Tennessee Titans Potential Breakout Player of 2013: Kenny Britt

The great thing about the NFL is that there are so many positions that every year, there is almost always at least one player who has a breakout year on every team, no matter how good or bad the team is. This is one part in a 32 part segment detailing one potential breakout player for the 2013 NFL season on each NFL team. For the Tennessee Titans, that player is wide receiver Kenny Britt.

In 2010, Kenny Britt, then a 2nd year receiver out of Rutgers and a former 1st round pick, caught 42 passes for 775 yards and 9 touchdowns. Those were impressive numbers for a 2nd year receiver, but even more impressive is that he did that in just 12 games and that he was just scratching the surface of his potential. Those numbers extrapolate to 56 catches for 1033 yards and 12 touchdowns over 16 games. Heading into his 3rd year in the league, frequently a breakout year for receiver, the 6-3 218 receiver with 4.56 speed looked poised for a breakout year in 2011, what was only his age 23 season.

Britt looked to be on his way to that breakout year early, but he tore his ACL midway through week 3 and finished the year with 17 catches for 289 yards and 3 touchdowns, impressive stats for 2 ½ games, but hardly what was expected of him. The following off-season, he got arrested again, bringing his career arrest total to 8, which earned him a one game suspension. He also had knee surgeries on both knees and was overall unprepared for the 2012 season. Despite his #1 receiver talent, he played the 3rd most pass snaps among wide receivers on the team, playing just 413 of 644 possible pass snaps. He did not play well when he did play, catching just 45 passes for 589 yards and 4 touchdowns, despite a career high 90 targets.

Now Britt is at a crossroads in his career, heading into the final year of his rookie contract. The writing is on the wall after the team used a 1st round pick on Kendall Wright, a receiver from Baylor, in 2012, and a 2nd round pick on Justin Hunter, a receiver from Tennessee, in 2013. However, he remains a starter and the #1 receiver job is his if he wants it. Nate Washington is not expected to make the team unless he takes a paycut, so there will be an opening. Britt is a more talented and experienced receiver than both of the young receivers. He has all the talent and he doesn’t even turn 25 until September. So far, he hasn’t gotten hurt or arrested this off-season and reports about him have all been positive, that he finally has things together.

If that continues, he’ll be over a year removed from any arrests or surgeries when week 1 comes around. If he puts everything together and plays all or most of his team’s games, he’s fully capable of having a thousand yard season or more. Quarterback play is a concern, but Jake Locker should be a little bit better, at least, going into his 3rd year in the league and Britt has posted big time per game receiving numbers in the past with Matt Hasselbeck, Kerry Collins, and Rusty Smith throwing him the football.

It seems like I’ve been predicting a breakout year for Britt for each of the past 3 off-seasons, but if he keeps up this off-season, he may finally have one. Or this season could go the opposite way for him. He could get passed on the depth chart by both young receivers and work only as a 3rd receiver and not be welcomed back as a free agent this off-season. This season is as make or break as it gets for a former 1st round pick and it’ll all be on him how it turns out. For the time being, it looks promising and I’m leaning towards breakout.

[switch_ad_hub]

[switch_ad_hub]

[switch_ad_hub]

Indianapolis Colts Potential Breakout Player of 2013: TY Hilton

The great thing about the NFL is that there are so many positions that every year, there is almost always at least one player who has a breakout year on every team, no matter how good or bad the team is. This is one part in a 32 part segment detailing one potential breakout player for the 2013 NFL season on each NFL team. For the Indianapolis Colts, that player is wide receiver TY Hilton.

As a rookie in 2012, TY Hilton put up some pretty impressive stats for the Colts, catching 50 passes for 861 yards and 7 touchdowns. He did this on 88 targets and while his catch rate of 56.8% is not very impressive, he caught so many deep balls and had so many big plays that he managed a very impressive 9.8 YPA. He also had the 7th highest catch rate (10 of 20) on balls that traveled at least 20 yards in the air among receivers who caught at least 10 such passes. In terms of quarterback rating when thrown to, he ranked 21st, as Andrew Luck had a 102.5 QB rating when throwing to him, nearly 30 points higher than Luck’s overall QB rating.

