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Arizona Cardinals

Breakout Candidates NFC Reviewed

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kyle pitts

After looking back at the breakout candidates for the AFC, it’s time to look at the NFC. Who broke out, who struggled, and who didn’t get a chance to do anything?

  • ARI: Isaiah Simmons; Simmons came into the league after playing all over the field with Clemson. After finding his way as a rookie last year, Simmons made an impact on the Cardinals’ defense. He finished with 105 tackles, 1.5 sacks, four tackles for loss, four QB hits, one interception, seven passes defended, and four forced fumbles. He helped the Cardinals get off to a 7-0 start and go back to the playoffs for the first time since 2015. Simmons might be a rising star in this league and could appear in the pro bowl soon.
  • ATL: Kyle Pitts; Pitts was a breakout rookie candidate that lived up to the hype. He played in all 17 games this year, starting 15 of them. After Calvin Ridley left the team for personal reasons, Pitts stepped up to help fill the void. He finished with 68 catches for 1026 yards, one touchdown, and was named to the pro bowl. Touchdowns need to go up, but Pitts should be one of the top tight ends in the league for years to come.
  • CAR: Brian Burns; Burns didn’t have the double-digit sack season I expected him to have. However, he still made an impact on the Panthers’ defense. He finished with 50 tackles, nine sacks, 18 QB hits, four passes defended, and two forced fumbles. Burns and Haason Reddick made for an effective passing duo combining for 20 sacks. He should have his fifth-year option picked up this offseason.
  • CHI: Darnell Mooney; Mooney took over the role of number one receiver for the Bears, with Allen Robinson missing five games and finishing with 38 catches. Mooney had 81 catches for 1055 yards and four touchdowns. He was a bright spot on a Bears team that finished 6-11. With him there, Justin Fields has a reliable target to throw to next year.
  • DAL: Trevon Diggs; Diggs finished with 11 interceptions on the season, was voted to the pro bowl, and was a first-team All-Pro. However, he was also the fifth most targeted corner in the league, according to Pro Football Focus. Diggs has a bright future, as long as he keeps improving his game.
  • DET: D’Andre Swift; The Lions had a rough season, finishing 3-13-1 and not winning a game until week 13. Swift missed four on the season with a shoulder He split carries with Jamaal Williams but finished as the team’s leading rusher. Swift had 617 yards on 151 carries and five touchdowns. If the Lions improve next year, Swift’s numbers should go up.
  • GB: Reshan Gary; When Za’Darius Smith went down with a back injury, Gary stepped up, and the Packers didn’t miss a beat on defense. He finished with 47 tackles, 9.5 sacks, eight tackles for loss, 28 QB hits, and two forced fumbles. Gary is starting to come into his own as a defender to be aware of at any point in the game.
  • LAR: Cam Akers; Akers tore his Achilles before the season began. He came back and played in the last game of the regular season finishing with three yards on five carries. Akers played a big role in the playoff games against Arizona and Tampa Bay carrying the ball 41 times for 103 yards combined. He also fumbled twice against the Bucs. Akers made a remarkable recovery from his injury and still has a chance to break out next year.
  • MIN: Irv Smith Jr.; Unfortunately Smith had to have surgery on his meniscus right before the season and missed the entire year. Going into the offseason, it’s all about proving he can still be a playmaker for the Vikings
  • NO: Cesar Ruiz; Ruiz started every game for the Saints in 2021. He allowed five sacks, was called for one penalty and finished with a Pro Football Focus grade of 57.9. Ruiz was a little disappointing this year, as he didn’t become the dominant offensive lineman the Saints were expecting him to become.
  • NYG: Dexter Lawrence; The Giants’ defense was not great in 2021, finishing 21stin points, 15th in passing, and 24th in rushing. Lawrence, however, was a bright spot on the defense. As a defensive tackle, he finished with 54 tackles, five tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks, 11 QB hits, two forced fumbles, and a pass defended. There should be no issue with the Giants picking up his fifth-year option.
  • PHI: Andre Dillard; I was right on the position that would break out for the Eagles, just the player wrong. Dillard was in a battle with Jordan Mailata for the starting left tackle spot. Mailata won, while Dillard only started five games on the year. He might need a fresh start with another team.
  • SF: Brandon Aiyuk; Aiyuk played in every game this year and became the perfect number three behind Deebo Samuel and George Kittle. He finished with 56 catches for 826 yards and five touchdowns. If Samuel or Kittle ever miss a significant amount of time, they can count on Aiyuk to step up.
  • SEA: Jordyn Brooks; Brooks was a questionable draft pick for the Seahawks at the time. However, after two years, the Seahawks look like geniuses for drafting him. Brooks finished with 184 tackles, ten tackles for loss, three QB hits, one sack, and five passes defended. Brooks has a bright future for the Seahawks.
  • TB: Tristen Wirfs; Wirfs did exactly what everyone thought he would do this year. Wirfs made the pro bowl and finished as a first-team All-Pro. He only allowed two sacks, was called for three penalties, and finished with an 85 grade from Pro Football Focus. Wirfs could be the best right tackle in the NFL in the next few years.
  • WAS: Montez Sweat; Sweat missed seven games in 2021 because of COVID and a fractured jaw. He finished with 24 tackles, five sacks, three tackles for loss, 13 QB hits, and three forced fumbles. It was a rough year for both him and Chase Young, who also went down with an injury. With these two hopefully healthy next year, Washington’s pass rush will be a problem.

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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