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NFL breakout players: A look at one emerging star for all 32 teams

We see it every year. NFL breakout players starring for teams. Youngsters who step into vital roles and prove their worth.

This season is going to be no different. Whether we look at second-year players who displayed flashes as rookies or first-year players ready to make a statement out of the gate, each team will have NFL breakout players.

From Atlanta Falcons star receiver Drake London to quarterbacks such as Jordan Love, Justin Fields and Brock Purdy, here’s a look at one such player from each team.

Related: Unlock Fantasy Sports Success! Get FREE Insights & Tips From Dr. Roto and His Team Of Big-Money Fantasy Winners!

Arizona Cardinals: Zaven Collins, linebacker

With Isaiah Simmons now on the New York Giants, Collins takes over as an anchor for a talent-stricken Cardinals defense. The former first-round pick was darn good as a sophomore last season, tallying 100 tackles, 11 tackles for loss and six passes defended. Look for him to improve on this as a third-year player in 2023.

Atlanta Falcons: Drake London, wide receiver

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Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

London had an extremely productive rookie season in the NFL, putting up 72 receptions for 866 yards and four touchdowns. He also caught 62% of his targets. The expectation is that the former USC standout will see a lot more than the 117 targets he received as a rookie. He’ll be one of young quarterback Desmond Ridder’s top targets. North of 100 catches with double-digit touchdowns is not out of the equation.

Baltimore Ravens: Odafe Oweh, EDGE

Oweh, 24, has recorded just eight sacks in two seasons since Baltimore made him a first-round pick in the 2021 NFL Draft. Despite this, he does have 26 QB hits during this span. The Ravens might have signed Jadeveon Clowney late in the summer to provide a veteran presence. But with fellow youngster David Ojabo set to be more of a jack-of-all-trades type in 2023, Oweh should be given an opportunity. Look for him to produce his best season.

Buffalo Bills: James Cook, running back

Buffalo needs to find a consistent running game for Josh Allen. It’s not sustainable for the quarterback to average 123 rush attempts like he has over the past two seasons. Enter into the equation a second-year back in Cook who is set to break out big time. He averaged 6.2 yards per touch in part-time playing time a season ago. We wouldn’t be surprised if Cook put up north of 1,500 total yards. His ability to block is also important in front of Allen.

Carolina Panthers: Jonathan Mingo, wide receiver

Current Panthers receivers Terrace Marshall Jr. and DJ Chark are sidelined to injury. It has enabled Mingo to get in first-team reps with fellow rookie Bryce Young. Thus far, we’re liking what we see from the second-round pick out of Mississippi. We wouldn’t be surprised if Mingo ended the season as Carolina’s WR1.

Related: 2023 NFL Rookie of the Year candidates

Chicago Bears: Justin Fields, quarterback

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David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

The likes of recent acquisition and Pro Bowl wide receiver D.J. Moore displayed game-breaking ability during the preseason. It was a goal of general manager Ryan Poles to get Justin Fields more help after a breakout sophomore season on the ground. The idea is to have more success through the air. With Moore, Chase Claypool, Darnell Mooney, Cole Kmet and Khalil Herbert at the skill positions, Fields has no more excuses. Look for him to have a tremendous third season in the league.

Cincinnati Bengals: Cam Taylor-Britt, cornerback

A second-round pick of the Bengals out of Nebraska last year, Taylor-Britt performed well as a rookie. He appeared in 10 games (nine starts), recording 55 tackles and six passes defended. Opposing quarterbacks also completed less than 59% of their passes when targeting him. Now slated to start opposite veteran Chidobe Awuzie, he’ll be one of the NFL breakout players of 2023.

Cleveland Browns: Cedric Tillman, wide receiver

This rookie third-round pick out of Tennessee was one of the NFL breakout players of the preseason. It has Tillman as WR4 on the Browns’ roster behind Amari Cooper, Donovan Peoples-Jones and Elijah Moore. We’re expecting Tillman to see a ton of action early with Deshaun Watson tossing him the rock. It might not lead to huge numbers, but Tillman will prove to be an immediate Day 1 contributor on offense for Cleveland.

Dallas Cowboys: Deuce Vaughn, running back

Denver Broncos: Javonte Williams, running back

After a solid rookie season with Denver, Williams suffered a torn ACL four games into his sophomore campaign. The good news here is that he’s back and 100% healthy. The former North Carolina star is also Denver’s unquestioned RB1 heading into the regular season. If he stays healthy, Williams should have himself a brilliant 2023 campaign. After all, he tallied 1,219 total yards and seven touchdowns at a clip of 5.0 yards per touch as a rookie.

Detroit Lions: Jahmyr Gibbs, running back

Detroit shocked the football world by selecting Gibbs No. 12 overall in the 2023 NFL Draft. This is a clear indication that the team expects him to play a major role as a rookie. The former Alabama standout looked darn good during the summer. He also displayed great pass-catching ability, creating the possibility that Gibbs will be a dual-threat out of the backfield for Jared Goff in his first NFL season.

