We’ve identified a player from each NFL team expected to have a breakout season in 2017.
Every year in the NFL, there are players that seem to come out of nowhere and become productive players for their respective teams. Sometimes, these are young players simply maturing into better play. Others are veterans who may land in a better situation or just have the light bulb come on later than expected. And, occasionally, there are the Kurt Warners of the football world who completely come out of nowhere and take the league by storm. For whichever reason, these are stories that make the NFL so exciting to follow.
Here is one player from each NFL team, not including rookies, I expect to have a breakout 2017 campaign.
BUFFALO BILLS: Tyrod Taylor, Quarterback
Taylor has been a productive passer during his two years in Buffalo (6257 YDS, 37 TD, 14 INT). However, the inconsistencies and lack of explosive plays have become the norm. With the addition of rookie Zay Jones, free agent Andre Holmes and a healthy Sammy Watkins, expect Taylor to take off in 2017.
MIAMI DOLPHINS: DeVante Parker, Wide Receiver
Parker, the Dolphins’ 2015 first-round pick, has been hampered by nagging injuries since he was drafted. He played in 15 games in 2016 (starting 8) while posting 56 receptions for 744 yards and 4 touchdowns. With Jarvis Landry attracting much of the coverage and Ryan Tannehill maturing, Parker should be ready to come into his own.
NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS: Dwayne Allen, Tight End
After a promising rookie season in 2012, Allen has been beset by injury and up-and-down play (from himself and his quarterback). No knock on Andrew Luck, but Allen will now be on the business end of Tom Brady passes. We’ve seen how the Patriots thrive in 2 tight end sets. Allen will be the beneficiary of much of that.
NEW YORK JETS: Darron Lee, Linebacker
It’s legitimately hard to find a Jets’ player that is a bright spot these days. But, I’ll go with Lee, the ultra-quick linebacker who showed flashes of difference-making play in 2016. Expect him to build on that and become a staple on the Gang Green defense in 2017.
BALTIMORE RAVENS: Breshad Perriman, Wide Receiver
Nothing good in life comes without risk, right? So, I’m taking a gamble on the oft-injured but gifted Perriman. The addition of Jeremy Maclin takes a bit of pressure off of Perriiman to be the WR1 in Baltimore. Perriman could be a big play machine this season.
CINCINNATI BENGALS: Tyler Kroft, Tight End
Kroft is as talented as many starting tight ends in this league. However, being buried on the depth chart behind pro bowler Tyler Eifert and equally talented C.J. Uzomah leaves Kroft with limited opportunities. Chronic back issues for Eifert and inconsistency from Uzomah may open up things for Kroft in 2017.
CLEVELAND BROWNS: Isaiah Crowell, Running Back
Crowell has been the starter in the Cleveland backfield for two years now, and has performed admirably. But, with the solidification of the Browns’ offensive line and surrounding weapons, Crowell could vault himself into one of the better backs in the NFL.
PITTSBURGH STEELERS: Bud Dupree, EDGE
Dupree missed all but the final 4 regular season games of 2016. Upon his return, he amassed 4.5 sacks (plus another in the playoffs). Dupree is a physical force off the edge and works his butt off in preparation. Expect double digit sacks for the third year man in 2017, adding to the lineage of dominant linebackers in the Steel City.
HOUSTON TEXANS: Nick Martin, Center
I know…I know. An offensive lineman is not a sexy pick! However, Martin is a heck of a player who missed his entire rookie season due to injury. He’s healthy now, set to return and man the pivot for Houston. He could be a top-level interior lineman like his brother, Cowboys’ all pro guard Zack Martin.
INDIANAPOLIS COLTS: Eric Swoope, Tight End
The aforementioned Dwayne Allen leaves Indy and his replacement is ready to break out. Swoope is an athletic, pass-catching tight end. While he won’t offer as much as Allen as a blocker, Swoope should stretch the middle of the field and more of a threat in the passing game.
JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS: Myles Jack, Linebacker
Jack had a bit of a lost rookie season in 2016, as he recovered from an early injury and tried to get caught up on the defensive scheme later. After playing less than 200 defensive snaps last season, look for Jack to explode onto the scene from his inside linebacker spot in 2017.
TENNESSEE TITANS: Marcus Mariota, Quarterback
Mariota lost the second half of 2016 with a broken leg. He now returns healthy with a plethora of new weapons at his disposal. Eric Decker and Corey Davis will allow Mariota to produce many more big plays in the passing game.
DENVER BRONCOS: Paxton Lynch, Quarterback
The Broncos used 2016 as sort of a redshirt season for Lynch, only playing him in 3 games due to injury. Lynch has looked great in off-season workouts, by all accounts and seems poised for a big year if he continues through training camp. He’s a talent upgrade over incumbent starter Trevor Siemian.
KANSAS CITY CHIEFS: Chris Conley, Wide Receiver
The Chiefs released Jeremy Maclin, surprisingly, over the off-season and will create a bigger role for 2016 rookie sensation Tyreke Hill. But, it’s Conley who stands to gain the most from Maclin’s release. Conley has the size, speed and hands to be a big time player in Andy Reid’s offense.
