In each NFL season, there are players who reach new heights in production and break out in different ways. Whether it’s a solid starter reaching Pro Bowl status or a relatively unknown player becoming a mainstay of his lineup, each team has ascending talents that define their season. This article provides one name to watch for each of the 32 teams as we enter the 2022-23 NFL season.
Arizona Cardinals – LB Isaiah Simmons
One of the Cardinals’ biggest issues in building a contending roster around Kyler Murray’s rookie contract has been the lack of value they’ve received from recent first-round picks. Promises of a uniquely gifted hybrid linebacker have yet to come to fruition for Isaiah Simmons as he scarcely played as a rookie and was underwhelming last season. The Cardinals lost former defensive captains Chandler Jones and Jordan Hicks this offseason, and the need for leadership is evident. Simmons has game-changing athleticism and versatility, but it’s put up or shut up time for the third-year pro.
Atlanta Falcons – LB Mykal Walker
A former fourth-round pick in 2020, Mykal Walker has played sparingly through his first two years with only 581 snaps over two seasons. However, Walker has an intriguing skill set of rangy playmaking and coverage capabilities that should be put on full display this year. The Falcons lost Foyesade Oluokun in the offseason, and Deion Jones has been linked in trade rumors. Walker flashed his ability on a pick-six last season, and as he enters his second year in Dean Pees’ system, he seems poised to shoulder a larger burden.
Baltimore Ravens – WR Rashod Bateman
The Ravens traded Marquise Brown to the Cardinals over the offseason, and their wide receiver room is barren right now. The onus is on 2021 first-round pick Rashod Bateman to break out in his second season after just 46 catches for 515 yards as a rookie. Bateman may not have tested as a particularly elite athlete, but he had an elite 0.98 EPA per deep target last year that was ahead of even Ja’Marr Chase’s efficiency on such throws (0.94). Bateman is poised to become the Ravens’ WR1 this year and has the skill set to be highly productive in that role.
Buffalo Bills – WR Gabriel Davis
In fairness to Gabriel Davis, his breakout happened last year in the AFC Divisional Round when he had eight catches for 201 yards and four touchdowns against the Chiefs. Davis has been hyper-efficient as a part-time player for Buffalo with 13 touchdowns through the last two seasons, and he’s ready to bust loose as a full-time starter this year after the team lost Emmanuel Sanders and Cole Beasley. Attached to Josh Allen, one of the most dynamic playmakers at the quarterback position, I’m betting on Davis breaking out as one of the best WR2s in the NFL next to Stefon Diggs.
Carolina Panthers – WR Terrace Marshall Jr.
On the heels of a reportedly excellent minicamp, Terrace Marshall Jr. has taken a “massive leap,” in the words of Christian McCaffrey. There wasn’t much to write home about in his rookie season as he managed just 17 catches for 138 yards, but Marshall reportedly lined up at all three spots at mini camp, and Matt Rhule has spoken about him as though he expects him to be much more involved in the offense. Add in the questions surrounding Robby Anderson after bizarre reports citing a potential retirement, and things could be breaking quite nicely for Marshall, who is 6’3” and ran a 4.4-second 40-yard dash at the combine.
Chicago Bears – DE Trevis Gipson
I hate to call for the breakout of a player who finished with ten sacks last season, but most NFL fans outside of Chicago still don’t know who Gipson is. Those sacks came as a part-time pass-rusher, and he earned PFF’s 14th-best pass-rush grade on just 229 pass-rush snaps. The Bears traded away Khalil Mack this offseason, making Gipson all the more critical to this team, and their transition back to a 4-3 front with Matt Eberflus should benefit Gipson as he gets to make more plays out of a three-point stance. As a full-time starter this year, look for Gipson to make a Pro Bowl bid.
Cincinnati Bengals – TE Hayden Hurst
The Bengals lost C.J. Uzomah this offseason after he played an essential role in their run to the Super Bowl, but I don’t see it as crazy to think Hayden Hurst might be the better player. Hurst is a former first-round pick whose impact in the NFL has been hampered by the presence of Mark Andrews and Kyle Pitts on the Ravens and Falcons, respectively. Hurst will be a full-time starter with the Bengals, and he will benefit from the defensive attention that Ja’Marr Chase and Tee Higgins garner. Uzomah’s 49 catches for 493 yards and five touchdowns last season should be seen as the absolute baseline for Hurst.
Cleveland Browns – LB Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah
Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah fell to the second round in 2021 primarily due to him being undersized at 6’2”, 215 lbs, but that stature didn’t limit his production as a rookie. He ranked 16th among linebackers in coverage grade per PFF (min. 130 snaps) and sixth in run defense grade (min. 100 snaps). JOK is fully recovered from the high-ankle sprain that hampered his rookie season, and he has the advantageous outlook of playing next to elite talents like Myles Garrett and Denzel Ward. As he enters his second season in the NFL, it wouldn’t shock me to see Owusu-Koramoah emerge as one of the best linebackers in the league.