In his 2nd year in 2013, I have reason to believe he’ll be even more productive. For starters, he’ll obviously be more experienced. He doesn’t turn 24 until November and the 2012 3rd round pick has hardly peaked. What he did as a rookie was not only above average for a rookie receiver, but significantly above average when compared to rookie receivers drafted in the 1st round.

Since 2005, 28 receivers have gone in the 1st round. They’ve averaged 40 catches for 557 yards and 3 touchdowns per season. I don’t have the numbers for the descending rounds, but they are almost definitely lower. And Hilton, a 3rd round rookie, greatly exceeded these first round numbers. In his 2nd year in the league, he should improve on those numbers. One area that can be cleaned up is drops, as he dropped 10 passes last year. Just looking at his game 9-16 splits, you can see that Hilton became a better player as the season when on, catching 26 passes for 506 yards and 5 touchdowns in his final 8 games, 52 catches for 1012 yards and 10 touchdowns over 16 games.

The second reason I expect more production from him this year is that he’ll play more snaps. Last year, he worked as the 3rd receiver behind Reggie Wayne and Donnie Avery and only played 49 total snaps in his first 3 games. This year, Avery is gone and while they’ve added Darrius Heyward-Bey, he figures to be a backup with Hilton serving as the #2 receiver. Avery played 687 pass snaps to Hilton’s 508. If Hilton had played, say, 650 pass snaps last year, extrapolation off his rookie numbers alone gets him to 64 catches for 1102 yards and 9 touchdowns.

The third reason is that he figures, in addition to playing more snaps, to become a bigger part of the offense and get more targets per pass snap. That goes hand and hand with being a year more experienced, but he also has an aging Reggie Wayne opposite him. Wayne also had a huge season catching 106 passes for 1355 yards and 5 touchdowns, but he also received 179 targets and had the 6th highest targets per routes run in the NFL (TY Hilton was a modest 27th among 45 qualifying receivers).

Wayne also turns 35 this November. Over the next 2-4 years, Wayne can be expected to go from top flight receiver to complementary player to gone. That’s just what happens to receivers around this age. Even the average top-20 receiver (in terms of yardage all-time) has his last 1000 yard season at age 34-35, averages 48 catches for 594 yards and 3 touchdowns for 2 more seasons after age 34-35, and is done playing by age 36-37.

Wayne already showed some signs of slowing down in the 2nd half of last season, catching “just” 45 passes for 520 yards and 2 touchdowns, meaning Hilton almost out produced him in the 2nd half of last year. Going into 2013, it wouldn’t surprise me at all if Hilton were this team’s leading receiver and even if he isn’t, he should still have a 1000 yard breakout year and he looks like a Pro-Bowl sleeper.

With Wayne aging, Andrew Luck’s receiving corps still appear to be in good hands for the future with Hilton having the profile of a future #1 receiver. He’s one of the fastest players in the NFL, flashing 4.34 speed at The Combine, and is developing the rest of his game. His size (5-10 183) could be the one thing that holds him back, but receivers such as Steve Smith (5-9 185), Antonio Brown (5-10 186) and DeSean Jackson (5-10 175) have all developed as #1 receivers in spite of their lack of size. Hilton has a similar skill set. There’s a reason he was one of my favorite sleeper prospects of the 2012 draft class.

[switch_ad_hub]

[switch_ad_hub]

[switch_ad_hub]

Miami Dolphins Potential Breakout Player of 2013: Lamar Miller

The great thing about the NFL is that there are so many positions that every year, there is almost always at least one player who has a breakout year on every team, no matter how good or bad the team is. This is one part in a 32 part segment detailing one potential breakout player for the 2013 NFL season on each NFL team (rookies don’t count). For the Miami Dolphins, that player is running back Lamar Miller.

When the Miami Dolphins moved up to take Lamar Miller in the 4th round of the 2012 NFL Draft, many didn’t understand the move. The receiver needy Dolphins had yet to take a receiver and running back wasn’t an immediate need and didn’t seem worth moving up to fill. The Dolphins had Reggie Bush as the lead back and had just used a 2nd round pick the draft prior on Daniel Thomas, to add to their running back corps.

