Top 5 NFL Breakout Players for the 2020-21 Season

2020 NFL Break-out Players

Every year in the NFL, there are always players that surprise us and players that disappoint us. The NFL is, debatably, the only league that teams can go from last in the division, to super bowl contenders because of a few players that break out and emerge into stars. There are a few players that come to mind this year that I believe will have that impact. This article will go over five potential break-out candidates for the 2020 NFL campaign.

#1. Kyler Murray, QB, Arizona CardinalsArizona Cardinals

Two years in a row now, the NFL MVP has been a second-year player who broke out and shocked the league. If you go just one more year into the past, you’ll see Carson Wentz, another second-year quarterback who was the MVP favorite before he got injured. The second-year break-out remains particularly true with Quarterbacks.

QuarterbackYear 1Year 2Result
Carson Wentz3782 Yards, 16 TD, 14 INT, QBR: 79.3, Record: 7-93296 Yards, 33 TD, 7 INT, QBR: 101.9, Record: 11-2MVP Favourite before season ending injury
Patrick Mahomes284 Yards, 0 TD, 1 INT, QBR: 76.4, Record: 1-05097 Yards, 50 TD, 12 INT, QBR: 113.8, Record: 12-4MVP
Lamar Jackson1201 Yards, 6 TD, 3 INT, QBR: 84.5, Record: 6-13127 Yards, 36 TD, 6 INT, QBR: 113.3, Record: 13-2
(1206 Rushing Yards, 7 TD)

Kyler may not be considered a valid break-out candidate to most people because of how good of a rookie campaign he had. However, I believe Murray is poised to have an MVP caliber year for the Cardinals this year.

Last season Kyler Murray had 3722 passing yards, 20 TDs, and 12 INTs with a QBR of 87.4 leading the Cardinals to a 5-10-1 record in football’s hardest division. This offseason, the Cardinals have added DeAndre Hopkins to their offense to go along with Larry Fitzgerald and Christian Kirk. The Cards went from one of the weakest receiving cores in the NFL to one of the strongest by adding Hopkins. Giving Kyler Murray one of the premier receivers in the league could be the key to his break-out year. Hopkins provides the Cardinals with playmaking ability on the outside, gives them a deep threat, and a legitimate red-zone threat.

The Cards also added DJ Humphries in the offseason and Josh Jones in the draft. These guys will likely play right and left tackle and help protect Kyler. The Cardinals allowed over three sacks per game last year and finished 26th in the NFL in pass protection, so these acquisitions will bode very well for Murray’s production.

The NFC West is the toughest division in football, so the Cardinals record may not reflect Kyler’s numbers, but that still will not deter him from playing great. Expect Kyler Murray to have an incredible year.

#2. TJ Hockenson, TE, Detroit LionsDetroit Lions

Just last year, I scouted Iowa and saw two tight ends that had the potential to be stars. TJ Hockenson had such a strong resemblance to Travis Kelce that the Lions took him 8th overall. After a breakout first game, Hockenson struggled with consistency and injuries and had a disappointing rookie season. I expect that to change dramatically.

With the emergence of Kenny Golladay as a legitimate WR1 last season, I expect opponents to game plan around him and send double teams regularly. With a lot of the attention being allotted to Golladay, Hockenson will likely always face single coverage against a linebacker over the middle. Few linebackers will be able to match Hockensons speed in coverage, so getting open shouldn’t be a problem.

The Lions also added D’Andre Swift to their backfield to go along with Kerryon Johnson, which should dramatically improve their running game. If the Lions can run the ball more efficiently, the passing game will open up, and Hockenson will have more opportunities to make a play downfield.

Stafford has historically been a pass-heavy quarterback who likes to sling the ball down the field. Other than Eric Ebron, he has never really had a legitimate tight end that he’s able to go to for big plays. Hockenson is that guy. Hockenson is just too talented to have another subpar season. He has the quickness, size, and speed to torch opposing defenses over the middle and in the red zone. Be ready for the emergence of TJ Hockenson.

#3. Miles Sanders, RB, Philadelphia EaglesPhiladelphia Eagles

Being the heir apparent to Saquon Barkley is never an easy task, but Sanders did a formidable job at Penn State filling those shoes. Fast forward a couple of years, and Miles Sanders is filling in for injured Eagles running backs and showing-out with an impressive rookie season.

The Eagles used a committee approach in their running game for the majority of their season and rotated between Sanders, Howard, and Clement. After some injuries late in the year to Clement and Howard, Sanders emerged as the premier back in Philadelphia. When the spotlight was on him, he did not disappoint. In the last five games of the year, Sanders had more than 100 yards from scrimmage three times and got in the end zone four times. Not bad for a rookie. His ability to catch the ball out of the backfield as a safety valve elevated him on the Eagles depth chart and cemented his position as the top running back on the team.

