brandin Cooks continues to be thought-about to be the No. 1 receiver on this offense, however Collins finally leaping as much as the No. 2 choice is not that tall of a job, needing to beat out targets like Randall Cobb, Andre Roberts, and Keke Coutee.
Parris Campbell was a preferred breakout candidate heading into final season however the former second-round decide suffered a knee damage in Week 2 that sidelined him for the remainder of the season. What we did see from him within the Week 1 opener (a career-high 71 yards receiving) does go away some hope, nonetheless, that he can decide up the place he left off heading into 2021. Whereas expertise is oozing out of the slot receiver, the most important factor for Campbell is remaining wholesome. If he can keep on the sphere, he ought to declare that beginning slot receiver place as T.Y. Hilton and Michael Pittman Jr. man the surface receiver spots.
The Jaguars presently have little to no depth on the tight finish place, which opens the door for rookie Luke Farrell to tackle an enormous position proper out of the gate. The Ohio State product has good dimension for the place, standing 6-foot-6, 251 kilos and has displayed strong athleticism operating a 4.82 40-yard sprint at his professional day. He was largely a blocker throughout his collegiate days with the Buckeyes, however on condition that rookie quarterbacks are inclined to lean on tight ends within the early goings of their careers, Farrell might see some pass-catching alternatives early in his profession. Is he going to leap into the elite tight finish realm proper out of the shoot? It is unlikely. Nonetheless, the rookie might put collectively a decent first season that units him up for much more success down the road.
Sneed proved to be fairly the discover for Kansas Metropolis, who chosen him within the fourth spherical of the 2020 draft. He discovered a possibility to play early within the 2020 season after Bashaud Breeland was serving his suspension and performed effectively. As soon as Breeland returned, Sneed then moved to nickel nook and continued to play at a excessive degree. In his 9 video games performed (six begins), Sneed tallied three interceptions and allowed only a 59.6 completion share when focused. When together with playoffs, he allowed only a 66.6 passer ranking when focused. Together with his position anticipated to increase in 2021, Snead might change into one of many newest superstars to burst out of the Chiefs group.
Edwards’ rookie season had a dent put into it attributable to accidents, however the 2020 third-round decide struggled to impress even when he was capable of get on the sphere final 12 months. That mentioned, he did initially earn the beginning spot over Nelson Agholor to start the 12 months, however in the end could not claw again into that beginning rotation after struggling accidents. Heading into 2021, nonetheless, Edwards is seeking to get again on observe and seems to be well-conditioned as he rolls into his sophomore season. With a 12 months of studying Jon Gruden’s playbook beneath his belt, he could possibly be a unique sort of receiver than what the Raiders presently have on the roster. His body interprets effectively to him being an X-receiver who can go up and win 50-50 balls, probably opening the door for elevated red-zone targets.
With former Rams defensive coordinator Brandon Staley coming in because the Chargers new head coach, naturally, we’ll be taking a look at that aspect of the ball for any breakout candidates. That brings us to security Nasir Adderley, who’ll be coming into his third season within the NFL in 2021. His rookie season was hampered by accidents after which struggled in 2020 beneath defensive coordinator Gus Bradley. As he strikes into 12 months 3, nonetheless, there’s hope that he can flip issues round with Staley main the way in which. The pinnacle coach has already talked about probably utilizing Adderley’s athletic capacity and flexibility to the membership’s benefit by probably shifting him down within the field or probably getting used as a moneybacker at occasions. If Staley can push the fitting buttons, it might unlock a harmful defensive weapon in Adderley.
Gaskin proved to be the Dolphins’ most dynamic operating again in 2020 and now has a possibility to solidify himself as a week-to-week starter within the NFL this season. Miami did add Malcolm Brown in free company this offseason, however Gaskin ought to nonetheless be checked out because the Week 1 starter with this backfield because it’s presently constructed. In simply 10 video games performed throughout his sophomore season in 2020, Gaskin totaled 972 yards from scrimmage and averaged 5.1 yards per contact. With the Dolphins including extra weapons within the passing recreation and Tua Tagovailoa anticipated to take a leap in his second season within the league, extra operating lanes ought to open up for Gaskin, including much more hype to what could possibly be a profession season for the previous seventh-rounder.
New England’s operating again room is fairly crowded, however I count on second-year operating again J.J. Taylor to carve out a extra substantial position for himself on this backfield. When given the chance final season, Taylor was at occasions probably the most electrifying again on the Patriots roster, which was harking back to what Dion Lewis used to offer to this unit. He will not rival Damien Harris or James White for beginning reps, however can he undertake a number of the 92 touches left by Rex Burkhead? If that’s the case, he could possibly be one other strong layer to the Patriots’ operating again room.
Mims had a delayed begin to his professional profession after a hamstring damage had him on injured reserve till late October and compelled his NFL debut out to Week 7. Upon arrival, nonetheless, he did flash his second-round potential, averaging 15.5 yards per reception over his 9 video games performed in 2020. As New York strikes into a brand new period in 2021 with quarterback Zach Wilson on the helm, Mims could possibly be in for fairly the leap. He’ll seemingly declare one of many beginning spots throughout the vast receiver unit and the presence of Jamison Crowder together with offseason additions Corey Davis and Keelan Cole ought to open issues up for the second-year pass-catcher to place up some strong numbers. In fact, this potential breakout can also be predicated on Wilson beginning his NFL profession out sturdy as effectively.
Bud Dupree is now a Titan and it seems to be like it will likely be Alex Highsmith who will get the luxurious of beginning reverse of T.J. Watt alongside Pittsburgh’s entrance seven. Naturally, opposing offenses will likely be making it a precedence to cease Watt, which then opens the door for Highsmith — or anybody reverse him — to see single protection and probably open avenues on the quarterback. The 2020 third-round decide did play effectively all through his rookie season as effectively, totaling 12 strain, two sacks and 6 hurries. While you mix that expertise with this example, Highsmith could possibly be checked out as Pittsburgh’s newest promising younger move rusher.
Whereas a ton of consideration is rightfully being paid to Tennessee buying Julio Jones, the Titans technically had two holes to fill. Not solely did the membership want to exchange Corey Davis at receiver however additionally they misplaced tight finish Jonnu Smith in free company as effectively. These two created a 157 goal gap within the Tennessee offense and all of that will not go Jones’ means. Particularly at tight finish, it could possibly be Anthony Firkser who sees a bigger uptick in targets even after a 2020 season the place he was fourth on the membership in that regard with 53 passes thrown his means. If he strikes into the beginning spot now that Smith is in New England, Firkser could have loads of openings to supply significantly within the crimson zone with opposing defenses worrying about Jones, A.J. Brown and Derrick Henry.