This time of year it seems that everyone is taking a look at the best players in the NFL. We’re taking a different approach and listing our predicted breakout players at each position.
QB Alex Smith (49ers) We are going out on a limb here, but Smith is facing a make-or-break season in 2010. His talent is something we have always believed in, but Smith has yet to put it all together for a complete season. The 49ers are stocked with young talent, all they need is a leader at QB.
RB Arian Foster (Texans) While Ben Tate is getting most of the preseason hype in Houston, and Steve Slaton is still on the roster, Foster will open the season as the starter in Houston. His bruising style of running and quick cutting ability could make him a star in the Texans zone scheme.
WR Brandon Tate (Patriots) Tate won’t be starting in New England unless Randy Moss goes down with an injury, but in the Pats spread offense, Tate will get plenty of looks. Word is he has had an amazing camp so far. With Tom Brady throwing passes his way, expect Tate to breakout this year.
WR Earl Bennett (Bears) Jay Cutler was one of our picks to breakout in 2010 at quarterback. Playing in Mike Martz’s scheme, Cutler will lean on Bennett as his go-to receiver. Watch Bennett’s stats explode in this passer-friendly system.
TE Dustin Keller (Jets) We expect Keller to go from potential to Pro Bowler in 2010. Mark Sanchez proved late last year that he can be this team’s franchise QB, and their playoff stretch also showed that Sanchez will lean heavily on Keller.
LT Sam Baker (Falcons) As the Falcons improve, most will point to the play of QB Matt Ryan and Baker. Drafted together in 2008, Baker has been a solid starter at left tackle ever since. 2010 will be a big year for both Baker and the Falcons.
LG Ben Grubbs (Ravens) We have always liked Ben Grubbs. This year, the rest of the NFL will learn about him. The Ravens are early favorites to win the AFC North, and with that success more notice will be given to this talented offensive line.
OC Alex Mack (Browns) A player who committed only one penalty during his 16 starts as a rookie, Mack will be an All Pro candidate in 2010- guaranteed. On a list of the best centers in the NFL, we would consider him for the top spot.
RG Eric Wood (Bills) A starter as a rookie in 2009, Wood is primed for a big season in Buffalo. While the Bills may not make headlines, Wood is a future Pro Bowler with a nasty streak and superb drive-blocking skills.
RT Eric Winston (Texans) Some already know about Winston, but others will soon find out. Considered by our staff to be among the best right tackles in the game, 2010 will be a Pro Bowl season for Winston.
DE Calais Campbell (Cardinals)
The Cardinals continue to lose pieces to their defense through free agency, but smart drafting has put them in position to replace those lost stars. Enter Campbell, an athletic end with plenty of situational experience. We expect him to increase his sack total from 6.5 in 2009 to closer to 10 this season.
DT Jason Jones (Titans) More than any other player listed, Jones success in 2010 will be determined by his ability to return from a shoulder injury that ended his ’09 season. A talented pass rusher from the defensive tackle position, Jones could make a name for himself this season.
DE Mark Anderson (Bears) Playing next to Tommie Harris and opposite Julius Peppers, Anderson will be freed to rush the passer. With offenses paying attention to his Pro Bowl teammates, look for Anderson to excel.
OLB Rey Maualuga (Bengals) On a team loaded with talented young linebacker, Maualuga is poised to become the among the best in the AFC. His versatility and athleticism, coupled with his strong tackling ability, will make him a household name.
MLB Lawrence Timmons (Steelers) Despite being the 15th pick in the 2007 NFL Draft, Timmons has had a quiet career thus far. That is about to change. Late in 2009 we saw the light flip on for Timmons, and his play improved each week. Expect very big things from Timmons this season.
MLB Stewart Bradley (Eagles) 2009 was going to be his breakout season, before it was lost to injury. Back and fully healthy, Bradley will enjoy his coming out party in 2010. As the key to the Eagles defense, Bradley will become a name that all NFL fans know.
OLB Cameron Wake (Dolphins) We are giving in to the hype surrounding Wake. A former CFL star, Wake will start his 2nd NFL season this year and people are expecting big things from him. The Dolphins are relying on Wake to generate a pass rush, and we continue to hear that he will exceed expectations.
CB Mike Jenkins (Cowboys) Most have heard of Mike Jenkins- former 1st round pick and a star rookie for Dallas- but few know of his potential. Jenkins will move in to his role as the best defensive back in Dallas this season, and should earn a trip to Hawaii in return.
FS Thomas DeCoud (Falcons) A very promising player as a rookie, DeCoud’s play will only improve this season. More experienced combined with the addition Pro Bowl cornerback in Dunta Robinson will give DeCoud more opportunities to make plays.
SS Melvin Bullitt (Colts) Playing behind Bob Sanders, Bullitt is essentially a starter in waiting. His play during the 2009 season was extremely encouraging, and has put coaches and fans alike on notice.
CB Brandon Flowers (Chiefs) Flowers will be playing on one of the worst defense in the league, so getting notice among the national writers will be tough, but his play is good enough to warrant attention. With little pass rush coming from the Chiefs front seven, Flowers is put on an island every play- and consistently holds his receiver in check.