Breakout Player Recap: Defensive Back

1454029489-NM_19CowboysJet60While defensive back breakout campaigns have become more common over the years, they’re one of the tougher ones to predict. While some can breakout and sustain it for long periods of time, sometimes due to the inconsistency of the position a player can be a one hit wonder. The players I predicted to breakout in 2016 were a mix of cornerbacks and safeties, but like how defensive backs can perform, the results weren’t consistent. What I wrote about these players entering the 2016 season can be found here.

Rodney McLeod, Eagles: After a 2015 where he played well against the run and in coverage, the Eagles signed McLeod to a five year deal which looked to be a nice fit for both sides. McLeod in terms of counting stats had what would be his best season to date in 2016. For the year he had 80 total tackles and three interceptions.

While McLeod picked up where he left off in coverage, there were some struggles against the run. According to Pro Football Focus’ signature stats, McLeod attempted 5.5 tackles for every missed tackle he had against the run. That figure ranked 88th among qualifying safeties. This is something he fared much better in during the 2015 season, so it’s possible the 2016 season was an anomaly here.  On a defense with a ferocious front seven and a young secondary, McLeod figures to play a big role for the Eagles once again in 2017.

Hit or miss: Push

Delvin Breaux, Saints: Breaux wasn’t only a feel good story in 2015, but he was also the Saints best corner on a team that hasn’t exactly been known for defense. While I expected him to make a leap in 2016, numerous injuries didn’t help. A fractured fibula in week one caused Breaux to miss almost two months, and a shoulder injury resulted in the Saints eventually shutting him down in December. Due to that, Breaux only played in six games.

Due to being thrown right into game action after the fibula fracture, Breaux struggled in the action he did see during the year. Unfortunately, 2016 ended up being a lost season but Breaux remains a player to keep an eye on in the Saints secondary.

Hit or miss: Miss

Byron Jones, Cowboys: Thanks in part to his freakish athleticism, Jones was used all over the Cowboys secondary in 2015. That changed in 2016 as he found a home at safety and the results were already positive. Jones’ athleticism translated well into coverage, and he had success against the run as well. For the year, Jones recorded 81 total tackles, forced one fumble and hauled in his first career interception.

Entering 2017, there are questions surrounding the Cowboys secondary as the team looks to take the next step. With a full year at the position under his belt, Jones figures to only improve and should give the team and fans one less aspect to worry about. He may not of received them in 2016, but don’t be surprised if the accolades start heading Jones’ way sooner rather than later.

Hit or miss: Hit

Quinten Rollins, Packers: While he wasn’t a projected starter for the Packers entering 2016, I had Rollins here as I was impressed with how well he played as a rookie despite just one year of college football experience.  Rollins ended up starting ten games in 2016 for the Packers, but wasn’t able to replicate the same success of his rookie campaign. A groin injury that required offseason surgery certainly could of played a role, but teams had a ridiculous success rate when throwing at Rollins in 2016 posting a passer rating of 135.4 when throwing in his direction. Assuming he’s healthier this upcoming year, I’ll once again be keeping an eye on Rollins as the potential is there for him to be an impact player.

Hit or miss: Miss

 

 

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Breakout Player Recap: Linebacker

iWith the various defensive schemes across football, linebackers can breakout in different ways. Some can do it as a classic inside linebacker that racks up tackles. Others can do it as an edge rusher who terrorizes opposing quarterbacks. This group was a mix of the two, and in terms of breaking out in 2016 they had mixed results. What I wrote about these linebackers entering 2016 can be found here.

Jadeveon Clowney, Texans: As I mentioned last season, Clowney hadn’t yet lived up to the billing as a number one overall pick, but he showed flashes that showed it could be only a matter of time. Things came together for him in 2016 and it was worth the wait. Playing in 14 games, Clowney continued to excel against the run and managed to this point a career high with six sacks.

He was also named to his first Pro Bowl, and named as a second team All-Pro. The scary thing with Clowney is what could happen once those quarterback pressures turn into sacks. It could only be a matter of time, and if J.J. Watt is healthy in 2017, that only makes things easier. 2016 will go down as Clowney’s breakout campaign, but in all likelihood, this should only be the beginning.

Hit or miss: Hit

Denzel Perryman, Chargers: When I selected Perryman to breakout in 2016, I noted that he finished his rookie year on a very high note. While still productive, Perryman was unable to build on that momentum. Limited to 12 games most notably due to a hamstring injury, he recorded 71 total tackles along with his first career interception.

