By Chris Ross @DraftScout_NFL on May 27, 2014
Every year in the NFL, there are players who have breakout seasons. Whether it’s because of a breakthrough in a player’s development or a case of a player outperforming expectations in a contract year, there are always a number of players who have unexpected great seasons. Without further ado, here are 25 NFL players in line for breakout years in 2014.
Widely considered to be the best cornerback in the 2012 NFL Draft class, Morris Claiborne hasn’t delivered upon his promise in the NFL up to this point. That said, Claiborne still has the tools to be a successful corner, and I think if he can improve in zone coverage, Claiborne could be in line for a breakout year.
Operating mostly as a swing tackle as a member of the Cincinnati Bengals, Anthony Collins lacks experience as a starting tackle in the NFL. However, in his limited action in Cincinnati, Collins showed rare talent in pass-blocking. Collins was handed the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ starting left tackle job this offseason, and there’s good reason to believe he will succeed.
Although he has flashed dominant ability at times in his first two seasons in the NFL, Quinton Coples has been majorly inconsistent for the New York Jets. That said, Coples has elite athletic ability, and going into year three, the light could come on for Coples.
Signed this offseason by the Chicago Bears after four productive years in Oakland, Lamarr Houston will be looking to make a big impact with his new team. Surrounded by more talent than he ever was in Oakland, Houston will have plenty of opportunities to wreak havoc, and he should take full advantage of his new surroundings.
Like Claiborne, Mark Barron was a high selection in the 2012 NFL draft; also like Claiborne, Barron has failed to live up to expectations. Barron has the talent to be a top-five safety in the NFL -- it’s just a matter of getting him to give full effort.
Going into a contract year, expectations for Jermaine Gresham to assert himself as one of the NFL’s best tight ends are mounting. Gresham has never been much of a blocker, but he is a reliable receiver who has shown flashes of brilliance throughout his career. 2014 is the year Gresham will put it all together and become a force in the Bengals' offense.
Coming off a surprisingly productive rookie season, Kenny Stills looks primed to take the next step for the New Orleans Saints in 2014. Stills has elite athleticism, and with some improved route running, he could become a star.
Last season as a rookie, Zach Ertz managed to garner 36 receptions in limited action for the Philadelphia Eagles. Going into his second season, I fully expect Ertz to surpass that output. Ertz has exceptional receiving ability and a drive to be one of the best in the league. Throw in the fact that he’s likely to see more targets with DeSean Jackson gone, and it’s easy to see why Ertz is a great candidate to have a breakout season.
Another player entering a contract season, Vincent Brown appears poised to enjoy a breakout in 2014. With Keenan Allen likely to receive a lot of attention from opposing defenses, look for Brown to take advantage.
A huge disappointment in his first two NFL seasons, Buffalo Bills safety Aaron Williams came on strong in 2013. Williams' game still needs some refinement, but he showed he has the talent to succeed and should be ready to improve even more in 2014.
When the Dallas Cowboys released Miles Austin earlier this offseason, it showed just how much confidence the team has in second-year man Terrance Williams. With Dez Bryant sure to see a lot of coverage from opposing defenses, Williams looks primed to enjoy a breakout in his second season.
Coming off a rookie season in which he underwhelmed, Datone Jones appears ready to make good on his potential in his second season. With a year of development under his belt, Jones is ready to become an upper-echelon defensive end.
Like Jones, Floyd was a first-rounder last year and didn’t make too much of an impact in 2013. Also like Jones, Floyd appears ready to flourish in year two. Floyd has all the talent to become one of the best defensive tackles in the NFL, and 2014 is just the beginning.
After several seasons of showing flashes of great potential behind Adrian Peterson in Minnesota, Toby Gerhart enters 2014 with the first starting job of his career with the Jaguars. Gerhart fits like a glove in Jacksonville’s offense, and with the team expected to rely upon the running game in 2014, look for Gerhart to reap the benefits.
A second-rounder in the 2013 draft, Jonathan Cyprien instantly made waves in Jacksonville thanks to his effort and talent. Going into year two, Cyprien looks ready to join the NFL’s upper-echelon of strong safeties. Cyprien is a great fit in Gus Bradley’s scheme, and I fully expect him to improve in his sophomore season.
Three years into his NFL career, Nick Fairley has yet to make a consistent impact for the Detroit Lions; but there is reason to suspect Fairley will finally improve in 2014. Going into a contract year, there is incentive for Fairley to produce, and with a lot of talent around him, I believe Fairley is a legitimate breakout candidate.
The first running back selected in the 2013 draft, Giovani Bernard made an instant impact for the Cincinnati Bengals. Bernard is a truly special talent, and although he doesn’t have the size or strength to carry the full load of the offense, Bernard is a special playmaker set to become a star in 2014.
At one point in his career, Ben Tate was considered the best backup running back in football. Now, armed with a starting job, Tate looks ready to star as a feature back for the Cleveland Browns; all he has to do is prove he can stay healthy.
In his rookie season, Barkevious Mingo saw limited action as a situational pass-rusher for the Browns. However, going into his second NFL season, there is plenty of reason to think Mingo could earn a bigger role. With a year of experience under his belt, Mingo will become a force.
Yet another second-year player on this list, Dee Milliner appears ready to take the next step. While underwhelming for much of his rookie season, Milliner showed late that he has the talent that made him the best corner in his draft class. Expected to become a No. 1 corner, I fully expect Milliner to succeed.
Last year’s No. 1 overall pick, Eric Fisher didn’t live up to the expectations that come with being the top overall selection. That said, Fisher still has elite physical tools, and I think he’s poised to become a great player.
When the Vikings traded back into the first round of the 2013 NFL draft to select Cordarrelle Patterson, they thought they were getting a special player. After a rookie season that saw him flash elite ability to make plays, it appears the Vikings were wise in trading up to get Patterson. A true all-purpose threat, Patterson has All-Pro potential.
In his rookie season, Desmond Trufant cemented himself as the best cornerback on the Atlanta Falcons’ roster. Trufant has excellent coverage ability, and with some refinement in his technique, Trufant will emerge as one of the best in the league.
As the unquestioned starting running back in Denver with Knowshon Moreno gone, Montee Ball looks ready to enjoy a big season for the Broncos. Ball is a powerful runner, and barring any injuries, he should have a lot of success as a No. 1 back.
Once upon a time, C.J. Spiller was viewed as perhaps the most dangerous playmaker in the entire NFL. However, after some major consistency and injury problems, Spiller’s reputation has fallen off a bit. That said, Spiller still has the talent to become one of the best running backs in the NFL, and I think 2014 is the year Spiller will put it all together.
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