Related: 2023 NFL running back rankings

Green Bay Packers: Jordan Love, quarterback

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Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

Facing the fall task of replacing the legendary Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay, Love excelled in extensive preseason action. The third-year player completed 21-of-33 passes for 193 yards with three touchdowns and zero interceptions. He seems to have found a great relationship with young receivers Christian Watson and Romeo Doubs. Now that star left tackle David Bakhtiari is returning and with Aaron Jones at running back, everything is set up for Love to succeed as a first-year starter in 2023.

Houston Texans: Derek Stingley Jr., cornerback

Despite missing eight games to injury as a rookie, Stingley Jr. displayed his playmaking ability. The former LSU star put up five passes defended and an interception while yielding a mere 78.4 QB rating when targeted. Heading into his sophomore season, Stingley Jr. has more help in the form of rookie first-round defensive end Will Anderson and a new defensive-minded head coach, DeMeco Ryans. He’s going to be one of the biggest NFL breakout players in 2023.

Indianapolis Colts: Alec Pierce, wide receiver

Indianapolis’ initial 53-man roster included only three wide receivers in that of Michael Pittman Jr., Alec Pierce and rookie Josh Downs. That just goes to show us how weak of a position this is for the Colts. Add in the absence of star running back Jonathan Taylor and presence of rookie starting quarterback Anthony Richardson, and a lot will ride on what these three do. As a rookie last season, Pierce caught 41 passes for 593 yards on 78 targets. The expectation is that he’ll receive north of 120 targets as a sophomore. You can do the math from there.

Jacksonville Jaguars: Travon Walker, EDGE

The No. 1 pick in last year’s NFL Draft, Walker was inconsistent as a rookie. He tallied just 10 QB hits, five tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks. The good news here is that Walker lost weight during the offseason and looked more explosive in training camp. Jacksonville is going to be relying big time on him doing his thing next to fellow former first-round pick Josh Allen in 2023. We’re expecting big things.

Related: 2023 NFL defense rankings

Kansas City Chiefs: Skyy Moore, wide receiver

With JuJu Smith-Schuster and Mecole Hardman having departed in free agency, it’s not a surprise that Patrick Mahomes will be relying on youngsters this season. That includes former Giants first-round pick Kadarius Toney and fellow unproven receiver Rashee Rice. What we do know is that Moore made headlines during the offseason program and training camp. The 2022 second-round pick was cooking with Mahomes. Fresh off a Super Bowl in which he scored a touchdown, Moore is going to be one of the biggest NFL breakout players in 2023.

Las Vegas Raiders: Tre’von Moehrig, safety

Vegas added reinforcements at cornerback in that of Marcus Peters and impressive rookie Jakorian Bennett during the offseason. This means that Moehrig, a second-round pick in 2021, won’t be tasked with doing as much as he did a season ago. It is good news given he struggled in coverage (129.7 QB rating against). Set to play solely center field next to free agent signing Marcus Epps, we expect this TCU product to step up big time as a sophomore.

Los Angeles Chargers: Quentin Johnston, wide receiver

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Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

There’s not a lot of options when it comes to the Chargers’ proven roster heading into 2023. We like this rookie first-round pick out of TCU to stand out. While there were mixed reports surrounding Johnston during the summer, there is a lot to like about what he can bring to the table for Justin Herbert behind Keenan Allen and Mike Williams at wide receiver.

Los Angeles Rams: Kyren Williams, running back

Given the Rams’ talent-stricken roster, it was hard to pick out one name to be a breakout player. We’re going with a former Notre Dame standout who displayed flashes of brilliance during his time in South Bend. The 5-foot-9 Williams can be electric with the ball in his hands, both from a running and pass-catching standpoint. With RB1 Cam Akers having fallen out of favor last season, we’re not sure how long he’ll hold that title under Sean McVay. Williams has a real chance to set himself apart as a sophomore.

Miami Dolphins: Jevon Holland, safety

Miami envisioned that it got another version of Minkah Fitzpatrick when the team selected this Oregon product in the second round of the 2021 NFL Draft. Holland has shown flashes through two seasons (17 passes defended and four interceptions). However, he’s also yielded a QB rating north of 110 during that span. The defensive back seemed to fix these issues during the offseason and training camp. Look for him to excel under widely respected new defensive coordinator Vic Fangio.

Minnesota Vikings: K.J. Osborn, wide receiver

Adam Thielen is no longer a member of the Vikings. They went with just five wide receivers on their initial 53-man roster. Sure, Justin Jefferson will get most of the play. Rookie first-round pick Jordan Addison will be relied on, too. But Osborn has shown that he can take on a larger role. Over the course of the past two seasons, he’s tallied 110 receptions for 1,305 yards and 12 touchdowns. It would not be a surprise if the 26-year-old former Miami (F) star flirted with 1,000 yards in 2023.