However, clearly the Dolphins saw the local kid Miller, out of the University of Miami, as too good to pass on, which makes sense. After all, he was widely projected as a 1st or 2nd round talent, who didn’t have a legitimate reason for falling, other than some maturity concerns and durability issues. The 5-11 212 pound back showed tremendous speed for his size, running a 4.40 40 at The Combine and had an excellent 2011 season, rushing for 1272 yards and 9 touchdowns on 227 carries as a mere true sophomore.

Though he was only a one year starter, that’s seen as more of a positive than a negative for a running back because of how short their career spans are. A running back who can catch the attention of the scouts without accumulating a lot of tread on his tires in college tends to be a sought after commodity on draft day. Besides, Miller had just turned 21 and seemed to have a very bright future.

Reggie Bush was heading into the final year of his deal and Thomas struggled as a rookie and the new Dolphins coaching staff clearly didn’t see the plodding Thomas as a good fit for their offense. The smaller, quicker Miller was a much better fit and after not doing much as the 3rd string back as a rookie (250 yards and a touchdown on 55 carries), Miller now seems poised for a breakout year as Miami’s feature back in 2013, replacing the departed Reggie Bush.

Daniel Thomas has shown very little in his two years as a pro, rushing for 906 yards on 256 carries (just 3.5 YPC) and the coaching staff that drafted him is gone. Miller is the clear starter at this point in the off-season and that does not figure to chance. Thomas’ best role moving forward would appear to be as a pure short yardage change of pace back and a goal line hammer. Miller could easily have a 1000+ yard plus breakout year for the Dolphins this season.

[switch_ad_hub]

[switch_ad_hub]

[switch_ad_hub]

New England Patriots Potential Breakout Player of 2013: Chandler Jones

The great thing about the NFL is that there are so many positions that every year, there is almost always at least one player who has a breakout year on every team, no matter how good or bad the team is. This is one part in a 32 part segment detailing one potential breakout player for the 2013 NFL season on each NFL team (rookies don’t count). For the New England Patriots, that player is defensive end Chandler Jones.

When the New England Patriots traded up to the 21st pick in the 2012 NFL Draft, it came as a shock to many people as the Patriots are a team known for moving down on draft day, not up. However, when they selected Syracuse defensive end Chandler Jones, most people saw it as a good pick. Jones fit the range and he filled a big need for the Patriots, who lost their two starting defensive ends from their Super Bowl runner up team the year before.

Jones didn’t have a lot of production at Syracuse due to injuries, but his off the charts athleticism sent his stock soaring in the months before draft day. Jones measured in at 6-5 266 with 35 ½ inch arms at The Combine, drawing comparisons to Jason Pierre-Paul. While he didn’t match JPP’s 40 time with a nondescript 4.87, he showed his athleticism with a 35 inch vertical and a 10 foot broad jump. Experts agreed he had the frame to get up to 280-285 comfortably and that while he might not do a whole lot as a rookie, he had a bright future.

Those who considered him a project had to be shocked by how well he came out of the gate in 2012. Through 8 games, heading into the Patriots’ bye, Jones had 6 sacks, 8 hits, and 20 hurries and won Defensive Rookie of the Month in September. He was on pace for 12 sacks, 16 hits, and 40 hurries, which would have put him among the best pass rushers in the league as a mere rookie. He did all this while grading out above average against the run as well. However, injuries again found him. He only missed 2 games the rest of the way, but injuries sapped his explosiveness and he managed just 1 hit and 8 hurries (with no sacks) the rest of the way.

However, with a full year under his belt, Jones still has plenty of potential going into his 2nd year in the league and beyond. He turned just 23 in February and, even after injuries sapped his production, his rookie year still exceeded expectations of those who thought he was a project. He finished the year as ProFootballFocus’ 16th ranked 4-3 defensive end, 18th if you include post-season. If he can stay healthy in his 2nd year in the league, the sky is the limit for him and he could easily have a double digit sack year.

