Seattle Seahawks Potential Breakout Player of 2013: Michael Bennett

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 (rookies don’t count) for the 2013 NFL season on each NFL team. For the Seattle Seahawks, that player is defensive end Michael Bennett.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers invested two 1st round picks and two 2nd round picks into their defensive line in the 2010 and 2011 drafts combined, taking Gerald McCoy at Brian Price at defensive tackle in 2010 and Adrian Clayborn and Da’Quan Bowers at defensive end in 2011. However, their best defensive lineman over the last two seasons combined was a player by the name of Michael Bennett, an undrafted free agent out of the 2009 draft class who lines up at both defensive end and defensive tackle.

Bennett is incredibly versatile and well rounded, lining up at two positions and grading out well above average both against the run and as a pass rusher. In 2011, he graded out as ProFootballFocus’ 7th rated 4-3 defensive end in a more limited role, excelling against the run at 6-4 274, but also accumulating 4 sacks, 6 hits, and 28 hurries on 338 pass rush snaps. In 2012, he led the defensive line in snaps, grading out 7th among 4-3 defensive ends again. Along with Cameron Wake, he was one of two 4-3 defensive ends to grade out in the top-10 as a run stopper and pass rusher and he accumulated 9 sacks, 14 hits, and 48 hurries on 600 pass rush snaps.

Bennett was a free agent this off-season and concerns about his shoulder forced him to settle for a 1 year, 4.8 million dollar deal with the Seahawks, but he may have ended up in the best possible spot for him. He’ll be primarily a defensive tackle on passing downs, but he can also play left end, right end, and even some defensive tackle in base packages for the Seahawks. Interestingly enough, the Seahawks were the team who first gave him a chance out of college, signing him as an undrafted free agent in 2009, before cutting him mid-season.

Given his versatility, they’ll find ways to get him on the field and creative ways for him to get at the quarterback. He’ll also be surrounded by an incredible amount of talent on Seattle’s defensive line, which will definitely help him. Now in the national spotlight in Seattle, in a scheme he fits perfectly, he could easily get the recognition he deserves and breakout with his first 10+ sack season. Something tells me free agency will be a little bit more lucrative for him the 2nd time around in 2014.

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Carolina Panthers Potential Breakout Player of 2013: Frank Alexander

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 (rookies don’t count) for the 2013 NFL season on each NFL team. For the Carolina Panthers, that player is defensive end Frank Alexander.

The Panthers were an especially hard team to do this for. Most potential breakout players I write about are top-3 round picks in the 2010-2012 drafts. Due to trades, the Panthers have only had 8 of those in those 3 years, including 4 in the first 2 rounds. Among those players, Terrell McClain is already off the roster, Armanti Edwards and Sione Fua could easily follow this August, and Jimmy Clausen is the 3rd string quarterback.

Only 4 are roster locks and of those 4, two (Cam Newton and Luke Kuechly) won Rookie of the Year in their first year in the league, making them not a candidate here. The other two are Amini Silatolu, who graded out as one of the worst guards in the league last year and is not guaranteed a starting job, and Brandon LaFell, a marginally talented #2 receiver who lacks the explosiveness to ever breakout as a top tier receiver.

The Panthers have found late round gems like Greg Hardy recently, but Hardy, last year’s potential breakout candidate for the Panthers, is coming off a very impressive 13 sack season and is not eligible for this. If you go back to the 2009 draft, only Captain Munnerlyn, a 5-8 cornerback who they found in the 7th round, remains a starter and I don’t think he has the physical tools to breakout as anything more than a solid cover cornerback.

That leaves me, by process of elimination, with Frank Alexander. There are plenty of reasons why Alexander isn’t an ideal fit here. As a rookie, he was very poor against the run. Despite playing very limited run snaps as a nickel rusher, 197, he graded out 57th among 62 eligible 4-3 defensive ends against the run. Even if he were to improve his run play, he still wouldn’t be able to earn a starting job, barring injury, because he’s stuck 3rd on the depth chart behind the duo of Hardy and Charles Johnson who combined for 27 sacks last season. The most Alexander can hope to be is an incredibly efficient nickel rusher, but I have reason to believe that’s what he’ll become.

Alexander may have only had 3 sacks as a rookie, but he also had 6 hits and 26 hurries on 360 pass rush snaps, an impressive rate of 9.7%. He could conceivably double his sack total in 2013 without even playing that much better, but going into his 2nd year in the league, he has a good chance to improve. He fell to the 4th round because of a heart ailment, but I graded him out as a 2nd rounder on tape and it’s very possible that teams around the league, including the Panthers who traded up for him, did the same purely on tape.