Related: 2023 NFL offense rankings

New England Patriots: Christian Gonzalez, cornerback

What Sauce Gardner did as a rookie cornerback last season was a once-in-a-generation type thing. We’re not expecting Gonzalez to repeat that performance. A first-round pick out of Oregon this past spring, Gonzalez had opened eyes in Patriots camp with stellar play during practices. While he’s just now returning from injury; the expectation is that this youngster will play a huge role out of the gate in 2023. After yielding just 38 catches with the Ducks in 2022, Gonzalez is more than ready to make an impact.

New Orleans Saints: Cesar Ruiz, guard

After splitting time between center and guard throughout the first three years of his career, this former first-round pick is now settled in at right guard. He played well after opening last season injured, leading to New Orleans picking up the fifth-year option on the former Michigan star’s contract. With a quick-strike Derek Carr doing his thing behind Ruiz in 2023, we’re expecting a Pro Bowl-caliber performance from the lineman.

New York Giants: Kayvon Thibodeaux, EDGE

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Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

It was slow going to an extent for this former No. 5 pick out of LSU as a rookie last season. Thibodeaux missed the first three games with a knee injury. The edge guy was also a bit inconsistent. But he displayed flashes throughout (13 QB hits, four sacks, two forced fumbles). With a full offseason under his belt and working under respected Giants defensive coordinator Don Martindale, the sky is the limit for Thibodeaux as a sophomore.

New York Jets: Jermaine Johnson, EDGE

Given the continued injury issues relating to free-agent bust Carl Lawson, this first-round pick in the 2022 NFL Draft will be relied on a whole lot heading into Week 1. Johnson saw limited action as a rookie, recording just five QB hits and 2.5 sacks. But he showed out big time during training camp and the preseason. Look for Johnson’s ability on the field to finally match up to his athletic prowess in 2023.

Philadelphia Eagles: Jalen Carter, defensive tackle

Carter was considered a potential No. 1 pick early during the pre-draft process before an off-field incident and some conditioning concerns made the news cycle. None of this mattered to an Eagles team that traded up into the top 10 to select the Georgia product during the spring. In limited preseason action, Carter showed just how dominant he can be. He displayed this in joint training camp practices, too. A legit NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year candidate, Carter should excel out of the gate.

Pittsburgh Steelers: George Pickens, wide receiver

Pickens’ rookie stats (51 receptions, 801 yards) don’t do him justice. The former Georgia standout was a mismatch waiting to happen while averaging 15.4 yards per catch. He continued to make sweet music with fellow young quarterback Kenny Pickett during training camp and the preseason. In fact, Pickens has to be considered his top target. We would not be surprised to see the receiver go for 1,400 yards and double-digit touchdowns as a sophomore in 2023.

San Francisco 49ers: Brock Purdy, quarterback

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Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

Some seem to forget what Brock Purdy did as a rookie seventh-round pick last season. He led the 49ers to 35 points per game and wins in all five of his starts, accounting for 14 total touchdowns and four interceptions. During that five-game span, Purdy led the NFL with a 107.3 QB rating. After undergoing offseason elbow surgery, Purdy looked good in two exhibition starts. He has Christian McCaffrey, George Kittle, Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk as weapons in Kyle Shanahan’s offense. North of 4,000 yards with 30-plus touchdowns is not out of the question as a sophomore.

Related: 2023 NFL QB rankings

Seattle Seahawks: Jaxon Smith-Njigba, wide receiver

Smith-Njigba was one of our NFL breakout players before recently suffering a wrist injury that led to surgery. In shocking fashion, he just returned to practice and will likely be good to go Week 1. The Ohio State product was an absolute stud during training camp and the preseason. He made sweet music with quarterback Geno Smith. Even with DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett ahead of him on the Seahawks’ depth chart, look for the youngster to flirt with 1,000 yards as a rookie.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Cade Otton, tight end

Despite their status as a bottom-end playoff contender heading into 2023, the Buccaneers are not completely void of talent. A fourth-round pick pick out of Washington last year, Otton caught 42 passes for 391 yards. He hauled in 65% of his targets. Now that Tampa is set to go with a more vertical passing game under Baker Mayfield in 2023, we’re expecting a breakout sophomore season from the tight end.

Tennessee Titans: Kristian Fulton, cornerback

After surprisingly falling to the late second round in the 2020 NFL Draft, Fulton has made a name for himself in Tennessee. The former LSU star gave up a mere 52.4% completion and 82.8 QB rating when targeted last season. He flew under the radar with only one interception. Either Fulton is going to be the next great shutdown guy quarterbacks avoid or his interception numbers will end up matching his brilliant on-field play.

Related: 2023 NFL power rankings

Washington Commanders: Jahan Dotson, wide receiver

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Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

We debated about going with second-year quarterback Sam Howell. That just seemed too easy given his preseason performance and the talk about the young quarterback around Maryland. Instead, Dotson is a name to watch as one of the NFL breakout players in 2023. He was stellar in a part-time action as a rookie with the Penn State product tallying a touchdown on 20% of his 35 receptions. With more of an opportunity as sophomore, we’re looking at well north of 1,000 receiving yards and double-digit touchdowns.

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