NFL Potential Breakout Players of 2012: The Review

The goal: Pick one player on each team to have a breakout year and see where they end up at the end of the season. No rookies. No established veterans. No former Pro-Bowlers (minus special teams). Here was the logic for all 32 players. And below are the results.

The good

New York Jets DL Muhammad Wilkerson

In his 2nd year in the league, Wilkerson was a huge bright spot in the Jets’ season. He didn’t have huge sack numbers, but he did apply more than adequate pressure for his position and was the best run stuffing defensive lineman in the game after JJ Watt. Only Watt graded out better overall among 3-4 defensive ends on ProFootballFocus.

Philadelphia Eagles DE Brandon Graham

Graham struggled with injuries in his first two years in the league and when he finally got healthy he was out of shape from not playing for so long and had gained 20 pounds. He got himself into shape this year and did so well as a reserve that he got veteran Jason Babin, who had 18 sacks the year before, benched and cut. When Jim Washburn was fired and Graham took over as a starter, that’s when he really flourished, with 5 sacks, 3 hits, and 17 hurries in 6 starts, while providing solid run support as well. He graded out as ProFootballFocus’ 2nd ranked 4-3 defensive end despite only 6 starts and was by far the most efficient pass rusher in the league among players who played as many snaps as he did.

San Francisco 49ers G Mike Iupati

Freakishly talented, but raw as the 17th overall pick in 2010, Iupati was solid in his first two years in the league, but this year he really showed why he was drawing Larry Allen comparisons in the pre-draft process. He still hasn’t lived up to those lofty expectations, but he made his first of probably many Pro-Bowls this season and was ProFootballFocus’ 5th ranked guard.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers DT Gerald McCoy

McCoy was very impressive in limited action in his first two years in the league as the 3rd overall pick in 2010, but was often hurt. This year, he played all 16 games and showed exactly why he was such a high draft pick, having a better year than Ndamukong Suh arguably ever has had, impressing as a pass rusher and a run stuffer and grading out as the best defensive tackle other than Geno Atkins on ProFootballFocus. He also led the way for Tampa Bay’s #1 ranked run defense, a unit that had ranked 31st in 2010 and 2011.

Tennessee Titans DE Derrick Morgan

I think the theme is always bet on former 1st rounders who had hard luck in their first 2 years in the league. Like Graham and McCoy, Morgan finally was healthy this season, after tearing his ACL as a rookie and being out of shape in his 2nd year in the league. Morgan played all 16 games and had 9 sacks, 21 hits, and 42 hurries and was decent against the run as well. All in all, he was ProFootballFocus’ 4th ranked 4-3 end.

Chicago Bears DT Henry Melton

Melton was always a solid player in limited action in his first 3 years in the league, but this year he was given more responsibilities than ever and produced his best year as a pro. He wasn’t great against the run, but you’ll take 8 sacks, 5 hits, and 24 hurries every year from a 4-3 tackle, especially one who plays in a one gap, penetrating scheme like the Bears’. ProFootballFocus’ 7th rated defensive tackle, the Bears franchised Melton this off-season and are currently working on making him a big part of their future.

Denver Broncos WR Eric Decker

Decker was actually Denver’s leading receiver in 2011, but struggled with injuries down the stretch and really didn’t have good chemistry with Tim Tebow once he took over. Fully healthy and with the switch from Tim Tebow to Peyton Manning at quarterback, Decker seemed poised for big numbers. Not only was Manning the traditional quarterback Decker worked better with, he’s one of the best traditional quarterbacks of all time and Decker is the exact type of receiver he likes, so much so that he recommended the Colts draft him in the 3rd round in 2010, before the Broncos snatched him up a few spots earlier. Decker didn’t disappoint me, catching 85 passes for 1064 yards and 13 touchdowns.

Kansas City Chiefs OLB Justin Houston

Houston was a first round talent in 2011 before a failed drug test dropped him into the 3rd. The Chiefs drafted him and he was very impressive in 6 starts down the stretch in 2011. Houston carried that over to 2012, starting all 16 games and excelling in all 3 areas of the game, rushing the passer, stopping the run, and dropping in coverage. Only Anthony Spencer, Clay Matthews, and Aldon Smith graded out better among 3-4 outside linebackers this season.

