Every NFL fan knows the league’s star players. The likes of Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers and Russell Wilson have dominated the NFL for years, and they will continue to be household names until long after they stop.
But every year, the NFL manages to add new players to its list of household names as the season goes along. In recent seasons, Josh Allen, Justin Herbert and Joe Burrow have established themselves as top-tier quarterbacks and not just young passers with upside.
Of course, players at other positions can also have breakouts that thrust them into the public eye, too. We saw that last year when Ja’Marr Chase burst onto the scene and immediately established himself as one of the league’s best receivers. Deebo Samuel did the same as an all-purpose machine for the 49ers. Meanwhile, Cowboys cornerback Trevon Diggs established himself as a playmaker while leading the NFL in interceptions.
MORE: QB Rankings | RB Rankings | WR Rankings | Buy NFL tickets
It’s not always easy to predict which players will break out or dominate. Many thought that Trevor Lawrence and the 2021 quarterback class would all find success right away, but that didn’t materialize.
Still, there are players that exceed expectations and become superstars in the NFL every year. The peaks don’t always last long, but they always come.
So, which NFL players are most likely to enjoy breakout seasons in 2022? The Sporting News breaks down a player at each position who could enjoy a career year and establish themselves as one of the best players in the NFL.
NFL POWER RANKINGS: 49ers, Steelers surging; Cowboys, Browns lose juice after preseason
NFL All-Breakout team for 2022
QB Trey Lance, 49ers
It’s hard to find a bigger breakout candidate for 2022 than Lance. The 49ers are rolling with the second-year pro as a full-time starter and he has the tools teams look for in franchise quarterbacks.
Between his arm strength and mobility, Lance should be a big-time playmaking threat in San Francisco’s offense. It helps his cause that he has plenty of quality offensive weapons surrounding him, including Deebo Samuel, George Kittle, Brandon Aiyuk and Elijah Mitchell. That should provide him with solid support.
— NFL (@NFL) August 13, 2022
Lance posted a 1-1 record in two starts last season and totaled 603 yards, five touchdowns and two interceptions through the air. He added 168 rushing yards and a score on the ground, too. Those aren’t bad numbers for a rookie who started just one season at the FCS level prior to 2021.
As Lance gains experience, his play should only improve. There’s also just enough pressure on him with Jimmy Garoppolo staying in San Francisco as a backup to light a fire under Lance and ensure that he lives up to expectations for this potential Super Bowl contender.
RB Travis Etienne, Jaguars
Etienne missed his entire rookie season after suffering a Lisfranc injury during Week 2 of the preseason against the Saints. He should be fully recovered from that malady and ready for a big year in Jacksonville.
Etienne was a first-round pick of the team in 2021 and is expected to be the top running back in Jacksonville. He would normally have had to compete with James Robinson for touches, but the third-year back is coming off a torn Achilles of his own that could limit him in the early stages of the season.
It’s also noteworthy that Etienne is a better pass-catcher than Robinson and has a rapport with Trevor Lawrence, who was his college quarterback at Clemson. As such, Etienne could catch more passes by himself than all of the Jaguars’ running backs did last season (59). If he can do that while nearing or exceeding 1,000 rushing yards, then he could be the start at the position this season.
MORE: What Trevor Lawrence needs to find success in new Jaguars offense
WR Gabriel Davis, Bills
Davis’ breakout year was supposed to come in 2021, as he was everyone’s darling sleeper in the middle of fantasy drafts. However, he found himself behind Stefon Diggs, Cole Beasley and Emmanuel Sanders on Buffalo’s depth chart and had a hard time breathing through.
Davis played just 47.6 percent of the Bills’ offensive snaps last season, good for fourth-most on the time behind the three aforementioned pass catchers. However, he showcased his enormous potential by catching eight passes for 201 yards and a whopping four touchdowns against the Chiefs in the postseason.
Stop us if you’ve heard this one before…
JOSH ALLEN TO GABE DAVIS FOR THE TOUCHDOWN!
— Buffalo Bills (@BuffaloBills) January 24, 2022
Those are the types of games fans expected to see from Davis in his second season. With Beasley and Sanders now gone, Davis has a clear path to the No. 2 receiver spot. He should be able to take advantage of it and develop into a 1,000-yard receiver.
WR George Pickens, Steelers
It’s hard to know exactly what a rookie who hasn’t played his first NFL game will do at the next level, but it’s hard not to like Pickens’ preseason. He played well in the Steelers’ three games — totaling eight catches, 84 yards and a nice, body-control touchdown in the back corner of the end zone.
