With the start of the NFL Season just two days away, it’s time to start gearing up and getting ready for the NFL season. In order to help prepare for the upcoming season, here are a few things to look out for in 2014.
Every year there are a few players who, after a decent season the previous season, are poised to have a big year. Some players don’t quite make a large impact in the following year, but many do. So here’s a list of players that are set up to have big years following a good performance in 2013.
Zach Ertz, TE, Philadelphia Eagles
Last year, Ertz put up respectable numbers (36 rec, 469 yds, 4 tds) as Philadelphia’s number 2 TE behind Brent Celek. That was only Ertz’s rookie season, and he definitely has the skillset to improve on those numbers. This year he’s poised to overtake Celek as the number one tight end, and even if he doesn’t, he stands to get an increase in targets from last year with the departure of DeSean Jackson. Look for Ertz to become one of the better young tight ends in the league this year.
Terrance Williams, WR, Dallas Cowboys
After a slow start to last season, Williams really came on late in the year and put up some good numbers (44 rec, 736 yds, 5 tds) opposite Dez Bryant. Another year under his belt, and working with Tony Romo should do wonders for Williams, and he should be able to play a whole season like he played the second half of last year. As long as Dez is in Dallas, Williams will never be a top tier receiver, but he has the ability to be an incredibly good number 2.
Khiry Robinson/Mark Ingram, RB, New Orleans Saints
Ok, I’m kind of cheating here by putting two names, but I doubt anyone knows who the lead dog in New Orleans’ backfield is, even Sean Payton. That being said, both Robinson and Ingram have the talent to really take over if given the opportunity, so whichever one of these two gets the better shot should be in for a big year. Who knows, maybe both of them will end up having a big year, stranger things have happened, especially in the NFL.
Kenny Stills, WR, New Orleans Saints
Doubling down on Saints players here as Stills looks poised to take over the number 2 receiver and number 3 passing targets gigs. While Brandin Cooks and Joseph Morgan bring a lot to the table, they are a rookie and streaky respectively. They gives Stills plenty of opportunity, and with a QB who both loves the deep ball and loves spreading it around, Stills’ deep skills make him a clear target to have a big year this year.
Andre Ellington, RB, Arizona Cardinals
Yep, another offensive player. I promise there will be some defenders on this list, but Ellington has to make this list. After an impressive rookie season, in which he didn’t get the starting gig until late in the year, and his coach still limited his touches anyway, Ellington should be the lead back who gets the lions share of the carries in 2014. Coach Bruce Arians has made it clear that Ellington is the main back in Arizona, and he definitely has the talent to make a big impact.
Ian Williams, DT, San Francisco 49ers
Last year, Williams was poised to be the starting NT, but an injury sidelined him and allowed for Glenn Dorsey to resurrect his career as a NT instead of a DT. This year, Dorsey is the one that’s hurt, and that should open the way for Williams to regain the starting NT gig. He has the talent to run with this opportunity, and as long as he stays healthy, I don’t see why he won’t.
Corey Lemonier, LB, San Francisco 49ers
With the suspension to Aldon Smith, the Niners will be without their star linebacker for a majority of the season and need a replacement. Enter Lemonier, who played well last year in limited opportunities, and could very well play as just as high a level this year while Smith is out. He’s had the talent, now he finally has the opportunity.
Mike Daniels, DL, Green Bay Packers
After not doing much his rookie year, Daniels got an opportunity for playing time in 2013 and did the best he could with it, becoming one of the lone bright spots on the otherwise weak Packers defensive line. This year, he has a full season of production under his belt, is poised to get a lot of snaps at DL and has some more help around him. All a recipe for a breakout year from the big man.
Cordarrelle Patterson, WR, Minnesota Vikings
After a rookie season where his coach needlessly buried him on the depth chart until late in the season, Patterson’s second season should be a lot better. Coming out of college, it was known he had the physical tools to succeed, but was incredibly raw. When he finally got a good opportunity late in last season, he showed that he’s not as raw as he once was, and another offseason could have only helped that. This year he should be the number 2 across from Greg Jennings, and could possibly make himself Minnesota’s number one receiver. If there was a player to be called “this year’s Josh Gordon”, it would be Patterson hands down.
Robert Woods, WR, Buffalo Bills
This is the only prediction here that is also dependent on another player’s success (or lack thereof). If E.J. Manuel shows he can be an NFL quarterback, Woods stands to reap the benefits. Right now, Woods is the number 3 receiver in Buffalo, but only has Sammy Watkins and Mike Williams ahead of him, so upward mobility is definitely there. Last year he showed that he and Manuel had chemistry as his biggest games came when E.J. was healthy. A healthy, talented Manuel would make for a great year for Woods, but if Manuel doesn’t pan out, Woods may find himself on a list like this again next year.