He’s got plenty of talent and doesn’t turn 24 until December. Both Johnson and Hardy have the size to move inside to defensive tackle on passing downs, allowing the Panthers to get a 3rd defensive end like Alexander on the field frequently. He’s also got a very good chance to be part of the reason why the Panthers could improve on their 43 sacks from 2012 and emerge as one of the better pass rushing teams in the NFL, with Hardy, Johnson, Alexander, and their two rookie defensive tackles, Star Lotulelei (1st round) and Kawaan Short (2nd round).

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Denver Broncos Potential Breakout Player of 2013: Rahim Moore

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 (rookies don’t count) for the 2013 NFL season on each NFL team. For the Denver Broncos, that player is safety Rahim Moore.

Most casual football fans know Rahim Moore for one thing, his role in the Mile High Miracle in Denver’s eventual playoff loss to the Ravens in last year’s AFC divisional round. For those of you who need a refresher, the heavily underdogged Ravens trailed by 7 with the ball on their own 30 with under 40 seconds left in the 4th quarter. The Broncos came out in prevent defense, as is always the case in that type of situation, and the #1 rule of the prevent defense is don’t let anything get completed behind you. Play deep and don’t jump any routes. If you only allow completions in front of you, eventually the clock will run out and you’ll win. It’s very fundamental football stuff and it’s especially imperative for a safety. They’re called safeties for a reason; they are the last line of the defense.

Rahim Moore, starting free safety for the Broncos, decided instead to try to be a hero and the rest was history. Moore jumped a route on a deep ball thrown from Joe Flacco to Jacoby Jones, going for the interception and the ultimate icer. Not only did he break one of the biggest rules of prevent defense, he missed by a good 5 yards and didn’t even come close to getting the interception, falling in his attempt to pick off the ball. This allowed Jones to get behind him easily and reel in what ended up being a 70 yard touchdown to send the game to overtime, where the Ravens eventually won, sending home the heavily favored #1 seed Broncos home early and spurring an eventual Super Bowl Championship for the Ravens.

That play was an absolute disaster for Moore and he’s undoubtedly spent the entire off-season trying to move past that. However, you cannot judge a player on one play. While that is the worst single snap I’ve seen a safety play in years, Moore played 1160 other snaps last season, including playoffs and was overall a very solid football player. He should be judged more on those instead and have his entire body of work taken into account. He finished the regular season as ProFootballFocus’ 10th rated safety, grading out above average in both run defense and pass defense and only committing 2 penalties. He allowed just 19 completions all regular season and even in that playoff game he was otherwise solid, not missing a tackle and allowing just one other completion for 5 yards.

Going into his 3rd year in the league, I expect the 2011 2nd round pick out of UCLA to put the Mile High Miracle behind him and have his best season as a pro yet. I expect another top-10 season on ProFootballFocus from him and he’ll have a shot at a Pro-Bowl if he picks off enough passes. Sadly that’s how all defensive backs are judged by the common football fan and Moore only has 2 in his 2 seasons in the league, but he picked off 10 as a sophomore at UCLA in 2009, so he has that kind of ability (which just shows why a player shouldn’t be judged by only his interception total, it’s so inconsistent on a year to year basis; it’s like judging a quarterback on how many completions of 40+ yards he has). For his sake, I hope that happens because it’s unfair for him to be judged by one play and one play only.

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Washington Redskins Potential Breakout Player of 2013: Pierre Garcon

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 (rookies don’t count) for the 2013 NFL season on each NFL team. For the Washington Redskins, that player is wide receiver Pierre Garcon.

I debated whether or not Pierre Garcon qualified as a breakout candidate. After all, Garcon got a 5 year, 42.5 million dollar contract from the Redskins as a free agent last off-season. However, he did that without making a Pro-Bowl or even having a 1000 yard season. The Redskins took a major chance giving Garcon that kind of money, banking on his natural athleticism and skill set allowing him to break out as the X receiver in Mike Shanahan’s offense, as the #1 target out of the shadows of others in Indianapolis loaded receiving corps, with Robert Griffin leading a downfield throw based offense. Garcon was only 25 and that point and the Redskins were really expecting a breakout year from him.

Midway into the 1st quarter of the Redskins’ week 1 game against the Saints last year, the Redskins looked pretty smart. Granted it was very, very early in the season, but Griffin targeted Garcon on 4 of his first 5 throws, including an 88 yard touchdown, as Garcon had 4 catches for 109 yards and a touchdown midway through the first quarter of an eventual upset of the Saints in New Orleans, where they hadn’t lost all season in 2011. However, Garcon hurt his foot and left the game immediately following his touchdown and did not return to the game, playing only 8 snaps total.

