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30 Breakout Players for 2008
Because I know how much you guys love Pete Prisco...here's his list of 30 breakout players for 2008.
1. Stacy Andrews, T, Cincinnati Bengals: The Bengals did the wise thing and designated Andrews their franchise player after the 2007 season. He went into that season as a backup, but injuries gave him 13 starts. He now goes into this season listed as the starting right tackle, ahead of 13-year veteran Willie Anderson. By season's end, he just might be the best right tackle in the AFC.
2. Haloti Ngata, DE, Baltimore Ravens: Playing on a front seven loaded with really good players, Ngata tends to get overlooked. That won't happen this season. In his second season in 2007 he started to flash star potential. This is the season it happens a lot. He is strong and quick.
3. Darrelle Revis, CB, New York Jets: He showed off smooth man-cover skills as a rookie last season. The Jets traded up to get him in the 2007 draft and he showed why. Revis might be ready to head to the Pro Bowl in his second season.
4. Justin Durant, LB, Jacksonville Jaguars: He started eight games as a rookie last season and showed explosive speed. In Gregg Williams' attacking defense, Durant should show up even more. He's a future Pro Bowl player.
5. Antrel Rolle, S, Arizona Cardinals: The scouts all said Rolle didn't have the hips to play corner. So even though he made some big plays last season -- including two picks for scores in one game -- Rolle moves to free safety this season. Look for Rolle to be much more of a fit at safety. He is a playmaker who will complement Adrian Wilson well.
6. John McCargo, DT, Buffalo Bills: After a disappointing rookie season in 2006, cut short by injury, McCargo played much better in 2007. He had 2½ sacks, led the Bills with 6½ stops behind the line of scrimmage and now appears ready to do even more in his third season. The addition of former Jaguars defensive tackle Marcus Stroud to play next to him will help McCargo improve even more.
7. Matt Leinart, QB, Arizona Cardinals: His second season was cut short in 2008 when he suffered a broken collarbone in the fifth game. That led to Kurt Warner taking over and playing well. But Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt is going back to Leinart, which is the right move. Leinart can be the Cardinals' franchise passer and this is the season he proves that to the many skeptics.
8. LaMarr Woodley, OLB, Pittsburgh Steelers: As a rookie in 2007, Woodley didn't start any games but still had four sacks. Late in the season he started showing off his pass-rush ability. With Clark Haggans gone to Arizona, Woodley will start and don't be shocked to see a 12-sack season.
9. Anthony Spencer, DE, Dallas Cowboys: Greg Ellis, who holds the spot Spencer wants, isn't happy because Spencer received first-team reps during offseason work. Ellis should worry about his job. Spencer has the explosive speed off the edge that will be hard to keep on the bench. He will be a long-time companion for DeMarcus Ware.
10. David Harris, LB, New York Jets: He started nine times last season and was a tackling machine in those games. He is an active linebacker who knows how to get to the football. He had 125 tackles in 2007. That number will jump significantly in 2008.
11. Chris Gocong, OLB, Philadelphia Eagles: The Eagles were thrilled with the way he played as a first-time starter in 2007. He has the speed to match up with tight ends in coverage and he plays the run well. Having a player with Gocong's versatility in Jim Johnson's defense is a big plus.
12. D'Qwell Jackson, LB, Cleveland Browns: He has been a quality player the past two seasons but most fans outside Cleveland probably have no idea who he is. At 6-feet, 242 pounds, he is a thumper at weak-side linebacker. He also runs well.
13. Eric Winston, RT, Houston Texans: The right tackle spot isn't a strong one in the NFL. Winston has a chance to move toward the top of the rankings at that position. He emerged as the Texans' best lineman last season. He has always been a good pass protector, but he improved his run blocking last season. It's too bad right tackles get overlooked come Pro Bowl time because he's a good one.
14. Steve Smith, WR, New York Giants: After missing 11 games in his rookie season with an injury, Smith had 14 catches in the postseason to emerge as an important part of the Giants' run to the Super Bowl. Watch for him to become a factor in the middle of the field for the Giants' offense in 2008, possibly catching as many as 60 passes.
