While 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