Garcon would return for week 4 and week 5, but he would only catch 4 passes for 44 yards in those 2 games, struggling through his injury and would not return again until week 11. Garcon was still not healthy after returning, only playing in 306 of his team’s 445 snaps over those 7 games, not exactly what the Redskins were hoping to get from their #1 receiver. However, Garcon was still very productive, in spite of his more limited role, catching 36 passes for 480 yards and 3 touchdowns in those 7 games.

Overall on the season, Garcon had 633 yards on 215 routes run, good for 2.94 yards per route run, 2nd in the NFL among eligible wide receivers behind Andre Johnson. He was targeting 63 times, giving him a very impressive yard per target rate of over 10 per and with 63 targets on 215 routes run, he was by far Robert Griffin’s favorite target to throw to when he was on the field. Griffin was also very efficient when throwing to him, completing 69.8% of his passes for 10.0 YPA, 4 touchdowns, and 1 interception, a QB rating of 116.7, 14th in the NFL among eligible wide receivers. It’s clear that Garcon has a ton of upside in his role in Washington’s offense.

Garcon’s issue remains injuries as his foot is still not 100% and in addition he had off-season shoulder surgery. However, the shoulder is expected to be a non-issue and his foot should be better than it was last season. Assuming he plays close to a full set of snaps and isn’t overly limited on the field by his foot, Garcon could have an incredibly productive season. Robert Griffin is expected to throw more and run less to protect himself from injuries so the Redskins figure to pass more than the 442 times they did last year. Garcon could easily end up as one of the league’s top-10 receivers and a Pro-Bowler in 2013.

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2013 MLB Mock Draft

1. Houston Astros- RHP Jonathan Gray (Oklahoma)

It’s between two right handed pitchers for the Astros right now, Mark Appel and Jonathan Gray, but I think Gray’s signability gets him the nod here given the state of the Astros’ organization. They can’t really go wrong with either and need as many talented prospects as they can get with a major league worst roster and a middling farm system.

2. Chicago Cubs- RHP Mark Appel (Stanford)

The Cubs will probably take whichever right hander the Astros don’t and in this case that’s Appel. Appel might be the superior prospect, but Scott Boras is his agent and he didn’t sign after being drafted 8th overall by the Pirates last year. The Cubs have money to spend and don’t seem scared off as they are widely known to be interested in both of the top two pitchers.

3. Colorado Rockies- 1B Kris Bryant (San Diego)

Bryant is a power hitter who can really play any of the corner infield or outfield spots. He is widely projected to the Rockies as the top offensive player in this draft and to them he makes the most sense as a 1st baseman. Todd Helton is aging and they don’t have a 1st baseman in the pipe among their top prospects.

4. Minnesota Twins- RHP Braden Shipley (Nevada)

This is where the draft really gets interesting as there’s no clear pick. The Twins have a bunch of high upside high schoolers to choose from and they’ve certainly gone in that direction often in the past, taking high schoolers in the 1st round 9 out of 15 times since 2001, including both times they’ve had a top-5 pick. However, after taking a huge chance on Bryon Buxton 2nd overall last year, they may want a safer alternative this year.

5. Cleveland Indians- 3B Colin Moran (North Carolina)

While the Twins love high schoolers, the Indians are the complete opposite. Prior to selecting Francisco Lindor in 2011, they hadn’t used a 1st round pick on a high schooler since 2001, so it makes sense that they are widely expected to take the best available college bat and that’s Moran in this case. They don’t have a 3rd baseman in the pipe among their top prospects and they don’t have a good one in the major league roster either, which is why they’ve been forced Mark Reynolds to play there when he’s a natural 1st baseman.

6. Miami Marlins- OF Clint Frazier (High School-GA)

The Marlins have no issue taking a high schooler early as the selection of Oklahoma State’s Andrew Heaney last year snapped a 5-year long streak of high schoolers. Frazier has the most upside of any prospect in this class and with the Marlins in the position they are, they really need to swing for the fences and they need help everywhere they can get it.

7. Boston Red Sox- RHP Kohl Stewart (High School-TX)

You can go back and forth between Stewart and Frazier for top high school prospect, but Frazier is the consensus top high school hitter and Stewart is the consensus top high school pitcher. He’d go earlier if it were known he’d sign, but he has a scholarship from Texas A&M to play quarterback. The Red Sox have the resources and the cachet to get the deal done though.

8. Kansas City Royals- LHP Sean Manaea (Indiana State)

The Royals gave away a lot of their farm in the James Shields/Wade Davis deal so they can really go in any direction here. Manaea would seem to be the best available, however. He’s the top lefty in this class and has an outside shot at the top-5 for that reason. If the Twins decide on a lefty college pitcher over a righty or the Indians decide to go pitcher over hitter, Manaea is the obvious choice. The Red Sox could have interest too if they want a safer pick.