LOS ANGELES CHARGERS: Hunter Henry, Tight End
Henry accumulated 36 catches for 478 yards and 8 touchdowns in his 2016 rookie campaign, while mostly playing second-fiddle to Antonio Gates. Henry’s star is on the rise and it won’t be long before it eclipses that of Gates. I’d expect Henry to nearly double his catches and yards numbers in 2017.
OAKLAND RAIDERS: Karl Joseph, Safety
Joseph only started 9 games in 2016 due to injury and acclimation. When he got comfortable, he was a force against the run and in coverage. He has the talent to stand out on that young, up-and-coming Raiders’ defense.
DALLAS COWBOYS: Maliek Collins, Defensive Tackle
After becoming a third-round pick of the Cowboys in 2016, Collins hit the ground running from day one. He finished his rookie season with 5 sacks, prompting Dallas to have high hopes for Collins. And rightfully so. Collins is an ideal combination of power and quickness on the interior.
NEW YORK GIANTS: Eli Apple, Cornerback
Apple showed flashes of stellar play in his 2016 rookie season. He progressed as the season went along and was playing at a high level come season’s end. Expect Apple to be tested, opposite Janoris Jenkins, but he should be ready to answer the bell.
PHILADELPHIA EAGLES: Timmy Jernigan, Defensive Tackle
Jernigan comes to Philly after playing his first three seasons in Baltimore, where he was not going to get a long-term contract. Playing next to Fletcher Cox will allow Jernigan to do what he does best…penetrate and wreak havoc in backfields.
WASHINGTON: Su’a Cravens, Safety
Cravens played more of a “joker” position in 2016 and all he did was make plays. He’ll primarily be a safety in 2017 and looks to further establish himself as one of the more promising young defenders in the NFL.
CHICAGO BEARS: Kevin White, Wide Receiver
White lost the majority of his first two seasons with lower body injuries. He flashed his big play ability late in 2016, but must regain his confidence. He’ll be given every opportunity to make good on the Bears 2015 first round investment in him. Here’s a nod that he does just that.
DETROIT LIONS: A’Shawn Robinson, Defensive Tackle
The Lions have made it known that they want to unleash Robinson’s pass rush ability more in 2017. That’s a huge sign that Detroit has high hopes for the 2016 second-round pick out of Alabama.
GREEN BAY PACKERS: Ty Montgomery, Running Back
Montgomery, a former wide receiver was forced into running back duty in 2016, after injuries ravaged the Packers’ backfield. He responded by rushing for 457 yards and 3 TD while averaging 5.9 yards per attempt. Now, fully entrenched as a runner, Montgomery is expected to post stellar numbers in 2017.
MINNESOTA VIKINGS: Trae Waynes, Cornerback
After a disappointing rookie season in 2015, the former first-round pick progressed in 2016, picking off 3 passes. Now, expected to be a full-time starter, Waynes will get plenty of opportunities lining up across from all-pro Xavier Rhodes.
ATLANTA FALCONS: Austin Hooper, Tight End
Hooper, after catching just 19 passes in the 2016 regular season, showed flashes of what he can be in the Falcon’s run to the Super Bowl. He has the speed and quickness to create mismatches over the middle of the field. With teams lending more attention to Julio Jones and Mohamed Sanu on the outside, Hooper should be able to take full advantage.
CAROLINA PANTHERS: Shaq Thompson, Linebacker
As Thomas Davis gets older and less reliable, especially in coverage, expect the Panthers to employ Thompson more frequently. When he’s on the field, Thompson is a dynamic player with range to make plays all over the field. He will absolutely build on his 39 tackle 2016 season and become a staple on the Carolina defense.
NEW ORLEANS SAINTS: Sheldon Rankins, Defensive Tackle
Rankins missed much of his 2016 rookie season due to a broken leg. He returned to play 9 games and posted 4 sacks. Rankins is a quick, penetrating interior lineman that can wreak havoc in offensive backfields. Now that he has his feet wet, Rankins could ascend to one of the better defensive tackles in the game.
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS: Ryan Smith, Safety
Smith not only made the transition from college cornerback to NFL safety during his rookie year, he did so coming from a small school (NC Central) as a fourth-round pick. He was a special teams regular in 2016 and will assume the starting free safety spot in 2017. Expect the rangy ballhawk to be a productive player in the Tampa defense.
ARIZONA CARDINALS: D.J. Humphries, Offensive Tackle
Another offensive lineman! Yes. Humphries spent his first season redshirting and his second at right tackle. Now, the Cardinals have moved him over to the all-important left tackle spot. Humphries now has the seasoning to match his undeniable natural talent.
LOS ANGELES RAMS: Jared Goff, Quarterback
Hey, if the number one overall pick is not expected to breakout in his first full year as a starter, the Rams are in big trouble. So, I’m going the easy route with that guy. Goff has the physical tools, obviously, but must now put it all together.
SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS: Dontae Johnson, Cornerback
Now entering his fourth year in the NFL, Johnson is set to become a full-time starter. The 6’2″ corner from NC State has the tools to be a solid player. He must be more consistent and reliable as a tackler. I think the time is now for that to happen.
SEATTLE SEAHAWKS: Paul Richardson, Wide Receiver
It’s hard to find a breakout player on such an established roster. But, Richardson has the big play ability and burning speed that could bring to the forefront of many Seahawks’ games. If he’s healthy, he’s a threat. He’s shown that much.