Every year, there's always that one player who rises out of relative obscurity to take the NFL by storm. Last year, we can safely say that Chris Johnson was the offensive breakout player of the year as he rose from a promising rookie to the NFL's best running back behind a historic 2,000-yard campaign. On the defensive side of the ball, the distinction goes to Darrelle Revis, who became the most feared shutdown corner in the league. As the 2010 NFL Season approaches, there are a few players that have positioned themselves for this same success, either by past performance or current opportunity.
Here are my top 15 breakout candidates for the 2010 NFL Season.
15. Jordan Shipley, WR, Cincinnati Bengals
The only rookie to make this list, Shipley is in a situation in Cincinnati that could be extremely beneficial to him. With the recent signing of Terrell Owens to complement Chad Ochocinco, the Bengals' passing attack will become one of the most feared in the league. This opens up opportunities for Shipley, who could become a perfect slot receiver for the Bengals. He could possibly provide an effect similar to what Wes Welker has brought to New England.
14. Jason Campbell, QB, Oakland Raiders
Campbell is a man to be pitied. Since leaving Auburn, he has been relegated to learning a new offense almost every year. On the positive side, the Oakland Raiders are a team that he can finally thrive with. They gave him a new contract and have indicated that they are giving him a chance to be their QB of the future. A change of scenery might do the trick for Campbell as he will relish getting to work with players such as Darrius Heyward-Bey, Darren McFadden, and Zach Miller.
13. Kenny Phillips, S, New York Giants
Phillips leads a defense that has added former Titan All-Pro Keith Bulluck and brings back a lot of players who are looking to avenge their 2009 seasons being cut short by injuries. With the Giants showing more dedication to defense, Phillips must step up and be the hammer that his team needs to defend the likes of Donovan McNabb and Co. The University of Miami alumnus has the necessary talent but must overcome injuries and demonstrate the intestinal fortitude needed to head this defense.
12. Jerraud Powers, CB Indianapolis Colts
Along with Jacob Lacey, Powers excelled in the Colts secondary. While other rookie corners in the AFC South such as Ryan Mouton had trouble figuring things out, Powers stepped in for a defense missing Marlin Jackson and made a difference. He was a big part of the defense that took the Colts to the Super Bowl. Expect him to make a Kelvin Hayden-like ascendance in his second year.
11. Matt Moore, QB Carolina Panthers
From a technical standpoint, there is nothing special about this guy. However, when he stepped in for an erratic Jake Delhomme he overachieved and developed a special relationship with WR Steve Smith. With a talented Jimmy Clausen waiting in the wings, Moore will be under pressure to replicate his success, and might take his game to a higher level.
10. Jermichael Finley, TE Green Bay Packers
As Aaron Rodgers goes, so goes the rest of the Green Bay Packers' offense. Once seen as a checkdown option behind Jennings and Driver, Finley has become a force to be reckoned with. With some training, he could evolve into an Antonio Gates/Dallas Clark type of tight end.
9. James Laurinaitis, MLB St. Louis Rams
The former Buckeye may be stuck in a horrible situation, playing for St. Louis, but that does not stop him from excelling in his role. As a rookie, he led the Rams in tackles and will be a force to be reckoned with this year, too. He is already the Patrick Willis of their defense and will anchor them for years to come.
8. Vontae Davis, CB Miami Dolphins
Davis became a revelation for the Dolphins as a rookie. He played solidly and formed a great duo with Sean Smith. He may not provide a Revis impact right away, but is a definitely a player to keep an eye on. He has excellent cover skills, has mastered the Cover 2, and does not shy away from one on one confrontations. Coming into his second year now, he will only get better, which should scare AFC East quarterbacks.
7. Matthew Stafford, QB Detroit Lions
Stafford showed signs of brilliance in his rookie campaign and looks to continue in his second year. Fortunately for him, he has Calvin Johnson. Unfortunately for him, he plays for the Detroit Lions. His team is still in rebuilding mode, but he has the tools to make a Matt Ryan-type of impact.
6. Josh Freeman, QB Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Last year was rough for Tampa Bay as they introduced a new head coach and a new franchise QB. Freeman was originally intended to learn from the bench behind Byron Leftwich, but Leftwich proved to be ineffective and eventually Freeman saw the starting role. He reminds me of a young Randall Cunningham and will become dangerous if he learns to use his legs as well as his arms.
5. Curtis Lofton, MLB Atlanta Falcons
Unless you live in Atlanta, you probably don't know this guy. He led the Falcons in tackles as a rookie in 2008 and further increased that total to 133 tackles the following year. The bottom line is that he is just an efficient player in everything he does. He does not bring the Ray Lewis flare, but is dependable and is poised to make some clutch tackles for the Falcons this upcoming year.
4. Kenny Britt, WR Tennessee Titans
The Titans have not had a solid wideout since Derrick Mason left for Baltimore. Since then, fill-ins such as Drew Bennett and Justin Gage have shown flashes of brilliance but never materialized into legitimate number-one receivers. Due to the emergence of Chris Johnson, Britt may not reach the 1,000-yard benchmark which has seemed to elude so many Titan WRs in the recent past, but he will develop into a consistently reliable third-down target like Roddy White. Look for him to make all kinds of clutch catches from QB Vince Young this year. His "last second" catch against the Cardinals that capped off a 99 yard drive has already become a historic catch in Titans lore, and he should continue to build on that lore in 2010.
3. Tracy Porter, CB New Orleans Saints
This is a man that America was not familiar with until after the Super Bowl win over the Colts. Drew Brees always gets most of the credit, but people forget that Tracy Porter was the hero and MVP of the Saints throughout the whole postseason. He intercepted Favre's pass in the NFC Championship, putting New Orleans in their first Super Bowl. Without it, The Vikings would have easily kicked the FG to win the game. We also can't forget his clutch pick-six against Manning in the Super Bowl. Firmly entrenched as a starting corner, Porter looks to make big waves this season.
2. Kevin Kolb, QB Philadelphia Eagles
The job is all Kolb's now. With McNabb gone, the Eagles are ushering in a new era behind their new QB. Kolb has excelled as McNabb's backup, and can easily fill in the starter's role. Maybe the Eagles should not have traded McNabb within the division, but Kolb is still the man for the Eagles' job. He knows the offense, knows the playbook, and already has established a connection with WR Desean Jackson. That's key. Expect an Aaron Rodgers-like breakout season.
1. Jamaal Charles, RB Kansas City Chiefs
The way this man's season ended last year, how could he not be first on this list? He ran for 658 yards for the Chiefs during the last four games of the season, and had 259 in one game. He has already poised himself to challenge Chris Johnson for rushing supremacy in the AFC. He was a promising talent in college at Texas, and he has reached an even higher level, but he is somewhat an enigma as he does not have experience. The only thing in his way is former Pro Bowl back Thomas Jones, who also happens to be in the same backfield and will be looking for carries as well. - Kojo Sarfo