The 2016 NFL season will naturally see some players fall while others rise up the ranks.
In some cases, a new team will offer fresh hope for players who were waning with their former clubs. Meanwhile, some rookies will make instant impacts as they inherit the No. 1 slots on their new team’s roster.
Savvy offseason enhancements accomplished during free agency will undoubtedly boost the stock for some second and third-year players as well. Thus, the following are a group of NFL playmakers destined to explode this season.
Jamison Crowder, Washington Redskins
With veteran receivers Pierre Garcon and DeSean Jackson not exactly sizzling in Washington, this could be the season that second-year receiver Crowder truly breaks out.
In his 2015 rookie debut with Washington, Crowder played in the slot and was targeted 78 times, resulting in 59 catches for 604 yards and two touchdowns. Crowder was drafted by Washington in the fourth round after he tallied a notable 3,478 yards and 22 touchdowns his final three seasons at Duke.
It could be time for Crowder and his young legs to oust Jackson out of his starting job. Jackson is coming off of the worst season in his career (528 yards, four touchdowns), after dealing with various injuries in 2015. Garcon picked up the slack, though he is far-removed from his elite 2013 campaign that saw him tally 113 catches for 1,346 yards.
With quarterback Kirk Cousins on the upswing after completing a league-high 69.8 percent of his passes in 2015, Crowder stands in firm position to bust out this fall possibly shifting a veteran to the backseat.
Clive Walford, tight end, Oakland Raiders
The Raiders’ stock is rising, and Walford could be riding on his team’s coattails this season. That’s a good thing.
Walford turned heads in his 2015 rookie debut when he recorded 28 catches for 329 yards and three touchdowns. Overall, he was more productive than fellow tight end Mychal Rivera, who had less yards and touchdowns stemming from 32 receptions.
— SideLeague (@SideLeague) October 25, 2015
Noteworthy as well are Walford’s collegiate stats from the University of Miami. He is on record for tallying the most yards, (1,704) and touchdowns (14) of all tight ends from his university. This would include former Hurricane’s tight ends Greg Olsen and Kellen Winslow Jr.
Walford’s chemistry should keep booming with Derek Carr, who experienced his own breakout last year. Since Walford is penciled in as the No. 1 tight end on the Raiders’ depth chart, this would indicate the team has plans to get him even more involved in 2016.
Michael Thomas, wide receiver, New Orleans Saints
It is practically a given that anyone catching passes from Saints quarterback Drew Brees will light it up and post some pretty amazing numbers.
This could be the case for Ohio State receiver Thomas, who the Saints chose in Round 2 of the 2016 NFL Draft.
With Brees averaging 320.4 passing yards per game over the last five years and Marques Colston out of the picture, Thomas looks to be the recipient of Brees’ aerial supremecy opposite third-year receiver Brandin Cooks.
Thomas arrives to New Orleans after recording 1,580 yards and 18 touchdowns at Ohio State. At 6-foot-3, he clocks in four inches taller than Willie Snead, who the Saints signed as an undrafted free agent last year.
Snead racked up 984 receiving yards, but he managed only three trips into the end zone.
The Saints didn’t use a second-round pick to grab a receiver they intended to stash. Look for Thomas to have an immediate impact in the Saints’ offense, making him a sweet later-round pick in fantasy football.
Marcus Mariota, quarterback, Tennessee Titans
Due to some effective offseason restructuring, Mariota has all the weapons necessary to break out in 2016.
New to his offensive line will be rookie right tackle Jack Conklin, who should help in reducing the 38 sacks Mariota endured in the 12 games he started last season. Fewer poundings means less chance for injury for the Titans’ second-year starter.
The addition of DeMarco Murray and rookie running back Derrick Henry should do wonders to ease Mariota’s pressure in the pocket. He will also have a handy new receiver in Rishard Matthews, who was signed in free agency after departing from the Miami Dolphins. Matthews is coming from his best-career season yet and fills a gap Tennessee has been lacking.
Lastly, we must not forget about tight end Delanie Walker, who also posted career-highs in both receptions (94) and yards (1,088) last season.
With some fancy upgrades, Mariota will be better armed to face NFL defenses in his sophomore season. He might even pleasantly surprise as a later-round fantasy quarterback pick.
