Happens every season. Sometimes before we’d expect it. Last season quarterbacks stole the show. Luck, Griffin, Wilson, and Kaepernick. The first two you may have seen coming, but the latter two were certainly surprises! Wide recievers came up big too. We saw guys like Dez Bryant, Julio Jones, AJ Green, and Demaryius Thomas emerge as stars. Defensively Luke Kuechly was a dominant tackling machine as a rookie and Patrick Peterson began covering receivers the way he returned punts as a rookie.
This year, these are six guys I think that could break out for their teams based on experience, growth, and opportunity.
RB David Wilson, NYG– Last year as a rookie, he was buried on the depth chart, which was partly his fault for not hanging onto the ball during practice and preseason. He had only one fumble during the regular season however. Wilson is explosive. He had over 1700 rushing in his final year at Virginia Tech. Andre Brown will share some time with him in the backfield, but he is the talented guy the Giants took in the first round for a reason.
WR Golden Tate, Seattle– I said coming out of Notre Dame Tate reminded me so much of Carolina’s Steve Smith physically. Deep speed, and great run after catch ability with strong hands. He’s followed a similar career trajectory too. This year he’ll be the top target in the passing game for emerging Russell Wilson.
WR TY Hilton, Indianapolis– Marvin Harrison came out of Syracuse with more fan-fair, but the two had eerily similar rookie seasons and resemble each other physically and both bring speed to the outside. With Reggie Wayne and Andrew Luck each one year older, look for Hilton to take another step, maybe not leading the team in catches, but perhaps in touchdowns and yards.
CB Morris Claiborne, Dallas– Last year did not go smoothly for the rookie. He was decidedly average for most of the year. But that happens to many rookie corners. It happened to former LSU teammate Patrick Peterson. He played up to his Pro Bowl talent last year, and I’d expect the same for the equally skilled cover-man Claiborne.
LB Lavonte David, Tampa Bay– Ronde Barber says David is as athletic as former future Hall of Fame teammate Derrick Brooks. I don’t agree, but that is high praise. Like Brooks, he was considered undersized coming out of college, but proved that analysis to be short-sighted. David will be able to rely on experience to guide his athleticism now, and that means even bigger things for him this year.
DE Chandler Jones, New England– The rookie looked like a Pro Bowler in the first half of his rookie season, and then ankle injuries slowed him down. Now back and healthy, I’d look for a double-digit sack season from this specimen.