Every NFL season begins with a blank slate and ends with a long list of newly-minted star players.
Last season, 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick may be the prime example of a player that took the next step and pushed his team to the next level, as San Francisco won the NFC and advanced to Super Bowl XLVII.
Broncos receiver Demaryius Thomas went from being an afterthought in a Tim Tebow-led offense in 2011 to being one of the most dangerous offensive players in football in 2012. Thomas ranked fourth in the NFL with 1,434 receiving yards.
And in Green Bay, a pair of Packers wideouts enjoyed breakout years of their own.
After showing flashes of brilliance as a rookie in 2011, Randall Cobb exploded onto the scene last season, leading the team with 80 catches and 954 receiving yards. Cobb is the odds-on favorite to lead the team in both categories in 2013.
Fellow receiver James Jones enjoyed a breakout season of his own. Jones set career highs in all three major categories, catching 64 passes for 784 yards and 14 touchdowns.
Playing in an offense with Aaron Rodgers under center, any receiver could become the team’s “go-to guy” on a week-to-week basis. But Jordy Nelson had his coming-out party in 2011, and Jones and Cobb had their last year. So unless one of the Packers young, unproven receivers can take a step forward and join the rotation, this year’s breakout player may be on the defensive side of the ball.
Let’s take a look at five potential breakout candidates for the 2013 season. Feel free to comment and let me know who you think will be the team’s breakout player this season, even if they’re not on the list.
(NOTE: Rookies will not be included on this list. It’s tough to forecast a rookie having a breakout year when he has yet to play a single down at the NFL level. That means Eddie Lacy, Johnathan Franklin and Datone Jones are not listed.)
1. FS Morgan Burnett
It took Nick Collins until his fourth season to reach his potential. Morgan Burnett may not be Collins, but there are some distinct similarities between the two. And through their first three NFL seasons, Burnett trumps Collins in most statistical categories.