Dallas Cowboys – DT Osa Odighizuwa
After losing Randy Gregory over the offseason, the Cowboys have six sacks and 47 pressures to replace in their defense. While Micah Parsons and DeMarcus Lawrence will lead the charge in the pass-rush, look for Osa Odighizuwa to emerge as a significant contributor. After Neville Gallimore suffered an elbow injury last year, Odigizhuwa provided an explosive playmaking presence at the three-technique position with 38 pressures, third behind only Parsons and Gregory on the team. Odighizuwa’s production faded down the stretch, and the selection of rookie John Ridgeway will help him remain fresh throughout the year to provide that interior pass rush presence.
Denver Broncos – DT Dre’Mont Jones
Heading into a contract year, expectations are sky-high for Dre’Mont Jones. His ability to provide an interior pass-rush presence will be essential in Ejiro Evero’s defense that will bring many more 5-1 fronts to the table. Jones led the Broncos with 40 total pressures last year, converting five into sacks, and ranked 14th in the NFL among interior defensive linemen with a 14.8% pass-rush win rate. Jones struggles as a run defender, so adding veteran D.J. Jones upfront is very important to let him loose. After 5.5 sacks in 2021, don’t be shocked if Jones reaches double-digit sacks in 2022 in a defense that suits his skill set very well.
Detroit Lions – CB Jeff Okudah
It’s wild to think about Jeff Okudah, the former third-overall pick in 2020, as entering a make-or-break season, but that’s where we are after he has played in just ten games in two seasons. Okudah was tabbed as a breakout candidate last year before suffering a torn Achilles in Week 1 that kept him out of the remainder of the season. The videos of Okudah’s training are promising, and his continued motivation to honor his late mother provides hope that he will work his way back to full strength. The elite cornerback prospect could finally start to return some value on the Lions’ investment this season.
Green Bay Packers – WR Allen Lazard
After losing Davante Adams over the offseason, the Packers lack proven production at the wide receiver position. Out of the receivers currently on the roster, Allen Lazard likely has built the best connection with Aaron Rodgers, and it could pay dividends with a career year. Lazard came down with eight touchdowns last season on only 40 catches, and while his touchdown count may not increase, he will likely be much more involved between the 20s. Rodgers said he’s “not worried at all” about Lazard stepping into the team’s #1 wide receiver, and he has the highest passer rating when targeted in the NFL since 2020.
Houston Texans – DE Jonathan Greenard
Jonathan Greenard broke out last season with eight sacks and an 89.2 pass-rushing grade on PFF, the seventh-highest in the NFL, but he only played 414 snaps in 2021. Now expected to be a full-time starter, Greenard should be ready to emerge as a Pro Bowl-level player. Greenard has a polished pass-rushing tool kit with hand placement, footwork, and intelligent decision-making, and he has nearly 35-inch arms. Already one of the most enticing up-and-coming pass-rushers in the NFL, Greenard is set to become much more of a household name in preparation for negotiating an extension next offseason.
Indianapolis Colts – S Julian Blackmon
After a promising rookie season, Julian Blackmon could only play in six games last year before suffering a season-ending Achilles tear. Blackmon was on pace for almost 100 tackles through those first six games, and his 81.1 PFF run-defense grade ranked ninth among all safeties to play at least 100 snaps. Blackmon has also allowed a 44.3 passer rating in coverage over the last two years, the lowest among all safeties since 2020. Blackmon is already back at OTAs just seven and a half months after the Achilles injury, and the expectation is that he will be ready to kick off his breakout season in Week 1.
Jacksonville Jaguars – S Andre Cisco
As with most Jaguars last season, Andre Cisco’s production was hampered by the painfully bad coaching from Urban Meyer. Cisco allowed just 41 receiving yards on 114 coverage snaps from Week 9 on last year, and he ranked inside the top-25 safeties in PFF’s run-defense grades. Cisco’s upside is evident with ball-hawking skills in coverage, downfield run-defending physicality, and all-around playmaking tendencies. With the Jaguars hiring former Buccaneers’ linebackers coach Mike Caldwell as their new defensive coordinator, Cisco could be asked to fill a similar role to what Antoine Winfield Jr. does for Tampa Bay.
Kansas City Chiefs – CB Rashad Fenton
The Chiefs’ loss of Charvarius Ward in free agency resulted in them drafting Trent McDuffie in the first round, but their top option to replace Ward might already be on the team. Fenton was the team’s only cornerback in 2021 with at least 400 coverage snaps not to allow a touchdown, and he allowed just 8.7 yards per reception, the fourth-lowest among cornerbacks with 420+ snaps last year. Fenton’s year-over-year progression as a former sixth-round pick should see him earn more consistent opportunities to start this season, and I’d bet on him producing at an even higher level with more snaps under his belt.
