NFL

25 NFL Players Ready For the Next Level In 2014

25 NFL Players On The Verge of the Proverbial "Next Level"

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Each year in the NFL there are breakout players. Call them guys you didn't see coming or whatever you want, but stars emerge each and every season.

In this slideshow we'll take a look at some players you already know, that are on the verge on taking their game to the proverbial next level. Keep in mind that each player's next level is a little bit different:

25. Ben Tate

Ben Tate-USA Today Sports
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25. Ben Tate

Ben Tate-USA Today Sports

After spending the past three years as a backup in Houston, Tate finally has his first shot to be a feature back in Cleveland. Can he prove that he's worthy of his new contract and break the 1,000-yard mark for the first time in his career?

NEXT LEVEL: Top-Tier RB

24. Everson Griffen

Detroit Lions v Minnesota Vikings
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24. Everson Griffen

Detroit Lions v Minnesota Vikings

The Vikings passed on established DEs in free agency and re-signed Griffen to essentially replace Jared Allen. Anyone who's followed Allen's career knows that those are big shoes to fill.

NEXT LEVEL: Double-Digit Sacks

23. Jeff Cumberland

NFL: New York Jets at Buffalo Bills
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23. Jeff Cumberland

NFL: New York Jets at Buffalo Bills

The Jets re-signed Cumberland this offseason to a modest three-year deal (3.7 mil). But if he can elevate his game, he'll no doubt earn a substantial raise next time around.

NEXT LEVEL: Trustworthy Starting TE

22. Byron Maxwell

Roddy White
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22. Byron Maxwell

Roddy White

Maxwell pencils in as the starting CB opposite of Richard Sherman this year in Seattle. He'll definitely have a chance to prove he belongs in the best secondary in the NFL, as he figures to get a ton of throws his way.

NEXT LEVEL: LOB Worthy

21. Ryan Tannehill

New England Patriots v Miami Dolphins
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21. Ryan Tannehill

New England Patriots v Miami Dolphins

After two decent seasons to start his NFL career, fans in Miami are expecting Tannehill to take some big steps in 2014. He's nowhere near bust status at this point, but he hasn't exactly looked like a future star either. Fans will know a lot more once 2014 is in the books.

NEXT LEVEL: Legit Franchise QB

20. Patrick Peterson

Patrick Peterson
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20. Patrick Peterson

Patrick Peterson

Peterson has already 'broke out' over his first three seasons in the NFL. But he feels that he should be in the same conversation with Richard Sherman and Darrelle Revis. Can he get there in 2014?

NEXT LEVEL: Elite CB

19. Zach Ertz

Zach-Ertz-Bruce-Kluckhohn
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19. Zach Ertz

Zach-Ertz-Bruce-Kluckhohn

The folks in Philly are expecting big things from the second-year TE in 2014. After time to adjust to the NFL and Chip Kelly's system, there's no reason to believe he won't grow by leaps and bounds.

NEXT LEVEL: Middle-Tier TE

18. Danny Trevathan

Danny Trevathan
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18. Danny Trevathan

Danny Trevathan

Trevathan had his breakout season in 2013, recording 153 total tackles. Can he and the rest of the Broncos defenders step up their game this season?

NEXT LEVEL: Pro Bowl Linebacker

17. Jordan Reed

Jordan Reed
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17. Jordan Reed

Jordan Reed

The 23-year old TE looks like he could develop into an outstanding target for RG3 for years to come. But there are no guarantees second-year players are going to take that next step. Can Reed prove he deserves a place in the NFL for years to come? Or has he peaked?

NEXT LEVEL: Middle-Tier TE

16. Kiko Alonso

Kiko Alonso
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16. Kiko Alonso

Kiko Alonso

Alonso proved to be beastly in Buffalo during his rookie season, racking up 159 total tackles. His efforts nearly earned him Defensive ROY honors. But we all know it's not about what you've done in the NFL, it's about what you're going to do.

NEXT LEVEL: Pro Bowl Linebacker

15. Terrance Williams

Terrance Williams Dallas Cowboys
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15. Terrance Williams

Terrance Williams Dallas Cowboys

With Miles Austin no longer residing in Big D, the time is now for Terrance Williams to step up his game. He'll get plenty of opportunities playing alongside Dez Bryant and Jason Witten, who figure to draw most of the attention from opposing defenses.

NEXT LEVEL: Legit No. 2 WR

14. Kenny Stills

Kenny Stills
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14. Kenny Stills

Kenny Stills

The second-year Saints WR is coming off a tremendous rookie campaign where he caught 32 passes for 641 yards and five TDs. He actually led the league in yards per reception too (20.0). Can he become Drew Brees' second favorite target in 2014?

