35 NFL Sophomores Headed for Breakout Seasons in 2014

35 Second-Year Players Set to Shine in 2014

Montee Ball
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Every year, we see numerous sophomores emerge as playmakers in the NFL. They might not have had a great rookie season, but that year of experience can really do wonders in terms of development. Even an increase in snaps can lead to sudden realization of starting-caliber talent.

With that in mind, here’s a look at 35 NFL sophomores who could emerge as stars in 2014.

Note: Only players who started less than five games as rookies are included.

Steve Williams, CB, San Diego Chargers

Steve Williams
Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Steve Williams, CB, San Diego Chargers

Steve Williams
Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

After missing his rookie season with a torn pectoral muscle, Williams will be looking to come back strong in 2014. With so much fluctuation at cornerback for the Chargers, the 2013 fifth-rounder will be given every opportunity to steal a starting spot.

Michael Mauti, ILB, Minnesota Vikings

Michael Mauti
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Michael Mauti, ILB, Minnesota Vikings

Michael Mauti
Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

Mauti came on slow last season while working his way back from a 2012 ACL tear, but became a standout special teams player down the stretch. With no clear starter at middle linebacker, Mauti is in the hunt for a No. 1 job. If anything, he’ll earn significant snaps as a backup.

Brandon McGee, CB, St. Louis Rams

Brandon McGee
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Brandon McGee, CB, St. Louis Rams

Brandon McGee
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While McGee wasn’t exactly a standout player in 2013, the former fifth-round pick has the athleticism and instincts to develop into a quality player. If he can get out of the gates fast, expect McGee to earn a significant role in the Rams’ secondary.

Mychal Rivera, TE, Oakland Raiders

Mychal Rivera
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Mychal Rivera, TE, Oakland Raiders

Mychal Rivera
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

In an offense that lacked legitimate weapons, Rivera stood out last season. He wasn’t even a starter, but the rookie tight end showed up when the Raiders needed him, hauling in four touchdowns during the year. Expect a larger role and a significant bump in production from Rivera in 2014.

Brandon Williams, DT, Baltimore Ravens

Brandon Williams
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Brandon Williams, DT, Baltimore Ravens

Brandon Williams
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A small-school product, Williams struggled to find his way into the Ravens’ rotation as a rookie. This season, though, the third-rounder will be looked upon to lock down one of the starting defensive tackle spots. There’s a lot of promise in Williams, and Baltimore is ready to reap the rewards.

Levine Toilolo, TE, Atlanta Falcons

Levine Toilolo
Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

Levine Toilolo, TE, Atlanta Falcons

Levine Toilolo
Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

With Tony Gonzalez enjoying retirement, the Falcons will be looking to replace his production at tight end. Toilolo isn’t going to be anywhere near as effective, but could still have a big sophomore campaign. His size and athleticism should net him even more touchdowns in 2014.

Terron Armstead, OT, New Orleans Saints

Terron Armstead
Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Terron Armstead, OT, New Orleans Saints

Terron Armstead
Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Armstead came on slow for the Saints as a rookie, but showed up big when they needed him at season's end and in the playoffs. With Charles Brown gone via free agency, it looks like New Orleans will be looking for more progress from the 2013 third-rounder.

Latavius Murray, RB, Oakland Raiders

Latavius Murray
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Latavius Murray, RB, Oakland Raiders

Latavius Murray
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Even with Maurice Jones-Drew and Darren McFadden ahead of him on the depth chart, the future looks bright for Murray. Since both of the veterans will likely be hurt at some point this season, expect Murray to get an opportunity and show the Raiders it’s time for a youth movement.

Luke Willson, TE, Seattle Seahawks

Luke Willson
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Luke Willson, TE, Seattle Seahawks

Luke Willson
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Despite solid production, Zach Miller has never been the tight end the Seahawks wanted. Willson, however, is showing promising signs heading into his sophomore season. The former fifth-rounder has already exceeded expectations, and should continue to do the same in 2014.

Markus Wheaton, WR, Pittsburgh Steelers

Markus Wheaton
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Markus Wheaton, WR, Pittsburgh Steelers

Markus Wheaton
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

With Emmanuel Sanders and Jerricho Cotchery both gone, the Steelers will be looking to find their next No. 2 wide receiver. They need look no further than Wheaton, who is headed for a huge sophomore season. Look for him to get healthy and emerge as a star in the Pittsburgh offense.

Margus Hunt, DE, Cincinnati Bengals

Margus Hunt
Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

Margus Hunt, DE, Cincinnati Bengals

Margus Hunt
Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

Hunt was seen as extremely raw heading into his rookie season with the Bengals, but still got more action than expected. With a full year of NFL coaching under his belt and an entire season of experience, the big, athletic end should earn a much larger role in the Cincinnati defense.