Las Vegas Raiders – S Trevon Moehrig
Moehrig was immediately thrust into starting action as a second-round rookie, and he impressed as he was PFF’s 14th-ranked safety in coverage grade (min. 400 snaps). Moehrig primarily filled the single-high free safety role in Paul Guenther’s defense. Still, he will likely be asked to move around the formation more with new defensive coordinator Patrick Graham. That shouldn’t be a problem for him, and the additions of Chandler Jones and Jayon Brown should free up Moehrig to be more of a playmaker all over the field. This season, a first-time Pro Bowl appearance could be in the cards for the TCU product.
Los Angeles Chargers – WR Josh Palmer
As a third-round rookie last year, Josh Palmer had 33 catches for 353 yards and four touchdowns, and he’s capable of even more in his second season. Palmer’s collegiate production was limited by the scheme and poor quarterback play, neither of which is an issue with Justin Herbert and Joe Lombardi in Los Angeles. Palmer showed flashes of big-time playmaking traits last year, and he should be able to win the third wide receiver role over Jalen Guyton this offseason. Palmer should pick up an integral role in the offense with another offseason to work with Herbert.
Los Angeles Rams – OT Joseph Noteboom
The Rams gave Joseph Noteboom a three-year, $40 million extension this offseason expecting him to break out, and they have good reason to believe he can. Noteboom only has 17 career starts under his belt through four seasons, but he started the Divisional Round game against the Buccaneers and earned an elite pass-blocking grade from PFF as he allowed just one pressure on 42 pass-blocking snaps. Noteboom will be the full-time starting left tackle this year after Andrew Whitworth’s retirement, and he’s another example of the Rams’ ability to turn mid-round picks into high-level starters.
Miami Dolphins – QB Tua Tagovailoa
It’s no secret if you’ve read my content before that I’m a big Tagovailoa fan, and I’m expecting a career year from him in 2022. After the Dolphins added Tyreek Hill, Terron Armstead, and Mike McDaniel this offseason, Tagovailoa suddenly finds himself in an offense with an elite blindside protector, elite number one receiver, and brilliant offensive mind who will know who to get the best play out of him. The difference between the surrounding situation this year and in the years past is massive, and Tagovailoa’s cerebral nature and three-level accuracy should shine this season.
Minnesota Vikings – CB Cameron Dantzler
When the Vikings hired Ed Donatell as their new defensive coordinator, Cameron Dantzler had to have been thrilled. Donatell’s split-field coverage-heavy defense has coaxed star seasons out of many cornerbacks in recent years. Dantzler already allowed just a 42.0 passer rating in press coverage last season, the third-lowest in the NFL, and he allowed just 311 yards on 63 targets overall. Dantzler has been an advanced metrics darling, but his one interception and six pass breakups last year weren’t enough to put him in the national spotlight. In Donatell’s defense, look for Dantzler to break through with a Pro Bowl-caliber season.
New England Patriots – DT Christian Barmore
I included Christian Barmore on my All Under 25 team this offseason over more established players as I expect him to have a significant breakout season. Barmore ranked fifth among defensive tackles with a 17.2% pass-rush win rate last year, the highest rate in a rookie season by a defensive tackle since 2006, and had 48 pressures, the most by a rookie defensive tackle since 2017. Despite that efficiency, he only finished with 1.5 sacks. Barmore was only on the field on 55% of snaps as he was primarily used in passing situations, and he should be used in a more full-time role this year. Combine that with more luck in converting pressures to sacks, and Barmore could have a true breakout year in 2022.
New Orleans Saints – DE Payton Turner
On June 29, the day I’m writing this article, Payton Turner announced on Twitter that he has been cleared for training camp following the shoulder injury that ended his rookie season prematurely. Turner only played 143 defensive snaps through five games as a rookie and totaled just 12 tackles and one sack. The former first-round pick will be hard-pressed to beat out Cameron Jordan or Marcus Davenport for a starting role, but at 6’6”, 270 lbs, he’s capable of playing inside and on the edge. Turner won’t be saddled with too much responsibility this year, but his elite athleticism and high-upside traits could shine alongside top-end talent.
New York Giants – OLB Azeez Ojulari
The Giants drafted Kayvon Thibodeaux in the first round this year, but we shouldn’t forget what Azeez Ojulari is capable of at the other edge position. As a rookie, Ojulari’s 9.9% pass-rush win rate ranked just 96th among edge defenders with at least 130 snaps, but he managed eight sacks on just 42 total pressures. Ojulari has now added ten pounds of muscle this offseason, which should give him more of a power element in the pass-rush and allow him to contribute more as a run defender. Look for Ojulari to provide more consistent value this season.
