Tampa Bay Buccaneers Potential Breakout Player of 2013: Da’Quan Bowers

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 Tampa Bay Buccaneers, that player is defensive end Da’Quan Bowers.

When Da’Quan Bowers tore his Achilles in May of 2012, he was presumed to be lost for the season. However, as has been happening more and more often lately, Bowers was able to return within 6 months and played in the Buccaneers’ final 10 games. Bowers didn’t play much, serving mostly as a situational pass rusher, but returning for a partial season undoubtedly helped Bowers in his long-term development. Heading into his 3rd year in the league, that should prove to be very valuable for Bowers, a 2nd round pick out of Clemson during the 2011 NFL Draft.

Bowers also played pretty well in limited action last year, with 3 sacks, 5 hits, and 9 hurries on 200 pass rush snaps and 5 run stops on 60 run snaps. Overall, he graded out above average on ProFootballFocus. Now even further removed from that injury and fully healthy, Bowers could easily have a breakout 3rd year in 2013, assuming he stays healthy. Injury concerns were the reason for his fall from the top-10 to the 50th pick in 2011, but he’s certainly got plenty of talent.

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Chicago Bears Potential Breakout Player of 2013: Major Wright

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 Chicago Bears, that player is safety Major Wright.

Major Wright’s season was very similar to the Chicago Bears’ season. The Bears started the season 7-1 before finishing the season 3-5 in their final 8 games and missing the playoffs. Wright, similarly, had a great start to his season, but finished but just above average. In his first 8 games, Wright graded out above average on ProFootballFocus 6 times, including 3 games above +1.0 and 2 games above +2.0. He was only -1.0 once in those 8 games.

Overall, he was my mid-season pick to represent the NFC in the Pro-Bowl from the strong safety position. He had 14 tackles for offensive failure, also known as stops (within 4 yards of the LOS on 1st round, 6 yards on 2nd down, and the full distance on 3rd or 4th down) and only missed 3 tackles on the season. In coverage, he was thrown at 17 times, allowing 11 completions for 132 yards and no touchdowns, while picking off 3 passes, deflecting 1 pass, and committing 1 penalty.

However, in the final 8 games, he was positive in just 4 games, above +1.0 twice, never above +2.0, and below -1.0 twice, including a season worst -5.2 game against the 49ers week 11 that killed his chances of being a very highly rated player on the season. In that game, he allowed 4 completions for 54 yards and his first touchdown of the season on 4 attempts, missing 2 tackles, committing 1 penalty, and only recording 1 stop. Combined in his 8 games, he missed 7 tackles to 11 stops, allowed 12 catches for 131 yards on 20 attempts for 2 touchdowns, 1 interception. He deflected 1 pass in those 8 games and had 2 penalties.

He finished the season above average in both coverage and against the run, but was only 23rd among safeties on ProFootballFocus. Now heading into his 4th year in the league, Wright, a 2010 3rd round pick, doesn’t turn 25 until July and still has plenty of upside. He’ll need to improve his consistency and his tackling, but he has a chance to grade out as one of the better safeties in the league.

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Cincinnati Bengals Potential Breakout Player of 2013: Mohamed Sanu

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 Cincinnati Bengals, that player is wide receiver Mohamed Sanu.

Mohamed Sanu had a very nondescript rookie year, catching 16 passes for 154 yards and 4 touchdowns as a 3rd round rookie out of Rutgers. However, he did not really play much, playing only 209 snaps, including just 116 pass snaps. He played more than 50% of his team’s snaps just 3 times, weeks 10-12, when he caught 11 passes for 98 yards and 4 touchdowns. Following that week 12 game, he missed the rest of the season with a foot injury.

However, going into 2013, he’s expected to win the starting job opposite AJ Green with Andrew Hawkins on the slot and he has a good chance to pick up where he left off when he was finally getting playing time and even improve. I love his fit in Cincinnati, with Andy Dalton having a weaker arm than most franchise quarterbacks, with Jay Gruden leading a West Coast Offense as offensive coordinator, and especially with AJ Green opposite him.