Moving forward into next season, Sanders will have the opportunity to show the league how special of a talent he is. A fully healthy Carson Wentz and upgraded wide receivers should open up the passing game and keep linebackers and safeties honest. This should free up some running lanes and allow Sanders to make plays in the open field.

Sanders showed signs of improvement late in the season last year, which means that he was progressively getting better as the season went on. I expect the progression to continue into the 2020 season. Sanders is poised for a big year with the Eagles.

#4. Drew Lock, QB, Denver BroncosDenver Broncos

You can pretty much guarantee that Drew Lock will be on everybody’s break-out players list for 2020, it would be silly not to include him on mine. Lock was not my favourite QB prospect in last year’s draft, but late in the year showed that he can win games in the national football league.

In 5 starts last year, Drew Lock went 4-1 with 7 TDs, 3 INTs, and a QBR of 89.7. He beat the Chargers, Texans, Lions, and Raiders, and only lost to the Chiefs. That’s not bad for a rookie. He showed significant improvement in the pocket; he was poised and made good decisions for the most part. Yes, he made some mistakes, but what rookie QB doesn’t. Lock was above average as a rookie QB on an average team.

All signs pointed to Lock having a good year heading into the draft. After what the Broncos did in the draft, all signs are pointing to Lock being an MVP dark horse. John Elway focused heavily on offense in the draft, and now Lock has weapons all over the field. Courtland Sutton will still be his WR1 and take most of the red-zone duties on the outside. Jerry Jeudy will be the team’s best route runner and will not have trouble separating in the NFL. KJ Hamler is the team’s deep threat/slot receiver who adds an injection of speed into the offense. If that’s not enough, Noah Fant and Albert Okwuegbunam are lining up at Tight End to not only block for you but to catch balls downfield. If that’s still not enough, Melvin Gordon and Philip Lindsay will be in your backfield to give your offense a running game. The Broncos offense is stacked.

Lock has been given every tool he needs to have a monster year in 2020. There will likely be someone open on every play; it’s up to Lock to find that player and put it all together. I can’t see Lock throwing less than 30 touchdowns or 3,500 yards in 2020. I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s a pro-bowler by the end of the season.

#5. Montez Sweat, Edge, Washington RedskinsWashington Redskins

You didn’t think this list would be all offense, did you? The Washington Redskins have done a tremendous job creating a defensive front that can beat you in many ways. As a run-stopping team, the Redskins have some massive DT’s that clog holes better than anyone else in the NFC East. As a speed rushing team, Montez Sweat and Chase Young can get you off the edge. As a power rushing team, Ryan Kerrigan and Chase Young will likely get to the QB. The Redskins defense is quietly becoming elite.

Chase Young, the 2nd overall pick, has been receiving incredibly high praise from scouts everywhere. He was indisputably the best overall prospect in the 2020 NFL draft, and he will likely receive a lot of attention from opposing offensive lines. With all of the focus on Chase Young, Montez Sweat will be left in single coverage on the opposite side more often than not. Single coverage against Sweat is usually a recipe for a hurry, tackle for loss, or sack.

Last year, without Chase Young, Montez Sweat had seven sacks, two forced fumbles, and thirteen QB hits. Now, with Chase Young, I expect Sweat’s production to increase exponentially.

Honourable Mention: Terry McLaurin, WR, Washington RedskinsWashington Redskins

The only reason that Terry McLaurin isn’t on this list is that I classify his rookie year as his break-out year. He had almost 1000 yards receiving and seven touchdowns in 14 games with poor coaching, no stability at quarterback, and no supporting cast in the WR core. To me, that’s already pretty remarkable.

Scary Terry, according to PFF, had the second-highest grade for a rookie WR in the past decade, only behind Odell Beckham Jr. His WR grade was the sixth highest in the entire NFL last year, better than Davante Adams, Mike Evans, Amari Cooper, and other NFL stars.

Going into 2020, the Redskins have a head coach who will implement winning culture, stability at QB, a top 5 defensive line in the NFL, and the potential to make some noise in the NFC East. I can see McLaurin breaking out onto the scene as one of the best receivers in the NFL next year.


Second-year players in the NFL are so interesting because it can be a year where they put it all together and develop into stars, or remain complacent and continue to struggle to make an impact. The rookie year provides players with experience, guidance, motivation, and a better understanding of what it takes to play in the national football league. The second year in the league gives them an opportunity to shake off the nerves make an impact on the field.

With the season only a few months away, make sure to keep a close eye on these players heading into next season. You just may see them in a pro-bowl jersey, or even holding up a trophy of some sort at the end of the 2020 season.

I am a 25-year old independent basketball scout who has aspirations to one day work in the NBA. I am located in Toronto, Canada and grew up loving the Raptors. This sparked my interest in basketball and I haven't looked back since. Currently I am working as a Video and Analytics Co-ordinator for the Humber Hawks basketball team, while also scouting overseas for Ambassy International.

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