Every season produces a new batch of explosive NFL playmakers that wow us with their special talents.
Some players are clearly poised for success right out of the gate such as newly drafted running backs Leonard Fournette and Christian McCaffrey.
However, some playmakers come out of nowhere. We didn’t expect New Orleans Saints wide receiver Michael Thomas to play so well last year that he made his former teammate Brandin Cooks a replaceable part. Plus, nobody foresaw running back LeGarrette Blount topping the league with 18 rushing touchdowns as a member of the New England Patriots.
Entering 2017, there are bound to be more surprises. From a couple of later-round rookies poised to unseat veterans to a second-year quarterback on the brink of stardom, the following eight playmakers are set to explode this year.
Corey Coleman, wide receiver, Cleveland Browns
Coleman was drafted 15th overall by the Browns in 2016 after he recorded 74 catches for 1,363 yards and 20 touchdowns in his final season at Baylor.
Things unfortunately quieted down a lot for Coleman in his rookie year. He managed to tally just 413 receiving yards and three touchdowns. Unfortunately, Coleman broke his hand early in the season. He played in just 10 games and the injury opened the door for Terrelle Pryor to steal all of the attention.
Pryor is now out of the picture, which should open up more opportunities for Coleman to become the top dog. He should hardly feel threatened by newly signed wideout Kenny Britt, who finally recorded his first 1,000-plus yard season after eight years in the league.
Browns Executive Vice President of Football Operations, Sashi Brown, sees Coleman making a big impact for the club over the long haul.
“He’s a young player that I think will be good for us for a long time,” Brown said, per Josh Edwards of 247 Sports. “We project out what his production would’ve been over the course of the season. He would have had, without the injuries, a good rookie year and on his way to a good second year. We expect that from him this year.”
The Browns finding stability at the quarterback position would be the icing on the cake for the young receiver.
Hunter Henry, tight end, Los Angeles Chargers
One of these days, tight end Antonio Gates will slow down. We are predicting 2017 is the season that second-year tight end Hunter Henry — the best player under 25 at the tight end position in the league — emerges as a legitimate superstar.
— Danny 🎷 (@dannyarciniega7) January 13, 2017
Henry turned heads in his rookie season when he caught 36 passes for 478 yards and eight touchdowns. He started in 10 games and was a fabulous red zone tight end. It’s worth noting that Henry caught 67.9 percent of his targets, which is stellar especially compared to Gates’ 57-percent catch rate.
Gates also turns 37 this season and his yardage has been on the decline for the last three years.
Between Henry and Gates, the pair caught 15 total touchdowns. The eventual plan is for Henry to phase out Gates. Perhaps it is time for the Chargers to take the training wheels completely off of the 22 year-old Henry and watch him become quarterback Philip Rivers’ new best friend.
Curtis Samuel, wide receiver, Carolina Panthers
Much of the Panthers’ draft hype has surrounded first-round running back Christian McCaffrey.
That is fabulous, and McCaffrey should make an immediate impact on offense. But Samuel is a guy we envision slyly stealing the spotlight and exploding in his rookie season.
.@CurtisSamuel4__ and his playbook are inseparable.
— Carolina Panthers (@Panthers) May 17, 2017
Samuel, like McCaffrey, is a multi-faceted playmaker who produced a total of 1,636 rushing and receiving yards as well as 15 touchdowns in his final season at Ohio State.
The Panthers have Samuel listed as a slot receiver, which is a position Carolina did not utilize much last year. Samuel should be a natural fit in this role. Just watch as the Ohio State product slowly emerges into stardom alongside McCaffrey.
Paul Perkins, running back, New York Giants
Giants RB Paul Perkins allowed only one QB pressure on 31 pass blocking snaps last season. Likely headed for a bigger role in 2017. pic.twitter.com/EswBYkpVk0
— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) May 10, 2017
Perkins did not exactly have a splashy first year as a rookie last year after producing 1,343 rushing yards and 14 touchdowns in 2015 at UCLA.
However, his pace picked up nicely towards the latter part of the 2016 season. Perkins tallied 456 rushing yards – 371 of which were earned from Weeks 14-17. This should set the tone for Perkins to get on the path to stardom this year.
The second-year running back also no longer has Rashad Jennings to compete with for carries. Not surprisingly, Jennings was left to test free agency after the Giants finished with the fourth-worst rushing offense in the league.