Da’Rick Rogers, WR, Indianapolis Colts
After character concerns led to Rogers going undrafted, and then later being cut from the Bills, Rogers had the cards stacked against him last year. He however ended up landing on the Colts and having something of an impact last year. This year will be an uphill climb with Reggie Wayne, T.Y. Hilton, and Hakeem Nicks in front of him, but Rogers did it once and he can do it again, and he has the talent to be a top target of Andrew Luck’s for quite a while.
Travis Kelce, TE, Kansas City Chiefs
After a year in which he pretty much did not see the field, Kelce could be a top target in Kansas City. He doesn’t have much else to compete with in the passing game, with Dwayne Bowe, Donnie Avery, and Jamaal Charles the only other names of note, and he definitely has the ability to leapfrog Anthony Fasano for the starting tight end job. Once Kelce has the starting job locked down, or forces the Chiefs to use two tight-end sets, he should be set up for a big year.
Ladarius Green, TE, San Diego Chargers
Late last year, Green put up a few games where he showed that his athletic talent can make the jump over to the NFL level. That talent might just force San Diego to start using more 2 tight end sets in order to get him on the field more. Even if that doesn’t happen, Antonio Gates is on the downswing of his great career and Green is in the perfect position to take advantage of that and become a very, very good tight end.
Rookies to Watch
Every year there are rookies that produce, whether you see it coming a mile away, or whether they surprise as a late-round pick or undrafted free agent. Here’s a list of rookies that could have good years based on their talent and where they landed. This list is separate from the breakout players list because some of these guys may not have huge years, or they may have their big year in the second or third year, so these are more long-term suggestions for who to keep an eye on.
Jadeveon Clowney, DE/OLB, Houston Texans
No surprises here, as the number one overall pick this year is of course someone to follow. Clowney will likely have to transition to playing some OLB this year, but with players like J.J. Watt and Brian Cushing around him, and in a scheme created by Romeo Crennel, there is not a lot of pressure for Clowney to produce, and the lack of ridiculously high expectations could make the transition from 4-3 to 3-4 easier on him. If the preseason is any indication, the transition shouldn’t be a bother and he should be terrifying QBs opposite J.J. Watt all year.
Jake Matthews, OT, Atlanta Falcons
Offensive line may not be a sexy position, but it is definitely necessary. The Falcons had a real deficit in it last year and it showed. Matthews has the talent to help them shore up their offensive tackle situation, and the Falcons are more than going to give him an opportunity to do so. Look for him to be shutting down edge rushers pretty often, with the occasional rookie mistake once in a while of course.
Calvin Pryor, S, New York Jets
Despite Rex Ryan’s love for defense, the Jets secondary has been lacking a bit in recent years. Pryor was the first safety taken in the draft this year, and all preseason has shown why the Jets picked him and are going into the season with him as one of their starting safeties. The Louisville Slugger should be a big part of the Jets defense this year.
Ha’Sean Clinton-Dix, S, Green Bay Packers
See: Pryor, Calvin. Clinton-Dix was the second safety off the board, and like Pryor, went to a DB needy team and had a good preseason. He’s in position to get lots of playing time and is talented enough to make some impact with that playing time.
Darqueze Dennard, CB, Cincinnati Bengals
Dennard is an extremely talented, young corner who ended up on a team with a few good, but older corners. He may not get a lot of reps this year if those in front of him don’t get hurt, but he is the heir apparent to the CB job in Cincinnati, and should do a great job with it once he has it.
Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Carolina Panthers
Despite how raw Benjamin looked coming out of college and the knocks against him, Kelvin has looked very good in preseason and it appears that receivers coach Ricky Proehl has worked his magic on Kelvin, helping him come along much faster than many thought he would. The state of the Panthers receiving corps pretty much guarantees that Benjamin will be their number one receiver as well.
Derek Carr, QB, Oakland Raiders
Carr will be the first quarterback drafted this year to start, and this year’s class was a pretty good quarterback class. While winning the job from Matt Schaub didn’t seem like a challenging task, he still did quite well for himself so far, and looks even better than he did at Fresno State.
Ra’Shede Hageman, DT, Atlanta Falcons
To win you need to be strong in the trenches, and Atlanta didn’t seem to get that memo last year. This year however, they seemed to listen as they added both Matthews and Hageman. Hageman should be able to play DT for them from the get-go if need be, and should be able to contribute both against the run and the pass, giving Atlanta the defensive line talent they sorely need.