George Pickens is Him. 🔥 @steelers
— NFL (@NFL) August 13, 2022
Pickens also reportedly impressed in practice. In fact, he did so much so that his odds to win Offensive Rookie of the Year shortened to the point that he currently has the second-shortest odds to win it, per DraftKings Sportsbook.
It seems like Pickens will have a chance to emerge as the preferred target of Mitch Trubisky and/or Kenny Pickett. He has the size needed to be a great jump ball receiver at 6-3, 200 pounds, but he also is a good route runner who possesses solid downfield speed.
Pickens should develop into a matchup nightmare at the NFL level. Some will question whether that will happen during his rookie season, but it’s easy to imagine him finding success considering how well the Steelers have integrated rookie receivers into their offense in previous seasons.
TE Hayden Hurst, Bengals
Hurst was a bit more appealing before the Bengals signed O.J. Howard, but the former Raven and Falcon still has a chance to post the best numbers of his career.
Hurst set career-best marks in catches (56), yards (571) and touchdowns (six) with the Falcons in 2020. Then, Atlanta drafted Kyle Pitts, and that limited Hurst’s opportunities with the ball in his hands as the second tight end.
In Cincinnati, Hurst should have more opportunities than he did in his final season in Atlanta, even if Howard siphons some of his snaps and targets. CJ Uzomah recorded 49 catches, 493 yards and five touchdowns last season, and most of that should go Hurst’s way.
Also, opposing teams could focus on the big-bodied Tee Higgins (6-4) in the red zone. That would open up opportunities for the equally large Hurst (6-4) to become a big-time TD threat for one of the NFL’s best offenses. As such, there’s a lot to like about the 29-year-old as he looks to live up to his billing as a former first-round pick.
MORE: Breaking down Raiders’ drafts under Mike Mayock after Alex Leatherwood released
OL Lester Cotton, Raiders
It’s hard to find a better story on the offensive line than Cotton. He went undrafted in 2019 out of Alabama and landed with the Raiders as a reserve lineman.
Since then, Cotton has exclusively been with the Raiders but has been waived four times. He spent most of his time on the practice squad and has only played 12 total snaps — five on offense and seven on special teams — during his career.
Now, Cotton, 26, has impressed Las Vegas’ new coaching staff, and it seems like Josh McDaniels and Carmen Bricillo are going to start him at right guard. The team cut 2021 first-round pick Alex Leatherwood in part because Cotton beat him for one of the two starting spots Leatherwood was fighting for on the right side of the offensive line.
Cotton is going to go from a relative unknown at the NFL level to a starter. That alone is something of a breakout story. If he performs very well, he could be a rare offensive line darling that gets plenty of love during each Raiders broadcast.
DE Greg Rousseau, Bills
Rousseau was solid in his first season with the Bills after being a first-round pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, but he could be even better in 2022. Why? Because Buffalo’s supporting cast on defense should give him a boost.
The Bills acquired Von Miller during the NFL offseason, and Miller is one of the best edge defenders in the NFL. He racked up 60 total pressures on 430 pass rushing snaps last season, per Pro Football Focus, and will command a lot of attention across from Rousseau.
Of course, the Bills had the highest pressure rate in the NFL last season at 30.8 percent without Miller. So, Rousseau will also get help from others who command attention.
Additionally, Rousseau is no slouch on his own. He totaled 30 pressures in 265 pass rushing snaps, so he could be on pace with Miller in a larger role. His 6-6 frame and endless length give him enormous potential for the upcoming season. He could boom as a part of what should be a strong Bills defense.
We see you, @gregrousseau! 💪
— Buffalo Bills (@BuffaloBills) August 21, 2021
DT Christian Barmore, Patriots
Barmore is another second-year player who could emerge as a key pass rushing threat on an AFC East defensive line. The Alabama product racked up 48 pressures on 396 pass rushing snaps as a rookie, but they amounted to just 1.5 sacks on the season. That has allowed him to fly under the radar a bit entering 2022.
The Patriots have some holes on their roster, but they still have some solid pass rushers, headlined by Matthew Judon and Deatrich Wise, who can help take some attention away from Barmore. If he can continue to generate consistent pressure up the middle, more sacks and results should follow.