Beyond Perkins is the often-injured Shane Vereen. Considering Vereen suited up only five times last year, Perkins should not view him as a job stealing threat. It is Perkins’ time to shine and get the Giants’ run game out of the toilet in 2017. He’ll have some competition for the top spot, however, in the form of former Clemson star Wayne Gallman. It should be a nice battle this summer between the two, though we predict success for Perkins.
O.J. Howard, tight end, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Quarterback Jameis Winston is primed for a tremendous season. Not only did the team sign wideout DeSean Jackson, but the Bucs drafted Howard at No. 19 overall.
The former Alabama product tallied 45 receptions for 595 yards and three touchdowns in his final college season. He will now playing under head coach Dirk Koetter, who worked his magic with tight ends Marcedes Lewis and Tony Gonzalez of the Jacksonville Jaguars and Atlanta Falcons from 2007-13.
Wouldn’t it be cool to see Howard eventually find that same type of sucess?
Currently, Cameron Brate is the team’s starting tight end. But at the same time, Koetter and the Bucs’ brass did not hesitate to bring Howard aboard in the first round.
Jason Licht said he could see Dirk Koetter's eyes light up when O.J. Howard emphasized the importance of consistency. https://t.co/lPEedfpGDa
— Scott Smith (@ScottSBucs) April 28, 2017
It will be intriguing to see what the team’s plan is for Howard. He is certainly another sneaky playmaker who has the ability to explode in 2017.
John Brown, wide receiver, Arizona Cardinals
Brown is coming off a disappointing campaign that saw his numbers drop from 1,003 receiving yards and seven touchdowns in 2015 to 517 yards and two scores in 2016.
Things should look up this season. Brown recently had a cyst removed from his spine that severely hampered his productivity last year.
“I most definitely feel confident,” Brown said. “Since they found out the situation, my body has been feeling better. I am doing the usual, which I couldn’t do when I was going through this process.”
Head coach Bruce Arians noted Brown’s explosiveness in a recent practice.
“Smoke looks like John Brown,” coach Bruce Arians said, per Kent Somers of The Arizona Republic. “A couple of those routes he ran, he did not run one route like that last year. Knock on wood, it stays that way.”
Smoke is, of course, Arians’ nickname for Brown.
Brown will obviously still compete for targets with veteran receiver Larry Fitzgerald. But with Michael Floyd completely out of the picture, it will be Brown soaking up a lot of quarterback Carson Palmer’s attention now that he is in full health.
It will not be surprising to see Brown nudge his receiving yards back up over 1,000 and perhaps score double-digit touchdowns.
Carson Wentz, quarterback, Philadelphia Eagles
Wentz held his own last year after being thrust into the starting role right before the beginning of his rookie season. Instead of sitting out and observing former Eagles quarterback Sam Bradford, which was the original plan, Wentz passed for 3,782 yards and 16 touchdowns and 14 interceptions.
In 2017, Wentz is primed for a big year with the additions of veteran wide receivers Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith. With these additions, Wentz will be driving a Cadillac instead of an old Toyota Camry this fall.
He will also have a new workhorse running back, LeGarrette Blount.
It’s also worth mentioning the second-year quarterback completed a commendable 62.4 percent of his in 2016. That number stands to improve given Wentz’s array of newly added distinguished talent.
Joe Williams, running back San Francisco 49ers
— 49ersHive (@49ersHive) May 12, 2017
The 49ers saw fit to add another running back to compete with the oft-injured Carlos Hyde and veteran Tim Hightower. They went a bit off the grid to select Williams the fourth round of the 2017 NFL Draft.
We recently covered a story that described what great lengths 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan went to secure Williams’ talent. He “desperately wanted Williams and convinced general manager John Lynch to reconsider Williams’ exclusion from the team’s draft plan.”
The report also said that Williams will compete for the starting job and he has the “distinct advantage” considering he was a hand-selected product by Shanahan and running backs coach Bobby Turner.
Williams arrives to the Bay Area after tallying 1,514 total scrimmage yards and 10 touchdowns during his 2016 campaign at Utah. He also averaged 6.7 yards per attempt.
He is bit of a dark horse starter at this time. But he seems primed to emerge as a household name if Hyde can’t cut the mustard or sustains yet another injury this year.