Before the draft, I gave Sanu a 2nd round grade and compared him to former Bengal receiver TJ Houshmanzadeh, saying that the perfect fit for him would be for him to play opposite a deep threat like Houshmanzadeh did with Chad Johnson/Ochocinco and just eat up all the underneath targets. Little did I know that Sanu would be drafted by the Bengals, who were in need of a possession receiver like him to play opposite deep threat AJ Green.

He was incredibly productive at Rutgers despite poor quarterback play. In 2011, he caught 115 passes, which was almost 50% of his team’s 256 catches. The #2 guy on his team in terms of catches had 32. However, of the 210 career catches he had at Rutgers, only 4 went for more than 20 yards. He has absolutely no speed to burn and he’s not a vertical threat at all, running a 4.67. He’s really, really good at what he does though, which is getting open short, making tough possession catches. In his 2nd year in the league, he should be able to display those abilities in 2013 and lock down the starting job opposite Green.

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Cleveland Browns Potential Breakout Player of 2013: John Greco

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 Cleveland Browns, that player is guard John Greco.

Guards don’t get a lot of glory in the NFL, especially when they play for losing teams, but every chance Greco has gotten, he’s shown himself to be a very good guard. A 3rd round pick of the Rams in 2008, Greco graded out positively on ProFootballFocus on 174, 279, and 153 snaps from 2008-2010 as a valuable reserve of the Rams. The Browns acquired him for a late round pick after the 2010 season, but he didn’t really play much in 2011, playing 52 offensive snaps and primarily being a special teamer. However, in 2012, when injuries struck left guard Jason Pinkston, Greco got his first chance to be a full-time starter, starting the final 10 games of the season.

Greco made the most of his opportunity, grading out as ProFootballFocus’ 19th rated guard, with no one playing fewer snaps than him and grading out higher. He did his best work as a run blocker, grading out as ProFootballFocus’ 7th best run blocking guard, but also held his own as a pass protector, allowing just 3 sacks, 7 hits, and 7 hurries on an overall very underrated Cleveland offensive line. He was a big part of the reason why the Browns averaged 4.19 yards per carry behind left guard, as opposed to 3.86 yards per carry elsewhere.

Heading into his age 28 season in 2013, Greco is expected to be week 1 starter for the first time in his career. He’ll head over to right guard to play his natural position and replace long term turnstile Shawn Lauvao with Jason Pinkston returning at left guard to compete with Lauvao. If he plays like he has every time he’s gotten a chance in the past, he’ll finish the season as one of the league’s better guards, possibly in the top-10 or top-15.

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Arizona Cardinals Potential Breakout Player of 2013: Michael Floyd

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 Arizona Cardinals, that player is wide receiver Michael Floyd.

Michael Floyd was a 1st round pick of the Arizona Cardinals last year, taken with the 13th pick at the urging of Larry Fitzgerald, who felt that Floyd could be what Anquan Boldin once was, someone to take the bracket coverage off of Fitzgerald. However, because of this fantasy football centric/immediate results world we live in, Floyd was seen as largely a disappointment.

However, when you look at history, there is nothing disappointing about his rookie year. Receivers, even 1st round picks, take at least a year to come around.  Since 2005, 28 receivers have gone in the 1st round. They’ve averaged 40 catches for 557 yards and 3 touchdowns per season. Floyd’s 45 catches for 562 yards and 2 touchdowns are actually right in line with that and he got better as the season went on, catching 32 passes for 435 yards and a touchdown in his final 8 games, culminating in a 8 catch for 166 yards and a touchdown performance week 17.