LB Nakobe Dean, Eagles
The Eagles may have gotten a steal when they landed Dean in the third round of the 2022 NFL Draft. He dropped due to concerns about his size (6-0, 225 pounds) and a shoulder injury, but he is an instinctive backer who was the heartbeat of the Georgia defense en route to a national title.
Dean’s strong tackling carried over to his first NFL preseason, as he recorded 10 total tackles in three games. Between Dean, T.J. Edwards and Kyzir White, the Eagles’ off-ball linebackers look better than they have in recent years.
That said, Dean is the member of the linebacker group with the most upside. He could be in the running for Defensive Rookie of the Year if he can continue to be a downhill playmaker while holding up in coverage. Expect to hear his name often when he is on the field.
BENDER: How Nakobe Dean can prove doubters wrong after draft day slide
CB Tariq Woolen, Seahawks
The Seahawks have a knack for finding defensive backs on Day 3 of the NFL Draft and turning them into stars. Legion of Boom members Richard Sherman and Kam Chancellor are the best example of this process.
Woolen may be the next one. The UTSA product seems set to start at the outside corner spot for Seattle and will get a chance to show off his skills as a rookie.
Woolen was a fifth-round pick by the Seahawks because he was considered a raw talent coming out of college. He has elite speed (4.26 40-yard dash) and a massive frame (6-4, 205 pounds) but has only played cornerback for two years. That lacking experience scared some off, but the Seahawks think they can tap into his potential.
Given his size and speed, Woolen could develop into a top-tier cornerback who can cover some of the biggest and fastest receivers in the NFL. And as a former receiver, he knows what his opponents like to run, so that may allow him to anticipate their moves well.
It shouldn’t surprise anyone to see Woolen compete for a spot on the All-Rookie first team. He has the traits needed to be a quality NFL player; it’s just a matter of whether he will put it all together during his first season.
S Talanoa Hufanga, 49ers
Hufanga was a backup and core special teams player for the 49ers during his rookie season. He will be best remembered for scooping and scoring a game-tying blocked punt against the Packers in the divisional round of the playoffs.
— San Francisco 49ers (@49ers) January 23, 2022
Hufanga didn’t get to show off a lot on that play, but he’s a hard-hitting safety and a great tackler. He made 32 combined tackles last season and missed just three in a limited role, per PFF. He should be excellent in run support if asked to start in replace of the departed Jaquiski Tartt.
There are some concerns about Hufanga’s coverage ability, as he allowed a passer rating of 130 on 11 catches last year. That said, we can expect some improvement in that area from year one to year two. If he can be a big-time, downhill tackler and playmaker, he will be able to establish himself as a rock-solid starter.
KR/PR KaVontae Turpin, Cowboys
KaVontae Turpin has had a good spring and summer. He was named the USFL’s Offensive Player of the Year and then proceeded to win a spot on the Cowboys roster during the preseason.
It only took two plays for Turpin to do that, and they came in the same game.
Turpin logged both a kick return touchdown and a punt return touchdown when the Cowboys played the Chargers. The kickoff return was 98 yards. The punt return was 86.
— NFL (@NFL) August 21, 2022
Turpin has explosive speed and is elusive, so he may return a kick for a score during a regular season contest, too. He looks like a top-tier return specialist either way, and he could become a household name if he develops into one of the NFL’s best at that position.
MORE: KaVontae Turpin cracks SN’s All-Preseason Team for 2022
K Cade York, Browns
York is a rookie, fourth-round pick out of LSU. He made 81.8 percent of his career field goals and hasn’t missed an extra point since 2019, a year during which he made 89 of 93 attempts.
York has a big leg and has been seen booming 70-yard kicks at times during warmups and practice. He could end up scoring a lot of points for Cleveland, especially if their red-zone offense struggles without Deshaun Watson.
— Chris Rose (@ChrisRose) August 27, 2022
P Corliss Waitman, Broncos
Waitman punted seven times in two games for the Steelers last season when Pressley Harvin III was out of action. He averaged 52.1 yards per punt with a long of 63 yards.
Now, Waitman is taking over for Denver punter Sam Martin, a proven punter with a 46.1 career average over eight seasons. Clearly, Waitman has talent and should get to put it on full display in the thin air at Mile High Stadium.
The Sporting News has joined with TicketSmarter in an exclusive partnership to provide tickets for sporting events in the U.S. and Canada. Fans can go to TicketSmarter with this link and use code TSN15 to take $15 off orders of $100 or more before fees and shipping.
This news is republished from another source. You can check the original article here