Rookies don’t always reach their full potential in their first season in the league; that role belongs to second- and third-year players, who after finally getting comfortable with their playbooks, teammates and surroundings, can finally break out.
This year, on the offensive side of the ball, there is no shortage of such candidates. Interestingly enough, a lot of running backs have a chance to have great seasons, perhaps it’s the new wave of talent at the position. In addition, some wide receivers and tight ends have similar opportunities.
Here are the top 10 offensive players who could break out in 2014:
Mark Ingram is penciled in as the No. 1 running back for New Orleans. Notice the word “penciled.”
Robinson has been more impressive with a lesser workload than the former first-round pick has, and in the Saints’ timeshare backfield, Robinson’s skills should allow him to eventually surpass Ingram as the first- and second-down back.
2. Gio Bernard
Hue Jackson is now at the helm of Cincinnati’s offense, meaning Bernard’s stock is trending upwards. Bernard was a playmaker when he touched the rock as a rookie last year, and Jackson will look to get Bernard more opportunities where he can succeed this season.
3. Zac Stacy
Stacy was a monster down the stretch of the season, and despite whispers Tre Mason will push him for carries, Stacy is the guy.
4. Montee Ball
A very well-hyped player this offseason, Ball is taking over lead back duties for the now departed Knowshon Moreno. Ball isn’t the pass-catching threat his predecessor was, but he is a strong blocker and a better downhill runner.
Peyton Manning doesn’t allow opposing defenses to overload the box, so expect Ball to take advantage on a very high-octane Denver offense.
Randle came on last season for the struggling Giants offense, and has again been a bright spot this offseason.
6. Kenny Stills
Stills is a lock to be the Saints’ No. 2 receiver and is one injury away from vaulting to the top of Drew Brees‘ pecking order.
7. Tavon Austin
Can the Rams find a way to put Austin in position to succeed?
Austin emerged late in 2013 on returns and big plays, and he’ll need to develop more consistency in 2014 to salvage Sam Bradford‘s job. A top-10 pick in last year’s draft, this should ultimately be a big first step toward becoming the weapon we all expect him to be.
8. Jordan Matthews
Matthews is a trendy pick, as he’s been one of the standouts at Eagles camp this summer. Philly lacks a true No. 1 wide receiver, and with DeSean Jackson and Jason Avant out of the picture, Matthews has a chance to have a real impact right off the bat.
9. Zach Ertz
Similar to Matthews, Ertz has been one of the talks of the Eagles this offseason. The tight end may emerge as Philly’s third-best receiving option, and Chip Kelly will find a way to get someone of his size and athleticism involved.
This has been a popular selection, especially given the looming contract issue with Marshawn Lynch. Many scouts view Michael as a feature back, and if the Seahawks do not intend to issue Lynch a new deal, perhaps he is the back of the future. That means he’ll have more opportunities in what the coaches suggest will be a running back by committee in 2014.