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NFL - 12 possible breakout players for '12
Last season, it was Victor Cruz. Arian Foster and Cameron Wake earned the mantle
the one before, a year after Miles Austin followed the lead of previous
trailblazers like Kurt Warner, Tom Brady, Terrell Davis, Tony Romo and Wes
There's at least one over the course of an NFL season, a player
who rises out of obscurity and into the rarified ranks of superstardom with an
meteoric ascension that even the most insightful of experts couldn't have seen
coming. It's just one aspect of America's most popular professional sport that
makes it such a captivating adventure for fans throughout the season.
teams begin to gear up for training camp during this generally uneventful period
of the league calendar, here's a look at a dozen potential candidates who could
be ready to amp up their production in the coming season:
MATHEWS, RB, SAN DIEGO CHARGERS
Mathews has hardly been
anonymous over his first two seasons, with the 2010 first-round choice
delivering his first 1,000-yard campaign in addition to catching 50 passes as a
sophomore. With former caddy Mike Tolbert now out of the picture, Mathews'
numbers look to be in line for a generous spike as San Diego's clear-cut
featured back if he can stay healthy and work out some ball- security issues
that have plagued him at times as a pro. Coach Norv Turner has a history of
relying on a single backfield workhorse (see Emmitt Smith, LaDanian Tomlinson,
Ricky Williams, Frank Gore), so fantasy players take note.
ROBERT MEACHEM, WR, SAN DIEGO CHARGERS
talented 27-year-old never had more than 45 catches or 722 receiving yards in
four seasons as part of a spread-it-around New Orleans offense loaded with
quality weapons, but he may be ready to take off in a long-awaited opportunity
to be a No. 1 guy with his new team. The Chargers have ranked no worse than
seventh in the NFL in passing yards for four straight years.
TITUS YOUNG, WR, DETROIT LIONS
Young is one of
a few Detroit players who's encountered a turbulent last few months, with the
speedy second-year man barred for a portion of offseason training activities
after fighting with teammate Louis Delmas. However, he's gotten back in the good
graces by shining in drills since his return and appears poised to supplant
declining vet Nate Burleson as the top secondary option opposite Calvin Johnson
in the Lions' potentially lethal aerial attack.
OLB, BALTIMORE RAVENS
No player may be more essential to
Baltimore reaching its Super Bowl aspirations than Kruger, who's being counted
on to fill the pass-rushing void created by reigning Defensive Player of the
Year Terrell Suggs' unfortunate Achilles' tear. After amassing 5 1/2 sacks in
spot duty last season, it wouldn't be surprising if the Utah native had an
impact similar to one of 2011's breakthrough performers, Houston's Connor
Barwin, on a Ravens defense that still has plenty of bite.
REDMAN, RB, PITTSBURGH STEELERS
Redman will be looking to take
advantage of an opening provided by injury, with leading rusher Rashard
Mendenhall likely to miss at least some of 2012 after tearing his ACL in
January. The former practice squad member has averaged 4.5 yards per pop as
Mendenhall's backup the past two years and ripped off 121 yards in Pittsburgh's
playoff loss to Denver, so a big season is certainly well within reach.
BRANDON LAFELL, WR, CAROLINA PANTHERS
demonstrated a lot of promise by averaging 17 yards per catch in his second pro
season and has drawn raves from the Panthers' staff this spring. With continued
improvement, the 25-year-old could lend another shot in the arm to a Carolina
passing game that's on the verge of elite status with Cam Newton fully expected
to take a major step forward from his sensational rookie year.
JUSTIN HOUSTON, OLB, KANSAS CITY CHIEFS
first-round talent who fell to the 70th overall pick of the 2011 draft mainly
due to off-field concerns, Houston looked like a possible steal after racking up
5 1/2 sacks over the final five games of his debut season. More familiarity in
coach Romeo Crennel's defense and the presence of All-Pro Tamba Hali on the
opposite side should have Houston primed to build off last year's furious finish
and give the Chiefs one of the league's fiercest duo of pass- rushing
MARCELL DAREUS, DT, BUFFALO BILLS
The third overall selection of last year's draft didn't disappoint as a
rookie, notching 5 1/2 sacks and playing solid against the run despite interior
mate Kyle Williams missing most of the season with an injured foot. With
Williams nearing full strength and the Bills bringing in pass-rushing terrors
Mario Williams and Mark Anderson in free agency, Dareus could be ticketed for a
Pro Bowl-caliber performance as one of the anchors of arguably the best
defensive line in the AFC.
DERRICK MORGAN, DE, TENNESSEE
Morgan's brief career has been mostly a dud to date,
with the 2010 first- rounder having recorded a mere 3 1/2 sacks in 19 games over
his initial two seasons. But he will be nearly two years removed from an ACL
tear that cost him nearly all of his rookie campaign. Better health and the
addition of proven pass rusher Kamerion Wimbley should increase his chances of
reaching his considerable ceiling in what's shaping up as a make-or-break
KELLEN DAVIS, TE, CHICAGO BEARS
6-foot-7 Davis has only 28 catches totaling 300 yards in four seasons in
Chicago, but has the skills to be far more than just a bit player in an offense
that's getting a major makeover in 2012. Departed coordinator Mike Martz often
neglected the tight end position in the game plan, and having Mike Tice now
calling the plays figures to bode well for the big target's prospects of
emerging into a dangerous option for Jay Cutler.
WR, HOUSTON TEXANS
Jean is easily the most unknown player on
this list, an undrafted free agent out of small-school Florida Atlantic who
spent his entire rookie season of 2011 on injured reserve with a shoulder
problem. The good-sized youngster (6-3, 215 pounds) was having a strong
preseason prior to getting hurt, however, and has been wowing onlookers at the
Texans' OTA sessions with his hands and athletic ability. Houston doesn't have
much alongside Andre Johnson at wide receiver, making Jean the early favorite to
become this year's Cruz.
AARON MAYBIN, OLB, NEW YORK
Maybin hasn't shed his bust label just yet, but the 2009
11th-overall pick and Buffalo castoff finally showed signs of living up to his
advance billing in a 13-game trial run with the Jets last season, registering
six sacks and forcing four fumbles as a situational reserve. He's being ticketed
for a more prominent role in coach Rex Ryan's defense this year, and Ryan has a
knack for maximizing the available personnel on that side of the ball.
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