Baltimore Ravens WR Torrey Smith

Smith carried over a strong 2nd half of his rookie season into 2012, catching 60 passes for 1088 yards and 10 touchdowns in 20 games en route to a Super Bowl victory and of course he had an amazing 12 catches for 224 yards and 3 touchdowns in 2 games in a 5 day span following the sudden death of his younger brother.

Atlanta Falcons WR Julio Jones

Like Torrey Smith, Jones carried over a strong 2nd half of his rookie season in 2012 and put up monster numbers, catching 79 passes for 1198 yards and 10 touchdowns in the regular season and then another 17 catches for 241 yards and 2 touchdowns in 2 post-season games. Jones’ presence in the Falcons’ deadly downfield passing game was a big part of the reason why the Falcons won 13 games and made the NFC Championship game.

New England Patriots RB Stevan Ridley

The Patriots aren’t known as a running team, but they were 7th in the NFL in rushing yards this year and this guy is a big part of the reason why. Ridley rushed for 1263 yards and 12 touchdowns on 290 carries, finishing the season 7th in the NFL in rushing. Unlike former Patriot running backs, Ridley wasn’t just a product of the talent around him, gaining 2.5 of his 4.4 YPC after contact.

Carolina Panthers DE Greg Hardy

Hardy still isn’t a big name, but he played just as well as big money bookend Charles Johnson in Carolina this season. Hardy was ProFootballFocus’ 6th rated 4-3 defensive end, while Johnson was 8th and the duo combined for 27 sacks. Johnson had better overall pass rush numbers as Hardy wasn’t as good as his 13 sacks suggest, but Hardy was also the significantly better run player.

New York Giants DT Linval Joseph

Again not a big name and only ProFootballFocus’ 21st rated defensive tackle, but Joseph was still well above average this season and I’m still counting this one as a win.

Arizona Cardinals TE Rob Housler

This one was tough to count as a win. Housler caught just 45 passes for 417 yards, but I’m blaming that one more on the quarterbacks. His 1.07 yards per route run were just a touch under Larry Fitzgerald’s 1.18.

Cincinnati Bengals DE Carlos Dunlap

Dunlap still hasn’t emerged as an every down player, but he reached a career high in snaps played, playing 601. Though he had just 5 sacks, he played very well overall when given a chance and graded out as ProFootballFocus’ 9th rated 4-3 defensive end, despite still limited playing time.

Oakland Raiders WR Denarius Moore

Moore didn’t quite have the season I was expecting, but you can blame that some on Oakland’s generally terrible season. Moore still led the way among Raider wide receivers catching 51 passes for 741 yards and 7 touchdowns.

The bad

Washington Redskins MLB Perry Riley

Riley was a very good player in the 2nd half of the 2011 season, but that didn’t carry over in his first full season as a starter. While he played all 16 games and was an every down player, Riley still graded out below average overall this season.

St. Louis Rams DE Robert Quinn

His 11 sacks might suggest this was a win, but only five 4-3 ends graded out worse than him on ProFootballFocus as what he did on the rest of his snaps, not just the 11 he had sacks on, was not impressive. He got washed against the run, had very low hits and hurries totals from someone with his sack total, and did all this despite getting very little attention from the defense with Chris Long tying up blockers opposite him.

Jacksonville Jaguars CB Derek Cox

Cox has always flashed when healthy and was very good before getting hurt in 2011, but he didn’t stay healthy in 2012, missing 4 games and playing through injury in countless others, grading out as a below average player overall.

San Diego Chargers DL Cam Thomas

A talented defensive lineman who played limited snaps in 2011, Thomas was due for an increase in playing time in 2012, but ended up playing just 9 more snaps than 2011 and his level of play dipped.

Miami Dolphins DL Jared Odrick

Odrick was another former 1st round pick who had a rough first 2 years that I was expecting to breakout in his 3rd year, but he did not do that. At the end of the day, as talented as he is, he just couldn’t adjust to a position change to 4-3 end and only three 4-3 ends graded out worse than him on ProFootballFocus.

