Each year in the NFL new players emerge as superstars.
This can happen right out of the gate when rookies become immediate starters, or it can happen a few years into one’s career. Fresh beginnings with new teams or coming up behind departing veterans also sets the stage for some NFL players to post Pro-Bowl worthy stats.
Poised for success, the following eight players are on course to finish 2016 as NFL superstars.
Jeremy Langford, running back, Chicago Bears
The Bears drew a line in the sand when they let veteran running back Matt Forte walk in free agency.
This opened the door wide for second-year back Langford to inherit the team’s workhorse role. Langford impressed in two starts last year, rushing for 145 yards and two touchdowns. During this same two-game stretch, Langford proved capable as a receiver when he racked up 179 yards and one touchdown through the air.
Once Forte returned from his injury, Langford took a backseat. Though, the Bears appear to have a capable, all-purpose back in Langford.
Larry Mayer of the team’s official website shared this projection for Langford:
“Even with Adam Gase leaving for Miami, I expect the Bears to have some carryover in the offensive game plan, with more run-pass options (packaged plays) and shotgun runs. That’s where we will see Langford’s ability to find daylight and push the ball through the hole with zone blocking up front.”
Being that Langford is only 24 years-old, he should be a key factor in the Bears’ offense for years to come.
Coby Fleener, tight end, New Orleans Saints
It’s no secret that Drew Brees loves to throw to his tight ends. When Jimmy Graham was with the Saints, he was by far Brees’ favorite target for five seasons.
In 2015, Benjamin Watson was targeted by Brees a career-high 110 times, resulting in 74 catches for 825 yards and six touchdowns. Now it is Fleener’s turn. At 6-foot-6, Fleener should be seen all over the red zone making catches this season.
Already semi-productive while playing for the Indianapolis Colts, Fleener averaged 77.75 targets per season. However, he has yet to ever really break out.
The Saints recently released long-time receiver Marques Colston and are practically starting anew with Brandin Cooks, Willie Snead and rookie Michael Thomas.
It wouldn’t be shocking to see Fleener top 80 receptions, cross the 1,000-yard receiving mark and score double digit touchdowns in Sean Payton’s system this season.
Fantasy football owners, you have been warned.
Quinten Rollins, cornerback, Green Bay Packers
Rollins seamlessly transitioned into the NFL after playing only one season of college football with Miami University of Ohio.
Considering Rollins’ primary college sport was basketball, the cornerback impressed when he recorded two interceptions, including one returned for a touchdown in his rookie campaign. Rollins also registered one sack and 27 combined tackles over the course of the 14 games in which he participated last season.
— Ben Fennell (@BenFennell_NFL) December 21, 2015
A natural at the position, Rollins only looks to improve on his numbers after the Packers lost Casey Hayward Jr. in free agency.
Considering Rollins’ division includes some of the most interception-prone quarterbacks in the NFL in Matthew Stafford and Jay Cutler, a few pick-sixes could certainly be on tap.
Markus Wheaton, wide receiver, Pittsburgh Steelers
Thanks to an herbal substance resulting in the season-long suspension of fellow receiver Martavis Bryant, Wheaton is poised for a breakout year.
Already turning heads in 2015, Wheaton achieved career-highs in both yards (749) and touchdowns (five). He also averaged a sweet 17 yards per catch, ranking him ninth in this stat among all wide receivers.
Since the Steelers passed on any top receiver prospects in this year’s draft, it is clear that Wheaton is penciled in as a No. 2 receiver playing opposite Antonio Brown. And while Brown draws his usual double coverage, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger will be glancing Wheaton’s way plenty this year.
If all goes according to plan, Wheaton should crest the 1,000-yard receiving mark and double up on his touchdowns from last season.
Jalen Ramsey, cornerback, Jacksonville Jaguars
The Jaguars drafted the best player in this year’s draft when Florida State’s versatile cornerback Ramsey landed in the team’s lap at No. 5 overall in April.
Already on the team’s depth chart stationed at right corner, Ramsey will have an immediate impact on the Jaguars’ defense. While lining up as both safety and cornerback in college, Ramsey was responsible for 181 combined tackles, five sacks, three interceptions and two fumble recoveries. He also ranked second in the ACC in 2014 for passes defended.
Now in the big-boy league, Ramsey will be poised to create havoc for opposing receivers, including some of the NFL’s best within his own division in T.Y. Hilton and DeAndre Hopkins.
Barring injury, Ramsey should be one of the select few from this year’s rookie class to have a breakout year.
Thomas Rawls, running back, Seattle Seahawks
When the Seahawks were dealing with Marshawn Lynch and his nagging abdomen issues last season, they stumbled across a gem when they signed undrafted rookie Rawls to the roster.
Rawls didn’t miss a beat when he took over for an ailing Lynch, starting in seven games last season. Over the course of participating in a total of 13 games, Rawls posted 830 rushing yards and four touchdowns at a stout pace of 5.6 yards per carry.
Unfortunately, Rawls sustained a fractured ankle late in 2015 but is expected to be healthy to play in Week 1 against the Miami Dolphins in the Seahawks’ season opener.
Sitting behind Rawls in depth is an unproven Christine Michael and some later-round draft pick rookies. It would take third-rounder C.J. Prosise out of Notre Dame to out-seat Rawls this fall. Providing that does not happen, Rawls should be on course to easily top 1,000-rushing yards in Seattle’s run-first scheme.
Jadeveon Clowney, defensive end, Houston Texans
Clowney hasn’t exactly lived up to his first overall status from the 2014 NFL Draft.
Though reportedly back to full health, Clowney must set out to prove to his team it was not wrong in passing on a quarterback (aka Derek Carr) in 2014.
The good news is that Clowney didn’t need foot surgery after missing the Texans’ final game and Wild Card playoffs this past January. So hopefully the third-year pass rusher will improve on his mediocre stats from last season that saw him record only 4.5 sacks (compared to the 17.5 posted by teammate J.J. Watt).
If that can happen, it will work in well in concert with Clowney’s improved skills in stopping the run.
It’s a make it or break it season for Clowney, who needs to shed his potential bust label starting this September.
Ezekiel Elliott, running back, Dallas Cowboys
When Dallas passed on top defenders in the NFL Draft to lock up Elliott at No. 4, it made its intention at starting running back crystal clear.
After posting a monstrous total of 4,125 combined yards along with 23 touchdowns during his last two seasons at Ohio State, Elliott will look to take this success to the next level in his NFL debut.
At 6-foot and 225 pounds, he is bound to create challenges for opposing defenders. The presence of Elliott will have a balanced impact on a returning Tony Romo which will get Dallas back into the business of winning games again in 2016.
Already drawing comparisons to the legendary Emmitt Smith, who is already smitten, Elliott is slated for nothing other than instant stardom out of the gate.
Jason Garrett recalls the time Emmitt Smith first told him about Ezekiel Elliott https://t.co/gtDSrHjQLf
— Jon Machota (@jonmachota) May 6, 2016
Just one thing. Please leave the crop tops at home, Zeke.