How Perryman will fair in coverage is still a question mark we’ll have to wait until 2017 to answer. According to Pro Football Focus, he had a grade of 61.0 in coverage which ranked 53rd out of 75 eligible linebackers. The Chargers defense is an up and coming unit with plenty of young talent, so it will be interesting to see how Perryman performs in the new defensive scheme that Gus Bradley is bringing in.

Hit or miss: Push

Markus Golden, Cardinals: What drew me to Golden as a breakout candidate in 2016 was his ability to rush the passer in the limited snaps he received as a rookie. He saw an expanded role on defense, and didn’t disappoint racking up 12.5 sacks on the season. Against the run, Golden faired pretty well also so he is no one trick pony.

The main thing to watch with Golden in 2016 is similar to what I mentioned with other edge rushers such as Vic Beasley. He converted sacks at a very high rate given his 53 total quarterback pressures, so we’ll have to see if Golden finishing the job at that clip is sustainable. Regardless, through two seasons Golden has surely shown that he can rush the passer and he should be fun to watch off the edge for the foreseeable future.

Hit or miss: Hit

Shaq Thompson, Panthers: After the Panthers defense excelled in 2015, I expected Thompson to become an X-factor of sorts in his second NFL season. This did occur, as the former college safety once again showed he’s more than capable in terms of coverage ability. Despite starting 12 games, Thompson didn’t rack up a ton of counting stats.

Part of this is due to the Panthers defense, as even when starting he played less than 60% of the defensive snaps. For the year he had 54 total tackles, an interception, and two fumble recoveries one of which was a touchdown. Reports earlier this month said Thompson figures to stay on the field more in 2017, so even though some outlets (Pro Football Focus’ grade of 85.0 had Thompson as their 12th best linebacker in 2016) were high on his performance there is still room for growth.

Hit or miss: Push

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Breakout Player Recap: Defensive Linemen

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Jeff Haynes/Associated Press

While some defensive linemen can breakout for their presence against the run, it seems the most common occurrence is due to being able to get to opposing quarterbacks. Some of the names in the group that I mentioned certainly had no problem doing that, and more when called upon in 2016. A few of the players mentioned were named to the Pro Bowl or even All-Pro teams, so if this is the first step, they figure to be discussed among the premier talents at their position for years to come. What I wrote about these players entering 2016 can be found here.

Leonard Williams, Jets: What drew me to predicting Williams’ 2016 breakout was that even though three sacks as a rookie doesn’t jump off the page, he was really putting pressure on opposing quarterbacks. The pressure didn’t stop in 2016, and the sacks increased as he recorded seven on the year and was named to his first Pro Bowl.

Williams excelled against the run in his second season as well. Pro Football Focus gave Williams a grade of 89.0 against the run in 2016 which was fifth among all defensive linemen. Still only 23 entering this season, it’s scary to think that Williams still has room for growth. Jets fans might not have a ton to be excited about entering the 2017 season, but watching Williams wreck havoc should bring some hope.

Hit or miss: Hit

Preston Smith, Redskins: After Smith had a ridiculous stretch to end his rookie year and the Redskins needed pass rush help after Junior Galette tore his Achilles, I thought Smith had the potential to record double digit sacks in an expanded role. Instead, there are just more questions regarding Smith that could be answered in 2017.

In 2015, Smith turned his quarterback pressures into sacks at a very high clip. That wasn’t the case in 2016 as Smith for the year forced a similar amount of total quarterback pressure, but generated three less sacks. At this time, he’s expected to be more of a situational pass rusher looking ahead at the upcoming season. It will just be interesting to see if Smith either figures out a way to generate more pressure, or if he’ll just need to find ways to turn those pressures into sacks at a higher rate.

Hit or miss: Push

Danielle Hunter, Vikings: When I selected Hunter, I mentioned that double digit sack potential was there for whenever he earned the starting role on the Vikings defense. Apparently he didn’t need the role, as Hunter recorded 12.5 sacks playing on less than 60% of the Vikings defensive snaps. He recorded over 50 total quarterback pressures, and maintained a high level of play against the run.

The Vikings have already said Hunter will start in 2017, which should only mean increased playing time. Viewed as a raw prospect coming out of LSU, Hunter has already made drastic leaps in the last two seasons. Factor in that he doesn’t turn 23 until late October and Hunter should be fun to watch for a long time.