New Orleans Saints CB Patrick Robinson

Robinson is another former 1st round pick, but was an embarrassingly bad choice as a breakout player. A league average player in his first 2 years in the league, Robinson was among the most torched corners in the league in 2012, allowing 9 touchdowns and over 1000 yards and finishing the year as ProFootballFocus’ 89th ranked cornerback out of 113 eligible.

Cleveland Browns WR Greg Little

Little got better as the season went on, but couldn’t kick his drops habit, dropping 6 passes to 11 catches in his first 5 games, including a game winner that would have likely led to a massive upset in Baltimore. He finally regained his quarterback’s trust, dropping just 3 passes the rest of the way and finishing with 53 catches for 647 yards and 4 touchdowns, but I’d hardly call that a breakout year.

Minnesota Vikings LB Erin Henderson

Henderson was arguably the best run stopping linebacker in the league in 2011 and that earned him an every down role in 2012, after coming out in obvious passing situations for a 5th defensive back in 2011. That didn’t last long. After playing every snap week 1, Henderson was done in by injuries and issues in coverage and did not regain the every down role until week 16, when Jasper Brinkley’s issues in coverage became way too glaring. To make matters worse, he wasn’t quite the run player he was in 2011 and overall graded out as just an average player on 767 total regular and post-season snaps. A free agent this off-season, he’s not expected to be retained and will have to settle for two-down work on a one year deal elsewhere.

Buffalo Bills MLB Kelvin Sheppard

Sheppard was solid as a rookie in a limited role and lost weight in an effort to stay on the field on passing downs in 2012. That didn’t help. He played just half of the Bills’ snaps and while he was decent in coverage, he made a below average impact against the run and overall graded out negatively. The Bills are expected to pursue competition for him through the draft.

The ugly

Seattle Seahawks QB Matt Flynn

In my defense, Seattle didn’t have an obvious choice for a breakout player. Rookies don’t count and neither do established players like Earl Thomas, Richard Sherman, or Max Unger. Russell Okung was probably the closest thing to one, finally staying healthy for the first time in his 3 year career. I picked Flynn before the season because I didn’t see an obvious candidate and I figured I might as well go with the first time starting quarterback. Flynn lost the job in the pre-season to Russell Wilson and the rest is history.

Indianapolis Colts WR Austin Collie

I thought Collie and Andrew Luck could put up big numbers if Collie could only avoid concussions. Turns out concussions weren’t his biggest issue. Once he finally got on the field this year after sustaining a concussion in the pre-season, Collie tore his patellar tendon and was done for the season. He’s not expected to be brought back by the Colts as a free agent this off-season.

Green Bay Packers MLB DJ Smith

DJ Smith was a talented reserve for the Packers in 2011 and when Desmond Bishop went down for the season in the pre-season with a torn hamstring, Smith took over as the starter and looked like a solid bet to do good things. The problem: Smith tore his ACL mid-season and was replaced by Brad Jones, who played well and had the type of season I was expecting from Smith.

Detroit Lions WR Titus Young

Well, he’s plenty talented, but he’s apparently also a little crazy. Young felt he wasn’t getting the ball enough so he started purposely sabotaging the Lions by lining up in the wrong spot. He also had numerous verbal and at times even physical altercations with teammates and coaches in practice. The Lions made up an excuse to put him on IR late in the year and then cut him after the season after he went on a tirade on Twitter. The self-proclaimed receiver more talented than Calvin Johnson, Young lasted just 9 days in St. Louis in February and is now an unrestricted free agent generating minimal to no interest.

Houston Texans CB Brice McCain

McCain was one of the better slot cornerbacks in the NFL in 2011 and looked like he had a chance to leapfrog struggling former 1st round pick Kareem Jackson on the depth chart at some point this season. Instead, McCain was the weak point in Houston’s secondary this year and Jackson was the one with the breakout year, proving once again, always bet on former 1st round picks in their 3rd year in the league.

Dallas Cowboys DL Sean Lissemore

Lissemore played very well in limited action in 2011 for the Cowboys and seemed poised for a bigger role. He got one, but not by much as injuries and inconsistencies limited him to being a well below average player on just 329 snaps.