Plus, he did that despite some of the worst quarterbacking in the NFL. The Cardinals ranked dead last in the NFL, averaging 5.6 YPA, 28th totaling 3005 yards, 31st totaling 11 touchdowns, and led the NFL with 21 interceptions. The only serviceable one of the bunch, Kevin Kolb, only played the first 6 weeks of the season and Floyd only played 162 of 424 snaps in those 6 games, 38.2%. The rest of Arizona’s quarterbacks threw 3 touchdowns to 18 interceptions. It’s no surprise that Floyd’s big game week 17 came in the first game he played serious snaps with even a legitimate NFL backup caliber quarterback under center in Brian Hoyer, who went 19 of 34 for 225 yards, 1 touchdown, and 2 interceptions.

This off-season, the Cardinals went out and added Carson Palmer to play quarterback. Palmer isn’t a great quarterback or anything. He’s an average at best quarterback declining as he heads into his age 34 season. He turns the ball over too much and isn’t good in the red zone, but at least he has enough throwing ability to get the ball to a very, very underrated receiving corps in Arizona and he’s always been good in garbage time.

Floyd is expected to win the starting job over Andre Roberts, though the two will probably rotate snaps and work together in 3-wide receiver sets. Palmer threw for 4000 yards on a 4-12 Oakland team that only scored 18.1 points per game and could do something similar this year in Arizona (they have more supporting talent though). They might not win a lot of games, but their receivers should be able to get theirs and show their ability. Floyd figures to see plenty of single coverage and could have a breakout year as a complement opposite Larry Fitzgerald.

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St. Louis Rams Potential Breakout Player of 2013: Chris Givens

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 St. Louis Rams, that player is wide receiver Chris Givens.

The Rams’ #1 goal of this off-season was clearly to help 4th year quarterback Sam Bradford, who has been working with a mediocre offensive line and receiving corps since day 1. While the signing of Jake Long to play left tackle was their biggest splash and best quality addition, they certainly added more quantity in the receiving corps. They added Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey in the 1st and 3rd round of the draft respectively and signed athletic tight end Jared Cook to a big time contract in free agency. They also have 2nd year wide receiver Brian Quick, a 2012 2nd round pick out of Appalachian State, who has plenty of potential still after a down rookie year and who has been impressing in practice.

However, the one player I am most excited to watch and the player I think will be the leading receiver of the bunch is another 2nd year receiver, Chris Givens. While Quick was a 2nd round pick last year, Givens was more overlooked, going in the 4th round. However, I had a borderline 2nd round grade on him coming out of Wake Forest, ahead of Quick and ahead of 49er 1st round pick AJ Jenkins. After Kendall Wright, I thought he was the best speed receiver in the class, after a junior season in which he averaged 16.0 yards per catch on 83 catches for 1330 yards and 9 touchdowns. He has adequate size at 5-11 198 with steady hands, great route running ability, and recorded a 4.41 40 at The Combine.

As a rookie, he led the Rams nondescript receiving corps with 698 yards and caught 42 passes and 3 touchdowns. What he did as a rookie was not only above average for a rookie receiver, but 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. Givens, a 4th round rookie, exceeded these first round numbers. In his 2nd year in the league, he should be able to improve on them as he’s another year matured and another year more comfortable with the offense and Sam Bradford, especially since he figures to play more snaps.

Givens didn’t see significant action until week 4 and only played in 386 of the team’s 641 pass snaps, which was 113 less than Brandon Gibson, who led the team. He averaged 1.90 yards per route run, 25th in the league out of 82 eligible wide receivers. This year, with Brandon Gibson and the oft injured Danny Amendola gone, Givens is by far the team’s leading returning receiver. Unlike the new batch of receivers, he has a year of experience in the offense and with Sam Bradford.

Cook is still a relatively unproven tight end. Quick is still completely unproven. Tavon Austin, as explosive as he is, is still just a rookie and you saw how rookie receivers tend to struggle. Austin and Givens figure to start with Brian Quick coming in on 3 receiver sets and moving Austin to the slot. I expect Givens to lead the bunch in receiving and push for 1000 yards. He’d just need to average 2 yards per route run over 500 routes to do so and I think that’s achievable for him. He’d be the first Rams receiver with 1000 yards in a season since Torry Holt in 2007.

