You can look around the NFL right now and have a pretty good idea of who’s going to excel. This is due to player’s performance over the years and consistency (take Tom Brady, for instance). I could sit here and state the obvious by telling you who’s going to do well next year but that wouldn’t be any fun. I want a challenge.
It’s time I channel my inner Raven Baxter (if you don’t get it, google it) and predict who’s going to breakout next year. I’ll be choosing one player per team based on opinion, statistics and my incredible ability to see the future. So sit back, agree to disagree and join me on this journey!
First stop, NFC North.
Player — RB Ameer Abdullah, 3rd season, age 24
The Detroit Lions have been known for their pass-heavy offense over the years thanks to Calvin Johnson and lack of talent in the running back position. In the ’15 NFL draft, the Lions took Abdullah in the second round with the 54th pick, hoping he could finally help balance the offense. In his first two seasons, Abdullah has been both good and bad. He had some good games during his rookie campaign but also finished with five fumbles on the year. In year two, Abdullah showed promise until he went down with a foot injury in week two that kept him out all year. He finished with 101 yards rushing, averaging 5.6 yards per carry.
Why is 2017 his year? The man is fully recovered from his foot injury and looks real good in offseason workouts. The Lions finally upgraded their offensive line (losing Taylor Decker for an extended period hurts) and will help create more offense for Abdullah.
If Abdullah can stay healthy and hold on to the ball, he’ll give the Lions a balanced offensive attack they haven’t seen in years.
GREEN BAY PACKERS
Player — DT Kenny Clark, 2nd season, age 21
Unless you’re a Packers fan, you probably won’t know who this guy is. Clark finished his rookie campaign with 21 tackles and two fumble recoveries. Why do I think he’s in for a breakout year? Packers head coach Mike McCarthy had nothing but praise for Clark during the OTAs in May.
“Kenny’s been crushing it in the weight room. That’s what you like to see, particularly in that second year. Just the science that’s involved in that, where guys can really make a significant gain in this nine-week program. I look for Kenny to do a lot more as a football player on the field.
After last season concluded, McCarthy saw potential in Clark.
“I thought he played extremely well the last six weeks. That’s something we need to build off of.”
Look for Packers opponents to take notice of Clark in his second season.
Player — DE Danielle Hunter, 3rd season, age 22
If the Vikings would’ve started Hunter last season, he probably wouldn’t be eligible for this pick. Hunter played in 57% of the defensive snaps last season and logged an eye-opening 12.5 sacks. Peep this stat tweeted by Pro Football Focus.
Danielle Hunter had the highest pass rushing productivity rating of any NFC North edge defender in 2016. pic.twitter.com/qUg73wyRET
— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) June 19, 2017
When you perform at a level like that, you have to start next season right? Good news, he is! Matt Vensel of the Minnesota Tribune reported that Hunter will get the starting nod in ’17 at defensive end. He’s expected to see at least 80% of the snaps.
Eighty percent, huh? That sounds like a good way to build off a solid ’16 campaign and an 80% reason to remember the name.
Player — WR Kevin White, 3rd season, age 24
Let’s relate White’s NFL career to “The Office” real quick. Remember when Pam went to Philly for a job interview in season 9, episode 16 and her resume was super tiny? Of course you do. White’s NFL resume is very similar to Pam’s, there’s hardly anything on it.
White has only seen the playing field four times in his two years in the league. The Bears once believed in him when they took him with the seventh overall pick in the ’15 draft along with a 4yr/$15 million dollar contract. Read what Bears GM Ryan Pace said about White after drafting him.
“He’s a playmaker. I love the fire and energy that he plays with. And you see it on tape, and then you meet him in person. He’s one of the guys we brought in here and he’s highly intelligent, he’s confident. We’re really jacked about this.”
Two years later, it’s time to get “jacked” about him again.
After missing 28 games with two injuries in his left leg, White is finally healthy once again. He knows how important it is to produce for his team in year three.
— NFL World (@NFLWrld) June 16, 2017
Why do I think he can break out this year if healthy? Because the odds are not in his favor. Every athlete loves a challenge.
Over past 2 decades, no 1st round WR who had fewer than 20 receptions in his 1st 2 NFL seasons has become a success https://t.co/RDuQLL0ZOv
— Chris Whitman (@ChrisWhitman11) June 17, 2017
The Bears won’t be the most fun team to watch in the NFL next season, but hopefully White gives Bears fans something to cheer about.
Coming soon — AFC North.