9. Pittsburgh Pirates- C Reese McGuire (High School-WA)

The Pirates’ top two prospects are former top-2 pick pitchers and among the best prospects in baseball so I doubt they go with another pitcher here. Catcher is a needy position as they don’t have a highly rated catching prospect and on the big league roster Russell Martin is just on a 2 year deal. Last year’s 2nd round pick, Wyatt Mathisen, is having a lot of trouble with his defense and could be converted back into a shortstop. McGuire is another prospect that could go higher than this as catchers are reached for because of need more often than any other position. He also offers signability which the Pirates could put a greater value on after losing Appel last year.

10. Toronto Blue Jays- OF Austin Meadows (High School-GA)

The Blue Jays spent a lot of their farm bringing in Jose Reyes and RA Dickey and all them and it hasn’t really worked out, at least not yet. Because of this, they can really go anywhere and they are widely projected to take a high upside high schooler. Meadows looks like the favorite, with two way kid Trey Ball as the runner up.

11. New York Mets- 1B DJ Peterson (New Mexico)

Before last year, the Mets hadn’t drafted a high schooler since 2003 so expect them to focus on college players again this year. How they feel about Ike Davis, who has shown plenty of promise, but should be farther along than this at age 26, will impact this choice a lot. With Davis currently hitting .148 at 1st base, DJ Peterson seems awfully tempting as a 1st baseman of the future. He’s projects as a righty middle of the order power hitter and he’s one of the more MLB ready players in this class. The other option is Arkansas right handed pitcher Ryne Stanek, with Mississippi State outfielder Hunter Renfroe as the dark horse.

12. Seattle Mariners- 1B Dominic Smith (High School-CA)

The Mariners are once again a light hitting team, ranking 25th in the majors in runs scored and 4 of their top 6 prospects are pitchers, so they’re probably thinking hitter here. Smith offers significantly more long term upside than light hitting 1st baseman Justin Smoak, who has not panned out as the Mariners would have liked when they traded Cliff Lee to the Rangers for him. The Mariners are without a power hitting 1st base prospect on their farm.

13. San Diego Padres- LHP Trey Ball (High School-IN)

The Padres have taken high schoolers with 4 of their last 5 first round picks and they do so again here. Ball is this draft class’ top two way player as he can play both shortstop and pitch left handed. Expect him to be a pitcher long term as lefties that can hit 94 like him are a rarity. Either way, he might be too good for the Padres to pass on.

14. Pittsburgh Pirates- RHP Ryne Stanek (Arkansas)

While the Pirates do have two of the top pitching prospects in baseball, you can’t completely rule out a pitcher for them with one of their two first round picks, especially if one like Stanek falls to them. After all, they drafted Appel 9th last year (before losing him) despite having two top pitching prospects. Stanek is one of the most MLB ready pitchers in this draft class and could have an impact as soon as 2015.

15. Arizona Diamondbacks- OF Hunter Renfroe (Mississippi State)

The Diamondbacks could go in a number of different directions with this pick. However, after trading Justin Upton and not receiving an outfield prospect in return, they don’t really have a top outfield prospect unless you count Adam Eaton, who is still rookie eligible, but is currently at the major league level on the DL with a serious elbow injury. He’s a different type of outfielder than Renfroe anyway.

16. Philadelphia Phillies- OF Austin Wilson (Stanford)

The Phillies have a real shortage of top outfield prospects at the moment as they are without one in their top-10. This is a problem because Delmon Young is currently playing right field and he’s not a long term solution. The Phillies go with a more MLB ready outfielder here in Austin Wilson, who is likely going to be seen as the top outfield prospect available ahead of high schooler Ryan Boldt.

17. Chicago White Sox- LHP Marco Gonzalez (Gonzaga)

Before breaking the trend last year, the White Sox had drafted only college players in the first round since 2001 so they’ll probably take a college player here. Gonzalez would seem to be the best available and he could instantly be the top left handed pitching prospect in an organization that lacks an elite one. Their farm system is also much more hitter heavy than pitcher heavy.

18. Los Angeles Dodgers- C Jonathan Denney (High School-OK)

The Dodgers have gone to the high school level for 8 of their last 10 first round picks and figure to look there again. The Dodgers don’t have a top catching prospect and while AJ Ellis is currently getting the job done now at the big league level, he’s already 32. Backup Ramon Hernandez is even older, just turning 37 in May. Youth desperately needs to be added.

