2022 NFL Preview: Trevor Lawrence headlines top 10 breakout candidates
Last season, Jonathan Taylor was coming off a solid rookie season but wasn't a known star yet. Cooper Kupp was coming off a 974-yard, three-touchdown season. Deebo Samuel hadn't made his mark yet either.
By the end of the season, those three and others had emerged as superstars. Every season we see a group of players make an incredible leap. Here we try to identify the 10 players who could become stars by the end of this season:
New York Giants WR Kadarius Toney
Toney was a first-round pick last season and really showed off in a 189-yard game against there Dallas Cowboys. There are a lot of questions surrounding Toney, most importantly his ability to stay healthy. But if he can stay on the field he has the opportunity to explode. He has fantastic talent, and who else in the Giants' receiving corps is going to take any targets away from him?
Jacksonville Jaguars QB Trevor Lawrence
Uber-prospects don't bust often. There's a difference between questionable first overall picks and a player like Lawrence, who was almost unanimously seen as a future star. Now that the Jacksonville Jaguars have an adult as head coach, Lawrence should be much better. We saw the first signs of that in a great Week 18 performance last season in a win over the Indianapolis Colts. Those draft analysts and evaluators can't all be wrong.
Denver Broncos CB Patrick Surtain II
Surtain already had a good rookie season, but the Denver Broncos' 2021 first-round pick is about to become a Pro Bowler, just like his dad was three times for the Miami Dolphins. Surtain is a smooth athlete who can match up with bigger receivers, and he had everyone at Broncos camp raving about his play. By the end of the season he'll be recognized as one of the NFL's best cornerbacks.
Cleveland Browns TE David Njoku
Njoku has teased his ability but still has just 1,754 yards in five seasons. He also has played above 64 percent of the Cleveland Browns' offensive snaps just once (he played 80 percent his second season and had a career-best 639 yards). Njoku has a new contract worth more than $54 million over four years, which tells you how the Browns view him. He'll get full-time work this season and without a lot of competition for targets among receivers, he could approach 1,000 yards.
Houston Texans EDGE Jonathan Greenard
Greenard was a third-round pick in 2020 and had one sack for the Texans. Then last season he emerged, with eight sacks in 12 games. The Texans need players to build around, and Greenard is someone who can be a foundational piece. He should get to double-digit sacks this season and maybe a Pro Bowl.
Baltimore Ravens WR Rashod Bateman
The Baltimore Ravens' receiving corps is thin. They won't pass it a ton, but when they do Bateman will dominate the receiver targets. Tight end Mark Andrews is still the focal point of the passing game but Bateman, a 2021 first-round pick, will have every chance to catch a ton of passes from Lamar Jackson this season.
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Los Angeles Rams OT Joseph Noteboom
The Los Angeles Rams haven't seemed too worried about losing left tackle Andrew Whitworth to retirement after a great career, and that's because of Noteboom. He has 17 career starts over four seasons but the Rams still signed him to a three-year, $40 million extension. They know what they have in him. As long as Noteboom stays healthy, he'll make a name for himself this season.
Cleveland Browns LB Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah
Owusu-Koramoah fell to the second round in the 2021 draft and most analysts lauded the Browns for grabbing him at a value. Owusu-Koramoah is an explosive athlete and he has talked about getting more comfortable his second season, especially with the mental aspect of the game. JOK was good last season, with 76 tackles over his 14 games (10 starts), and he could really explode in his second season.
San Francisco 49ers QB Trey Lance
Lance didn't have the greatest preseason, and Jimmy Garoppolo is sticking around, but he'll be fine. He has Kyle Shanahan, one of the best offensive minds in football, calling plays. He'll be throwing to Deebo Samuel, Brandon Aiyuk and George Kittle, one of the best trios any quarterback has. The running game will help him out. And he still has the same immense talent that made him the third overall pick of last year's draft. Lance is going to have a big season.
Dallas Cowboys RB Tony Pollard
The only thing missing from Pollard's profile is opportunity. The Dallas Cowboys are stubbornly riding with Ezekiel Elliott, but Jerry Jones dropped hints of a more creative role for Pollard to get him on the field. We'll see, because teams rarely employ two tailbacks at the same time no matter how much they tease it. At some point Pollard should get a shot at full-time work. And he might end up being a top-10 back when it happens.