Sky is the Limit… for these breakout players

Posted: August 31, 2012 by centennialsports in Pigskin



By: John Spurr

Everybody loves to know about up and coming players, so I’ve compiled a list of players that are soon to be household names.  Some are on the verge of superstardom and the others should be good for a pro bowl or two in their careers.  This is not a fantasy football article but good players usually put up good numbers so take notes.

Geno Atkins  DT  Bengals – The 6’1, 304lbs DT for the Bengals is one of the league’s best young pass rushing linemen.  He registered 7.5 sacks, 15 hits and 26 hurries for the Bengals last year in his first season as a starter.  The Bengals have a very talented young defense and having a pillar like Atkins in the middle makes everyone’s job easier.  Unlike many young pass rushers (cough!! Suh) Atkins is actually responsible against the run and will hold his gap discipline until it is obvious that it’s not a run.  You will hear his name lots this season.

Titus Young WR Lions – The diminutive second year receiver from Boise State has the fantastic job of lining up on the other side from the one they call Megatron (Calvin Johnson).  With defenses rolling coverages Johnson’s way last season, Young caught 19 balls for 231 yards and four touchdowns in the last five games of the season.  Draft pundits compared him to Desean Jackson prior to the draft last year so with a season under his belt he could give the Lions a legitimate second threat at receiver and another dynamic weapon to add to their ridiculous offense.

Jimmy Smith CB Ravens – The second year Raven cornerback was the best true cover corner in the 2011 NFL draft, yes better than Patrick Peterson but Peterson’s return skills elevated his value above Smith.   Rookie corners typically struggle but are able put up impressive stats due to quarterbacks choosing to throw at them, see Devin McCourty.  McCourty picked off six passes and made the pro bowl in his first year but in his second season he was an abysmal cog in the worst secondary in the league.  Jimmy Smith started only 3 games during the season but started both Ravens playoff games.  He recovered a fumble in the conference semi-finals against the Texans, while allowing only one catch.  In the conference finals against Tom Brady he was thrown at only twice, once for a six-yard gain and the second one he picked off in spectacular fashion in the endzone.  Smith has the tools to be an elite cover corner and teaming with Lardarius Webb could give the ravens a top-notch tandem for years to come.

Kendall Hunter RB 49ers – Hunter has shown the type of explosion and shiftiness that Frank Gore no longer possesses.  Expect to see Hunter used as the 9ers 3rd down back and perhaps even more frequently depending on the health of Gore.  Despite only starting one game for San Fran, Hunter amassed 473 yards rushing and 195 yards receiving last season.  He average 12.2 yards per reception last year which is incredible for a running back, just to add some perspective Darren Sproles has never in his career averaged 12 yards per reception.  Expect to see Hunter used more and more as the season goes on and many highlight reel plays from the talented back.

Pernell McPhee DT/DE Ravens – With the loss of Terrell Suggs for most if not all of the 2012 NFL season the Ravens are going to have to find other pass rushers to pick up the slack.  Luckily, they stole Pernell McPhee in the fifth round of the draft last year.  McPhee tallied six sacks as a rookie despite playing less than half of the Ravens defensive snaps last season and never starting a single game.  That is truly outstanding and out of a rookie no less.  McPhee will have a much larger role this year as Cory Redding who started ahead of McPhee last season has left for Baltimore.  McPhee could realistically put up a 10-sack season and be talked about in the elite pass rushing tier by season’s end.

Jared Cook TE Titans – The fourth year tight end out of South Carolina is basically a glorified wide receiver kind of like Aaron Hernandez of the Patriots.  He started five games last year and played in all 16, despite seeing limited action he still caught 49 passes for 759 and three td’s.  If you do the math that’s a 15.5 yd average per catch, which is ridiculous for a tight end.  He also had an 80-yard touchdown reception in week four against Cleveland, tight ends are not supposed to catch 80 yard tds.  With Jake Locker being named the starter in Tennessee you know that the tight end will benefit from a rookie qb looking over the middle to him.  This athletic marvel has only shown glimpses so far but look for him to eclipse a 1000 yds and put up 8+ touchdowns (fantasy alert!!!)