19. St. Louis Cardinals- SS JP Crawford (High School-CA)

The Cardinals’ farm system is widely regarded as the best in baseball, but the one thing they lack is an elite shortstop prospect. They can afford to wait on the young Crawford and he might just be too good to pass on, despite their preference to draft college players. After all, their last high school 1st round pick, Shelby Miller in 2009, has worked out pretty well. Crawford could definitely go a lot earlier than this as the top middle infielder in the draft class.

20. Detroit Tigers- RHP Chris Anderson (Jacksonville)

The Tigers like taking power arms early and are widely expected to do so again this year considering their farm system is a little lighter on power arms than they’re used to. Anderson is a very MLB ready prospect and would instantly bolster what is seen as one of the worst farm systems in the majors. As good as their starting rotation and their major league team as a whole is right now, you always have to be looking towards the future.

21. Tampa Bay Rays- OF Ryan Boldt (High School-MN)

The Rays have the 2nd best farm system in the majors behind the Cardinals and their off-season trade of James Shields only made it better. They love drafting high upside high schoolers, going to that level with 7 of their last 9 1st round picks and they have time to wait on Boldt, who fits what they look for and has as much upside as anyone in this draft class. He’s got all 5 tools.

22. Baltimore Orioles- OF Aaron Judge (Fresno State)

The Orioles’ farm system lacks an elite outfield prospect and major league left fielder Nate McLouth is a journeyman who has bounced all over. Judge’s game has holes, but the 6-7 outfielder has as much power as anyone in this draft and won’t fall much farther than this. With Adam Jones and Nick Markakis already excelling in the majors, Judge could give them one of the best outfields in the majors if he develops by 2015, as some expect.

23. Texas Rangers- RHP Hunter Harvey (High School-NC)

The Rangers have gone with a high schooler with their last 6 first round picks and go there again. Harvey is a power arm who fits the Rangers’ bill and his name has been tied to them on several occasions for obvious reasons. The Rangers can afford to wait on him and he could eventually be a top end of the rotation starter as he has as much upside as any pitcher in this draft class.

24. Oakland Athletics- RHP Andrew Thurman (UC Irvine)

As anyone who has watched or read Moneyball can tell you, Billy Beane hates drafting raw high school players with a passion, due in large part to the fact that he was once one and totally flamed out. He must have seen something different last year when he took Addison Russell out of high school in the first, but before that it was a string of 15 straight college players in the first round. I expect him to get back to that. Thurman doesn’t have the best upside or velocity, but he has command of all of his pitches and he’s very MLB ready.

25. San Francisco Giants- SS Oscar Mercado (High School-FL)

The Giants’ farm system is awfully light on offensive prospects, which is an issue because that’s what their major league roster lacks of the most. Mercado’s bat needs improvement, but he’s young and he’s got a great glove. The Giants will have to wait on him, but he could end up being the best middle infielder from a draft class weak at the shortstop and 2nd base positions. The Giants need both and Mercado projects best to shortstop long term.

26. New York Yankees- LHP Matt Krook (High School-CA)

The Yankees’ last 4 first round picks have been high schoolers and they go there again to grab a high upside lefty. This makes a lot of sense because the Yankees’ position as perennial contenders allows them to sit back in the bottom of the 1st round and wait for the prospects to fall to them and they don’t have to force things and draft for need or draft for someone who can provide more immediate help.

27. Cincinnati Reds- C Nick Ciuffo (High School-SC)

The Reds lack a top catching prospect or a solidified major league level catcher so they could definitely focus on the position. Ciuffo has plenty of upside and a great bat, but he’s got a scholarship waiting at South Carolina and he needs a lot of work behind the plate. Still, the Reds take the risk and should be able to buy him out of his commitment.

28. St. Louis Cardinals- RHP Jonathan Crawford (Florida)

It doesn’t seem fair that the Cardinals get another two first round picks to add to their #1 rated farm system and their major league best squad, but they get this pick for losing Kyle Lohse this off-season. After going high school with their first pick, the Cardinals are likely to look at college with this one and they have a few collegiate arms to pick from, the likely highest rated of whom is Florida’s Jonathan Crawford.

29. Tampa Bay Rays- LHP Rob Kaminsky (High School-NJ)

As I mentioned during their first pick’s writeup, the Rays love high schoolers. After taking a hitter with their first pick, they add a pitcher into their 2nd ranked farm system with this one. Kaminsky is technically a two way player who can play the outfield, but his arm is much better than his bat so his long term future appears to be on the mound.

