Every year, someone jumps out of their cocoon and onto the scene as a star in the National Football League. Down and Distance has taken the time to review this 2013 season and has compiled a list of the top ten breakout performers that made themselves a household name through drastically improving their play on game day. Note that all NFL rookies are not included in the breakout players list. Players that have undoubtedly out-performed any previous season were taken in consideration when creating this list. Here are the top ten players that have established themselves as outstanding breakout players.
10. Knowshon Moreno (DEN)
After lots of debate here at D&D, Knowshon gets the ten spot on our list. It does help when you have a quarterback like Peyton Manning who gets the ball out quick in a check-down situation, but the stats don’t lie. Moreno is having a career year both on the ground and through the air. He’s pounded in ten touchdowns on the ground and has two from Manning. His rushing attempts are up and is on his way to rushing over 1,000 yards with some touch North and South running. He should also break the 500-yard mark with receiving yards this year.
9. Chandler Jones (NE)
New England’s first-round pick from 2012 is paying dividends this year as this NFL Sophomore is lighting it up on defense. He has nearly doubled every stat category from his debut season last year. Through Week 14, he has 10.5 sacks and 70 combined tackles. He has really stepped up for the Patriots in light of all the defensive injuries New England has dealt with, and has become a staple for the franchise this season.
8. Julius Thomas (DEN)
Denver’s 2011 draft steal has come into his own this season. This Portland State athlete is combining his football and basketball skills and is showcasing them in the NFL, and is coming up big. Up to Week 14, Thomas has 11 touchdowns for the Broncos. He’s very crisp with his route running, and is difficult to defend. His huge hands make him a play maker, and his size and ability make it nearly impossible to bring him down after the catch. If this level of play continues, he’ll be a household name for years to come.
7. Olivier Vernon (MIA)
Miami’s Sophomore defensive end is playing lights-out defense for the Dolphins and has certainly established himself as a nightmare for the opposing offensive line. He’s a quarterback’s nightmare thus far through Week 14 with 11.5 sacks, which is four times more than he had his rookie season. This 3rd round gem is solidifying himself as a top-tier defender in the NFL.
6. Lavonte David (TB)
Lavonte David entered the league last year and had an impressive rookie campaign. To everyone’s surprise, he has outdone himself and continues to improve his game. It’s about time the Bucs get a big play maker on defense. He truly does it all on game day. Through 14 weeks of play, David has six sacks, 82 total tackles, and five interceptions. Based on what we’ve seen in the last two seasons, David isn’t falling off the radar anytime soon.
5. Jordan Cameron (CLE)
Where did he come from? This 4th round steal is having a breakout career season in Cleveland. It is his 3rd year in the NFL, and he has crushed his stats from the previous two. He has become the go-to guy in the Browns offense. Through 14 weeks of play, this 6’5″ tight end has 72 receptions for 825 yards, along with seven touchdowns. If he continues this level of play, it won’t be long before he’s mentioned with some of the other big tight end names in the game today.
4. Muhammad Wilkerson (NYJ)
Wilkerson is showing the league why he was a 1st round draft pick three seasons ago. The Jets have had the reputation of being a hard-nosed defensive team that will go the distance with you in a slug-fest, and Wilkerson certainly helps them establish that reputation once more. Through 14 weeks of play, he has ten sacks along with an interception on the season. He’s one of the only bright spots in New York, and should continue to light it up for years to come.
3. Alshon Jeffery (CHI)
Our top three breakout players of 2013 get tricky to rank, but after hours of throat-grabbing debate, we’ve decided to put Jeffery at the three spot. He’s been consistent all season and has taken advantage of single coverage with Brandon Marshall on the roster. Whether it’s Cutler or McCown, Jeffery is always a viable option in the passing game. Through 14 weeks, he has 75 receptions for 1,193 yards, along with nine touchdowns. He is having one hell of a Sophomore season and should be regarded as a top 10-15 receiver in the league for years to come.
2. Nick Foles (PHI)
Foles hasn’t been the starter all season, and yet, still puts some starting quarterbacks to shame who have started every game. In ten games, Foles has a completion percentage of 61.9 with 20 touchdowns and only one interception! It’s truly amazing what he’s been able to do with Michael Vick out of the picture. He’s certainly helped the Eagles in the NFC East with his ability to deliver the ball accurately, and most importantly, his protection of the ball. This is something the Eagles have lacked in recent years. This Sophomore quarterback may have just solidified his place in Philadelphia as the starter for years to come.
1. Josh Gordon (CLE)
We went ahead and gave Josh Gordon the nod for the number one spot on our list. It is debatable, especially between our top three, but regardless of his ranking, there is no denying that Gordon is having a breakout season. As another Sophomore on our list, he has become Cleveland’s true number one receiving option, and is considered the hottest receiver in the NFL through 14 weeks. He’s on pace to having over 1,500 receiving yards this season, and has eight touchdowns so far. He’s been killing it for fantasy owners as well. It’s remarkable what he’s been able to do with all the quarterback changes in Cleveland. It seems no matter who is under center, Gordon will make his presence felt in the NFL for a long time.
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Sports-Kings Down and Distance Contributor Austin Peat @PistolPeat187