Braxton Miller, wide receiver, Houston Texans
It wouldn’t come as a shock to see Miller’s fellow rookie receiver and first round pick, Will Fuller, post some notable numbers this year.
Though Miller, drafted in the third round, makes for a curious and exciting addition to the Texans’ roster as a slot receiver.
Braxton Miller, can align about anywhere on field, from slot,to perimeter,to backfield as receiver,runner,or passer: https://t.co/PeFKgpKjbX
— Pat Kirwan (@PatKirwanRFN) May 11, 2016
If anything, Miller could certainly tally a bunch of touches per game this year, especially with newbie Brock Osweiler looking to rid himself of the ball quickly. This makes Miller an intriguing part of the Texans’ offense that has also added running back Lamar Miller to the mix.
Fellow veteran receiver DeAndre Hopkins, with his uncanny skill of evading defenders, will surely draw tight coverage. This will result in both Fuller and Miller seeing an increase in targets.
The quarterback turned receiver will certainly be worth monitoring in action as training camp plays out.
C.J. Prosise, running back, Seattle Seahawks
The Seahawks gained a dynamic playmaker when they signed undrafted running back Thomas Rawls to the roster last season.
However, it looks like Rawls will have company this fall from fellow back and third-round selection C.J. Prosise out of Notre Dame. Head coach Pete Carroll recently commented on Prosise, who he was hoping would fall to Seattle in the draft.
“He is a guy that I fell in love with because when I went back and watched him play at receiver, he ran all of the routes,” Carroll said per Sheil Kapadia of ESPN. “He was a regular receiver. He had 50 targets or something two years ago. He’s a natural football player at that position that became a running back. That’s really unusual that happens like that and that he would be so dynamic as a player at the running back spot.”
Prosise arrives to the NFL after compiling 1,029 rushing yards, 308 receiving yards and a total of 12 touchdowns in 2015. He also clocked a speedy 4.48 on his 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine.
Highly skilled as both a rusher and receiver, Prosise could potentially oust Rawls, or at the very least he should eat into a chunk of his touches this season.
While Prosise’s unique skill set in combination with Rawls’ power running sounds like a win-win situation for Seattle They could be a nightmare for those looking to target a Seahawks running back in fantasy football.
Mohammed Sanu, wide receiver, Atlanta Falcons
All reports point to Sanu assuming the No. 2 receiving spot opposite star wideout Julio Jones on Atlanta’s offense.
.@AtlantaFalcons GM Thomas Dimitroff: "Sanu is a legitimate #2 for us, is a great compliment to Julio Jones."
— SiriusXM NFL Radio (@SiriusXMNFL) March 22, 2016
While Jones continues his animalistic play on the field, he will constantly draw double-coverage. Sanu would open up options where the Falcons’ former No. 2 receivers struggled. Leonard Hankerson failed to adequately fit the bill and eventually Roddy White went downhill once he began dealing with injuries.
It was just a few seasons back that both Jones and White recorded a combined 2,549 yards and 17 touchdowns. Matt Ryan still has a heck of an arm, as noted by his 4,591 passing yards last season. Where he fell short was in touchdowns with only 21 on the books.
This is when Sanu will come in and pick up the slack, helping Ryan’s touchdown production increase this season.
Cameron Artis-Payne, running back, Carolina Panthers
Artis-Payne is only one Jonathan Stewart injury away from making a big name for himself moving forward.
Knock on wood that Stewart will be able to repeat last season’s success when he rushed for 989 yards and six touchdowns during the 13 games he played.
Stewart’s 13 games in 2015 were the most he has ever started in his nine-year career with Carolina. This is due to the fact that anything slightly more than a broken fingernail typically sends Stewart to the bench for multiple games.
Artis-Payne was selected in the fifth round of the 2015 NFL Draft. He didn’t get much play last season due to the fact that Stewart remained freakishly healthy. The Auburn product arrived to the Panthers after tallying 1,608 rushing yards along with 13 touchdowns in his final college season.
He is more of a threat physically than Fozzy Whitaker and faster than refrigerator-sized fullback Mike Tolbert.
Should Stewart go down, it would be Artis-Payne’s opportunity to prove he is next in line to become his successor.