30. Texas Rangers- OF Michael Lorenzen (Cal State-Fullerton)

The Rangers add one of the draft’s most intriguing players to the fold in Lorenzen here with their 2nd pick of the first round. Lorenzen can play all over the field and he also was Cal State-Fullerton’s closer last year and tops out at 96 MPH with his fastball. The Rangers will find somewhere for him and his future right now seems to be as a cannon armed outfielder.

31. Atlanta Braves- RHP Bobby Wahl (Missouri)

Wahl is one of the more major league ready pitchers in this class and could have gone as many as ten picks earlier, but it didn’t work out that way. The Braves take him here and add him to a farm system that is already heavy on pitching prospects. Still, he might just be too good to pass on for a team without obvious needs.

32. New York Yankees- RHP Phil Bickford (High School-CA)

With three first round picks, the Yankees double up on high school arms. Like Krook, Bickford comes from California and has a big time upside. Bickford is a righty, while Krook is a lefty. The Yankees’ farm system is very hitter heavy right now so pitching figures to be the focus of their draft as they somehow ended up with three picks in the first round this year.

33. New York Yankees- RHP Alex Gonzalez (Oral Roberts)

I thought about a hitter here, but I really wanted to get Gonzalez into the first round and the Yankees have a big enough need for young pitchers that this does make sense. Like Wahl who went 31st, Gonzalez could have gone ten picks earlier, but it just didn’t work out that way for him. The Yankees gladly add him to the fold here.

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Minnesota Vikings Potential Breakout Player of 2013: Fred Evans

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 (rookies don’t count) for the 2013 NFL season on each NFL team. For the Minnesota Vikings, that player is defensive tackle Fred Evans.

Evans played the 4th fewest snaps among Minnesota defensive tackles last season, behind Kevin Williams, LeTroy Guion, and Christian Ballard, serving as a run-down specialist and a pure backup at right defensive tackle behind Guion. This position is also known as the 4-3 nose tackle spot and in Minnesota’s defense it was the spot occupied for so many years by Pat Williams. With Williams now gone, the Vikings are searching for his replacement and have given Guion the first crack at doing so. Ballard served as a situational pass rusher on sub packages. Kevin Williams is firmly entrenched as a starter at left defensive tackle, the under tackle spot. And the Vikings just used a first round pick on defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd.

So how could Evans still have a breakout year? Well, Floyd is more of a threat to Ballard’s role immediately and projects more as a long term solution at the under tackle spot than someone who is going to play the nose in the base packages. Playing the run is not his strength and his role as a rookie will probably be as a situational pass rusher, coming in for the base nose tackle on passing downs. So the only one Evans will be battling with for a starting job is Guion and according to Head Coach Leslie Frazier, he’ll be given every chance to win that job.

If Evans shows himself in camp to be the player he was last year, he should win that job. Evans finished the regular season as ProFootballFocus’ 12th ranked defensive tackle and no one played as few snaps as him, 342, and had a higher grade. That doesn’t even take into account his best performance of the season, in the Vikings’ playoff game against the Packers, when he had 5 tackles for offensive failure (within 4 yards of the original LOS on 1st down, 6 yards on 2nd down, and the full distance on 3rd and 4th down). Post-season included, he was ProFootballFocus’ 7th rated defensive tackle.

His biggest strength was playing the run, which will be important as he attempts to win that right defensive tackle job. Only 2 players had a higher rating against the run on ProFootballFocus than him, with post-season included, as he had 20 tackles for offensive failure on the season, also known as a stop. With 17 of these coming on 166 running plays, he had a run stop percentage of 10.2%, good for 5th in the NFL among eligible defensive tackles. He wasn’t too shabby as a pass rusher as well, as he graded out just about average with 2 sacks, 2 hits, and 4 hurries on 188 pass rush snaps.

Guion, meanwhile, had just 18 stops all season, despite playing 539 snaps. With 14 of these coming on 235 run snaps, his run stop percentage was just 6.0%, closer to the bottom of the league, 53th out of 85 eligible. He graded out dead last among 85 eligible defensive tackles on ProFootballFocus in the regular season, 76th out of 79 eligible with post-season included. His biggest weakness was the run, which is not a good thing when you’re trying to win a starting nose tackle job against someone who was one of the best in the league in that regard last season. I expect Evans to win this starting job and have a great year as a starter in the base packages, with Floyd spelling him in sub packages and being eased in. Guion, meanwhile, is not a lock for a roster spot, owed a non-guaranteed 2.45 million.

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Atlanta Falcons Potential Breakout Player of 2013: Peter Konz

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 (rookies don’t count) for the 2013 NFL season on each NFL team. For the Atlanta Falcons, that player is center Peter Konz.

