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11 Breakout Candidates for 2023 NFL Season

Training camps are behind us: Those are the players heaving a sigh of relief.

Preseason games are behind us: Those are the fans breathing easier. 

Let’s get it on.

So here are 11 players worth considering as breakout candidates for the real stuff that begins in Kansas City when the regular season kicks off.

11 2023 NFL Breakout Candidates

 Tony Adams, S, New York Jets

The New York Jets had some success a few years back with first-round safety Jamal Adams, whom they eventually dealt to Seattle for a boatload of draft choices. Tony Adams went undrafted last year out of Illinois but appeared in 11 games for a developing secondary. His offseason was good enough that he projects as a starter in what could be the AFC's best defensive backfield.

 Troy Andersen, LB, Atlanta 

A second-round selection in 2022 out of Montana State, Troy Andersen made a huge leap from the FCS to the NFL, and his contributions as a rookie reflected that. He was in on 69 tackles. Andersen has progressed so quickly that the Atlanta Falcons released Mykal Walker to clear the job for Andersen. He is fast – Andersen was a sprint champion in high school – and has good size (6-foot-4, 243 pounds) and mobility. Best of all, perhaps, he regularly finishes his tackles.

 Tycen Anderson, S, Cincinnati  

Deep concern about the safety spot in Bengals Land has lessened with the apparent rise of Tycen Anderson, a second-year player from Toledo who provides depth – and perhaps will start ahead of either Dax Hill or Nick Scott. Anderson was a combine star in 2022 with a 4.36-second 40-yard time, but he hurt his hamstring last summer and missed the entire season. He was a stud this summer, including having a two-interception game, one of which was a pick-six.

 Essang Bassey, DB, Denver 

The versatile fourth-year player from Wake Forest is emerging as a force in the Denver Broncos defensive backfield. Essang Bassey can play corner, nickel or safety. He has made only three starts in his previous seasons and was mostly a plug-in guy. Now he could be a solid starter for the Broncos and a ballhawk; Bassey had three picks in the preseason.

Washington Commanders WR Jahan Dotson

 Jahan Dotson, WR, Washington

To some, Jahan Dotson was a surprise first-round choice by the Washington Commanders in 2022. The Penn State product began to show he was worth that spot by scoring seven touchdowns among his 35 receptions, and he appears ready to step up as the perfect complement for No. 1 wideout Terry McLaurin. Much will depend on the development of quarterback Sam Howell, but Dotson has the speed, agility and toughness to become a star.

 Kingsley Enagbare, LB, Green Bay

Kingsley Enagbare got tons of playing time in the preseason and came through both as a linebacker and on kick coverages. He showed an ability to get to the quarterback and be disruptive in all aspects. He doesn’t necessarily need to start if Preston Smith and Rashan Gary are available for the Green Bay Packers, but Enagbare should see plenty of playing time on defense and special teams.

 Dallis Flowers, CB, Indianapolis

Undrafted in 2022 after attending four – yes, four – schools, Dallis Flowers found his way onto the Indianapolis Colts’ roster, mostly on kick returns. In the finale of an awful season for the Colts, he got a start at cornerback. Now he could see regular duty on a rebuilding team; defensive coordinator Gus Bradley has been effusive in his praise of the kid who led the NFL in yards per kickoff return at 31.1.

 Dalton Kincaid, TE, Buffalo

If QB Josh Allen is convinced his rookie tight end will have an immediate impact, we’ll go with it. Selected in the first round in April, Dalton Kincaid has excellent hands, finds the open seams and has no fear of going over the middle. And that’s exactly where Allen expects to hook up with the Utah product. The Buffalo Bills must add some variety to their passing game to keep Stefon Diggs from being double-teamed on every throw. With Kincaid and Dawson Knox at tight end, that could happen. 

Seattle Seahawks LB Boye Mafe

 Boye Mafe, LB, Seattle

A spot player in 2022 after being selected in the second round out of Minnesota, Boye Mafe was a standout this summer for the Seattle Seahawks, particularly important with Darrell Taylor limited by a dislocated shoulder. Mafe showed a burst off the edge and strong hands to finish off tackles. Once Seattle’s top linebacker, Jordyn Brooks, is fully healthy, Mafe could have even more of an impact as he draws less attention from opponents.

 Kenny Pickett, QB, Pittsburgh

We had to include a quarterback, and while so many backups showed well this summer, they mostly were facing defenders who won’t play much in the real contests if they even make their teams. Kenny Pickett saw enough meaningful action, and looked good in it, to make us believe he is ready to build on a strong finish to his rookie year for the Pittsburgh Steelers. The learning ladder has been steep, but Pickett shows every indication he’s ready for the climb. 

 Teair Tart, DL, Tennessee

Maybe you heard of Teair Tart because he got ejected from a scrimmage with the Minnesota Vikings for throwing a punch. Aside from his blowup and interesting name, Tart has a stout game. He’ll prosper from being surrounded by such talent as All-Pro Jeffery Simmons, Denico Autry, Harold Landry and Arden Key on the Tennessee Titans line. Expect Tart to erupt in his fourth pro season. He’s been a starter before, including in 16 games in 2022, and figures to build on that experience. 

Payton Turner, DE, New Orleans

They’ve been waiting in the Big Easy for Payton Turner to show something. After all, he was a first-round pick in 2021. The production has been minimal, mostly due to injuries. He’s healthy now, he had a very strong August and there is room on the New Orleans Saints’ D-line for Turner to get snaps. Don’t be surprised if he is starting opposite star edge rusher Cam Jordan before long.

Barry Wilner was a sportswriter for the Associated Press for 46 years. He has covered virtually every major sporting event, including 14 Olympics, nine World Cups, 34 Super Bowls, the World Series, and the Stanley Cup Final, and he has written 75 books. Follow him on Twitter @Wilner88