Free Peak Inside GBK: Picking Impact Players for 2017

Gordon Larson, GBK Sr. Writer
Go Black Knights

Picking players who expect to play starring roles or have a breakout season is an annual exercise for many sports fans, and recently our readers have chimed in with their breakout picks for the coming season. In future articles, we will be identifying our choices for Breakout Players, Rising Stars, and Role Players for the coming season, but in preparation for that, we’d like to clarify what we define as a breakout season and then looking at the breakout seasons of a few past Army players as examples.

What Does it Mean To Have A Breakout

We reviewed several articles discussing breakout seasons in football and basketball at college and pro level, and it’s clear that there are few hard and fast rules for labeling a season as a breakout; so let’s start with looking at a few dictionary definitions of “breakout.” The term is not exclusive to sports, and is widely used in the arts and entertainment industry as well.

Oxford Dictionary: suddenly and extremely popular or successful: as in a breakout movie

Merriam Webster: being or relating to a sudden or smashing success especially in comparison to previous efforts a breakout book.

The Free Dictionary: Characterized by a sudden significant improvement or increase in popularity: a ballplayer having a breakout season; a band with a breakout album.

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In selecting eligible breakout candidates in the NBA, CBS Sports adopted some ground rules that we think captured the spirit of the above definitions. They identified players who they felt “have showed flashes in the past year or two, but now's the time for their production and playing time to take a big jump.” In order to be considered the player had to meet certain qualifications. They could not be a first year player (freshman or transfer), and they could not have performed above a minimum threshold in specified statistical categories in previous seasons. Since they were talking about NBA basketball players they eliminated anyone who had previously averaged 10 points per game, had 6.0 rebounds per game or played more than 30 minutes per game.

While those specific basketball criteria cannot be applied to our selection process, we use similar criteria in deciding who is eligible to be considered for our breakout selections. Generally speaking, we will not consider players who were established regular starters (e.g. 10+ starts in any previous season) or players who finished at or near the top of any individual statistical category to include Rushing, Receiving, Tackles, TFLs, Sacks, Interceptions, etc. We consider any player who is near the top of any of those statistical areas as beyond the breakout point.

Some Past Examples of Breakout Seasons

It’s not always easy to pinpoint when a player experiences his breakout. Trent Steelman, for example, started at quarterback in the first game of his plebe year; so he experienced virtual instant success. The same could be said of Jared Hassin, although he had to sit out his year plebe year due to transfer rules. Neither of those players would have met the qualifications for a breakout under the CBS Sports rules eliminating first year players from consideration; so one could say that they really never had a breakout season. They started out successful.

Probably the best recent example of a true breakout season was Collin Mooney in 2008. Mooney went from understudy to Mike Viti at fullback in 2006 and 2007 with just 22 rushing yards in 6 carries to setting the all-time single season rushing record at Army in his senior season. In part, his instant success was due, in part, to the reintroduction of the triple option offense at Army West Point, but his prior success was limited due to playing backup to Viti.


Linebacker Nate Combs was another late bloomer, who didn’t even appear in the defensive statistics as a yearling in 2010 but then jumped to 7th in total tackles in 2011 and continued on to 5th in total tackles his senior year. His rise to success was both sudden and dramatic.

More recently, linebacker Jeremy Timpf had a classic breakout season in 2014 when he went from seeing no varsity action as a plebe to starting all 12 games, leading the team in tackles, and being selected team captain the following year.

Did fullback Larry Dixon have a breakout season, or was he more or less and instant success like Trent Steelman or Jared Hassin? We might get a few different opinions on that, but it seems to us that he gained near immediate success in his plebe year. He shared the starting role with Hassin and finished 4th in rushing with 542 yards in 2011. He didn’t break the thousand yard mark until 2014, when Monken arrived, but by that point he fit better into our Rising Star category.

Running back Raymond Maples provides a better example of a true breakout season. He experienced modest success as a plebe in 2010 with 47 carries for 208 yards and a 4.43 average, but the following year he led all Army rushers with 146 carries for 1066 yards and a 7.3 average. He continued his success in his junior season with another thousand-yard year, but his breakout season was in 2011.

Running back Terry Baggett assumed Maples place in 2013, when Maples was sidelined, and he turned it into his own breakout season with 1113 yards rushing that included an all-time single game rushing record. Baggett’s case is interesting in that he showed early signs of talent as a plebe and yearling but was sidelined with injuries early in both of those seasons. He appeared in 3 games as a plebe with 53 yards rushing in 10 attempts before he broke a toe, and then started the first two games of 2012 and had 1 hundred-yard game before he was sidelined for the season. One of the more typical situations for experiencing a breakout is bouncing back from an injury that has sidelined a player early in his career.

Rising Stars, and Role Players

With more than 100 players on the roster and a relatively small percentage of those being returning starters, almost the entire spring roster meets our eligibility requirements to become a breakout player, while several others are beyond their breakout point and poised to rise to star level. In picking Rising Stars we’re looking more often at players who have already established themselves but moving into a higher level of performance that will have the biggest impact on producing Wins.

A third group we will be identifying is Role Players, a category that includes key reserves and other players who we believe will play key roles in the success of the season while remaining out of the limelight more often enjoyed by the rising stars.

Coming up on GBK

The annual Black and Gold game provided a stage for identifying players with breakout potential. The fact that Monken chose to rest his more experienced players made that even a better opportunity, since most of the players left on the field are still looking to experience their breakout season. We’ll be making our choices for breakout players and also identifying Role Players and Rising Star.

We welcome comments from our readers, and recognize that there are no hard and fast rules for identifying players in one category or another. We also realize that there are players who could fit in more than one category.

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