Konz was one of the better center prospects I’ve scouted, a 3 year starter at the offensive line factory that is the University of Wisconsin and a big time road grader at 6-5 315, with the balance and technique to excel inside despite his height. Konz also had 33 inch arms and help up in pass protection one on one when asked. Centers rarely go in the 1st round, but Konz had a chance to. An ankle injury sustained late in the season dropped him into the 2nd round, where the Falcons took him 53rd overall, which I thought was an excellent pick. Despite giving up their 1st rounder the year before in the Julio Jones trade, I still thought they got a 1st round talent out of the draft.

The original plan was for Konz to be a reserve as a rookie at center behind veteran Todd McClure, but 6 weeks into the season, right guard Garrett Reynolds went down for the year with a back injury and Konz was inserted at right guard, an unnatural position. Konz struggled mightily in 12 starts, 10 in the regular season. He graded out as ProFootballFocus’ 76th ranked guard out of 81 eligible in the regular season, allowing 5 sacks, 7 hits, and 13 hurries, while struggling as a run blocker.

However, with Reynolds set to return at right guard and center Todd McClure retiring, Konz is expected to be the starter at center this year, where he’s a much more natural fit and he could easily have a breakout year and emerge as one of the better centers in the league. He has the talent to and I wouldn’t put much stock into his rough first season in the league.

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San Diego Chargers Potential Breakout Player of 2013: Danario Alexander

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 (rookies don’t count) for the 2013 NFL season on each NFL team. For the San Diego Chargers, that player is wide receiver Danario Alexander.

Alexander had a very productive career at the University of Missouri, especially in his senior year, when he caught 113 passes for 1781 yards and 14 touchdowns. However, in spite of that, Alexander went undrafted in 2010 due to serious concerns about his left knee, which had been operated on 4 times. Alexander spent 2 years in St. Louis after making the practice squad as an undrafted free agent and he had some big games, including 5 games of 72 yards or more.

However, he struggled with injuries to his knee and hamstring and played just 18 games in those 2 seasons, catching a total of 46 passes for 737 yards and 3 touchdowns. After he had a 5th knee surgery before the 2012 season, Alexander was waived/injured by the Rams and became a free agent. Despite his natural ability at 6-5 217, his collegiate production, and the fact that he flashed on several occasions in St. Louis, he lasted as a free agent until October 18th, when he was signed by the receiver desperate Chargers.

With the Chargers, he began playing serious snaps by week 9 and became a starter by week 10. In 9 games with the team, he caught 37 passes for 658 yards and 7 touchdowns, which extrapolates to 66 catches for 1170 yards and 12 touchdowns over 16 games. Those 658 yards on 314 routes run equaled 2.10 yards per route run, 17th in the NFL among receivers who played as many snaps he did. He caught those 37 passes for 658 yards and 7 touchdowns on 54 targets and only 2 passes intended for him were intercepted, good for a QB rating when thrown to of 134.1, best in the NFL among receivers who played as many snaps as he did. For comparison, Philip Rivers’ overall QB rating was 88.6

This off-season, he was slapped with an original round tender, which means anyone could have signed him to an offer sheet and not had to surrender draft pick compensation (the Chargers had right of to match any deal, however). Though several teams reportedly considered doing so, none did, likely scared off by his history of knee injuries and the commitment that comes with a multi-year deal. That’s also probably why San Diego didn’t slap a higher tender on him. His history of knee injuries still is the huge elephant in the room with him. They could creep up at any time.

However, if they don’t, Alexander could have a real chance at having a 1000 yard season and being the Chargers’ #1 receiver. He’s plenty talented and doesn’t even turn 25 until August. The Chargers, meanwhile, have a ton of question marks at wide receiver. Malcom Floyd is a marginal talent who turns 32 this season. Vincent Brown is coming off a lost season with a broken ankle and is still very unproven. Eddie Royal and Robert Meachem combined for 37 catches in the first year of multi-year deals last off-season and might not both make the roster. Keenan Allen, meanwhile, is just a 3rd round rookie. Alexander has the most talent by far. He’ll just need to stay healthy.

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Jacksonville Jaguars Potential Breakout Player of 2013: Cecil Shorts

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 (rookies don’t count) for the 2013 NFL season on each NFL team. For the Jacksonville Jaguars, that player is wide receiver Cecil Shorts.

When your quarterbacks are Chad Henne and Blaine Gabbert, it’s tough to put up big time numbers as a receiver, but 2nd year receiver Cecil Shorts did a good job of that in 2012 as the 2011 4th round pick caught 55 passes for 979 yards and 7 touchdowns. He caught his 55 passes on 101 targets, which is a low catch rate of 54.5% and he did drop 9 passes, but he was a big time big play receiver, averaging 17.8 yards per attempt and quarterbacks threw 7 touchdowns to 4 interceptions when throwing to him.

