We’ve reached the time of year where there are plenty of glowing reports leading to people to start thinking of what players could breakout this upcoming season. With some time to spare before training camps, this would be a good time to look back at some of the players who I projected to breakout in 2014. For quarterback in particular this past season, the crystal ball might have been broken. What I wrote about these players entering the 2014 season can be found here.
E.J. Manuel, Bills: When I mentioned that the Bills had a playoff ready roster in 2014 and it came down to Manuel, I wasn’t too far off. But around early September is when I realized that Manuel’s chance at a breakout weren’t what I thought they were. That was when we word broke infamous spat between “Saint Doug” Marrone and the Bills front office over the team bringing in Kyle Orton who at the time was contemplating retirement. Orton (who is now retired) was a more than capable backup and wouldn’t embarrass a team if they had to start him for a few weeks, but when you pull the plug on your first round pick from the year prior for him, it’s a bad sign. Manuel in his four starts completed less than 60 percent of his passes for 838 yards five touchdowns and three interceptions. With Sammy Watkins (who the Bills paid a huge price to trade up for) at his disposal, Manuel was supposed to take a leap as he now had a go to receiver. Instead, Watkins only went over 31 yards once (an 8 catch 117 yard performance against the Dolphins) in Manuel’s starts.
With a new coach in Rex Ryan, the Bills have made it evident they will establish the “ground and pound” mentality with LeSean McCoy and Fred Jackson which will take pressure off Manuel. Also adding offensive coordinator Greg Roman could mean Manuel’s athleticism is utilized with some zone reads (like those he did with Colin Kaepernick in San Francisco). In terms of the passing game, the addition of tight end Charles Clay should only help as he has proven to be very effective in the short to intermediate routes that Manuel has been throwing the past few years. Entering training camp, Manuel will be one third of a quarterback competition featuring Matt Cassel and Tyrod Taylor. If he does win the starting job, there is a chance that 2015 will be a “make or break” season as he tries to win over a new coaching staff.
Hit or miss: Miss
Geno Smith, Jets: One thing I mentioned about Smith heading into last year was that he seemed to have made growth in terms of ball security. That held up throughout the season as Smith in 14 games played threw 13 interceptions compared to the 21 he threw in 2013. His completion percentage also went up four points from his rookie campaign as it hovered around 60 percent. Now, one of the main things holding Smith back is the common young quarterback inconsistency. The only difference with Smith is his highs and lows are actually as extreme as you can get. In an October home start against the Bills, Smith got benched but not before going two of eight for 25 yards and three interceptions. That would equate to a passer rating of zero (which is pretty hard to achieve). But then in the season finale, Smith completed 80 percent of his passes for 358 yards, three touchdowns, no turnovers and a perfect passer rating of 158.3. In December as a whole, Smith ended up with a passer rating of 97.9 which is now two years in a row where he has played his best ball in the season’s final month.
The good news for Smith is entering 2015 he has his most talented supporting cast to date. Brandon Marshall was acquired to start alongside Eric Decker which gives him two legitimate weapons on the outside (which is something Smith has never had). Jeremy Kerley will now get to lineup in the slot where he will be more effective and Jace Amaro should show improvement in his second season. While offensive coordinator Chan Gailey’s creativity should only help Smith, it could mean he is on a shorter leash. The team also signed Gailey pupil Ryan Fitzpatrick this offseason and with a defense ready to win, it wouldn’t be surprising if the leash for Smith is short despite this being the first time he has really been given the chance to succeed.
Hit or miss: Miss
Mike Glennon, Buccaneers: If there is anything I nailed in this prediction it was that the Buccaneers were buying high on Josh McCown and he wasn’t the answer. On the other hand, I did say the Bucs could become a darkhorse playoff candidate when Glennon got a chance under center which was pretty off base as the team obviously ended up with the first pick and drafted Jameis Winston. Despite that, Glennon didn’t embarrass himself in the games he did play. While the completion percentage of 57.6 is lower than you’d like, Glennon had 1,417 yards, 10 touchdowns and six interceptions in six appearances (five of which were starts). One of those starts included a comeback win in Heinz Field against the Steelers which was one of the bigger regular season upsets of 2014. In what may be a surprise to some, Glennon actually fared better than some very highly touted young quarterbacks when it came to advanced statistics.
In the Football Outsiders stat DYAR, which compares a player’s performance to replacement level talent, Glennon outperformed players such as Colin Kaepernick, Cam Newton, Teddy Bridgewater and Derek Carr. In terms of their DVOA statistic which would be on a per play basis, Glennon scored better than all the previously mentioned quarterbacks along with Andy Dalton. In a league with plenty of quarterback hungry teams, Glennon so far has shown signs that he could at least tread water as a starter, which is better than some teams can say about their current options. Entering the third year of a rookie contract where it’s clear he won’t get reps unless Winston goes down, a team would be smart to try and buy low on Glennon while the window is open.
Hit or miss: Push