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Top Breakout Candidates In 2017

Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

Which players will become stars in 2017?

Every summer, NFL fans debate about the potential breakout stars in the coming season. Whether for fantasy football or other fan purposes, the debate has become increasingly popular over the years.

While some candidates may be no-brainers, others may be less obvious. Here are my picks for the breakout players in 2017.

Willie Snead

With the departure of Brandin Cooks to New England, Snead slides into the number two receiver role behind Michael Thomas. However, when your quarterback is Drew Brees, a second receiver gets as many looks as most top receivers.

Last season, the top two Saints receivers, Cooks and Thomas, each racked up more than 1100 receiving yards and eight touchdowns. And while Snead was hardly an afterthought with almost 900 yards of his own, he only started four games and scored four touchdowns.

With more starts this season, Snead should see a boost in his stats, especially playing on the pass-happy Saints. In the last five years, New Orleans has passed for more yards than any other team — and it isn’t close.

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Even at the age of 38, Brees has shown no signs of slowing down. He still led the league for a seventh time in passing yards with 5208 and was the only quarterback to break the 5000 mark, all of which should bode well for Snead in 2017.

Marcus Mariota

As a Heisman Trophy winner and number two overall pick, Mariota has hardly flown under the radar. However, 2017 may be the year he cements himself as a top passer in the NFL.

For starters, the Titans own the best offensive line in the NFL, per Pro Football Focus. The unit, anchored by tackles Jack Conklin and Taylor Lewan, did not have a single starter surrender more than three sacks. As a result, Mariota should have enough time in the pocket to make good, smart throws.

Tennessee has also heavily upgraded their receiving corps this year. They used two of their top three draft picks on receivers, including the number five overall on Corey Davis, the first receiver off the board. In addition, they signed free agent receiver Eric Decker, a proven veteran who brings leadership to the Titans’ receivers. Along with receiver Rishard Matthews,who proved himself in his first year in Tennessee with 945 yards and nine touchdowns, and tight end Delanie Walker, who has been selected to the last two Pro Bowls, Mariota has many dangerous weapons at his disposal.

Isaiah Crowell

In his first season as the full-time starter for the Cleveland Browns, running back Isaiah Crowell quietly put up impressive numbers. He rushed for 952 yards and seven scores, despite getting fewer than 200 rushing attempts.

However, the reason he flew under the radar was because of the team he played on. Since Crowell came into the league in 2014, he ranks 15th in rushing yards, sandwiched between Latavius Murray and Eddie Lacy.

Crowell does not have the same star power as those two backs because, to put it simply, the Browns have stunk. The past three seasons, the Browns are tied with the Jaguars for the worst record in the league and own the worst point differential. 

This offseason, though, there has been some hope for the Browns. They significantly upgraded their offensive line by acquiring free agents JC Tretter and Kevin Zeitler. Pairing them with future Hall of Fame left tackle Joe Thomas gives the Browns the second-best offensive line, according to Pro Football Focus. 

In addition, the Browns added tight end David Njoku in the first round of the draft, who should contribute as a blocker and take the pressure off Crowell. Second-rounder DeShone Kizer has shown great strides in training camp and may win over the starting job and eventually prove to be a reliable passer for the Browns. While they may not completely turn it around this season, the Browns have added the pieces to help Crowell shine next season.

While many players will likely make strides in 2017, these three have the largest potential to break out and be stars for their teams. While none have made the Pro Bowl yet, it wouldn’t be a surprise if that changed after next season.

Edited by Jazmyn Brown, Bobby Murray.

SQuiz
Where did Willie Snead attend college?
Created 7/8/17
  1. Bowling Green University
  2. Fresno State University
  3. University of Houston
  4. Ball State University

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