Hit or miss: Hit

Vic Beasley, Falcons: While I listed Beasley as a defensive lineman initially, he ended up playing as an outside linebacker for the Falcons in 2016. Regardless, he broke out in a big way leading the league with 15.5 sacks and being named to both his first Pro Bowl and All-Pro team. While Beasley figures to terrorize offensive lines for years with his freakish athleticism, there is a question regarding him that needs to be answered.

Like Preston Smith who was mentioned earlier, Beasley in 2016 turned his total quarterback pressures into sacks at a ridiculous rate which was nearly double the league average (a little over 15%). Essentially, guys like Von Miller or Khalil Mack got to the quarterback more than Beasley but he just made the most out of the opportunities. While his athleticism could be what allows him to maintain the incredible pace, being able to maintain a similar sack total would be a daunting task if he’s unable to increase his total quarterback pressures in 2017. Regardless, Beasley at 25 has time to figure this out and should be giving opposing coordinators fits for years to come.

Hit or miss: Hit

Frank Clark, Seahawks: When predicting Clark to breakout, I thought he would see an expanded role in the Seahawks defense and with the potential he displayed as a rookie, double digit sack potential was there. All of that ended being true, as Clark more than doubled the number of snaps he played as a rookie, and recorded 10 sacks in 15 games for the Seahawks.

While the amount of pressure Clark applied to opposing quarterbacks was impressive, he also faired extremely well against the run. Pro Football Focus gave Clark a grade of 85.0 against the run which was good for 11th among edge rusher in 2016. The Seahawks defense once again should be among the league’s best in 2017, and another big year from Clark certainly wouldn’t hurt the cause.

Hit or miss: Hit

Devin Taylor, Lions: Coming off an impressive 2015 showing, I thought that Taylor could be in for a big 2016 as he would be in a more prominent role. It didn’t help that Ziggy Ansah was injured for much of the year which would’ve made things easier, but Taylor didn’t manage to record more quarterback pressures than he did in the previous season.

For 2016, Taylor recorded 4.5 sacks, but struggled against the run. Pro Football Focus gave Taylor a grade of 41.1 against the run, which ranked 95th out of 104 eligible edge rushers. This offseason, Taylor went on to sign a one year deal with the Giants where should go back to being used in a situational role.

Hit or miss: Miss

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Breakout Player Recap: Tight End

12174883_GLike receivers, breakouts for tight ends have seemingly become more common as the league remains very pass friendly. Despite that, this was not a very good year for me in terms of my projections at the position. Whether it was injuries, the opportunities not taking shape, or the player not making a leap, things didn’t work out. What I wrote about these tight ends can be found here.

Clive Walford, Raiders: When I picked Walford to take his game to the next level, there were reports that he would be a bigger part of the Raiders offense in 2016. Despite starting seven more games and playing over 200 more snaps, Walford’s stats in 2016 were almost identical to his rookie season. Walford’s 52 targets in 2016 were only two more than his rookie season, and he finished the year with 359 yards and three touchdowns. With Jared Cook joining the team in free agency, it’s unlikely Walford will see his passing game role increase in 2017.

Hit or miss: Miss

Coby Fleener, Saints: Considering the role tight ends had within the Saints offense in recent years, Fleener’s signing last offseason looked like it would be a situation he could thrive in. Instead, he ended up showing the same inconsistency we’ve seen up to this point. Fleener had a healthy role in the Saints offense with 80 targets thrown his way, and for the year he hauled in 50 passes for 631 yards and three touchdowns.

While there were some big games during 2016, Fleener mixed that in with seven games of less than 30 receiving yards. Fleener could eventually figure things out or have the year many have expected out of the blue, but now entering year six it looks more like a trend.

Hit or miss: Push

Zach Miller, Bears: Talent was never a question regarding Miller, but durability unfortunately is a major part of the grueling game known as football. After showing some serious flashes late in 2015, Miller was going into 2016 on a high note and with a clear role in the Bears passing attack. He responded by posting career highs with 47 catches for 486 yards and four touchdowns on 64 targets. Unfortunately, Miller’s season came to an end with a broken foot in mid November which brought his year to a close after 10 games.

With the Bears adding Dion Sims in the offseason and drafting Adam Shaheen in the second round this past April, some Bears reporters have said Miller could need a fantastic camp showing to make the final roster. While there is still untapped potential, Miller who turns 33 in October could be running out of chances.

Hit or miss: Push

Crockett Gillmore, Ravens: When I put Gillmore here, I figured he would be the starting tight end after Ben Watson had torn his Achilles, and Dennis Pitta faced health concerns due to his numerous hip injuries. Pitta ended up staying healthy and had a career year in terms of receptions and passes thrown his way, while Gillmore being the one who dealt with numerous injuries. In 2016, Gilmore played in seven games, due to hamstring, thigh, what he later said was a broken back, and needed two shoulder surgeries this offseason which forced him to miss OTA’s.

