Posted by Jack Tumen
Every year a handful of young players take their games to the next level. These are the breakout players. I’ve got a few in mind that I think will raise the bar from their output in 2013.
Markus Wheaton – WR, Steelers
The 79th overall pick in last year’s draft missed nearly his entire rookie season with a broken pinky. Now fully healed, Wheaton is poised for a productive year. Following the departures of Emmanuel Sanders and Jerricho Cotchery, Wheaton should slide in as the number two option at wideout opposite the explosive Antonio Brown.
Pittsburgh added some depth at the position in free agency by signing Lance Moore and Darrius Heyward-Bey, but both figure to play in three and four receiver sets. Wheaton should be able to draw some double teams away from Brown in order to open up the Pittsburgh passing attack. I’m thinking between 50-70 receptions for this guy in 2014.
Dee Milliner – CB, Jets
It wasn’t all pretty for Milliner during his rookie campaign; he was benched multiple times by Rex Ryan and was forced to learn how to play corner the hard way, being thrust into the fire as an immediate starter opposite Antonio Cromartie. In addition, he was constantly pressed by the New York media about being Darrelle Revis’ replacement; an unrealistic expectation.
But as the season wore on, things started to click for the top-10 draft pick. He finished 4th on the team in solo tackles and intercepted three passes in the final two games. Now, Milliner is suddenly the number one corner on the Jets roster after Cromartie signed with Arizona as a free agent. Even with Dimitri Patterson now in the fold, Dee will lead the pack that includes himself, Patterson and Kyle Wilson. The Jets are fully expected to take a corner in May’s draft, but even then, Milliner will be the the man to lineup across from the opponent’s top receiver.
Getting in a full offseason will help immensely as well; Dee missed the majority of the offseason program last year while recovering from his fifth shoulder surgery and spent a lot of time playing catch-up. Rex Ryan certainly knows how to get the most out of his guys, and Milliner is no exception. Look for no. 27 to make an impact in his second season for the green and white.
Mychal Rivera – TE, Raiders
Rivera had a less-than-ideal quarterback situation playing for the Raiders his rookie season. Now, they have Matt Schaub as their definite starter, barring a QB selection at 5th overall in May’s draft. Although Schaub is a stopgap above all, he’s a more capable passer than Terrelle Pryor or Matt McGloin. On top of that, he likes throwing to his tight ends; Owen Daniels was always a threat to strike in Houston with Schaub as his quarterback.
At 6-3, 245lbs, Rivera is an athletic-bodied tight end with the tools to create mismatches in the middle of the field. His game almost reminds me of Dustin Keller. Coming off a 38-407-4 season, he’s poised to emerge as a true weapon as Oakland’s top tight end option. Look for Rivera to be a bright spot in the black hole in 2014.
Levine Toilolo – TE, Falcons – There are only three tight ends on Atlanta’s roster. At 6-8, 265, this beast of a man could be the heir-apparent to Tony Gonzales for the dirty birds.
Terrance Williams – WR, Cowboys – With Miles Austin out of the mix, Williams is locked in as the man across from Dez Bryant. 44-736-5 was a nice starting point, but those numbers should balloon this season.
Jamie Collins – LB, Patriots – This guy went on a mean streak toward the end of last season and especially emerged in the playoffs, recording 9 solo tackles, a sack and an interception. He’s the type of athlete who can become an enforcer on defense with proper coaching; and I think he’s got it where he’s at.