Knile Davis, RB, Kansas City Chiefs

Knile Davis
Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

Knile Davis, RB, Kansas City Chiefs

Knile Davis
Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

It’s never easy to find snaps when Jamaal Charles is ahead of you on the depth chart, but Davis earned some respect late last season. If he can protect the ball and build off his rookie showing, the Chiefs could soon have one of the best running back duos in the NFL.

Arthur Brown, ILB, Baltimore Ravens

Arthur Brown
Douglas Jones-USA TODAY Sports

Arthur Brown, ILB, Baltimore Ravens

Arthur Brown
Douglas Jones-USA TODAY Sports

Although he failed to earn a starting role as a rookie, Brown showed impressive coverage ability throughout the 2013 campaign. If he can continue to hone his skills as a sophomore, the speedy inside linebacker might be able to secure a starting job.

Quanterus Smith, DE, Denver Broncos

Quanterus Smith
Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

Quanterus Smith, DE, Denver Broncos

Quanterus Smith
Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

When Von Miller was out last season, the Broncos lacked a consistent pass rush. This season, they’ll be looking to fix that issue with Smith. The 2013 fifth-rounder missed last season while working his way back from an ACL tear, but brings sensational edge rushing ability to the table when healthy.

Stedman Bailey, WR, St. Louis Rams

Stedman Bailey
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Stedman Bailey, WR, St. Louis Rams

Stedman Bailey
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An underrated talent with great hands and an ability to get open, Bailey played in the shadow of another rookie receiver last season. With Sam Bradford back under center, though, expect St. Louis to make a point of getting Bailey involved in the passing game.

Marcus Lattimore, RB, San Francisco 49ers

Marcus Lattimore
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Marcus Lattimore, RB, San Francisco 49ers

Marcus Lattimore
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Frank Gore isn’t going to last forever. At some point, the 49ers will start looking for his replacement, and Lattimore could be it. He missed his rookie season while recovering from an ACL tear, but his elite talent could force San Francisco to give him significant snaps as a sophomore.

Damontre Moore, DE, New York Giants

Damontre Moore
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Damontre Moore, DE, New York Giants

Damontre Moore
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After suffering one of the biggest slides in NFL Draft history, Moore proved doubters wrong in 2013, becoming a quality backup for the Giants. This upcoming season, though, New York will be looking for the former third-rounder to carve out a role as a reliable pass rusher.

Justin Hunter, WR, Tennessee Titans

Justin Hunter
Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

Justin Hunter, WR, Tennessee Titans

Justin Hunter
Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

If Jake Locker is finally going to realize his potential in 2014, he needs his weapons to step up and make plays. If 2013 was any evidence, Hunter can be the guy who becomes a go-to target in Tennessee. His big frame and athleticism should prove lethal if Hunter can cut down on his drops.

Tharold Simon, CB, Seattle Seahawks

Tharold Simon
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Tharold Simon, CB, Seattle Seahawks

Tharold Simon
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With two cornerbacks leaving via free agency this offseason, the Seahawks will be looking to reload their secondary with playmakers. While the jury is still out, Simon could develop into a reliable cover man if given the opportunity. His physical style fits the Seattle mold, so there’s plenty of potential there.

Barkevious Mingo, OLB, Cleveland Browns

Barkevious Mingo
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Barkevious Mingo, OLB, Cleveland Browns

Barkevious Mingo
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The Browns expected big things from Mingo when they spent the No. 6 pick on him in 2013, but it didn’t quite pan out. He struggled to be an effective pass rusher and never managed to earn a starting role. This year, there’s no excuse for Mingo, who must deliver in terms of production and efficiency.

Johnathan Hankins, DT, New York Giants

Johnathan Hankins
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Johnathan Hankins, DT, New York Giants

Johnathan Hankins
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His opportunities weren’t as plentiful as you might have expected for a second-round pick, but Hankins made the most of them as a rookie. He showed terrific abilities as a run stuffer, but must now become a well-rounded defensive tackle for the Giants heading into 2014.

Jordan Reed, TE, Washington Redskins

Jordan Reed
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Jordan Reed, TE, Washington Redskins

Jordan Reed
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It didn’t take long for Reed to emerge as a reliable part of the Redskins offense last year. Unfortunately, injuries kept him from ever truly unleashing his full potential. This season, he’ll be expected to finally become the pivotal playmaker Washington saw glimpses of.

Tank Carradine, DE, San Francisco 49ers

Tank Carradine
Mitch Stringer-USA TODAY Sports

Tank Carradine, DE, San Francisco 49ers

Tank Carradine
Mitch Stringer-USA TODAY Sports

A 2012 ACL tear kept Carradine from seeing the field as a rookie, but the redshirt is now off and the 49ers are ready to see what they spent a second-round pick on. If he’s healthy and playing to his potential, Carradine can be a dominant interior force for San Francisco.

