Talents on the brink of announcing themselves on the game’s largest stage, breakout performers come around each and every year in the NFL. While some have enjoyed more success than others in the first year of their NFL careers, here’s a list of athletes I expect to use the 2023 NFL season as a stepping stone toward a heavy amount of production in the years to come.
Isaiah Likely TE, Baltimore Ravens
It’s not easy earning targets in a position room with Mark Andrews, but Likely has the athleticism and size to serve as a legit weapon in 12-personnel. With Andrews drawing the attention, peppering Likely with targets all campaign long will allow him to quickly become one of the more dynamic young TEs in the NFL.
Sam Howell QB Washington Commanders
With Eric Bieniemy in town, Howell is expected to captain the burgundy and gold to new heights on offense. What is expected to be an RPO-centric offense, architecture similar to Howell’s days at North Carolina, the 2022 fifth-rounder has the talent and weapons around him to succeed.
Nakobe Dean LB, Philadelphia Eagles
Consistent snaps weren’t there for Dean in his debut NFL season, but projecting him at the second level in year two provides the Eagles’ defense with another playmaker within their front seven. He thrived in college behind bodies that ate up space, and with a similarly built Eagles front, Dean’s physicality and speed should shine flying through gaps.
Jameson Williams WR, Detroit Lions
Getting back to 100% health remains of the utmost importance for Williams. One of the favorites to win the NFC North next fall, expectations have reached new heights in Detroit, and Williams’ presence opposite of Amon-Ra St. Brown will give opposing coordinators fits. He will be heavily featured in the offense from Week 1.
Khalil Shakir WR, Buffalo Bills
It’s not a secret the Bills need someone other than Stefon Diggs to step up on the perimeter, and Shakir deserves more targets. A sure-handed weapon within the intermediate areas of the offense, he caught just 10 passes in 14 games. He needs more run.
Jake Ferguson TE, Dallas Cowboys
Dalton Schultz may or may not be back and Ferguson showcased himself well when granted opportunities in space. One of the NFL’s top in-line blockers in 2022, expanding his game as a flex weapon will present the Cowboys with a reliable set of hands both in between the 20s and in the red area.
Jalen Pitre SAF, Houston Texans
Missed tackles plagued Pitre in his first NFL season, but I love the brand of football he plays. He should thrive with defensive-minded head coach DeMeco Ryans in town and I expect him to elevate his game to another level.
Skyy Moore WR, Kansas City Chiefs
Both Mecole Hardman and JuJu Smith-Schuster are free agents, and GM Brett Veach didn’t use a second-round pick on the Western Michigan product to look pretty in uniform. A fluid route-runner with explosive footwork and oven mitts for hands, I expect he and Patrick Mahomes to become awfully familiar with each other moving forward after reeling in just 22 catches in his rookie year.
Brian Asamoah LB, Minnesota Vikings
One of the more athletic linebackers in last year’s class, don’t be surprised when Asamoah starts from day one with newly-minted defensive coordinator Brian Flores in town. His speed, tackling, and playmaking ability went underutilized in year one—I expect that to change.
Abe Lucas OT, Seattle Seahawks
He wasn’t perfect in year one, but he and left tackle Charles Cross lived up to expectations and then some in their first taste of the NFL. A big man at 6-foot-6, Lucas didn’t allow a sack the first month of the season and will only improve as he gets more and more snaps under his belt. Being thrown into the fire as an offensive tackle quickly provides an evaluation window for a staff, and Lucas showcased extremely well in 17 starts.
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