NEXT LEVEL: Legit Starting WR

13. Robert Griffin III

ROBERT GRIFFIN III
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13. Robert Griffin III

ROBERT GRIFFIN III

It's safe to say that RG3 took a step back in 2013. But now that he's fully healthy again with a new coach running the show, you have to think things will turn around for him in 2014.

NEXT LEVEL: Back To Being Pro Bowl QB

12. Linval Joseph

Linval Joseph
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12. Linval Joseph

Linval Joseph

The Giants were unwilling to pay Joseph the big bucks this offseason, so the Vikings snatched him up to bolster their defensive line. With the tutelage of Mike Zimmer, Joseph could be a big star in no time.

NEXT LEVEL: Pro Bowl DT

11. Andre Ellington

Andre Ellington
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11. Andre Ellington

Andre Ellington

With the retirement of Rashard Mendenhall, the time is now for Ellington to be the man in the Cardinals backfield. Last season as a rookie he proved to be a viable dual-threat, racking up 1,023 yards from scrimmage.

NEXT LEVEL: Reliable Starting RB

10. Alshon Jeffery

ALSHON JEFFERY
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10. Alshon Jeffery

ALSHON JEFFERY

Jeffery showed us he's an absolute beast in 2013. There's no catch he can't make and there's no limit to what he can accomplish in the NFL.

NEXT LEVEL: All-Pro

9. Sam Bradford

Kansas City Chiefs v St. Louis Rams
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9. Sam Bradford

Kansas City Chiefs v St. Louis Rams

Fans in the STL have been waiting patiently for Bradford to take off as an NFL signal-caller. His 2013 season ended prematurely after an ACL tear, but it looks like he'll be ready to go for the start of 2014.

NEXT LEVEL: Legit Franchise QB or Bust

8. Nick Foles

Philadelphia Eagles Offense
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8. Nick Foles

Philadelphia Eagles Offense

Of all the breakout players in 2013 you can argue that Foles was the most surprising. His efficiency from the pocket was stellar, as he tossed 27 TDS and just 2 INTs. Everyone in Philly wants to know -- is he a one-year wonder?

NEXT LEVEL: Legit Franchise QB

7. Cordarrelle Patterson

Cordarelle Patterson
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7. Cordarrelle Patterson

Cordarelle Patterson

When you talk about up-and-coming stars in the NFL, Cordarrelle Patterson has to be in the conversation. He's a guy that can take it to the house any time he touches the ball, but his football IQ is still a work in progress.

NEXT LEVEL: X-Factor

6. Zac Stacy

Zac Stacy
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6. Zac Stacy

Zac Stacy

What a rookie campaign Stacy had in 2013. He basically came out of nowhere and ended up being one the best backs in football in the final weeks of the season.

NEXT LEVEL: Pro Bowl RB

5. Montee Ball

Montee Ball
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5. Montee Ball

Montee Ball

With Knowshon Moreno taking his talents to South Beach, Ball will most definitely be called upon to play a bigger role in Denver this season. He pencils in as the starter at this point, and you'd have to say that anything less than 1,500 yards from scrimmage would be a disappointing season.

NEXT LEVEL: Legit Starting RB

4. T.Y. Hilton

T.Y. Hilton- Thomas J. Russo-USA TODAY Sports
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4. T.Y. Hilton

T.Y. Hilton- Thomas J. Russo-USA TODAY Sports

With Reggie Wayne on the backside of his career, the time is now for Hilton to firmly establish himself as the Colts top WR.

NEXT LEVEL: No. 1 Receiver

3. Russell Wilson

St Louis Rams v Seattle Seahawks
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3. Russell Wilson

St Louis Rams v Seattle Seahawks

As good as Russell Wilson is, he probably wouldn't already be a Super Bowl champion if it weren't for the Seahawks defense. The third-year QB needs to elevate his game in 2014 to keep the Seahawks atop the NFC.

NEXT LEVEL: 4,000-Yard Passer

2. Andrew Luck

Andrew Luck, Indianapolis Colts
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2. Andrew Luck

Andrew Luck, Indianapolis Colts

Luck has grasped the NFL game quicker than nearly any QB in history. He's farther along after two years than most QBs are after five years. Will 2014 be the season where he proves he's the future of the QB position?

NEXT LEVEL: Elite QB

1. Colin Kaepernick

Colin Kaepernick San Francisco 49ers
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1. Colin Kaepernick

Colin Kaepernick San Francisco 49ers

The 49ers opened up their checkbook in a big way for Kaepernick, giving him the most guaranteed money of any player in the league. Is he worth it? Can he prove that he deserves to be paid like one of the best?

NEXT LEVEL: Elite QB