Six breakout players for the 2013 NFL season

Posted: June 5, 2013 in Football

Tony Moeaki – Kansas City Chiefs tight end


Tony Moeaki

Starting Kansas City Chiefs Quarterback Alex Smith has a history of developing a close on-the-field relationship with his Tight End. While starting in San Francisco, Alex Smith leaned heavily on Vernon Davis and his otherworldly athleticism to move the chains through the air. Vernon Davis led the 49ers in receiving yards for the 2009 and 2010 seasons. Kansas City’s new passer can be expected to likewise look to Tony Moeaki to help find holes in coverages.

The 252-pound, 6 foot-3 University of Iowa product has proven himself as an effective weapon in the Kansas City offense with Matt Cassel at quarterback. Bringing in Alex Smith should help Tony Moeaki surface as one of the premier NFL tight ends.

Emmanuel Sanders – Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver

Pittsburgh wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders

Pittsburgh wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders

With the departure of Mike Wallace in the Pittsburgh Steelers offense, wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders will have a chance to step in and take the spotlight on the field. Sanders’ teammate, Antonio Brown is a talented wide receiver who has proven his worth, but made it into the endzone only seven times in the last two season combined. A full slate of games should afford Sanders several opportunities to show off his ability to break away from defenders and into the end zone.

Ryan Tannehill – Miami Dolphins starting quarterback

Miami quarterback Ryan Tannehill

Miami quarterback Ryan Tannehill

2012 was the year of the rookie quarterback with three starting rookie quarterbacks heading into the playoffs, and rightfully so, as the play of Russell Wilson, Robert Griffin III, and Andrew Luck surpassed all expectations placed upon them in the preseason. Ryan Tannehill, another 1st year quarterback, did not end the regular season with a playoff berth or with an impressive rookie stat sheet. Fortunately for Tannehill, the acquisition of wide receivers Mike Wallace, Brandon Gibson, and tight end Dustin Keller should help him overcome the hurt of missing the playoffs last season, having Brian Hartline as your top receiver, and being a rookie quarterback in the NFL.

The Dolphins are a new-look team this year, undergoing a change in logo and team uniforms not unlike the makeover the Oregon Ducks experienced in 2006. Hopes are high in Miami, with a host of new offensive weapons and the drafting of Dion Jordan, Tannehill may be leading the Dolphins into wild-card weekend if their opposition doesn’t plan for the budding star seriously.

Philip Rivers – San Diego Chargers starting quarterback

San Diego Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers

San Diego Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers

To consider Rivers’ chances of bouncing back in 2013, one need only to look at his pool of available receivers. Malcom Floyd, (a healthy) Antonio Gates, Vincent Brown, rookie receiver Keenan Allen, and former 1st round pick Robert Meachem.

Vincent Brown was expected to splash onto the scene and perhaps become San Diego’s most effective target if not for an injury that ended his season before the preseason could even come to a close. Cal standout Keenan Allen fell to the Chargers in the 3rd round after concerns about his 40-time caused teams to pass on him. Allen ended up being taken two rounds later than he was initially projected to be drafted.

If you’re still not convinced, San Diego has a new head coach, Mike McCoy. Yes, the same Mike McCoy that took an ordinary NFL offense and geared it around the strengths of current NFL ‘punt-protector’ Tim Tebow to bring Denver into the playoffs and defeat the Pittsburgh Steelers. Rivers is not nearly the project Tebow was in Denver, meaning McCoy and Rivers should be able to work together to help Rivers have likely his best season yet.


Eric Reid – San Francisco 49ers defensive back

In 2011, the 49ers had an overpowering defense coupled with a ball-control offense that led them to the playoffs only to lose to the veteran New York Giants. In 2012, the 49ers defense showed flaws in giving up the long pass, something that hampered them dearly in the Superbowl. Then San Francisco let go of good-but-not-great Safety Dashon Goldson in free agency. Goldson was looking to get paid more money than San Francisco was willing to part with. At the peak of day one in the NFL draft, San Francisco moved up in the first round to select Eric Reid, a star defensive back out of LSU.

It’s impossible to know how a rookie will handle the NFL. Eric Reid might be the biggest bust since Robert Gallery. His game tape suggests otherwise. Reid is a disciplined and rangy player that should take advantage of a 49ers defense chock-full of star talent. Aldon and Justin Smith should keeping opposing quarterbacks from making well-planned decisions often enough to afford Reid plenty of chances to knock down passes and finalize turnovers. Reid’s athleticism should also give ‘9ers defensive coordinator Vic Fangio ample opportunity for a safety blitz if the need arises.


DeAndre Hopkins – Houston Texans wide receiver

Houston Texans Andre Johnson has been far and away the number one receiving threat for several years. For the past two years, Houston has fielded a star-studded offense and defense with which to terrorize opponents with. The drop-off between receiving talent after Andre Johnson is drastic enough to warrant Houston spending a first-round draft pick on the Clemson product. As NFL analyst Mike Mayock puts it, DeAndre Hopkins “took the game over” in the Chick-fil-A bowl against Louisiana State. If Hopkins can live up to the high expectations placed on him, he should open up coverages and make Houston an even more devastating passing offense to face.

*All images courtesy of wikimedia creative commons

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