As teams continue to throw more, receivers breaking out has become a very frequent occurrence and it comes in many different varieties. Normally breakout seasons are like those posted by Mike Wallace, Dwayne Bowe, Hakeem Nicks and Stevie Johnson last year. However, sometimes it could be someone like Brandon Lloyd who led the league in receiving and went on to make the Pro Bowl in his eighth year. Here are some receivers who could take their games to the next level this upcoming season.
Dez Bryant, Cowboys: Before a fractured fibula ended his rookie season, Bryant was really starting to come into his own. In 12 games he had 561 yards and six touchdowns with most of those stats being recorded with Jon Kitna at quarterback. With the release of Roy Williams, Bryant will be starting opposite Miles Austin and while character is a concern, he has been saying and doing all of the right things in camp so far. With his all around talent and strong supporting cast, it won’t be long until Bryant’s name is mentioned when discussing the league’s elite receivers.
Mario Manningham, Giants: Manningham put up very impressive numbers in his third season and should continue to build on that in his forth. With Steve Smith signing with the Eagles, the Giants Manningham will most likely start opposite Hakeem Nicks. Manningham is one of the league’s most underrated deep threats so look for him to record his first career 1000 yard season.
Percy Harvin, Vikings: Harvin won offensive rookie of the year in 2009 but all signs are pointing towards 2011 being his true breakout season. He is finally migrane free which was an issue that bothered him his first two seasons and the reports from training camp have been excellent. With the departure of Sidney Rice, Harvin will now be the Vikings number one receiver and Donovan McNabb has had success with a very similar player in DeSean Jackson. It wouldn’t be surprising if he somehow made the Pro Bowl as a receiver this year.
Jacoby Ford, Raiders: In typical Raiders fashion, Ford is ridiculously fast and showed it by recording three kick return touchdowns in his rookie season. This was also while showing potential as a receiver averaging almost 19 yards a catch and recording two touchdowns.
Ford should be much more involved in the passing game this season as Jason Campbell’s favorite target Zach Miller left in free agency. He is still developing as a receiver so a productive 2011 will only assume bigger and better things in the future.
Dezmon Briscoe, Buccaneers: Due to Arrelious Benn recovering from a torn ACL, Briscoe has received first teams reps in camp and has made the most of them so far. In the one game where he got extended playing time, he made the most of it recording four catches for 65 yards and a touchdown. Josh Freeman also has a rapport with Briscoe as he was looking for him early and often in their first preseason game. He could be a very good possession receiver who could go deep when needed for a Buccaneers offense on the rise.
Jerome Simpson, Bengals: Simpson entered the league in 2008 as a very raw project out of Coastal Carolina and was notably selected ahead of DeSean Jackson. While Jackson has turned into one of the league’s elite deep threats, Simpson has the chance in 2011 to show the league what he is fully capable of. He finished off his third year on a very high note starting the Bengals last two games. In those games he accumulated 18 catches for 247 yards and three touchdowns.
A young quarterback such as Andy Dalton might hurt Simpson’s production at first but as A.J. Green develops he should see single coverage early and often. Plus, the Bengals should be playing from behind a lot this year which can’t hurt.
Emmanuel Sanders, Steelers: Sanders started to gain Ben Roethlisberger’s trust late in his rookie season as he was very productive as the team’s third receiver down the stretch. A broken foot suffered in the Super Bowl has prevented him from really participating in training camp but Sanders should build on what was a very good rookie season. It wouldn’t be surprising if he surpasses the declining Hines Ward on the Steelers depth chart by year’s end.
Julio Jones, Falcons: This is the fourth year that I have made my breakout predictions and going into the year I have never used a rookie for various reasons. That is a testament to how well I feel Jones will do in his rookie season in Atlanta. The Falcons are going to open up the passing game this season and trading up to select Jones should certainly do that.
Unlike many receivers selected in the top ten, Jones now comes in playing with one of the league’s top young quarterbacks in Matt Ryan and will start opposite an elite receiver in Roddy White. He has been receiving rave reviews in camp and apart from all the physical tools is also a very good blocker. The Falcons lack of threats in the passing game hurt them in the playoffs last year but Jones should change that.