With the term varying based on the defensive scheme, linebacker can be an interesting group of players to project breakouts from. Some years there can be a player who develops into a double digit sack player rushing an outside linebacker. In others, there can be one who is more of your traditional middle linebacker that bursts onto the scene. The track results of who I picked to breakout in 2014 were mixed. But it did include one player who figures to be a star for years to come. What I wrote about these players entering last season can be found here.
Jamie Collins, Patriots: Collins’ first full season as a starter really couldn’t have gone a whole lot better. His ridiculous skillset was on full display as he recorded 116 total tackles, four sacks, two interceptions, forced four fumbles and most importantly, a Super Bowl ring. A former college defensive back, Collins is still just scratching the surface as he enters his third year. Get used to hearing his name as he’s going to be the face of the Patriots defense for a long time.
Hit or miss: Hit
Jason Worilds, Steelers: Seeing how Worilds had grown as a pass rusher each year since coming into the league, I figured 2014 would be the year he puts it all together. While he didn’t get double digit sacks like I predicted, 7.5 sacks is nothing to scoff at. With pass rushers always in demand, many expected Worilds to command his fair share of interest in free agency. Despite that, he made the stunning announcement to retire at age 27.
Worilds was far from the only player who surprisingly retired this offseason, but financially he might have had the most to lose in terms of the immediate future. Regardless, nobody should be judging him for his personal decision, and stepping away to work with a cause you believe in such as religion in his case is always admirable. Still young , there is a chance Worilds could change his mind, but it seems more likely that players are just continuously becoming more aware of the long term physical tolls from playing professional football.
Hit or miss: Push
Sio Moore, Raiders: One of the Raiders bright spots in 2013, Moore became a starter in his second season with mixed results. The counting statistics are solid as he recorded 89 tackles, three sacks and forced a fumble in 11 games before going on injured reserve. Advanced stats tell a different story though as Moore graded out negatively on the season according to Pro Football Focus. Like any young player, one of the problems here was consistency on a week to week basis. It is worth noting that Moore did show improvement as the year went on, and still showed flashes of what made him a promising player in the first place.
While his season ending hip injury did require surgery, Moore figures to be ready as training camp approaches. He figures to reclaim his role as a starter once again in 2015.
Hit or miss: Push
Bjoern Werner, Colts: When I pegged Werner to breakout, I mainly figured he’d have a chance to show his pass rushing ability with Robert Mathis at the time being suspended (and later suffering a season ending injury). On that account the 2013 first round pick certainly struggled. Werner initially showed promise recording four sacks in the first seven games of the season, but didn’t record another one the rest of year. Things only got worse as he was inactive for the majority of the Colts playoff run. For what it’s worth, Ryan Grigson the Colts general manager said at the end of the year Werner dealt with knee and shoulder injuries.
Unfortunately the NFL is a cut-throat business and players don’t receive benefit of the doubt playing through injuries. Heading into 2015, Werner figures to be a reserve backing up Erick Walden.
Hit or miss: Miss
Emmanuel Lamur, Bengals: A former college safety, Lamur showed promise in 2012 but due to injury wiping out 2013, didn’t get his first real chance until this past season. The coverage instincts showed as he deflected seven passes and recorded two interceptions, but he is still very raw as this was only his second year playing linebacker between college and the pros. While not everyone has completely bought into advanced metrics, players who excel and those who struggle are usually rated accordingly.
Unfortunately for Lamur, he was grouped with the players who struggled. According to Pro Football Focus, Lamur graded 39th out of 40 qualifying 4-3 outside linebackers this past season. Yes, the ranking is discouraging but chances are the players ahead of him have spent a little more than two years between college and the NFL playing in that position. Lamur figures to enter the year for the Bengals as a starter with the chance to play a key role for one of the league’s more underrated defenses.
Hit or miss: Miss