Every season, there are players who break out onto the NFL scene. Often they get little to no coverage in the preseason, but are weekly talking points come fall. Sometimes they are rookies like Chiefs speedster Tyreek Hill, who came out of nowhere to score 12 touchdowns last year. Other times, it can even be veterans like Bills outside linebacker Lorenzo Alexander. Alexander was 33 and entering his 12th season in the NFL, first with the Bills. Turns out Alexander tastes best aged, and he earned his first ever pro-bowl nod after notching 12.5 sacks, more than he had in his entire career up to that point.
My point is these players come in all shapes and sizes. Every player in the NFL is supremely talented, it’s the right situation that really makes these guys click. Here are 5 players I like to become household names in 2017.
1. James Bradberry, CB, Carolina Panthers
This man is about to break out like an adolescent middle-schooler. Bradberry was subject to trial by fire last year. Coming out of small school Samford, he was thrust in to the starting corner role with the exit of Josh Norman and performed admirably. He appeared in 13 games, and still led the team in pass break-ups with 10, while grabbing two picks. Bradberry has the desired size for a NFL corner these days as well at 6’1″ 215. I am so in on Bradberry that I’m willing to predict that he becomes a top 10 type corner in the NFL this season. He will get his chance to prove it going up against Mike Evans, Michael Thomas, and Julio Jones 6 times a year. Panthers fans will forget about the other guy who wore #24.
2. Christian Kirksey, LB, Cleveland Browns
The Browns linebacker inked an extension this offseason, and reports out of Berea suggest that he is thriving in Gregg Williams’ defensive scheme. One could argue that he already had his breakout year last season when Kirksey amassed 148 tackles, but with the Browns only winning one game last year his season didn’t get any of the credit it deserved. This year Kirksey will only improve as a player, and with what I think will be a more exciting to watch and competitive Browns team, Kirksey will get his deserved credit across the NFL.
3. DeVante Parker, WR, Miami Dolphins
DeVante Parker is going to put it all together this season. I really believe in Parker’s skill set, and his flashes showcase his ability to be something special. In his third year, his focus needs to be on turning those flashes into consistent, reliable play-making in order for the Dolphins to get the proper return on investment for their 2015 first round pick. In Jay Cutler’s first series as a Dolphin, he fired a back-shoulder ball to Parker down the sideline for a 30 yard connection. It was called back due to a hold, but that was nice to see early on in their QB/WR relationship. I’m giving Parker the Leigh Murray treatment and predicting 1,200 yards and 8 tuddys.
4. Sean Davis, SS, Pittsburgh Steelers
Sean Davis had a promising rookie year for the Steelers, and it becomes even more impressive when you take into account that he played with a torn labrum for most of the year. Davis has all of the versatility that a strong safety needs to have in the NFL. He can drop down in the box and provide run support as a hybrid type linebacker, as well as play 12 yards off the line of scrimmage and have the athleticism to provide corner help over the top. Davis can be a big part in what I see as a revitalization of the Pittsburgh Steelers defense, and don’t sleep on his rookie defensive back counter-part Artie Burns.
5. Torrey Smith, WR, Philadelphia Eagles
I wanted to go with a veteran with my final breakout player, and I think Smith is a great candidate. Yes, he has had a thousand yard season in his career, but that was back in 2013. Since then, the Maryland speedster has fallen off the map. He disappointed in San Francisco, but I think his poor production was more a result of bad QB play than a deteriorating player. Now in Philly with young gun Carson Wentz, Smith has the opportunity to bring himself back to prominence. With the departure of Jordan Matthews, Smith is now the #2 option (depending on your opinion of Nelson Agholor) and he should get somewhere around 70 targets this year.