15. Fred Bennett, CB, Houston Texans: A fourth-round pick last April, Bennett made his way into the starting lineup in 2007 and had three interceptions and 14 passes defensed. With Dunta Robinson coming off a major knee injury, Bennett will have to be even better in 2008.
16. Eric Weddle, S, San Diego Chargers: The Chargers traded up in last year's draft to get Weddle. After a year playing in sub packages, he takes over as the starting free safety. Weddle is one of those players with a knack for finding the football. He will hit and he has cover skills after playing corner in college.
17. A.J. Hawk, LB, Green Bay Packers: The Packers expect big things from Hawk in his third season. He showed improvement last season, but needs to play more instinctively. With two years under his belt, look for that to happen.
18. Santonio Holmes, WR, Pittsburgh Steelers: He had 52 catches last season, his second with the team, but watch out in 2008. This could be his Pro Bowl year. It's certainly going to be the season he takes over as the No. 1 guy for Hines Ward.
19. Jovan Haye, DT, Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Entering his fifth season, with his second team, Haye is coming off an impressive 2007. He had 16 starts, the first of his career, and had six sacks. At 6-2, 285 pounds, he is a quick inside player who has a chance to be a long-time starter in Tampa.
20. Sidney Rice, WR, Minnesota Vikings: Rice caught 31 passes in 13 games in 2007 as a rookie. With Bernard Berrian now on the other side that number will go up. Rice doesn't have great speed so he needs speed on the other side to help open things up for him. Berrian has that. Look for Rice to possibly have a 70-catch season.
21. Johnny Jolly, DT, Green Bay Packers: He takes over as the starter inside after Corey Williams was traded to the Browns. Jolly showed well in his time last season before he tore a rotator cuff. He's battling back from that, but the Packers expect him on the field when camp opens.
22. Marcus Thomas, DT, Denver Broncos: Thomas played well as a rookie in 2007. Watch what he does this year. He will show off the talent that would have made him a first-round pick, were it not for off-the-field issues before the draft. He has Warren Sapp-like quickness.
23. Freddie Keiaho, LB, Indianapolis Colts: When Cato June left via free agency, the Colts did what they always do: find a quality replacement. Although small at 5-11, 230 pounds, Keiaho is a swift player who knows how to get to the football. With more experience, he will make people forget June.
24. Zach Miller, TE, Oakland Raiders: As a rookie last season he caught 44 passes in an offense that struggled to get good quarterback play. Now that JaMarcus Russell is settled in as the starter look for Miller and Russell to form quite a connection.
25. Arron Sears, G, Tampa Bay Buccaneers: The Bucs love this kid. He started at left guard as a rookie and quickly showed that he has Pro Bowl ability. He plays with a nasty streak and excels in the run game.
26. Troy Williamson, WR, Jacksonville Jaguars: He was considered a flop in Minnesota after his selection in the first round of the 2005 draft. He had 79 catches in his first three seasons, just 24 in 2007. That's why the Vikings traded him to the Jaguars for a sixth-round pick. During the Jaguars' offseason work, Williamson was outstanding. He didn't drop a pass. If that carries over to camp, his speed will be a big addition to the Jacksonville passing game.
27. Jared Gaither, T, Baltimore Ravens: With the retirement of Jonathan Ogden, Gaither takes over as the starting left tackle. He had two starts last season as a rookie and played pretty well. At 6-9, 350 pounds, he makes Ogden look small. He also has great feet for a man that big. He might struggle at times, but by the midway point he should be a dominant player.
28. Brandon Jackson, RB, Green Bay Packers: I know Ryan Grant is the starter and he played well last season. But Packers coaches really like Jackson. With a year under his belt in terms of picking up blitz packages, he will be on the field more in his second season. He did rush for 113 yards on 20 carries in the season finale after not doing much when he started the first three games of the season.
29. Chad Jackson, WR, New England Patriots: He has had two injury-plagued seasons that have limited him to 13 catches. That should change now that he's healthy. With Donte' Stallworth gone to the Cleveland Browns, the Patriots need a third receiver to step up. Jackson has the size and speed. Now that he's a year-and-half removed from a torn ACL, this is his time.
30. Domata Peko, DT, Cincinnati Bengals: He has been a quality starter the past two seasons. For that, the Bengals rewarded him with a long-term deal. Peko plays hard and he's very good against the run.