- Carolina Panthers
- Arizona Cardinals
- Pittsburgh Steelers
- Miami Dolphins
- Jacksonville Jaguars
While many rookies wasted no time in establishing themselves as immediate impact players during the 202 1 season, year two allows many to take a deep breath, settle in and blossom even further. Here are five players that could enjoy breakout campaigns in their sophomore season.
Jaycee Horn, CB, Carolina Panthers
After appearing in just three games last fall, Horn has everything to prove in his de-facto redshirt season. The first corner taken last year by Carolina at No. 8 overall, Horn is expected to be back to full strength and should immediately assert himself on the perimeter. He is a fluid, aggressive defender that will also provide a sense of identity within the Panthers’ young defensive core. His absence last year was felt throughout the locker room after an impressive first training camp. Opening up against wide receiver Amari Cooper and the Cleveland Browns will kick off what should be a fantastic first full season and a breakout year two.
Travis Etienne, RB, Jacksonville Jaguars
Etienne was the second ball-carrier taken on Day 1 in the 2021 NFL Draft (after Steelers’ Najee Harris) and re-evaluating his skill set in a revamped Jacksonville offense should entice newly minted Head Coach Doug Pederson. Not to mention former Clemson teammate and current quarterback Trevor Lawrence, who enters a massive year two after throwing for 12 touchdowns against 17 interceptions in his first season and should benefit from Etienne’s increased role, as well. A blend of size and strength, the former Tigers running back was truly a prospect in his own class coming out of school last year. While it’s hard to compare him to a bigger, stronger Harris – who enjoyed rookie success in Pittsburgh – Etienne offers a skill set unlike any other in recent memory. He’s best utilized in the mold of Dalvin Cook coming out of Florida State or DeMarco Murray coming out of Oklahoma back in 2011. And although Murray was both taller and touted a higher ceiling of speed (with a 4.37-second 40-yard dash), none of the two possessed Etienne’s ability out of the backfield. A three-down talent who should lighten the load off of Lawrence’s shoulders, Etienne’s snap count should present him with plenty of opportunities to create in open space and allow for a breakout year.
Pat Freiermuth, TE, Pittsburgh Steelers
With quarterback Kenny Pickett expected to take hold of the offensive reins for Head Coach Mike Tomlin, the presence of Freiermuth will remain paramount to the overall success of the Steelers’ offense. With receivers JuJu Smith-Schuster and James Washington gone, rookies in Calvin Austin III and George Pickens will be looked upon to holster targets, but Freiermuth should remain target No. 1 for Pickett early and often this fall. He has a massive pair of hands and the ability to seamlessly sit in zone, or work past smaller, slower defenders in coverage. Although the former Penn State standout totaled 497 yards in his rookie campaign, I expect that number to jump significantly in what could be a breakout year as he learns the ins and outs of the pro game.
Rondale Moore, WR, Arizona Cardinals
With wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins out for the first six weeks of the season, Arizona is going to need their former second-round pick to step up. Moore started in five of his 14 appearances last fall and is now part of a wide receiver corps that includes A.J. Green and Marquise Brown. He’s as dynamic as they come and should have the ball in his hands a ton the first month or so of the season. While Brown is an excellent vertical threat and Green’s prime was long ago, the onus on Moore to evolve into the true game-breaking talent that he was at Purdue remains a significant storyline heading into offseason workouts.
Jevon Holland, SAF, Miami Dolphins
One of the most impressive rookie defenders in 2021, Holland is the glue that holds together an impressive secondary touting the likes of Xavien Howard and Byron Jones. With a year under his belt as a roaming playmaker on the backend of the Miami defense, things will only continue to slow down for Holland. That should, in turn, allow his game to further blossom into becoming one of the game’s premier defenders. He checks a ton of boxes at every level and is a modern day chess piece that every defensive coordinator desires.