Pittsburgh Steelers RB Isaac Redman

I thought Redman was talented enough to take the lead back job and run with it after Rashard Mendenhall got hurt. Mendenhall came back quicker than expected, though he was not very good, but Redman’s own injuries limited him to 3.7 YPC on 110 carries on an overall disappointing Steeler offense.

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New York Jets Potential Breakout Player of 2012: Muhammad Wilkerson

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 2012 NFL season on each NFL team. For the New York Jets, that player is defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson.

Under Head Coach Rex Ryan, the Jets love using multiple different types of fronts. They use everything from a 4-3 to a 3-4 to a 46, something they’ll be using more of this season. Because of this, they rotate defensive lineman often. However, even as a rookie, Muhammad Wilkerson, the Jets’ 1st round pick in 2011, saw significant snaps as a defensive lineman, playing 608 snaps, evenly against the run and as a pass rusher, 2nd on the team among defensive linemen.

Wilkerson fared pretty well, especially against the run. He ranked 5th at his position with a 9.7% run stop rate, with 28 run stops on 290 run stopping snaps, a 9.7% rate. As a pass rusher, he wasn’t quite as good. He had 3 sacks, 4 quarterback hits, and 8 quarterback pressures on 300 pass rush snaps, good for a pedestrian 5.0% rate. His pass rush productivity rate was 4.2, which is also pretty pedestrian, as it ranked in the middle of the pack at his position.

However, Wilkerson is very talented and heading into his 2nd year in the league, he figures to get a larger workload. He’s incredibly versatile and will fit into any one of their fronts and should lead their defensive line in snaps played this season. Already great as a run stuffer, Wilkerson, a developmental prospect coming out of Temple, improved as a pass rusher as last season went on as he had 2 sacks, 2 quarterback hits, and 6 quarterback pressures in his final 8 games, on 144 pass rush snaps, good for a rate of 6.9%. He’s definitely got the potential for a breakout season in 2012.

If you’re interested in doing a fantasy football league with me, here’s the link (no draft date set yet, currently standard, with the option to become PPR with group vote). http://msn.foxsports.com/fantasy/football/commissioner/Registration/Private.aspx?league=55086&password=FanSpot2

Miami Dolphins Potential Breakout Player of 2012: Jared Odrick

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 2012 NFL season on each NFL team. For the Miami Dolphins, that player is defensive end Jared Odrick.

Jared Odrick, a collegiate defensive tackle, was drafted by the Miami Dolphins in the 1st round in 2010 and moved to defensive end in their 3-4 defense, better known as the five-technique position. Odrick’s rookie year basically ended before it started as he broke his leg in the opener after only 22 snaps and was put on IR. In 2011, however, Odrick came back healthy and started to show some of why he was such a highly drafted player as a rotational five-technique, mostly focusing on rushing the passer.

On a crowded defensive line, Odrick played 597 snaps, 393 of which were pass rush snaps, and he had 5 sacks, 3 quarterback hits, and 16 quarterback pressures, good for a rate of 6.1%. His 5.2 pass rush productivity rate ranked 13th at his position. He struggled against the run a little bit, but he didn’t really have to play the run all that much. Heading into his 3rd season, Miami’s defensive line is a lot less crowded as they switch to a 4-3.

Kendall Langford, Igor Olshansky, and Phillip Merling are gone, while former rush linebacker Koa Misi will remain at linebacker. Rather than playing his collegiate position of defensive tackle, the Dolphins will be using him as a hybrid, playing him outside on running downs in the base package and inside on passing downs in sub packages.

That would seem to play best into his strength against he’s going to be good against the run as a defensive end at 6-5 300 and good as a pass rusher at defensive tackle. Also, on a thinner defensive line, Odrick figures to have plenty of opportunity for playing time. He’s also another year removed from his broken leg, which may have still affected him last season. All of that could equal a breakout season for the talented former 1st round pick.

If you’re interested in doing a fantasy football league with me, here’s the link (no draft date set yet, currently standard, with the option to become PPR with group vote). http://msn.foxsports.com/fantasy/football/commissioner/Registration/Private.aspx?league=55086&password=FanSpot2

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New York Giants Potential Breakout Player of 2012: Linval Joseph

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 2012 NFL season on each NFL team. For the New York Giants, that player is defensive tackle Linval Joseph.