In the seven games, Gillmore managed to catch eight passes for 71 yards and a touchdown. There is still a lot of uncertainty at tight end for the Ravens entering 2017, so if Gillmore can stay healthy his skill set at 6’6″ 260 pounds certainly makes him a player to watch.

Hit or miss: Miss

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Breakout Player Recap: Wide Receiver

626139082.0With an uptick in passing volume all across the league, breakout receivers have become more common over the years. Despite that, 2016 might of been my worst year in terms of predicting which receivers would take their games to the next level. Whether it was injuries, or just not making a leap to the level I expected, this was just an off year. Despite that, these are all players I’ll be keeping an eye on in 2017 and what I wrote on them entering the 2016 season can be found here.

Donte Moncrief, Colts: After he increased his production in 2015, I thought 2016 would be the year Moncrief put it all together. Between being the primary red zone option on an explosive offense and that team playing in high scoring games, I felt he’d have a shot for 1,000 plus yards and double digit touchdowns. Unfortunately, neither happened as Moncrief was limited to just nine games in 2016.

For the season, Moncrief caught 30 passes for 307 yards and seven touchdowns, so the claims of him being a red zone threat were certainly justified. The nagging injuries did impact his performance as for someone with his skill set, he wasn’t used much in the vertical passing game. Per Pro Football Focus, Moncrief ranked near the bottom of qualifying receivers in 2016 with just 1.04 yards per route run. Still only 24 entering the last year of his rookie deal, Moncrief is a player to closely monitor leading up to the 2017 season as a clean bill of health could lead to big things.

Hit or miss: Push

Stefon Diggs, Vikings: Diggs’ second season was an interesting one as it was similar to his rookie campaign where he started off red hot but saw a dip in production afterwards. While nobody could of foreseen the Teddy Bridgewater injury that occurred after my initial prediction, Diggs showed a rapport with both Shaun Hill and Sam Bradford in the first two games of the season. In those two contests, Diggs racked up 16 catches for 285 yards and a touchdown. He tailed off down the stretch, but part of that could be attributed to the Vikings offensive line.

After week two, Diggs only had three games where he averaged more than ten yards per reception. With it being a rough year for the Vikings offensive line, that obviously could of played a factor in Bradford wanting to get the ball out fast, and letting Diggs try and create in space. For the season Diggs had 84 receptions for 903 yards and three touchdowns. With a full offseason to build a rapport with Bradford, and a running game around him that should only improve, Diggs could have his first 1,000 plus yard season in 2017.

Hit or miss: Push

DeVante Parker, Dolphins: When picking Parker, I mentioned that if the Dolphins decided to fully “unleash” him that the potential was there to breakout in a big way. That didn’t completely happen in 2016, but there was a lot of positive progress. Parker saw 37 more passes thrown his way in 2016 and managed to improve his catch rate on those targets going from 52% as a rookie, to 64.4% in his second season. For the year, Parker caught 56 passes for 744 yards and four touchdowns.

The Dolphins did try throwing to Parker vertically, as nearly 20% of his targets were thrown 20 or more yards downfield per Pro Football Focus. Of the six catchable passes, Parker did manage to haul in five of them for 206 yards and a touchdown. If Parker is to take the next step which the team keeps discussing this offseason, throwing to him vertically would continue to make sense. With a big frame and the ability to highpoint passes and snag them out of the air, it would only be taking advantages of Parker’s strengths. Parker will be appearing again when I project my 2017 breakout players, but for now the team should be happy with a modest improvement in year two.

Hit or miss: Push

Devin Funchess, Panthers: With rave reviews coming into last offseason to go along with Kelvin Benjamin finding his footing as he returned from a torn ACL, I thought Funchess would establish himself as a formidable starter in his second NFL season. Despite playing in 15 games and starting seven, Funchess only hauled in 23 passes for 371 yards and four touchdowns. According to Pro Football Focus, drops were an issue for Funchess. PFF charted him with six drops on the 29 catchable balls thrown his way giving him a drop rate of 20.7% which was third worst among qualifying receivers.

While Cam Newton was battling through shoulder injuries during the season, that obviously doesn’t make up for dropping the ball at that rate. Funchess still has incredible physical gifts, so it will be interesting to see how his development goes as he enters his third NFL season.

