Being tabbed as a player on the brink of a potential breakthrough year in the NFL means dealing with more pressure and living up to higher expectations.
In a survey by team correspondents for The Sports Xchange, that double-edged label of potential breakthrough player for 2013 was placed on a variety of stars in the NFC. They range from so-called can't-miss rookie wide receiver Tavon Austin of the St. Louis Rams to former sixth-round draftee Josh Morgan of the Washington Redskins, a wide receiver still trying to prove himself in his sixth season.
The survey included a couple of potential head-scratchers, including Carolina Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly, whom most people might think already had a breakthrough year as 2012 Defensive Rookie of the Year. Was that merely a harbinger of even greater things to come? Perhaps it shows that regardless how well one plays, expectations will continue to increase pressure.
Here is a closer look at potential breakthrough players for 2013 in the NFC:
Arizona Cardinals – Third-year tight end Rob Housler
Athletic former basketball player who was targeted 29 times and caught 21 passes for 146 yards in his final five games last year. Housler's ascent should continue with the addition of tight end happy head coach Bruce Arians and veteran quarterback Carson Palmer.
Atlanta Falcons – Rookie cornerback Desmond Trufant
He missed some OTAs because he was finishing college work, but stayed in touch with secondary coach Tim Lewis via Skype. He was tested in minicamp by Roddy White and Julio Jones, but who wouldn't be? Some games might be easier than practice.
Carolina Panthers – Second-year linebacker Luke Kuechly
Survey seems sketchy here because Kuechly qualified for breakout year as NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2012. The rationale, such as it is, contends that the addition of first round defensive tackles Star Lotulelei and Kawann Short to keep Kuechly clean so he can make even more plays. Meantime, watch for Lottulelei to be a breakthrough, ah, star himself.
Chicago Bears – Fourth-year defensive end Corey Wootton
Wootton finally emerged last season, taking the starting job from veteran Israel Idonije and notching seven sacks and 12 pressures. At 6-6, 270, Wootton can stop the run and is another year removed from the knee injury that caused him to fall into the fourth round in 2010.
Dallas Cowboys – Third-year linebacker Bruce Carter
Although Sean Lee gets the attention, Carter has star potential written all over him as the most athletic and fastest linebacker on the team. He finished last year injured, but seems ready to move to his natural position as the weak-side linebacker in the 4-3.
Detroit Lions – Second-year left tackle Riley Reiff
The fact Reiff played multiple positions during O-line rebuild last year does not mean he wasn't good enough for left tackle. He was just too valuable everywhere else. Reiff is up ten pounds and looks great at 315 pounds, ready to become a fixture at left tackle.
Green Bay Packers – Rookie defensive end Datone Jones
This first round pick from UCLA is on fast track to being an opening-day starter Sept. 8 in rematch from 2012 debacle against San Francisco as the Packers get started on trying to keep teams from running all over them. The 6-4, 285-pound Jones can help as run-stopper and pass rusher off edge or inside.
Minnesota Vikings – Rookie cornerback Xavier Rhodes
One of three first round picks, Rhodes is expected to make the biggest impact immediately. He will start from Day 1 and has the size, skill and attitude to handle the pressure in the pass-crazy NFC North.
New Orleans Saints – Fourth-year outside linebacker Junior Galette
Galette is primed to make big strides in the 3-4 defense – especially if he can replace the injured Victor Butler. The 256-pound Galette has ability to get to the quarterback but will be tested covering running backs and tight ends.
New York Giants – Third-year cornerback Prince Amukamara
When he was not being hazed and embarrassed by teammates, Amukamara showed flashes last year of why he was drafted in the first round in 2011. He added some bulk and appears more aggressive, which should help against receivers as well as teammates who throw him into the training room tub.
Philadelphia Eagles – Rookie tight end Zach Ertz
Ertz, a consensus All-American and second-round pick, missed all OTAs and minicamps because of rules prohibiting rookies from playing until the school semester ends. But he is expected to pick up Chip Kelly's offense quickly and could be a highlight in two and three tight end alignments.
St. Louis Rams – Rookie receiver Tavon Austin
Hyped as the next coming of Percy Harvin in terms of versatility and big-play ability as a receiver and returner., Austin will need to do very well to match expectations. Former Rams wide receiver Isaac Bruce said: "He's electrifying. I mean, you look at this guy; he can stop on a dime and leave you two nickels."
San Francisco 49ers – Second-year running back LaMichael James
Former do-it-all in Chip Kelly's offense assaults at Oregon, James figures to be more of a key player this season when quarterback Colin Kaepernick breaks out the read-option plays.
Seattle Seahawks – Second-year tight end Sean McGrath
This qualifies as an under-the-radar pick as McGrath was an undrafted rookie free agent from Henderson State. He is expected to have an impact on both the running and passing game, although the listed starter is still Zach Miller.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Third-year defensive end Adrian Clayborn
It seems this former first-round pick is on the verge of a breakthrough almost every year, but injuries have not helped. He had 7.5 sacks and a torn ACL last year. He bulked up in rehab and if he regains quickness could team with Gerald McCoy as a tough twosome up front.
Washington Redskins – Sixth-year wide receiver Josh Morgan
Morgan, a sixth-round pick by the San Francisco 49ers in 2008, led Washington last year with 48 catches but produced just 510 yards while running with screws in the ankle still mending from a break that prematurely ended his 2011 season. The screws have been removed and Morgan is running freely.
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