Top Ten NFL Breakout Players of 2013 Season
Every new season in the NFL the experience is different yet similar. People know what to expect from the stars like Aaron Rodgers and DeMarcus Ware. What they can't wait to find out is which names could surprise everybody with a terrific season of their own. For such things to happen it takes a number of factors: better coaching, better talent around them, more chances on the field, and greater dedication to their craft. Keeping that in mind, who are ten names that have an excellent chance to stake their claim on the spotlight in 2013?
Ryan Tannehill - QB - Miami Dolphins
Few off-seasons appeared as active and productive as the Miami Dolphins put together from March through May. Their laundry list of free agent signings and draft picks netted them Mike Wallace, Brandon Gibson, Dustin Keller, Tyson Clabo and Dallas Thomas on offense. Ryan Tannehill had a decent rookie season without these guys. With another year in the system under head coach Joe Philbin and the prospects of an improved defense as well, there is no reason to think the second-year quarterback isn't poised for a breakout. His physical skills are there and his mental acuity came on late in the season. Throw in these new weapons and Miami seems ready to showcase the next star quarterback in AFC East.
Chris Ivory - RB - New York Jets
He had to fight so hard for opportunities with the New Orleans Saints. Not anymore. With Shonn Greene out of the picture the hopes of the New York Jets running game rest on the shoulders of Chris Ivory. While the starting job is not guaranteed to him yet, his limited playing time in New Orleans suggests that is a foregone conclusion. Ivory never averaged less than 4.7 yards per carry through three seasons. Those limited carries also mean his body isn't as beat up as normal running backs his age. Given how the Jets like to run their offense, he should see plenty of opportunities. Unless he gets hurt that talent he showcased with the Saints will show itself again for Gang Green.
A.J. Jenkins - WR - San Francisco 49ers
Addition by subtraction is the name of the game for A.J. Jenkins. Mario Manningham was already doubtful for the season opener as he rehabs his injured knee. So when Michael Crabtree went down with a torn Achilles, it swung the door wide open for Jenkins to make his move for the starting job. Coaches agree the 2012 first round pick has taken advantage of it. He seems more confident and less overwhelmed by the complexity of the offense run by Greg Roman. Most receivers know when that happens it usually translates to production on the field. Jenkins has plenty of size and speed to handle NFL corners. In the San Francisco 49ers offense directed by Colin Kaepernick, he should show it off early, erasing the stigma of registering zero catches a year ago.
Joe Haden - CB - Cleveland Browns
Anybody who watched this kid play last year saw the signs. They were clear as day. The term "shutdown" corner doesn't get tossed around often but Joe Haden has that much potential. His problem isn't physical. It's mental. Haden was suspended four games last year for PED violations. Yet he still managed 40 tackles and 3 interceptions when he did play. As he works to get over his maturity issues, the state of the Cleveland Browns defense is looking up. The additions of Paul Kruger and Barkevious Mingo should invigorate the pass rush while rookie Leon McFadden should assist Haden in the secondary. Couple that with the shift to a 3-4 scheme under Ray Horton that should take proper advantage of his cover abilities and there is nothing stopping Haden from having the best year of his career.
Gerald McCoy - DT - Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Two words best encompass why Gerald McCoy makes this list: Darrelle Revis. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers had the worst defense in the league in 2012 and yet McCoy still had five sacks. Adding Revis, fellow Pro Bowler Dashon Goldson and Jonthan Banks to the secondary should instantly give the Buccaneers defensive front an extra second in their pass rush. Any coach will say a second can mean all the difference in the pros. If McCoy notched five sacks with the worst secondary, what are the possibilities now that it's laden with All-Pros and first round picks?
Alshon Jeffery - WR - Chicago Bears
Health was a real problem for Alshon Jeffery during his rookie season. He missed six games total with hand and knee ailments. Yet he still managed to finish 8th among rookie receivers in yards and 5th in touchdowns. Things are looking up for him this year though. Brandon Marshall returns on the opposite side. The Bears added tight end Martellus Bennett and Jay Cutler got a big upgrade in protection with Jermon Bushrod and Kyle Long. On top of that, new head coach Marc Trestman is in charge. His West Coast offense figures to spread the ball around, meaning the opportunities will come in greater numbers than last season when they all went to Marshall. All reports out of Chicago are he's in better shape and seeing the game far quicker mentally. A good sign if there ever was one.
Greg Hardy - DE - Carolina Panthers
How can a guy who had 11 sacks in 2012 be poised for a breakout year? Simple. When the Carolina Panthers added Star Lotulelei and Kawann Short to the defensive tackle spots. Rated as two of the best in a group considered the strength of the 2013 NFL draft, their presence in the middle of the Panthers defensive front will take loads of pressure off of Hardy and teammate Charles Johnson. Together they had 23.5 sacks last season without much help from the interior rushers. How much more they can possibly do with two physical specimens like Lotulelei and Short on the field is something to watch when the season starts.
Steven Jackson - RB - Atlanta Falcons
The best thing anybody can say about great players is that they are a model of consistent excellence. That was Steven Jackson for years with the St. Louis Rams. Despite playing with horrible teams most of his career he still managed to post eight-straight 1,000-yard seasons. He is not as explosive as he used to be but at age 29 he has plenty left in tank. The fact he's joining the cerebral Matt Ryan and the explosive Atlanta Falcons passing attack only makes that more of a certainty. Former Falcon Michael Turner averaged 1,300 yards when given at least 300 carries in a season. Given Jackson mirrors his style in terms of speed and strength, there is no reason to think he won't make an instant impact the second he steps on that Georgia Dome turf.
Andy Dalton - QB - Cincinnati Bengals
Another quarterback who benefitted from a productive off-season. The Cincinnati Bengals went into 2013 needing help on offense for Andy Dalton. Thanks to a pair of hits in the draft they succeeded. Tight end Tyler Eifert came in the first round and running back Giovani Bernard came in the second. Their additions makes the Bengals attack that much more explosive. Dalton has shown steady improvement over his past two seasons, posting 271 more passing yards and seven more touchdowns than his rookie season. Having Eifert and Bernard opens the field, taking away the need for him to lean on A.J. Green. That makes him a dark horse breakout choice, and Cincinnati a closet favorite for the AFC North.
Manti Te'o - ILB - San Diego Chargers
Oh! Did I just go there? I couldn't possibly have invoked that name. Well, I did. Like it or not Manti Te'o is going to start for the San Diego Chargers at inside linebacker and if anybody has a chip on their shoulder to prove something this year, it's him. After what happened in the national championship and then the fake girlfriend fiasco, Te'o has nothing but doubters lately. Has everyone forgotten he was a few votes away from winning the Heisman trophy? The talent is there. All he needs is a chance. San Diego has an outstanding defensive coordinator in John Pagano. He will give Te'o plenty of opportunities to make plays.