Hit or miss: Miss

Marvin Jones, Lions: When predicting Jones to breakout, I figured the Lions would have to replace the 150 throws that went to Calvin Johnson and expected Jones to see around 110 of those targets. In 15 games, Jones saw 103 passes thrown his way so the projections were in line there. Jones did set a career best to this point of 930 yards and averaging 16.9 yards a catch in 2016. However, that total is a bit disappointing after seeing how Jones started the season.

In the first three games of his Lions tenure, Jones hauled in 18 passes for 408 yards and two touchdowns. His week three game against the Packers aided that as in that contest he had six catches, 205 yards and two touchdowns alone. Through the 12 following games he played, Jones had only three games where he accumulated 70 or more yards. Another offseason getting accumulated with Matthew Stafford should only Jones’ situation, and the Lions are probably hoping those first three games are a more accurate representation of what he can bring the offense.

Hit or miss: Push

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Breakout Player Recap: Running Back

2b6af7c0-a81c-11e6-8c0e-b5df78164086_david-johnsonRunning back can be an interesting position to project breakouts for as so much of it comes down to opportunity. All five players I picked entering 2016 figured to have that, but thanks to injuries and other factors only two truly capitalized. Those two who did make the most of it figure to be mentioned with the premier running backs in the league for the foreseeable future. The others may have had their big opportunity come and go in 2016, but they’re all young enough that they’d be worth keeping an eye on as their careers progress. What I wrote about these backs entering 2016 can be found here.

David Johnson, Cardinals: Towards the end of 2015 Johnson went on an incredible run, but there have been times where impressive stretches by rookie running backs don’t translate to the following year. That certainly wasn’t the case with Johnson. In 2016, Johnson led the league in all purpose yards with a whopping 2,118 to go along with 20 total touchdowns. The Cardinals were apparently hesitant to compare Johnson to him in preseason, but he turned in a year that resembles something Marshall Faulk could do.

As a receiver alone Johnson was moved all around the field and caught 80 passes for 879 yards and four touchdowns. Some wideouts would be happy with that yearly production. In the running game, Johnson obviously stood out with 1,239 yards and 16 touchdowns while also being named a first team All-Pro. With the ability to create as a runner and at a high level as a receiver, the case could be made Johnson is the prototypical back for today’s NFL. 2016 should be only the first of many more exciting years to come.

Hit or miss: Hit

Carlos Hyde, 49ers: After being mentioned as a possible breakout candidate for a few years now, Hyde finally had a season that we’ve been waiting for. Playing in 13 games (he tore his MCL in week 16), Hyde ran for 988 yards and six touchdowns on 217 carries. He was also used more as a receiver catching a career best 27 passes even though he averaged just six yards a reception. The main thing working against Hyde in 2016 was the 49ers game script.

As we all know, the 49ers were not a very good football team in 2016 which resulted in them facing early deficits. Due to this, Hyde could of been having games where he was averaging 5 or so yards a carry, but the team had to go away from the run. With a new head coach in Kyle Shanahan, some have questioned if Hyde will be the starter heading into 2017. The 49ers drafted Joe Williams in the fourth round and went out and signed Tim Hightower in free agency. Regardless, Hyde gave us a glimpse of what he can be capable of. Durability is a concern for many with Hyde though as he has now missed 14 games in three seasons.

Hit or miss: Push

Jay Ajayi, Dolphins: My biggest fear with selecting Ajayi to breakout last year was the Dolphins once again being enamored with a former star at the end of his career. It didn’t get off to a great start as Ajayi was told not to travel with the team in week one to Seattle after expressing frustration due to Arian Foster being named the starter over him. The reason I stuck with predicting Ajayi was I figured Adam Gase had enough common sense to see what the younger back was capable of producing leading to an end result of the prediction being justified.

Despite starting just 12 games in 2016, Ajayi made his impact known finishing fourth in rushing with 1,272 yards (4.9 yards a carry) and eight touchdowns. Foster even retired midseason opening things up for Ajayi after the Boise State product had two straight 200 yards games and added a third later in the year. One area where Ajayi excelled was creating yards after contact. Per Pro Football Focus, Ajayi was second amongst all backs in 2016 with 900 yards after initial contact for an average of 3.5 yards per carry. Now coming into the year as the Dolphins clear feature back, it wouldn’t be surprising if Ajayi built on those numbers in 2017.

