With a pass oriented league, receiver breakouts are now a very common occurrence. Some can come from obscurity (Victor Cruz) while others can be high draft picks who were given a starting job (Jordy Nelson). There are a lot of receivers that have breakout potential this year and it was very tough narrowing it down to this point.
Torrey Smith, Ravens: Smith burst onto the scene last year as a deep threat the Ravens have been lacking for quite some time. This offseason he worked on becoming a more complete receiver and the results have already been visible in preseason action. With the Ravens giving Joe Flacco more opportunities to air it out, Smith should be in for a very big year.
Darrius Heyward-Bey, Raiders: A player who was a common target in jokes amongst fans the first two years of his career, Heyward-Bey is turning into a very solid player. Last year he almost had a 1,000 yard season and it looked like he was finally putting his great skill set to use. With Jacoby Ford and Denarius Moore (who I’m also very high on) hurt, Heyward-Bey is currently the clear number one option for the Raiders. Look for him to build off last year’s success.
Titus Young, Lions: Young had a very nice rookie campaign in the Lions high scoring attack. However, all indications this offseason are that he’s looked unstoppable in practice. With Calvin Johnson drawing double and sometimes triple coverage, Young should have plenty of single coverage to take advantage of. He should take Nate Burleson’s role as the number two receiver this year and a 1,000 yard season is definitely in play.
Brandon LaFell, Panthers: LaFell only started six games last year but when he got his chances he made the most of them. On the year he averaged 17 yards a catch and at 6’2 210 he’s a big receiver opposite Steve Smith. The Panthers are going to air it out this year and with LaFell establishing himself as the number two receiver, he should be in for a very nice year.
Greg Little, Browns: Little’s rookie season was plagued by drops and inconsistent quarterback play but despite that it was a nice year. Little is more of a possession receiver but at 6’2 220 is a load to bring down and does lots of damage after the catch. With rookie Brandon Weeden starting at quarterback, Little should be targeted early and often in 2012.
Leonard Hankerson, Redskins: Hankerson played in only four games his rookie season in 2011 but when he did play the talent was apparent. At 6’2 211 he has the speed to beat corners deep and the size to go over the middle. With Robert Griffin III throwing him the ball, he should see lots of opportunities to do both. This may not be the year for his true breakout but big things are in Hankerson’s future.
Lestar Jean, Texans: Jean was the talk of Texans training camp last year before a preseason injury ended his season. He continued to impress this preseason and has looked very impressive when he has played. Jean should start the year as the Texans third receiver but with Andre Johnson’s durability issues, the potential for more is definitely there.
Note: One of the more popular names that comes up for breakout receivers is Julio Jones of the Falcons. While I feel a rookie season with almost 1,000 yards averaging 18 yards a catch qualifies as a breakout, many don’t. Regardless, I thought it was worth mentioning that I feel Jones is in for a monster year. When he was on the field, his game breaking ability was apparent and he should be the focal point of the Falcons offense this season. A 1,300 yard, double digit touchdown season is absolutely in play with him.