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Oakland Raiders Potential Breakout Player of 2013: Vance Walker

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 Oakland Raiders, that player is defensive tackle Vance Walker.

The Oakland Raiders have arguably the least talented roster in the NFL. With roughly 40 million in dead money on their cap, they are essentially working under a significantly lower salary cap than the rest of the league. The rest of the league can spend around 120 million. The Raiders can spend 80 million. They also have a recent history of poor drafting. Only 2 players they’ve drafted in the first round are still on their roster and one of those is 2013 1st round pick DJ Hayden. They traded two first round picks for Richard Seymour and Carson Palmer, but neither of those two remains on their roster.

With minimal cap space this off-season, GM Reggie McKenzie had to dive into the bargain bin on several occasions to find players who could help his team avoid being a laughing stock and the Raiders got 9 new defensive starters from there, which should tell you a lot about what could easily be the league’s worst defense for the 2nd straight year in 2013. However, not all of these bargain bin pickups were mediocre. One of those players, defensive tackle Vance Walker, who the Raiders signed for 2 million over 1 year, has a real chance to break out in his first full-time job in the NFL.

Walker was a 7th round pick out of Georgia Tech by the Atlanta Falcons in 2009 and he was immediately part of Atlanta’s defensive tackle rotation. Walker continued to see his role expand on a yearly basis, increasing his snap total every year, leading up to a 2012 season in which he played in 539 regular season snaps and then another 59 in 2 games in the post-season. He started almost every game and while he wasn’t a full-time player, splitting snaps with Peria Jerry and Corey Peters, he was 2nd on the team in snaps played by defensive tackles behind Jonathan Babineaux.

In his expanded role, Walker had the best season of his career in 2012, ranking 16th among defensive tackles on ProFootballFocus. While his strength was playing the run, he did have 4 sacks, 1 hit, and 15 hurries on 326 pass rush snaps, a 6.1% pass rush rate. In Oakland, he’ll be surrounded by much less supporting talent, but he’ll also get his first chance to be a full-time player and he could really break out as one of the better defensive tackles in the league.

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Philadelphia Eagles Potential Breakout Player of 2013: Fletcher Cox

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 Philadelphia Eagles, that player is defensive end Fletcher Cox.

It was a season of much disappointment for the Eagles in 2012. Two years after proclaiming themselves the Dream Team, the Eagles finished 4-12, even worse than their incredibly disappointing 8-8 season in 2011. After winning 3 of their first 4, the Eagles won just one time in their final 12 games. However, one silver lining for the Eagles was the play of 2012 1st round pick Fletcher Cox, who had a strong rookie year and has promise for more in 2013 and beyond.

Cox finished the 2012 season as ProFootballFocus’ 18th rated defensive tackle on just 526 snaps, grading out above average as both a run stuffer and a pass rusher. With 4 sacks, 6 hits, and 14 hurries on 303 pass rush snaps, he finished 13th among eligible defensive tackles in pass rush efficiency and he was also 20th in run stop percentage. Even better news for the Eagles, he got better as the season went on, especially as a pass rusher as he had 3 sacks, 4 hits, and 10 hurries in weeks 10-16 (he didn’t play week 17 with injury).

Now the Eagles will be changing defensive schemes to a 3-4, at least a base 3-4, and Cox will be moving to defensive end. He has the size and athleticism to excel in that position as well and coming out of Mississippi State, I thought that would be his best position in the pros. He’ll still play inside some at defensive tackle as the Eagles are expected to use a hybrid scheme, but the scheme change will definitely do him some good. He’s also expected to play a fairly full set of snaps as he’s by far the Eagles’ best end after letting go of Cullen Jenkins, Derek Landri, and Mike Patterson. He could finish the year as a top-10 five-technique defensive end.

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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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