Hit or miss: Hit

Jeremy Langford, Bears: While Langford’s yards per carry stats weren’t super inspiring in his rookie season, one thing that had me interested in him was the volume of touches that figured to be there. For that reason, I wrote that 1,300 yards and double digit touchdowns wasn’t out of the question in 2016. While I was right about a Bears running back from a Big 10 school rushing for over 1,300 yards it wasn’t Langford but rather Jordan Howard who burst onto the scene in his rookie season.

Langford started the Bears first three games and was on his way to having a nice performance in week three until he suffered a high ankle sprain and was forced to miss the next four games. In that time, Howard took the opportunity given to him and didn’t look back. In the remaining nine games Langford played, he saw less than 50 total touches. For the season, he had 62 carries for 200 yards (3.23 yards per carry) and four touchdowns while also chipping in 19 receptions. While he could be worth keeping as a handcuff for fantasy football purposes with Howard in 2017, Langford going from starting back to compliment in the span of a four week injury is yet another reminder of how cutthroat the league can be.

Hit or miss: Miss

Duke Johnson, Browns: When I put Johnson here, I did so assuming Hue Jackson would use him similar to how Giovani Bernard had been used with the Bengals the past few years. Johnson contributed as a pass catcher, but partially due to the Browns trailing constantly, the touches in the run game weren’t there.  For the season, Johnson had 126 total touches for 872 yards and a touchdown. He averaged nearly five yards an attempt on the ground, and emerged as an up and coming pass catching back.

With the Browns figuring to be more competitive this year along with additions to the offensive line, Johnson should see more carries in 2017 even if Isaiah Crowell continues to see the bulk of them.

Hit or miss: Miss

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Breakout Player Recap: Quarterback

nfl-week-15-picks-schedule-jameis-winston-marcus-mariotaWith training camp rapidly approaching, this seemed like a good time to recap the players I projected to breakout in 2016. Some predictions worked out better than others, but regardless it is a fun yearly exercise to partake in. I’ll be starting with quarterback where I only picked two players to take their games to the next level in 2016. What I wrote about those quarterbacks at the time can be found here.

Jameis Winston, Buccaneers: Entering 2016, I wrote that Winston had weapons at his disposal, and the Buccaneers figured to be in the playoff mix late in the year with the roster they had assembled. The Buccaneers were in the playoff mix late in the season as their three win increase in 2016 led to a 9-7 finish, which was the first winning season the franchise has had since 2010. Winston was also able to establish some of the weapons I had mentioned this past year as Mike Evans showed he should be a top tier wideout  for years to come, and Cameron Brate at tight end hauled in eight touchdowns to go along with 660 yards. The big question with Winston now is his turnovers.

While his completion percentage rose from his rookie campaign, Winston threw more interceptions in 2016. His 18 thrown were second amongst all quarterbacks. As someone who plays with more of a “gunslinger mentality”, turnovers could always be questioned with Winston in an era where teams seem to be throwing shorter and are more cautious with the ball. Good news for Winston is that help is on the way in terms of weapons who cater to his skill set. DeSean Jackson, who has been a premier deep threat for almost a decade, signed with the Buccaneers this offseason. On top of that, they added two pass catchers in the draft with tight end O.J. Howard in the first round, and the talented receiver Chris Godwin out of Penn State in the third. The Buccaneers are already a trendy pick to make the playoffs in 2017, but the growth of Winston between his second to third year will make the difference.

Hit or miss: Push

Marcus Mariota, Titans: At the end of my Mariota write-up, I mentioned it wouldn’t be surprising if the Titans more than doubled their 2015 win total and where considered one of the league’s up and coming teams entering 2017. Both those things happened, and the Titans actually tripled their 2015 total by going 9-7. Heck, if Mariota didn’t break his leg in the middle of their week 16 game against the Jaguars, there’s a chance the team would’ve been playing for a playoff spot the following week.

Due to playing in 12 games his rookie year, Mariota saw increases in all major categories for 2016. Not only was he more efficient in terms of stats such as adjusted yards per attempt, but he threw one less interception despite throwing 81 more passes, and threw for touchdowns at an above average rate with 26 on 451 pass attempts. Despite the strong stats, Mariota did have some outings this past year that showed there was room to grow. Like Winston, Mariota will have a stronger supporting cast in 2017. Along with signing Eric Decker, the Titans also drafted three pass catchers in Corey Davis, Taywan Taylor and Jonnu Smith this past April. While 2016 may not of been a defining season, I’m chalking this up as a breakout campaign as there were more than enough positives to believe that Mariota will help the Titans take the next step in 2017.

Hit or miss: Hit

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