The Giants have one of the best defensive lines in the league. They ranked 3rd in the league with 48 sacks last season and their defensive line play was a key part of their Super Bowl run. When you think of their defensive line, the obvious names come to mind: Jason Pierre-Paul, Osi Umenyiora, Justin Tuck, etc. You probably don’t think about Linval Joseph, but if he keeps it up, you will.

Joseph was a 2010 2nd round pick and, in his first season as a starter in 2011, Joseph played very well. After playing just 63 snaps as a rookie, Joseph played 611 in 2011 in the regular season. On 304 pass rush snaps, he had 2 sacks, 4 quarterback hits, and 14 quarterback pressures, a rate of 6.6%. If you include his postseason production, he was even more impressive as he had 2 sacks, 6 quarterback hits, and 23 quarterback pressures on 389 pass rush snaps, a rate of 8.0%.

His improvement as the season went on is a large part of why I think he can have a breakout year in 2010, his 3rd year in the league. In his last 6 games, he had 3 quarterback hits and 12 quarterback pressures on 133 pass rush snaps, a rate of 11.3%. Joseph was also unlucky to manage just 2 sacks last season. His 6.4 pass productivity rate was tied for 5th in the league. If he does that in 2012, which is definitely possible if he continues his down the stretch performance, he should have somewhere between 4-6 sacks.

Joseph also gets it down against the run, ranking 5th in the league in run stop percentage with 25 run stops on 286 run stopping snaps, a rate of 8.7%. If you include playoffs, he ranked only slightly lower, 9th, with a rate of 8.3%. The big 328 pounder’s specialty has obviously always been the run, but if he continues to improve as a pass rusher, he would be the complete package and could break out as one of the better defensive tackles in the league.

If you’re interested in doing a fantasy football league with me, here’s the link (no draft date set yet, currently standard, with the option to become PPR with group vote). http://msn.foxsports.com/fantasy/football/commissioner/Registration/Private.aspx?league=55086&password=FanSpot2

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Philadelphia Eagles Potential Breakout Player of 2012: Brandon Graham

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 2012 NFL season on each NFL team. For the Philadelphia Eagles, that player is defensive end Brandon Graham.

When the Eagles traded up to 13 in the 2010 NFL Draft to grab Brandon Graham, they thought they were getting a safe, reliable pass rusher who could be a solid starter for them and would likely not bust. Now, two years later, they have a player who has played just 538 snaps in 2 seasons and who is best known for being the guy the Eagles took instead of Jason Pierre-Paul, the high upside, risky prospect who the Giants drafted 2 spots later and turned into a Pro Bowler.

Graham has been a bust thus far in his career, but largely for reasons out of his control. Graham suffered a nasty knee injury late in 2010, which required microfracture surgery and cost him the rest of that seasons and limited him to just 58 snaps in 2011. Before the injury, however, Graham had a bright future. With 3 sacks, 7 quarterback hits, and 26 quarterback pressures on 273 pass rush snaps in 2010, Graham had a very impressive 13.2 pass rush rate as part of the Eagles defensive end rotation. Despite his limited playing time, Graham actually ranked 20th on ProFootballFocus among 4-3 defensive ends as pass rushers in 2010. Among eligible players, his 10.8 pass rush efficiency rate was 13th that season.

2011 was basically a completely lost year for him. He barely played due to injury and when he did play, he wasn’t effective because he was out of shape and he had lost his starting job to Jason Babin, who the Eagles signed in the 2011 offseason, after Graham’s injury. The Eagles used a 2nd round pick on Vinny Curry in the 2012 NFL Draft, but have not given up on Graham, according to a report by the Philadelphia Inquirer. Graham seems to have used the Curry selection as motivation as he has shed weight and is now back to the 265 pounds he was at during 2010 and before the draft.

Graham won’t beat out either of the starters, Jason Babin and Trent Cole, for a starting job. Those two combined for 29 sacks last year and they’re not going anywhere any time soon. However, the Eagles love rotation on the defensive line. Even last year, as good as Babin and Cole played, they combined for just 1360 snaps played and reserves played a combined 624 snaps at defensive end. There’s a reason they spent a 2nd round pick on Vinny Curry. That’s how much they value defensive end depth.