That’s good for a 94.5 QB rating when thrown to, 15th in the NFL among eligible wide receivers, which is absurd considering his quarterbacks were Blaine Gabbert and Chad Henne, who combined for a 74.7 QB rating on the season. How did he manage that? Well, he ranked 10th among eligible wide receivers averaging 6.7 yards after catch per catch. Only Percy Harvin caught more passes and averaged a higher yards after catch per catch than Shorts.

Even more impressive, he did this despite missing 2 games with injuries and not playing more than 50% of his team’s snaps until the team’s 6th game of the season. He ran 423 routes on the season, giving him 2.31 yards per route run, 8th in the NFL behind Andre Johnson, Brandon Marshall, Michael Crabtree, Calvin Johnson, Demaryius Thomas, Vincent Jackson, and AJ Green. In his 9 starts, he caught 47 passes for 774 yards and 5 touchdowns, which extrapolates to 84 catches for 1386 yards and 9 touchdowns over 16 games.

On top of that, it didn’t seem to matter to him which crappy quarterback was throwing to him. In his 3 starts with Blaine Gabbert, he caught 12 passes for 242 yards and 2 touchdowns. With Chad Henne, he caught 35 passes for 532 yards and 3 touchdowns. That’s good news because the Jaguars could go with either Chad Henne or Blaine Gabbert this year and will probably have both start at least one game.

In 2013, Shorts will be in his 3rd year in the league, a frequent breakout year for receivers, and he’ll be the starter from week 1. Provided he stays healthy, he should make 16 starts. Justin Blackmon is suspended for the first 4 games of the season, so Shorts will see plenty of targets. He’ll also see more attention from defenses and he won’t seek up on anyone this time around, but he should be fine. He probably won’t reach those aforementioned extrapolated stats, but he has a very good chance to be Jacksonville’s first 1000 yard receiver since Jimmy Smith in 2005.

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New York Jets Potential Breakout Player of 2013: Chris Ivory

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 (rookies don’t count) for the 2013 NFL season on each NFL team. For the New York Jets, that player is running back Chris Ivory.

When Mike Tannenbaum was fired this off-season and John Idzik was hired as the new GM of the New York Jets, he had a tough job ahead of him. The Jets had 8 starters set to hit free agency and no cap space to re-sign them or to sign replacements. They had to cut 3 more starters just to get under the cap (Calvin Pace was eventually re-signed) and Darrelle Revis was in a situation where he needed to be traded. And this was on top of having one of the worst quarterback situations in the league and coming off a 6-10 season.

The Jets had two 1st round picks after the Revis trade and rookies Dee Milliner and Sheldon Richardson will both be rookie starters. They brought in 3 veterans, Dawan Landry, Stephen Peterman, and Willie Colon, to plug holes cheap, which were nice signings. However, I think Idzik’s best move so far with the Jets has been trading for New Orleans’ Chris Ivory and making him their starting running back. Ivory cost just a 4th round pick and a cheap 3 year, 6 million dollar deal, but he has the ability to be a real breakout star and give them a strong running game once more.

Ivory was a real find for the Saints as an undrafted free agent from Tiffin in 2009. He made the roster as a rookie and though he was never high on the depth chart behind Mark Ingram, Pierre Thomas, Reggie Bush/Darren Sproles, when injuries struck, and they frequently did, he always made the most of his opportunity. In 3 seasons with the Saints, Ivory rushed for 1307 yards and 8 touchdowns on just 256 carries, an impressive 5.0 YPC.

Now going to the Jets, he’ll finally get a chance to be atop the depth chart. The Jets have 5 running backs on their roster currently. Bilal Powell has a 3.7 career YPC. Joe McKnight is not expected to stick on the roster and briefly was a cornerback last year. John Griffin is just roster filler. Mike Goodson actually got a more lucrative contract than Ivory’s extension, but he’s not an every down back was recently arrested for DUI and gun charges. Ivory was named the starter even before Goodson’s arrest, but with Goodson’s roster spot now in doubt, it looks very possible Ivory could be a 250+ carry feature back.

We’ve seen what Ivory has done in 250 carries in his career and it would be huge if he could do that again. He probably won’t do quite that as he’ll be running against stacked boxes more often with Mark Sanchez/Geno Smith under center than he was with Drew Brees, but the Jets actually have a solid run blocking offensively line, so they’ll give him help. The other concern is if he can remain effective when getting 15-20 carries per game for an extended period of time, something he’s never done. He’s also had injury issues. However, he could still be a big time breakout player.

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