Jordan Matthews, WR, Philadelphia Eagles
Matthews continued his string of impressive play from his time at Vanderbilt to Eagles camp and preseason. He should start the season as the number three receiver behind Jeremy Maclin and Riley Cooper, but in Chip Kelly’s offense he should still see a lot of targets, and will probably shine.
Carlos Hyde, RB, San Francisco 49ers
Hyde was drafted to be the heir apparent to Frank Gore, and after some injuries and loss of what was considered incredible RB depth for the Niners, that position looks to be more secure than ever for Hyde. He’ll likely be the number 2 back this year, but will probably get most of the carries that spell Gore and will likely eventually take over as the starting back in San Francisco.
C.J. Fiedorowicz, TE, Houston Texans
I don’t know if a Fiedorowicz hype train exists, but if it does, I’m driving it. With Owen Daniels out in Houston, only Garrett Graham stands in C.J.’s way of becoming the top tight end there. With the currently murky quarterback situation, Fiedorowicz’s production could be a bit limited this year, but after what he showed at Iowa, I feel he can produce whether it be Ryan Mallett, Ryan Fitzpatrick, or Tom Savage throwing him the ball.
Trai Turner, OG, Carolina Panthers
Heading into the offseason, two huge, and I mean huge, holes loomed for the Panthers, wide receiver and offensive line. They addressed wide receiver early in the draft by taking Benjamin, and then took Turner later to help with the offensive line. Turner may not be asked to start right away, but along with Byron Bell and Ryan Kalil, he can help from the beginning of a semblance of an offensive line in Carolina.
Cyril Richardson, OG, Buffalo Bills
Richardson was seemingly a high quality prospect out of Baylor, but he slipped into the late rounds. The Bills are working on overhauling their offensive line the last couple years after losing key lineman to FA and getting poor production out of others. Richardson was one of three picks used on lineman this year by the Bills, and he should help fix one of their offensive guard spots.
Silas Redd, RB, Washington Redskins
After going undrafted, Redd managed to beat out 6th round pick Lache Seastrunk, Evan Royster, and Chris Thompson to land the number 3 running back gig in Washington. While it should be tough for him to usurp either Roy Helu or Alfred Morris, the fact that he made the roster means he should be worth keeping an eye on.
Allen Hurns, WR, Jacksonville Jaguars
Hurting at the wide receiver position after suspensions to Ace Sanders and Justin Blackmon, the Jags attacked the position in the draft by adding Allen Robinson and Marqise Lee. Their biggest find, however, may have come in UDFA as Hurns had a huge preseason and could open the season as the number 3 or number 4 receiver in Jacksonville. With the addition of Hurns, Robinson, and Lee, WR has suddenly become a position of strength for the Jaguars.
Jayrone Elliott, LB, Green Bay Packers
After a relatively productive career at small-school Toledo went relatively unnoticed, Elliott landed with Green Bay as an UDFA. He then proceeded to have a great preseason, and should be a rotational pass rusher, at the least, for the Packers this year.
It’s that time of year where everyone’s doing it, so why not? Here’s my predictions for each division (wild card predictions with an asterisk), conference and Super Bowl winners, and award winnners.
- New England Patriots
- Miami Dolphins
- New York Jets
- Buffalo Bills
- Indianapolis Colts
- Tennessee Titans
- Jacksonville Jaguars
- Houston Texans
- Denver Broncos
- San Diego Chargers*
- Kansas City Chiefs*
- Oakland Raiders
- Cincinnati Bengals
- Baltimore Ravens
- Pittsburgh Steelers
- Cleveland Browns
- Philadelphia Eagles
- Dallas Cowboys
- Washington Redskins
- New York Giants
- Carolina Panthers
- New Orleans Saints
- Tampa Bay Buccaneers
- Atlanta Falcons
- San Francisco 49ers
- Seattle Seahawks*
- Arizona Cardinals*
- St. Louis Rams
- Green Bay Packers
- Chicago Bears
- Detroit Lions
- Minnesota Vikings
AFC Conference Champions: Cincinnati Bengals
NFC Conference Champions: San Francisco 49ers
Super Bowl Champions: San Francisco 49ers
Most Valuable Player: Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers
Offensive Player of the Year: Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints
Defensive Player of the Year: J.J. Watt, Houston Texans
Offensive Rookie of the Year: Brandin Cooks, New Orleans Saints
Defensive Rookie of the Year: Jadeveon Clowney, Houston Texans
Coach of the Year: Bruce Arians, Arizona Cardinals