Graham definitely has the ability to beat out Curry for the top reserve job and if he does that and stays healthy and in shape, he could see a good amount of playing time and become one of the better rotational ends in the NFL. He may have only had 3 sacks in 2010, but he played well enough to have 5 or 6 sacks. He was just unlucky. He could do that or even better this season. The Eagles already had 50 sacks last season, tied for the league lead. With Fletcher Cox coming in and Graham having the potential for a breakout year, the Eagles should match or even exceed that number in 2012.

If you’re interested in doing a fantasy football league with me, here’s the link (no draft date set yet, currently standard, with the option to become PPR with group vote). http://msn.foxsports.com/fantasy/football/commissioner/Registration/Private.aspx?league=55086&password=FanSpot2

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Washington Redskins Potential Breakout Player of 2012: Perry Riley

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 2012 NFL season on each NFL team. For the Washington Redskins, that player is middle linebacker Perry Riley.

Midway through last season, the Redskins made a switch at middle linebacker next to London Fletcher, substituting the then inexperienced Perry Riley, a 2010 4th round pick, for the struggling Rocky McIntosh and then may have discovered their long term successor for London Fletcher, who is heading into his age 37 season. McIntosh, through 8 games, had just 42 solo tackles, 10 assists, 7 missed tackles, and 20 stops.

Riley, however, in their next 8 games, had 42 solo tackles, 16 assists, 7 missed tackles, and 34 stops. If he played all 16 games and maintained his rates, he would have had 84 solo tackles, 32 assists, and 68 stops, which would have ranked 16th, 1st, and 2nd at his position. His 14 missed tackles would have been 3rd worst at his position, but you can still see the kind of production he would have had if he had started all 16 games.

He ranked 5th at his position with a run stop rate of 12.6%, with 26 run stops on 206 run snaps. He needs to become a more efficient tackler, as he ranked 39th out of 51 eligible middle linebackers in tackling efficiency (missed tackles per tackle), but on run stops, he actually ranked 24th. He mostly struggled with tackling on coverage snaps, missing 4 tackles, as opposed to just 18 total tackles (12 solo, 6 assists).

Coverage, in general, was a bit of a struggle for him. He allowed 29 completions on 36 attempts (80.6%) for 269 yards (7.5 YPA) and a touchdown. His poor tackling in coverage undoubtedly contributed to this as 197 of his yards allowed were after the catch. For reference, that ranked 24th among eligible middle linebacker, while his total yardage allowed ranked 29th. If he can shore up that part of his game, it will go a long way towards making him a true 3 down linebacker. Heading into his first full year as a starter, he could easily emerge as one of the better middle linebackers in the league, especially against the run.

If you’re interested in doing a fantasy football league with me, here’s the link (no draft date set yet, currently standard, with the option to become PPR with group vote). http://msn.foxsports.com/fantasy/football/commissioner/Registration/Private.aspx?league=55086&password=FanSpot2

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San Francisco 49ers Potential Breakout Player of 2012: Mike Iupati

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 2012 NFL season on each NFL team. For the San Francisco 49ers, that player is guard Mike Iupati.

It was tough to find a breakout player for the 49ers because basically their entire starting defense broke out last season, which basically eliminated a whole side of the ball for me to choose from. However, they do have one budding Pro Bowler on their offensive line, left guard Mike Iupati. Iupati was the 17th overall pick in the 2010 NFL Draft, the highest drafted interior offensive lineman since the Seahawks took Steve Hutchinson in the same spot in 2010.

Iupati played very well in his 2nd season in the league, ranking 11th on ProFootballFocus with a 9.6 rating, playing every snap except 4. He was equally good as a run blocker and pass protector and allowed just 3 sacks, 4 quarterback hits, and 11 quarterback pressures, while committing just 4 penalties. However, he was even better in his final 11 games, as his rating was 13.6 over those 11 games. If you include the 49ers’ two playoff games, his rating was 14.4 over 13 games, which would have ranked 7th at his position last year.

Heading into his 3rd season in the league, he has the upside to become a top-5 guard and make his 1st Pro Bowl, which was obviously the hope when the 49ers used such a high pick on him and his massive upside in 2010. He was a bit raw coming from small school Idaho, but he seems to be finally coming into his own and ready to take his place among the best interior offensive linemen in the league.