[switch_ad_hub]

[switch_ad_hub]

[switch_ad_hub]

San Francisco 49ers Potential Breakout Player of 2013: Tarell Brown

The great thing about the NFL is that there are so many positions that every year, there is almost always at least one player who has a breakout year on every team, no matter how good or bad the team is. This is one part in a 32 part segment detailing one potential breakout player for the 2013 NFL season on each NFL team (rookies don’t count). For the San Francisco 49ers, that player is cornerback Tarell Brown.

On a defense as good as the 49ers’, it’s easy for a very talented player to go unnoticed. While guys like Justin Smith, Aldon Smith, Patrick Willis, and NaVorro Bowman rightfully get all the attention, Tarell Brown was probably the 3rd biggest named member of their secondary last year, behind #1 cornerback Carlos Rogers and safety Dashon Goldson, who signed one of the richest contracts ever for a safety this off-season with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

On a defense that sent 6 players to the Pro-Bowl (due to a combination of skill and the San Francisco Bay Area’s tendency to dominate All-Star game voting), Brown, one of 5 San Francisco starters who didn’t receive the honor, is the definition of a forgotten man. However, he finished the season as by far San Francisco’s highest rated defensive back and most importantly he got better as the season went on, which bodes well for the 28-year-old’s 2013 prospects, as he heads into the final year of his contract. The 49ers would be wise to lock him up now before he breaks out, especially since they could have to deal with long term extensions for Aldon Smith and Colin Kaepernick next off-season, as well as determine pending free agent Justin Smith’s future with the team.

Brown finished 2012 as ProFootballFocus’ 13th ranked cornerback, 7th if post-season is included. He didn’t allow a touchdown through the regular season, something only Cortland Finnegan and Antoine Winfield could also say among 16 game starters at cornerback. He was memorably burned for a touchdown by Julio Jones in San Francisco’s eventual NFC Championship victory over the Falcons, but that was the only touchdown he allowed all season, including playoffs, over 779 coverage snaps. He also missed just one tackle all season.

He finished the season allowing 61.1% completion on 113 attempts for 890 yards, 1 touchdown, 3 interceptions, 14 deflections, and 9 penalties. However, he really hit his stride starting week 8, grading out 2.0 (elite) or better on ProFootballFocus in 6 of his final 12 games, including 3 of 4 post-season games (Atlanta excluded). From week 8 on, he allowed 47 completions on 82 attempts (57.3%) for 551 yards (6.7 YPA), 1 touchdown, and 3 interceptions. In those final 12 games, he had 13 of his 14 deflections, including a 5 deflection game against Arizona week 8 that was his best game of the season.

While Carlos Rogers is technically the 49ers’ #1 cornerback, the 49ers have their cornerbacks exclusively cover one side of the field, rather than having one guy shadow the opponent’s best receiver, so Brown had plenty of chances to go against the best receivers in the league, especially down the stretch and he more than held his own. Working exclusively on the right side, Brown held Brandon Marshall to one catch for 8 yards on 3 attempts, Jordy Nelson to 1 catch for 8 yards on 2 attempts (in their post-season matchup with Green Bay), and Larry Fitzgerald to 1 catch for 15 yards on 5 attempts in 2 games.

Only Julio Jones, who burned him for 7 catches for 80 yards and a touchdown on 9 attempts, got the best of him among the elite receivers he faced down the stretch. With Goldson gone and Carlos Rogers aging, Brown could have his biggest responsibilities yet this season and could finish the year as San Francisco’s de facto #1 cornerback. Based on his play last season, he seems up to the challenge.

[switch_ad_hub]

[switch_ad_hub]

[switch_ad_hub]

Detroit Lions Potential Breakout Player of 2013: Nick Fairley

The great thing about the NFL is that there are so many positions that every year, there is almost always at least one player who has a breakout year on every team, no matter how good or bad the team is. This is one part in a 32 part segment detailing one potential breakout player for the 2013 NFL season on each NFL team (rookies don’t count). For the Detroit Lions, that player is defensive tackle Nick Fairley.