Earl Thomas S Seahawks – Earl Thomas is the best and most important player on a very underrated defense in Seattle.  The Seahawks boast what is widely considered the league’s best secondary.  With the tight end position being all the rage in the league right now, having a safety that is rangy enough to patrol the deep middle on his own allows the other safety (Kam Chancellor) to help the linebackers control tight ends.  Thomas’s speed and coverage ability in the deep middle allows the rest of the Hawks defense to play an attacking style defense.  Earl Thomas has produced seven interceptions and 14 pass breakups while putting up some gaudy tackle figures too (174) in his first two seasons.  He was the second safety drafted in the 2011 NFL Draft behind Eric Berry and while he isn’t quite as versatile as Berry he is a better pure coverage safety.  With Ed Reed beginning to show age, Thomas will be the consensus top coverage safety by the end of the season (if he isn’t already).

Justin Houston OLB Chiefs – Houston was seen to have first round talent coming out of Georgia but some off field issues caused him to drop in the draft to the third round where the Chiefs snatched him up.  Houston took a little while to get accustomed to the pro game but by the end of the season he was a starter and became a pass rushing terror.  He had 5.5 sacks in his last five games, including a 1.5 sack performance against the Broncos when he hunted Timmy Tebow all day long.  With Tamba Hali rushing on the other side from Houston watch for a big season from this 2nd year player.

Carlos Dunlap DE Bengals – Another case of a first round talent that dropped in the draft due to character concerns before the Bengals took the Florida junior.   Dunlap had a quiet start to his first season before racking up 9.5 sacks in the last 8 games of the season.  Last season Dunlap was played sparingly as defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer likes to have a rotation of pass rushers.  In 278 snaps, Dunlap recorded 5 sacks, 13 qb hits and 29 pressures, which is the line of a highly disruptive pass rusher.  He actually has the highest average of pressure per rush in the entire league.  Due to the system, Dunlap will probably not approach a 15-sack season this year but on any third down watch for Dunlap to be right in the qb’s face.

Tyvon Branch S Raiders – The fifth year safety might be one of the most underrated defensive players in the whole league.  He is a versatile safety who can hit and cover at a position that doesn’t have enough talented players.  Last season Branch had 109 tackles, a sack, an interception and five pass defenses.  The most impressive stat by far though was when the Raiders faced the Patriots in week 4.  Branch was matched up on Rob Gronkowski all game long and he held him to one catch for 15yds, which was by far Gronk’s worst game of the season.  Branch is one of the best cover guys against tight ends in the league and is a fantastic weapon for an underrated Raiders D.

AJ Green WR Bengals – So most people know that AJ Green made the Pro Bowl in his rookie year but what they don’t know is how he became so good at catching.  When Green was a child his favourite hobby was juggling, so thanks to his odd childhood pastime Green already has some of the best hands in the NFL.  Green had a phenomenal rookie season, helping to rejuvenate a stagnant Bengals offense with fellow rookie Andy Dalton.   With all the hype surrounding Julio Jones this year due to the Falcons focus on lighting up the scoreboard, let’s not forget that every semi-credible scout in the nation considers AJ Green to be the better player.  He is an athletic marvel who possesses incredible hands and moves more fluidly than almost any 6″3+ receiver since Randy Moss.  Green is on his way to be a top three receiver by the end of the season after spending the offseason training with Calvin Johnson.

Sean Weatherspoon OLB Falcons – The most athletic linebacker in the 2010 NFL draft took his time getting accustomed to the pros but is now starting to dominate.  He’s been named as a defensive captain and is probably their most important single player on the defense.  He had 115 tackles, four sacks and eight passes defended last year making him a good defensive player in fantasy football.  He can rush the passer, tackle and cover tight ends, which makes game planning around him almost impossible.  By the end of the season Weatherspoon will probably be recognized as a top 3 outside linebacker.

Jason Pierre-Paul DE Giants – His name may sound like a French soft rock band but there is nothing gentle about this unique athlete.  The “Haitian Sensation” is 23 years old and only started playing football when he was 17.  Despite being named an NFL All-Pro last season he is literally still learning how to play the game and this should terrify quarterbacks and fans of teams who have to face this monster.  His level of athleticism has quite honestly never been seen in the league before and I’m well aware of the magnitude of this claim.  If you don’t believe me check out what this 6’5, 280lb beast did at the 2010 NFL draft.  Last season only his second in the NFL Pierre-Paul made 86 tackles, 16.5 sacks, a safety, two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries.  He was also named the NFC Defensive Player of the Month in December and let me reiterate this, he’s still learning how to play this crazy game.  The main reason that I added this obvious superstar to the list is because I’m putting in my Defensive Player of the Year vote right now and I’m voting for JPP!!! Watch out NFL, Quarterbacks and anyone who plays in the NFC East… I feel sorry for you.


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