If you’re interested in doing a fantasy football league with me, here’s the link (no draft date set yet, currently standard, with the option to become PPR with group vote). http://msn.foxsports.com/fantasy/football/commissioner/Registration/Private.aspx?league=55086&password=FanSpot2

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Tampa Bay Buccaneers Potential Breakout Player of 2012: Gerald McCoy

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 2012 NFL season on each NFL team. For the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, that player is defensive tackle Gerald McCoy.

Gerald McCoy was the 3rd overall pick in the 2010 NFL Draft and he’s played very well when healthy. However, he’s been oft injured in his first 2 years in the league, playing just 19 of 32 possible games. When he’s healthy, the Buccaneers are 11-8 and allow 22.1 points per game and when he’s not, they’re 3-12 and allow 30.2 points per game.

That’s obviously not all him, as those numbers are skewed because he missed most of his time last season when they had a tougher schedule and committed more turnovers than they did in 2010. However, he’s a huge part of their defense and will be a big boost to them and their reigning worst defense in the league (30.9 points per game) if he can play 16 games this season.

McCoy played 695 snaps as a rookie in 2010, ranking as ProFootballFocus’ 18th ranked defensive tackle and his rating in 2011, on just 228 snaps, would have ranked 29th last year, despite his limited playing time. In his career, he has played 923 snaps. He’s had 5 sacks, 9 quarterback hits, and 27 quarterback pressures on 523 pass rush snaps, a very impressive 7.8% rate for his position. He has a career pass rush productivity rate of 6.5, which would have ranked 6th at his position last season.

He’s also had 25 solo tackles, 7 assists, and 21 stops, while missing just 3 tackles. His 15 run snap stops on 352 run snaps is good for a run stop rate of 4.3%, which would have ranked 38th last year, out of 44 defensive tackles. However, he was getting better against the run in 2011 before he got hurt with 6 run snap stops and 80 run stops, a rate of 7.5%, which would have ranked 14th last year, had he been eligible.

If he plays, let’s say, 800 snaps next season, and maintains his career rates, he would have 4 sacks, 8 quarterback hits, 23 quarterback pressures, 22 solo tackles, 6 assists, and 18 stops. Those would have ranked 12th, 5th, 7th, 29th, 34th, and 32nd, at his position, while playing the 8th most snaps. Heading into his 3rd year in the league, he’s obviously got the ability to get better, especially against the run, which is the weaker part of his game. He was better in 2011 than he was in 2010, especially against the run, before his injury.

While, he’s better as a pass rusher than a run stuffer, if he plays all or most of next season, he could easily break out as one of the best defensive tackles in the league and make his 1st Pro Bowl. There’s a reason that he, along with Ndamukong Suh, was the first defensive tackle drafted in the top-3 since Gerard Warren in 2001. He’s very talented.

If you’re interested in doing a fantasy football league with me, here’s the link (no draft date set yet, currently standard, with the option to become PPR with group vote). http://msn.foxsports.com/fantasy/football/commissioner/Registration/Private.aspx?league=55086&password=FanSpot2

Chicago Bears Potential Breakout Player of 2012: Henry Melton

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 2012 NFL season on each NFL team. For the Chicago Bears, that player is defensive tackle Henry Melton.

Henry Melton played very well in a rotational role last season, playing 639 snaps, primarily pass rush snaps (437), and recording 7 sacks, 9 quarterback hits, and 23 quarterback pressures, good for a very impressive 8.9% rate. At his position, he ranked 3rd in sacks, 2nd in quarterback hits, and 7th in quarterback pressures, despite ranking 13th in pass rush snaps. His pass rush productivity rate was 4th in the league. He also ranked 17th overall on ProFootballFocus at his position, despite playing only the 23rd most snaps.

Heading into 2012, the 2009 4th round pick is expected to get a larger role in his 4th year in the league, with key rotational players Amobi Okoye and Anthony Adams gone. Those two combined to play 910 snaps last year. 2011 2nd round rookie Stephen Paea will help take some of those vacated snaps, but Melton will almost definitely get more snaps this season, particularly on run downs, where he was also above average last season with a run stop percentage of 8.0%, which would have ranked 13th in the league had he had enough run snaps played to qualify. Already the team leader in snaps played among defensive tackles in 2011, Melton could play 700-800 snaps in 2012 and find himself making his first Pro-Bowl.