After a huge 2010 season for National Champion Auburn, in which he had 24 tackles for loss and 11.5 sacks from the defensive tackle spot, Nick Fairley became an early candidate for the #1 pick. Though he eventually fell on draft day because of concerns about his motor and scheme versatility, Fairley ended up in one of the best possible situations, going 13th to Detroit. His pass rush ability made him a natural fit for Detroit’s wide nine scheme and with proven pass rushers such as Ndamukong Suh and Cliff Avril accompanying him on the line, there wouldn’t be a ton of pressure on him.

As a rookie, Fairley had some injuries and off the field troubles that limited him to just 274 snaps in a backup role, but when he did play, he impressed, grading out above average both against the run and as a pass rusher on ProFootballFocus. In 2012, he once again entered the season as a backup behind veteran Corey Williams, but he wouldn’t stay one for long as he made 7 starts on the season.

Despite still limited playing time, Fairley had 5 sacks, 8 hits, and 21 hurries on 302 pass rush snaps. He also stopped the run very well as well, allowing him to grade out as ProFootballFocus’ 5th rated defensive tackle despite playing just 511 total snaps. That 5th place finish put him just one spot behind better known teammate Ndamukong Suh and if Fairley hadn’t missed the final 3 games of the season with injury, he looked poised to surpass Suh as Detroit’s highest rated defensive lineman. The only area he needs to clean up is his position leading 11 penalties, something that should improve with age. Fairley just turned 25 in January.

Before getting hurt, Fairley was on an absolute tear, making 5 starts in a row and recording 4 sacks, 4 hits, and 15 hurries, while holding up against the run. In 7 total starts, he had 4 sacks, 6 hits, and 19 hurries, a glimpse of what he can do in 2013 if he starts all of most of the team’s 16 games. He’s heading into his 3rd season in the season as an undisputed starter and with Cliff Avril gone as a free agent, the Lions will be counting on Fairley to pick up the slack. It would not surprise me at all if Fairley’s 2013 season is better than Suh’s and either way, the Lions have the league’s best 4-3 defensive tackle duo with the combination of Suh and Fairley, their 2010 and 2011 1st round picks.

[switch_ad_hub]

[switch_ad_hub]

[switch_ad_hub]

Buffalo Bills Potential Breakout Player of 2013: Stephon Gilmore

The great thing about the NFL is that there are so many positions that every year, there is almost always at least one player who has a breakout year on every team, no matter how good or bad the team is. This is one part in a 32 part segment detailing one potential breakout player for the 2013 NFL season on each NFL team (rookies don’t count). For the Buffalo Bills, that player is cornerback Stephon Gilmore.

When Stephon Gilmore declared for the NFL draft as a junior out of South Carolina, he certainly had the profile of a top draft pick. After committing as a 4-star recruit and the #2 recruit from the state of South Carolina, Gilmore was a starter at the University of South Carolina from the word go as a true freshman and wound up starting all 39 possible games in 3 years in the always tough SEC. His efforts as a freshman earned him Freshman All-American honors. As a sophomore, he was named a 3rd team All-American. He had a down junior year by his standard, but at The Combine, Gilmore measured in at 6-0 3/8 with 31 inch arms and ran a 4.40 40, which sent his stock soaring once again.

The Bills obviously liked what they saw as they drafted him 10th overall in 2012 and made him a rookie starter. They had huge hopes for him, but he didn’t get off to the best start. In his first 5 NFL games, he allowed 19 completions on 31 attempts for 327 yards and 3 touchdowns. This was completely understandable as even for a talented prospect such as Gilmore, the transition to the NFL can be a tough one, especially for a cornerback and especially for a cornerback frequently asked to cover opponent’s #1 receivers from day one.

However, in week 6, Gilmore hit his stride and played very well from there on out. He allowed 30 completions on 56 attempts for 409 yards. He didn’t allow a touchdown the rest of the way and intercepted his only pass of the season week 13. His only issue was penalties, as he was penalized 11 times in his final 11 games, but as he matures, that issue should correct itself. Heading into his 2nd year in the league, Gilmore, who doesn’t turn 23 until September, looks poised for a big year.

[switch_ad_hub]

[switch_ad_hub]

[switch_ad_hub]