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Each NFL team's breakout player for 2015

There's always one, that player who comes out of nowhere to surprise fans and the league with a big season. Retired NFL defensive end Stephen White went through each team's roster to try and identify this year's breakout players.

Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

One thing we can all agree on is NFL players develop their skills at different rates. Some guys enter the league already equipped to dominate from day one. Others end up may end up taking awhile before they are ready to compete on the next level.

For those late(r) bloomers, there are many potential speed bumps along the way that can hinder their development. Devastating injuries are usually at the top of that list. In other instances, the player might be playing in a scheme which isn't a good fit for their skill set and they ultimately need either a change in the coaching staff and/or system or a change of scenery themselves.


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Regardless, the most important thing isn't necessarily that every guy eventually becomes dominant, after all only there can only be but so many Pro Bowlers or All-Pros. No, the most important thing is that each guy maximizes his own talent level at some point during their careers when they are given the opportunity to do so.

I was given the task of choosing a breakout player for each of the 32 NFL teams. That required me to define the term breakout player for myself before I could even get into the selection process.

I did not want to choose any players with less than two years in the league because I think picking guys to breakout in their rookie or sophomore seasons is pretty much a crap shoot. You never know who or what a guy will be as a rookie because you have never seen them compete against grown-ass men yet. And there's no way of knowing which guys who start off well as rookies will subsequently hit that sophomore slump and fall off in their second year. Or vice-versa.

Heading into year three, however, you should have a pretty good idea of  which direction most players are trending, and that can lead to much more accurate and educated guesses.

The next thing I had to consider when defining a breakout player was how much of a jump in production would be considered a breakout season. I don't think there is a good hard and fast rule for this, but if a guy has a chance to improve significantly statistically -- whether their production was close to nil at first or even if they were already pretty productive by this point in their career -- then those players would fall into consideration. Again, not a hard and fast rule, but let's just say the assumption is that they would improve in the major statistics generally associated with their positions by at least half. So a guy who had five sacks in his best season to date would have at least 7.5 sacks at the end of this year or a guy who previously had a career high of six touchdowns would have at least nine at the end this season.

It was also important to me to try to explain why I thought this would be the year those guys would break out and try to explain why they hadn't actually done so until now. In a couple of cases, I do admit that I was going more off gut instinct rather than necessarily quantifiable metrics. Hey, sometimes guys do kind of come out of nowhere. With the overwhelming majority of the guys I chose, I pointed out clear reasoning behind why I believe they are due for a big season.

I am sure I will be wrong on a few players on my list because nobody has a crystal ball when it comes to these things. My hope is that my explanation in each case will at least be compelling enough that it makes sense to everyone, even if they don't agree with the choice.

Arizona Cardinals: Alex Okafor, LB

Have the Cardinals found their next double digit sack guy?

Atlanta Falcons: Antone Smith, RB

The Falcons can finally let Antone Smith off the leash.

Baltimore Ravens: Brandon Williams, NT

Meet the Ravens next monster defensive lineman.

Buffalo Bills: Nigel Bradham, LB

Every defense needs a guy like Bradham.

Carolina Panthers: Kawaan Short, DE

Short was a slight afterthought to Star Lotulelei in the 2013 NFL Draft, but through two seasons he has rounded into Pro Bowl form.

Chicago Bears: Willie Young, DE

Young has defensive-minded staff supporting him, including a defensive coordinator with a reputation for developing top shelf pass rushers. It could be a big year for him.

Cincinnati Bengals: Margus Hunt, DE

Few players in the NFL have the physical gifts of Hunt. If he takes even a small step forward for the Bengals, watch out.

Cleveland Browns: Travis Benjamin, WR

The Browns have had the deep threat they've been looking for all along.

Dallas Cowboys: Tyrone Crawford, DT

Crawford looked lost until the Cowboys moved him inside. Now, he's making life hard for opposing offensive linemen.

Denver Broncos: Virgil Green, TE

With Julius Thomas gone, Peyton Manning still has a pass catching tight end waiting for him at the end of a seam route.

Detroit Lions: Ezekiel Ansah, DE

It's hard to believe that Ansah didn't even play football until he was in college. Now, he's one of the brightest young pass rushers in the league.

Green Bay Packers: Sam Barrington, LB

Meet the hidden gem in the middle of the Packers defense.

Houston Texans: DeAndre Hopkins, WR

Nuke is the man in Houston now.

Indianapolis Colts: Khaled Holmes, C

Did anyone notice how much better the Colts offensive line got once Holmes took over the starting center job?

Jacksonville Jaguars: Johnathan Cyprien, S

Cyprien's had some time to get comfortable with his role in Gus Bradley's defense. The rest of the league should be worried.

Kansas City Chiefs: Travis Kelce, TE

A moveable chess piece in the Chiefs offense, 2015 is going to be a very good year for the young tight end.

Miami Dolphins: Dion Sims, TE

He may be a backup, but he's about to do some big things.

Minnesota Vikings: Sharrif Floyd, DT

Floyd broke out his dance moves after more than a few plays last season, and that's something the Vikings should be celebrating in 2015.

New England Patriots: Aaron Dobson, WR

Even Patriots fans are forgetting about third-year receiver Dobson. That could be a big mistake.

New Orleans Saints: John Jenkins, DT

Checking in at a slimmed down 328 pounds, Jenkins is ready to be a force in the trenches for the Saints.

New York Giants: Damontre Moore, DE

With Jason Pierre-Paul's status still up in the air, the Giants need Moore to blossom as a pass rusher.

New York Jets: Quinton Coples, LB

Sure, he's fine in space, but the Jets know that Coples is at his best when he's attacking upfield.

Oakland Raiders: Latavius Murray, RB

A better offensive line, a commitment to the ground game and less competition for carries should translate into a breakout season for Latavius Murray.

Philadelphia Eagles: Brandon Graham, LB

Out of the shadows, Graham assumes his place as a starting outside linebacker.

Pittsburgh Steelers: Markus Wheaton, WR

With Martavis Bryant suspended, Wheaton has the chance to cement his place in a crowded Steelers receiver corps.

San Diego Chargers: Melvin Ingram, LB

The Chargers pass rusher is healthy, confident and ready to blow up in his fourth NFL season.

San Francisco 49ers: Tank Carradine, DE

Carradine isn't going to make Niners fans forget about Justin Smith, but he is going to help make the defense better than many are predicting.

Seattle Seahawks: Jordan Hill, DT

Hill has a vital role to play as an inside pass rusher in Seattle's dominant defense.

St. Louis Rams: Tavon Austin, WR

The Rams have a new offensive coordinator, and that could mean big things for Austin.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Johnthan Banks, CB

Banks was buried on the Bucs depth chart until injuries gave him another shot at a starting job late last season.

Tennessee Titans: Justin Hunter, WR

Could Hunter be the big time wide receiver the Titans have been searching for?

Washington: Jordan Reed, TE

Washington's do-it-all utility guy is the last man standing on team's tight end depth chart.

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