If you’re interested in doing a fantasy football league with me, here’s the link (no draft date set yet, currently standard, with the option to become PPR with group vote). http://msn.foxsports.com/fantasy/football/commissioner/Registration/Private.aspx?league=55086&password=FanSpot2

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Arizona Cardinals Potential Breakout Player of 2012: Rob Housler

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 2012 NFL season on each NFL team. For the Arizona Cardinals, that player is tight end Rob Housler.

For years and years, the Cardinals have been known as a team that doesn’t use the tight end position very much. In fact, not since Freddie Jones’ final season in 2004, excluding last season, have the Cardinals had a tight end have more than 270 receiving yards in a season. When the Cardinals used a 3rd round pick on Rob Housler in the 2011 NFL Draft, it signaled the start in a shift in offensive mentality, not coincidentally at the same time that the league as a whole is passing to the tight end more often.

Housler was the 69th overall pick, the earliest they had drafted a tight end since they used the 64th overall pick on Johnny McWilliams in 1996. Since then, the only other tight end that had drafted in the first 4 rounds was Leonard Pope, in the 3rd round, 72nd overall, in 2006, and he was largely drafted for his blocking prowess. For years, tight ends in Arizona’s offense were only big blockers. Housler was the exact opposite of that type of player. At 6-5 248, he’s not much of a blocker at all, but he possesses 4.4 speed and the kind of hands that allowed him to catch 71 passes for 1148 yards and 8 touchdowns in his final 2 collegiate seasons at Florida International.

While Housler didn’t have much of an impact as a rookie, the offensive mentality shift could still be felt. Tight ends were thrown to 93 times, or on 17.1% of the Cardinals’ passing attempts. For reference, the Cardinals threw to tight ends a total of 110 times from 2008-2010 COMBINED, or on 6.2% of their passing attempts. Todd Heap was their first tight end since Freddie Jones in 2004 to have more than 270 receiving yards in a season, catching 24 passes for 283 yards and a touchdown, while #2 tight end Jeff King was not far behind, catching 27 passes for 271 yards and 3 touchdowns.

All in all, Cardinals’ tight ends caught 65 passes for 712 yards and 4 touchdowns last season. That’s not a lot, but compared to what their tight ends normally did, that was a ton of production. The switch in offensive mentality was there. The talent just wasn’t, as Todd Heap is washed up now heading into his age 32 season, while Jeff King is a mediocre player whose 27 catches last year were actually the 2nd highest total in his 6 year career. Housler, meanwhile, was a mere 3rd round rookie and barely saw the field, catching just 12 passes for 133 yards. However, heading into his 2nd year in the league, Housler is talented enough to be the player who makes the most of the Cardinals’ switch in offensive mentality.

Reports from the Arizona Republic have said that Housler has received a “ton of work” in offseason practices and that he “will be given every chance to chance to become a breakout player.” They also reported that it’s “clear” that the Cardinals will be using the tight end more in the offensive game plan this season and that the Cardinals are “excited” about Housler’s ability.

Larry Fitzgerald was quoted as saying “to be honest with you, I think the tight ends are probably our strongest position on the field right now.” Even if that’s not quite true, it’s still very good to hear. Meanwhile, SI’s Peter King notes that Head Coach Ken Whisenhunt “loves” Housler and believes he could finish the season as the Cardinals’ leading receiver. Housler’s potential is hurt by the Cardinals’ quarterback situation, but no Cardinals’ receiver had more than 689 yards last season so it’s not ridiculous that Housler could finish 2012 as their 2nd leading receiver. He’ll probably finish the season with somewhere between 500-700 receiving yards and be a TE2 with upside in fantasy leagues.

If you’re interested in doing a fantasy football league with me, here’s the link (no draft date set yet, currently standard, with the option to become PPR with group vote). http://msn.foxsports.com/fantasy/football/commissioner/Registration/Private.aspx?league=55086&password=FanSpot2