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Breakout Candidates in the AFC

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Tua Tagovailoa

Every year players in the NFL step up and become important parts of their respective teams. Most of the time it’s expected, other times it’s a complete surprise. Here are players from every AFC team that has a chance to break out this year (rookies will be considered).

  • BAL: Patrick Queen, LB; JK Dobbins would also be a good pick here. However, Queen is the choice for this list. The reason, Baltimore needs him to step up more than anyone else. Queen did make the PFWA All-Rookie team in 2020, however, he struggled, at times during the season. Ravens need him to step up and become the impact linebacker they drafted him to be. Queen stepping up would do wonders for Baltimore, who expect a lot out of their linebackers.
  • BUF: Ed Oliver, DT; Oliver regressed in his second year, having lower numbers in tackles, QB hits, and sacks. All of that while starting more games for the Bills. However, Oliver still has a lot of talent, which is why the Bills drafted him ninth overall. With the Bills having questions about how their D-line will perform this year, Oliver breaking out will help big time. He has had his moments during his first two years, now can he do it consistently.
  • CIN: Tee Higgins, WR; Yes, Joe Burrow is coming off an ACL injury, and the Bengals drafted Ja’Marr Chase fifth overall. However, Higgins is a talented receiver in his own right. In his rookie year, he had 67 catches for 907 yards. With a healthy Burrow and Chase taking some of the coverage, Higgins could easily go over 1000 yards, maybe even make a pro-bowl.
  • CLE: Jedrick Wills, OT; Wills was transitioning from a college right tackle to an NFL left tackle in 2020. There were ups and downs during his rookie season. He was named the rookie of the week in week ten. He also dealt with injuries and COVID during the season. With another year to learn the offense and get more comfortable at left tackle, Wills could become one of the better tackles in the NFL.
  • DEN: Jerry Jeudy, WR; Jeudy finished his rookie season with 52 catches for 856 yards and three touchdowns. He was thought of as the top receiver in the 2020 NFL Draft. With Courtland Sutton coming off an ACL injury, it may give Jeudy to show what he can do with a full offseason. Don’t be surprised if Jeudy becomes the Broncos’ best offensive player.
  • HOU: Ross Blacklock, NT; To be honest, this one was hard. Looking at the Texans roster, no one stands out as a breakout candidate. Blacklock was the decision mainly because he was the Texans’ top pick in 2020. While last year’s starter Brandon Dunn is still on the team, Blacklock might be too talented to keep off the field. If he becomes a big part of the Texans defense this year that will be a big win.
  • IND: Michael Pittman, WR; TY Hilton is starting to show signs of slowing down, and the Colts need someone to start up as the number one receiver. Pittman might be the guy who steps up for them. He finished his rookie season with 40 catches for 503 yards and a touchdown. With a full offseason to get better, Pittman could become a favorite target of new Quarterback Carson Wentz.
  • JAX: CJ Henderson, CB; I had to stop myself from putting Trevor Lawrence right here. While Lawrence has the talent to become a breakout rookie, Henderson might become a pro-bowler. He won rookie of the weekin his first NFL game. If Henderson can stay healthy and become a complete corner, he’ll be the player that Jacksonville needs.
  • KC: Clyde Edwards-Helaire, RB; The argument could be made that Edwards-Helaire broke out as a rookie. He finished the 2020 season with 803 rushing yards and four touchdowns on 181 carries. However, he could take it to the next level in 2021. Even with Patrick Mahomes at quarterback, Edwards-Helaire has a great chance to rush for 1000 yards and become a Pro-bowler.
  • LVR: Henry Ruggs, WR; The Raiders need the 2020 12thoverall pick to step up in 2021. Nelson Agholor left the team in free agency, and someone needs to replace his impact last year. Ruggs had an uneven rookie season, finishing with 26 catches, 452 yards, and two touchdowns. While the Raiders did bring in other receivers, Ruggs will get the first shot at becoming the number one.
  • LAC:  Kenneth Murray, LB; Murray might have been the best rookie linebacker in 2020. He made the All-Rookie Team and finished with 107 tackles, one sack, and five tackles for loss. Murray should take things to the next level, as having a full offseason can only make him better. A pro-bowl nod could be coming his way in 2021.
  • MIA: Tua Tagovailoa, QB; Tagovailoa had his ups and downs during his rookie season. He won his first three starts as a pro, however, was also benched for Ryan Fitzpatrick at times. Fitzpatrick is now gone, and the Dolphins are now Tagovailoa’s team. The Dolphins added some weapons to help him by signing Will Fuller and drafting his former teammate Jaylen Waddle. Tagovailoa doesn’t have any excuses this year and should show that he is the Dolphins’ future.
  • NE: Isaiah Wynn, OT; Wynn has had trouble staying healthy in his first three years in the NFL. However, the Patriots still picked up his fifth-year option this offseason. Bill Belichick is known for getting the most out of his players. If Wynn can get past the injuries he might become a really good lineman this year. Whether it be at tackle or guard.
  • NYJ: Alijah Vera-Tucker, OG; Denzel Mims, and Mekhi Becton are good choices for the Jets as well. However, Vera-Tucker has pro bowl rookie written all over him. He should step into a starting spot right away and help protect rookie Quarterback Zach Wilson. Vera-Tucker could easily be the best rookie offensive lineman in 2021.
  • PIT: Chase Claypool, WR; Claypool was another 2020 rookie wide receiver that had a very good season. He finished with 62 catches, 873 yards, and nine touchdowns. He also added two more touchdowns on the ground. The Steelers resigned Juju Smith-Schuster and still have Diontae Johnson. However, Claypool should still be a big part of the Steelers passing game and could have 1000 yards in 2021.
  • TEN: Anthony Firkser, TE; Ok this one is an interesting pick. Jeffery Simmons would be the player that most people would say is a breakout candidate for the Titans. However, with the loss of Jonnu Smith in the offseason, someone needs to step up at tight end. Firkser could the guy to do just that. He was a good number two last year, catching 39 passes for 387 yards and a touchdown. If he can fill the void left by Smith leaving, it would help the Titans greatly.

I started watching sports when I was 7 years old and saw my first football game. From that day on I have loved sports, especially football.

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