Special Request from strangedavid: Which players do you think are primed to make the jump from virtual anonymity to suddenly having their names in the Pro Bowl mix?
The easiest breakout stars to predict are third-year wide receivers. History has shown that year 3 for an NFL wideout is the year he typically shows what kind of an NFL player he'll be. Indeed, 2006 was the year that 2004 draftees Roy Williams and Lee Evans finally rose to star status. Larry Fitzgerald got even better, and Michael Clayton and Reggie Williams showed they can be capable starters, even if they've fallen short of expectations. Of first rounders from that year, only Michael Jenkins was a disappointment, and Rashaun Woods was a bust. In later rounds, several receivers were drafted who became significant contributors last year: Devery Henderson, Keary Colbert, Bernard Berrian, Jerricho Cotchery, Ernest Wilford, D.J. Hackett, Drew Carter, and Patrick Crayton. Most of these guys will be starting this year, with Crayton and either Colbert or Carter the only exceptions.
So what does this mean for the 2005 WR draft class? I think we can expect Pro Bowl consideration for Braylon Edwards. Troy Williamson may finally make a leap, though I question the guy getting him the ball. I think Mark Clayton will lead the Ravens in receiving again, getting well over 1000 this time. The other first-round name will be interesting to see: Roddy White. He led the Falcons' receivers last year, but just barely. He has a real (okay, real mediocre, but still real) quarterback throwing to him now, and it's not unimaginable that he could flirt with 1000 yards.
As for the non-first-rounders, I've loved Reggie Brown for a few years now-he was a great steal in virtually every one of my fantasy leagues last year. This year he's not sneaking up on anybody. We also know about Chris Henry, who won't get a lot of yards this year since he's only in eight games. Vincent Jackson is the name everyone else is throwing around as this year's breakout star, which means by rule that I have to pick someone else. Mark Bradley should get more looks this year for the Bears, but Roscoe Parrish will need an injury to Evans, Peerless Price, or Josh Reed to get much attention.
Here are four names of later-round third-year wideouts who have a chance of breaking out: Courtney Roby, Brandon Jones, Jerome Mathis, and Roydell Williams. They all play in the same division. Three play for the same team.
The Titans have handled their wide receiver situation curiously in recent years. In 2005, they drafted three WRs in the third and fourth rounds. They backed up emerging talents Drew Bennett and Bobby Wade along with ex-Pat David Givens for a few years. And then they let Bennett and Wade go elsewhere this year. I guess they assume their third-year guys will do what third-year guys do. Well, the starting spot is available, and it's possible that one will supplant Givens as the second starter by the end of the season. As for Houston, Mathis has gotten some action in the preseason and done okay. I predict that, like D.J. Hackett last year, he'll show the promise necessary to get a starting job in 2008.
So who of the Titan guys will be my breakout star? The starting job belongs to Jones right now, but Williams has had a great preseason and is making a strong case for himself. Roby didn't get much action last year, and while he'll see the ball more this season, I wouldn't expect him to top 300 yards.
I think the situation is likely to pan out like Jacksonville has been over the past few years. Since they have three #2 receivers and no #1s, the guy who gets the best cornerback won't do as well as the guy who gets the second-best cornerback. Then, since the #2 guy is getting better numbers, he gets promoted to #1. And they leapfrog all season long. I'm going to say that Williams gets more yards, but it'll be something like 800 to 700.
So I still haven't answered the question. Who's going to go from virtual anonymity to Pro Bowl status? I think Braylon Edwards will make the Pro Bowl, and Williams will emerge from anonymity. But neither will do both. So let's take another angle.
Of course, wide receiver is only one position. There are plenty in the NFL. It's impossible to guess who will get a starting shot at quarterback due to injury, but given a chance to start, I think the following guys could surprise on offense (I wish I had time to search for breakout defenders, but I don't at this juncture): Sage Rosenfels, Todd Collins, Jamie Martin, and of course Kellen Clemens, who is being hailed as the new Matt Schaub. As for running backs, I like Jerome Harrison, Samkon Gado, Jesse Chatman, and I'll make my choice between Adomchinobe Echemandu and Justin Fargas after the last preseason game. At tight end, I have just one name: Reggie Kelly.
I'm not getting into offensive line here, because no offensive lineman will ever come out of nowhere and make the Pro Bowl. First his work would have to be touted by the likes of Dr. Z, then people would start putting his name on ballots, and that's at least a season-long process.
Collins and Martin are long-time backups. Martin saw a good bit of time two years ago when Marc Bulger was injured, and didn't look great. But I think his situation in New Orleans is better. Collins came to Washington with Al Saunders and it's looking likely that he'll earn the #2 spot behind Campbell. With Campbell's bruised knee, Collins might actually get some playing time. Rosenfels has been in the league a while in Miami and Houston after being drafted and traded by Washington. He's been sharp in two preseasons with the Texans, and had a 103.0 passer rating in limited action last year.
Harrison hasn't been nearly as impressive this preseason as he was prior to 2005, but he's been capable, and you never know what'll happen with Jamal Lewis. Gado had a brilliant game this past week backing up the aged Ahman Green. In Oakland, Lamont Jordan will lose any hope of starting, mark my words. But Dominic Rhodes won't play the first four weeks. That gives Fargas and Echemandu the chance to take the starting job for the early part of the season. Fargas has been good during the preseason, Echemandu was great in week 3. So we'll see what happens.
Reggie Kelly will take advantage of Carson Palmer's need for another target beyond the big two while Chris Henry serves his suspension. Tab Perry is the likely #3 receiver, but he dropped seven passes in their last game. Kelly hasn't had the ball thrown his way a lot, but he'll get a few catches a game and slowly work his way to probably about 400 yards.
So all these guys are possible, but I have one candidate in particular, who becomes:
Today's absurd prediction:
My choice for nobody-to-Pro Bowl candidate is Miami running back Jesse Chatman.
Who? Well, that's the point. It should be somebody who casual NFL fans ask "Who?" about. Here's what Chatman has going for him:
- 1) Ronnie Brown gets dinged up from time to time.
- 2) Brown has had a mediocre preseason
- 3) Brown didn't show a lot of improvement during his second year in the league, getting fewer yards per carry than in his rookie campaign
- 4) Rookie Lorenzo Booker had a great game as far as receptions are concerned, but he only rushed one time for 2 yards in week 3.
- 5) Chatman had a fantastic week 1 in preseason, and has impressed the coaches in camp.
So where'd this guy come from? He's the guy that didn't get mentioned in San Diego. While Tomlinson and Michael Turner got all the attention, Chatman quietly racked up almost 400 yards on 6 YPC as the #3 back. If he manages a great week 4, splits time with Brown in the early weeks and outplays him, and starts eventually, he could be this year's Ladell Betts, who was last year's Larry Johnson. He won't make the Pro Bowl, but he'll get brought up as a possibility to fill the third spot behind Johnson and Tomlinson (along with Laurence Maroney, Willie Parker, Travis Henry, and Joseph Addai).