New York Jets – WR Elijah Moore
From Week 8 to Week 13 last season, Elijah Moore averaged 5.6 receptions for 64.8 yards and 0.8 touchdowns, which would have been a 17-game pace of 95 catches for 1,100 yards and 13 touchdowns. Unfortunately, Moore’s rookie season was cut short by a quad injury, and there’s more competition for targets now. That stretch came without Corey Davis, who is now healthy, and the Jets have since drafted Garrett Wilson with the tenth overall pick. Still, with Zach Wilson expected to take a significant step forward, I’m betting on Moore going for over 1,000 yards as the WR1 in the offense.
Philadelphia Eagles – OG Landon Dickerson
I ranked the Eagles as the #1 offensive line in the NFL for the upcoming season, and part of that is my confidence in Landon Dickerson taking a significant step forward. Dickerson’s production was excellent as a rookie, and he improved as the season went on – he had PFF’s 12th-highest grade from Week 4 on last year. Dickerson allowed just two sacks as a rookie, and his run-blocking grade ranked 17th among offensive guards who played 700+ snaps last year, per PFF. Supported by a much healthier offensive line this season, Dickerson’s play should continue to improve, and he’s a seamless replacement for the recently retired Brandon Brooks.
Pittsburgh Steelers – OLB Alex Highsmith
The Steelers’ front seven is loaded with talent, and Alex Highsmith is often the forgotten man. However, the former third-round pick is poised for a breakout season after being a full-time starter for the first time last year. Highsmith isn’t a crazy athlete, and he doesn’t have ridiculous tools, but his motor is relentless, and he plays with excellent power and leverage. Playing alongside sack artist T.J. Watt and the perennially underrated Cameron Heyward, defenses won’t pay much attention to Highsmith, and he could feast on weak coverage on his way to double-digit sacks this season like Bud Dupree did with this duo in 2019.
San Francisco 49ers – DT Javon Kinlaw
The start to Javon Kinlaw’s career in San Francisco has been disappointing as the former first-round pick has yet to make a significant impact. After a struggle through his rookie season amidst defensive line injuries around him, his chronic knee injuries limited him to just four games last season. Now entering Year 3, Kinlaw will hopefully enter this season fully healthy and prepared to add to his 1.5 career sacks through 18 games. Kinlaw should benefit from playing alongside Nick Bosa and Arik Armstead on his way to a career year with the 49ers.
Seattle Seahawks – DE Darrell Taylor
The Seahawks added Uchenna Nwosu in free agency and drafted Boye Mafe in the second round, but Darrell Taylor shouldn’t be slept on after an impressive 2021 season in which he came through with 36 total pressures and seven sacks. Taylor didn’t play in his would-be rookie season in 2020, but he flashed an ability to return value on the Seahawks’ prior second-round investment last year. Taylor is a great fit for the edge-rushing role on new defensive coordinator Clint Hurtt’s defense, and he has embraced a leadership role on one of the youngest defenses in the NFL.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers – DE Joe Tryon-Shoyinka
Joe Tryon-Shoyinka’s rookie season left quite a bit to be desired as he managed just 33 total pressures through 17 games and had just an 11.9% pass-rush win rate. His run defense was also lacking as he had an unacceptable 28.1% missed tackle rate per PFF. However, following the departure of Jason Pierre-Paul, Tryon-Shoyinka has secured a starting spot along the defensive line for next season. The Buccaneers have high hopes for their second-year edge defender, and he should take a massive leap forward alongside Vita Vea and Shaquill Barrett.
Tennessee Titans – OT Dillon Radunz
The Titans’ offensive line ranked 27th in pass-blocking and 11th in run-blocking last year per PFF, and they will be hoping Dillon Radunz can take on a more significant role in his second season after playing sparingly as a rookie. Radunz is in pole position to take over as the starting right tackle for Tennessee, a position that has remained with a large hole since Jack Conklin’s free agency departure in 2019. Radunz was always going to be a project as a former FCS tackle with intriguing high-end tools, and it’s time for that year of development to pay dividends this season.
Washington Commanders – OT Samuel Cosmi
The Commanders selected Samuel Cosmi in the second round of the 2021 draft, and he started nine games as a rookie before suffering ankle and hip injuries. However, Cosmi was a high-impact run-blocker from the get-go, particularly in zone-blocking, where he was the 12th-best tackle per PFF. Cosmi’s pass-blocking is a work in progress as he allowed four sacks and 16 pressures in just nine games, but improvement is expected in that regard as he was a solid pass-blocker at Texas. In his second season, look for Cosmi’s elite tools and battle-tested technique to pay dividends as a high-level starter.