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Arizona Cardinals

Breakout Candidates in the NFC

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kyle pitts

Time to talk about breakout candidates in the NFC. Just like for the AFC, rookies will be included.

  • ARI: Isaiah Simmons, LB; Simmons rookie season was a little uneven as he was trying to figure out where he’d best fit in the NFL. He is an ultra-talented player that can play multiple positions on defense. The Cardinals drafted him as a linebacker hoping that he can become a playmaker there for years to come. With a full offseason and the drafting of Zaven Collins, Simmons could be in for a second-year breakout.
  • ATL: Kyle Pitts, TE; Julio Jones was traded to the Tennessee Titans, and someone has to help fill that role. While Calvin Ridley will have a lot of passes thrown his way, Pitts has the making of a breakout rookie. He was drafted fourth overall to give Matt Ryan a dynamic tight end. Even with Hayden Hurst having a solid season last year, the Falcons declined his fifth-year option. Making the message clear that they want big things out of Pitts.
  • CAR: Brian Burns, DE; Burns has had 7.5 and nine sacks in his first two seasons in the league. Now can he take the next step and get into the double digits? The Panthers spent a first-round pick on Burns, and so far he’s lived up to the hype. A pro-bowl season this year could be within his grasp.
  • CHI: Darnell Mooney, WR; The tough part was choosing between Mooney or follow receiver Anthony Miller. Mooney gets the Bears’ spot because of how good he was as a rookie. He finished 2021 with 61 catches for 631 yards and four touchdowns. Allen Robinson is back as the number one receiver for the Bears. However, if Mooney continues his play from his rookie season, he and Robinson will form a nice duo.
  • DAL: Trevon Diggs, CB; Diggs had a rookie season that showed off his talent but had some struggles. He was one of the Cowboys’ best players in the secondary last year. However, he also dealt with some injuries during the season. If Diggs can stay on the field this year, he’ll be a problem to deal with for opposing wide receivers.
  • DET: Deandre Swift, RB; The Lions haven’t had a 1000-yard rusher since 2013 with Reggie Bush. Swift might be the player that finally breaks that streak. As a rookie, he rushed for 521 yards and eight touchdowns on 114 carries. With Jared Goff now the quarterback for the Lions, the running game must help take pressure off of him. Swift will get more opportunities this year, which hopefully will lead to better numbers
  • GB: Rashan Gary, OLB; The toughest part about picking the Packers breakout candidate is that almost no one sticks out. Players have either already broken out ( Darnell Savage, Robert Tonyan) or are question marks (Eric Strokes). Gary was the one that did stand out as the Packer player that could be in for a breakout. His tackles, sacks, and tackles for loss went up in 2020. Preston Smith and Za’Darius Smith are still on the team. However, Preston’s sacks fell from 12 in 2019 to four in 2020 and so did his tackles for loss from 11 to seven. If Preston struggles again, the Packers might use Gary more often which will give him more opportunities to make plays.
  • MIN: Irv Smith Jr., TE; Kyle Rudolph is no longer a Minnesota Viking. Now Smith Jr. gets his opportunity to show what he can do. He’s made plays as the number two tight end behind Rudolph for the past two years. He’ll get the first chance to step into the starting role in 2021. Smith Jr. having a breakout season will help the Vikings as they try to rebound from last year.
  • NO: Cesar Ruiz, OG; New Orleans already has a really good offensive line. Ruiz was drafted in the first round last year to add that. He was thought of as the best interior lineman in the draft in 2020. Ruiz played in all but one game with nine starts in 2020. He even started in the Saints’ two playoff games. Ruiz breaking out will complete New Orleans’ line and make life easier for whoever is starting at quarterback for them.
  • NYG: Dexter Lawrence, DL; Lawrence had a much better season than fellow 2019 first-round teammate Daniel Jones. While Jones needs to break out to stay on the team, Lawrence looks like he’s ready to break out. His tackles, sacks, tackles for loss and QB hits all went up in 2020. With Lawrence becoming more of a force for the Giants defense, it will help as they try to get back to the playoffs.
  • LAR: Cam Akers, RB; The Rams never officially found a replacement for Todd Gurley in 2020. They drafted Cam Akers in the second round, and he showed in the limited time that he could be the new lead back. Akers rushers for 625 yards along with two touchdowns on 145 carries. With more touches this year, he should be a big part of the offense. Akers breaking out will also take pressure off of new quarterback Matthew Stafford.
  • PHI: Andre Dillard, OT; Dillard was drafted in the first round of the 2019 NFL Draft. He was expected to break out last year, however, he was lost for the season with a torn bicep. Now healthy, Dillard gets another chance to prove that he is the left tackle of the future for the Eagles. Dillard has to stay healthy if he wants to show what he can do on the field.
  • SF: Brandon Aiyuk, WR; Another wide receiver from the 2020 draft class, Aiyuk might have been the second-best rookie receiver last year. He finished with 60 catches for 748 yards and five touchdowns in only 12 games. With Deebo Samuel coming back from injury this year, he and Aiyuk should make for a really good duo in the receiving core.
  • SEA: Jordyn Brooks, LB; Seattle took some criticism for taking Brooks over Patrick Queen in the first round. However, Seattle knows what they are doing. After all, they did draft future stars like Russell Wilson, Richard Sherman, and DK Metcalf. Brooks had a solid rookie season and could be in for a big second year playing next to All-Pro Bobby Wagner.
  • TB: Tristen Wirfs, OT; Tampa Bay returns all 22 starters from their Super Bowl team last year. One player that does stand out as a break-out candidate, however, is Tristen Wirfs. The 2020 first-round pick played really as a rookie and helped the team win the Super Bowl. Now in his second year, Wirfs could see himself be in the conversation as one of the best right tackles in the NFL.
  • WAS: Montez Sweat, DE; Washington traded up into the first round for Sweat in 2019, and so far he’s been worth it. Sweat had nine sacks last year, and that number should only go up this year. With Chase Young gaining all the attention Sweat should have more one-on-one match-ups to take advantage of. Double-digit sacks and a pro-bowl season are not out of the question.

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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