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10 Second- and Third-Year Breakout Candidates Heading Into 2022

Trey Lance 49ers

Not every NFL player makes an immediate impact to start their career. There are many players that take time to reach their full potential in the NFL for a variety of reasons: lack of play time, injuries, or simply just slow adjustment to the professional game.

The 2021 NFL Draft class was filled with exceptional talent, especially in the first round. We have already seen several of these players make immediate impacts during their rookie season such as Ja’Marr Chase, Micah Parsons, and Kyle Pitts. Yet, there are still several players from this 2021 NFL Draft that have the chance to emerge as an elite player.

While most people associate year 2 of an NFL career to be the highest chance for a breakout, there are also plenty of players that were able to breakout in their third year in the league, such as: Deebo Samuel, Rashan Gary, and Jeffery Simmons.

Here are 10 second and third-year players that are poised to breakout in the NFL in 2022 and improve from their previous season(s):

Trevor Lawrence - QB, Jacksonville Jaguars

Lawrence did not impress during his rookie season, tying the league lead with 17 interceptions. The former number one overall pick also had a lackluster 59.6% completion rate on his passes in 2021.

As many people acknowledge, Trevor Lawrence was thrown into a tumultuous situation as a rookie QB in 2021. With a new coaching staff led by Doug Pederson, Lawrence should be better set up for success in 2022.

Pederson helped Carson Wentz break out as an MVP candidate in his second season back in 2017, and the same is possible for Trevor Lawrence this season.

Lawrence was regarded as one of the best QB prospects of all time, and there is still a lot of potential that is yet to be realized in the NFL.

Trey Lance - QB, San Francisco 49ers

We have not seen much to evaluate with Trey Lance because he appeared in just 5 games last season, starting only 2 of them.

While there is not much to take from his performance in 2021, the situation around Lance in San Francisco gives reason to believe that he will emerge as a solid NFL QB when given the chance to start.

Kyle Shanahan knows how to run a successful offense in the NFL, and the receiving corps of Deebo Samuel, Brandon Aiyuk, and George Kittle combined with their group of running backs should help Trey Lance significantly in his development.

Rashod Bateman - WR, Baltimore Ravens

With the departure of Marquise Brown from the Ravens offense, Rashod Bateman will take on WR1 responsibilities.

Sure, the Ravens go-to target in the passing game remains TE Mark Andrews and the Ravens are a run-first offense, but Lamar Jackson needs someone who he can go to in order to push the ball down the field and move the chains.

Bateman had 46 receptions for 515 yards and only 1 TD during his rookie campaign which indicates a lot of room for improvement in 2022.

The increased volume of targets and rapport with Lamar Jackson bode well for a breakout season by Rashod Bateman.

Jerry Jeudy - WR, Denver Broncos

Jeudy is one of the several great former Alabama receivers, but he has yet to reach his full potential in the NFL with the Broncos.

After having a solid rookie season in 2020 in which he totaled 856 receiving yards on 113 targets, injury plagued his 2021 campaign. Jeudy only amassed 467 yards in 2021 with no receiving TDs.

Jerry Jeudy has the ability to breakout and eclipse the 1,000 receiving yard mark with Russell Wilson as his new QB after catching passes from Drew Lock, Teddy Bridgewater, Brett Rypien, and Jeff Driskel during his career thus far.

Travis Etienne (RB, Jacksonville Jaguars)

Travis Etienne is the only player on this list that has yet to play a single snap in his NFL career. The Jaguars took Etienne with the 25th pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, but he missed the whole season after suffering a Lisfranc injury in his foot during training camp.

At Clemson Etienne showed the capability of being a versatile running back, shining as a pass catcher. Most reports suggest that the Jaguars intend to heavily utilize his pass-catching ability, and thus Etienne is a strong candidate for a breakout in 2022 which will be his first NFL season on the field. 

Cole Kmet (TE, Chicago Bears)

Cole Kmet was the first tight end selected in the 2020 NFL Draft, but he has not yet produced like the next great NFL tight end that some thought he could be.

Kmet recorded 243 yards receiving in 2020 and 612 yards in 2021, only catching 2 touchdowns in his two NFL seasons.

The quarterback play for the Bears is a major reason why we have not seen the receiving production that we expected from Kmet thus far. During his rookie season Kmet caught passes from Mitch Trubisky and Nick Foles, and now he has Justin Fields who is entering his second year in the league.

Development from Justin Fields as a passer would help Cole Kmet see more production in 2022. Kmet will likely be relied upon as the second-favorite target for Fields after WR Darnell Mooney.

Jaycee Horn (CB, Carolina Panthers)

Horn’s rookie campaign in 2021 was cut short due to a season-ending foot injury that came in Week 3.

Prior to the injury, Horn actually showed flashes in the small sample size of 3 career NFL games. Horn should be able to pick up where he left off in 2021 and develop into a shutdown corner for Carolina in 2022.

Jeff Okudah (CB, Detroit Lions)

Similar to Jaycee Horn, the former third overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft has not been able to stay on the field during his first two years in the league. Okudah played 9 games during his rookie season, and only 1 game in 2021.

Okudah has not been particularly productive during his 10 career NFL games, tallying only 1 INT and 3 passes defended.

The Lions did not heavily address the CB position during the 2022 NFL Draft, nor in free agency, so there is still optimism that Okudah can emerge as the shutdown corner in Detroit.

This could be a make-or-break season for Jeff Okudah, but he will be heavily motivated to return strong from injury and show why he was the third overall pick in the draft.

Eric Stokes (CB, Green Bay Packers)

After being selected near the end of the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft, Stokes was heavily relied upon during his rookie season. Stokes started 14 games and recorded 1 INT and 14 passes defended.

Stokes showed the ability to cover at the NFL level as a rookie, and the Packers clearly trust him in that role. The former Georgia Bulldog allowed a 49.5 completion percentage when targeted as a rookie. Stokes should continue to develop even more which will allow him to see more production and get the recognition he deserves.

Stokes will continue to serve as a trusted boundary corner in a Packers secondary that also consists of Jaire Alexander and Rasul Douglas.

Kyle Dugger (S, New England Patriots)

Dugger caught the eyes of many when he was selected 37th overall in the 2020 NFL Draft as a D-II college player.

Unsurprisingly, Dugger was not relied on much as a rookie on the Patriots under Bill Belichick. But, in his second year in the league the Patriots started using Dugger like the Swiss army knife that they thought he might develop into. Dugger has been featured in many different roles: secondary, linebacker, and even as a pass rusher.

Dugger should build off of his solid 2021 season and could transform himself from being a somewhat hidden gem for the Patriots to a highly regarded safety in the NFL.