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NFL breakout players 2018: Predicting the next big thing for all 32 teams

Retired NFL defensive end Stephen White has been grinding tape all summer to figure out which players are poised for a big leap forward in 2018.

Greetings fellow football fans!

It’s once again that time of year for my always exciting breakout player columns just in time for the NFL season. I just wanted to take the time out thank you for reading them again and also to offer a few reminders.

First, it is important to remember that I do not consider rookies nor second year players breakout players unless there are special circumstances, like a guy who has been out of college for more than two years, but technically still doesn’t have two years of service in the NFL. It probably would make it a lot easier on me if I relaxed that rule a bit, but I just feel like there is no way to know what a rookie will do in their first season. And if a guy has already played quite a bit as a rookie and didn’t break out, I’m skeptical, without something else to go on, that they will just magically make a leap in year two.

At least two years of film generally gives me a good enough feel for whether a guy looks primed to break out or not, however, so that is where I set my sights. NFL teams have often looked at the third season of a guys career as the time when he usually really takes off anyway, and from my experience that view is largely accurate.

Secondly, whether a player “breaks out” or not is always relative. It’s about the jump in play and production, not whether a guy makes the Pro Bowl. The important thing is that they take a big step forward in their development.

I would also like to remind everyone that not every team will actually have a player with two years or more of service who will break out. I have been tasked to pick one for every team, so I try to pick the guy for each team that I feel is most likely to breakout out. However, I will admit that I do not have an actual crystal ball. These are only educated guess, and I’m bound to be wrong on some.

Sue me.

See, when I write these columns I’m a lot more concerned with explaining to you, the reader, in a clear and concise way, why I made the choices that I made. I don’t need for you to agree with every pick, but I want you to walk away at least understanding why I made it. Hell, I go into it knowing I’m going to be wrong about some of these guys. Still, I put a lot of film work into first selecting each player and doing their write up. I try to make as convincing an argument as I can for each one.

If it works out, great.

If not, that’s fine too.

But I at least want to have made a convincing argument, whether it sways anyone or not.

To try to add a little bit of clarity this year, I’ve added an element to these columns that I probably should have inserted from the start. That is, I included at the bottom of each writeup a note about how confident I am in my prediction.

For the guys who I feel really strongly will break out, the confidence level on their column will be high. For the guys who I think have a good shot, but who’s situation I’m not as sure about, the confidence level will be moderate. For the guys who I think have a lot of potential, but outside factors like injuries or where they fall on the depth chart appear to be pushing up against them, the confidence level will be low.

Hopefully, that will help y’all discern just how mad on the internet y’all should be this time around.


AFC East

Bills — Adolphus Washington’s presence will be felt all over the Bills defense.
Dolphins — Kenyan Drake is ready to carry the load for the Dolphins.
Jets — David Bass is a real catch for the Jets defense!
Patriots — Vincent Valentine gives the Patriots defense some fight.

AFC North

Bengals — Bengals big man Andrew Billings is primed for big things this year.
Browns — Browns opponents will have a problem trying to block Trevon Coley.
Ravens — Chris Moore won’t make Joe Flacco elite, but the Ravens WR will help.
Steelers — Xavier Grimble is a double threat for the Steelers.

AFC South

Colts — Andrew Luck’s return is great news for Colts WR Chester Rogers.
Jaguars — James O’Shaughnessy is the Jaguars tight end to watch.
Texans — Texans TE Stephen Anderson should take a big leap with Deshaun Watson.
Titans — Austin Johnson is ready for a bigger role with the Titans defense.

AFC West

Broncos — Will Jordan Taylor get the chance to make even more amazing catches?.
Chargers — Darius Philon makes a strong Chargers pass rush downright stifling.
Chiefs — Reggie Ragland is the Chiefs’ monster in the middle.
Raiders — Johnny Holton has that ‘holy sh*t’ speed the Raiders need.

NFC East

Cowboys — Can Geoff Swaim help the Cowboys move on from Jason Witten?
Eagles — Inside or outside, Joe Walker makes the Eagles defense better.
Giants — Can the Giants unlock Jerell Adams’ untapped potential?
Washington — Is Josh Doctson finally ready to be a No. 1 receiver?

NFC North

Bears — Josh Bellamy will go from busting ass to busting out.
Lions — Luke Willson can be the tight end the Lions need.
Packers — Geronimo Allison, not just Aaron Rodgers, will make the Packers better.
Vikings — Laquon Treadwell has all the right moves to stop being an enigma for the Vikings.

NFC South

Buccaneers — Ryan Smith can lead the Bucs in interceptions, if he trusts himself more.
Falcons — Garrison Smith might have finally found the perfect home with the Falcons.
Panthers — TE Chris Manhertz is more than just a former basketball player.
Saints — David Onyemata goes harder than anyone on the Saints defense.

NFC West

49ers — Sheldon Day can rack up some sacks for the 49ers after whirlwind 2017 season.
Cardinals — Robert Nkemdiche can finally show the Cardinals why he was a 1st-round pick.
Rams — Tyler Higbee can make the Rams stop forgetting about him.
Seahawks — Can Nick Vannett be the red zone threat the Seahawks need?

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