Joseph Fauria, TE, Detroit Lions

Joseph Fauria
Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

Joseph Fauria, TE, Detroit Lions

Joseph Fauria
Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

While most knew him for his touchdown dances, Fauria stood out last season due to his effectiveness as a red zone target. Even with Brandon Pettigrew back in the mix, the Lions will be looking for the former undrafted rookie to emerge as a reliable, every-down tight end.

Blidi Wreh-Wilson, CB, Tennessee Titans

Blidi Wreh-Wilson
Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Blidi Wreh-Wilson, CB, Tennessee Titans

Blidi Wreh-Wilson
Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

The departure of Alterraun Verner via free agency has opened a door for one of the Titans’ young cornerbacks to step up and earn a starting job. That could very well be Wreh-Wilson. The 2013 third-rounder is an instinctive cover man who has the tools to be a quality starter in Tennessee.

Giovani Bernard, RB, Cincinnati Bengals

Giovani Bernard
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Giovani Bernard, RB, Cincinnati Bengals

Giovani Bernard
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Heading into 2014, Bernard is expected to unseat BenJarvus Green-Ellis as the top running back for the Bengals. The shifty speedster showed outstanding explosiveness last season, but must take it to the next level as a sophomore and become the dynamic weapon Cincinnati is hoping he can be.

D.J. Hayden, CB, Oakland Raiders

D.J. Hayden
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D.J. Hayden, CB, Oakland Raiders

D.J. Hayden
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Still suffering from the effects of a near-death experience, Hayden had a hard time adjusting to the physicality of the NFL as a rookie. Now a sophomore, the former first-rounder will be expected to step up as the Raiders’ top cornerback and give their defense a glimmer of hope moving forward.

Tavon Austin, WR, St. Louis Rams

Tavon Austin
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Tavon Austin, WR, St. Louis Rams

Tavon Austin
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Austin gave the Rams glimpses of greatness last season, but never quite put it all together. If he wants to avoid the “bust” label, the former first-rounder needs to take a big step in 2014. Bradford is back under center, so there’s no excuse for Austin to underwhelm.

Kevin Minter, ILB, Arizona Cardinals

Kevin Minter
Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Kevin Minter, ILB, Arizona Cardinals

Kevin Minter
Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Now that Karlos Dansby is in Cleveland, the Cardinals’ other starting inside linebacker spot is up for grabs. Don’t be surprised to see Minter take the opportunity and run with it. He’s an athletic, tough player who should thrive in Arizona alongside Daryl Washington.

Kawann Short, DT, Carolina Panthers

Kawann Short
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Kawann Short, DT, Carolina Panthers

Kawann Short
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It’s not often that defensive tackles become dominant pass rushers, but that appears to be the road Short is on. He showed excellent burst and acceleration as a rookie, and will be looking to build on that with another outstanding showing for the Panthers as a sophomore.

Jonathan Cooper, G, Arizona Cardinals

Jonathan Cooper
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Jonathan Cooper, G, Arizona Cardinals

Jonathan Cooper
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The future looked bright for Cooper until a preseason broken leg derailed his rookie campaign. Now back at full health, the former first-round pick is ready to assume his role as the Cardinals’ starting left guard. Don’t be surprised if he emergences as one of the NFL’s top young guards in 2014.

Zach Ertz, TE, Philadelphia Eagles

Zach Ertz
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Zach Ertz, TE, Philadelphia Eagles

Zach Ertz
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Not much was expected from Ertz after a slow start to his rookie season, but he quickly became a reliable option for Nick Foles. The former second-round pick used his terrific size and athleticism to make big plays in 2013, and will be expected to do more of the same this season.

Sharrif Floyd, DT, Minnesota Vikings

Sharrif Floyd
Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Sharrif Floyd, DT, Minnesota Vikings

Sharrif Floyd
Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Floyd spent most of his rookie season learning from veteran Kevin Williams. With Williams no longer in Minnesota, though, the Vikings will be looking for him to live up to his first-round billing. If all goes as planned, Floyd will emerge as a key piece of their elite defensive line in 2014.

Andre Ellington, RB, Arizona Cardinals

Andre Ellington
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Andre Ellington, RB, Arizona Cardinals

Andre Ellington
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The Cardinals signed Rashard Mendenhall to be their top back, but quickly found out what they had in sixth-round pick Ellington. On top of being an exciting runner, he also excelled as a receiver out of the backfield. Now in the starting role, Ellington could emerge in 2014 as one of the league’s best.

Montee Ball, RB, Denver Broncos

Montee Ball
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Montee Ball, RB, Denver Broncos

Montee Ball
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In 2013, the Broncos fielded one of the best offenses in NFL history. While the passing game was the focal point, the ground attack played an underrated role. Ball will assume the starting job in 2014, which could lead to him having one of the biggest years of any sophomore at any position.

Gil Alcaraz IV is the Director of Content for RantSports.com. Follow him on Twitter @GilAlcarazIV, like him on Facebook or add him to your network on Google.