Every season, players who have yet to make their mark on the NFL emerge as productive forces for their squad.
Recent performances like those of Seattle Seahawks quarterback Geno Smith and New York Giants defensive tackle Dexter Lawrence show every player is just one great season away from the NFL’s upper echelon. You can count on it happening again — for some new faces — next season.
Whether it’s a player starting to reach his true potential or a player coming out of nowhere to make a major impact for his team, here are seven players who could take that next step in 2023.
2023 NFL Breakout Candidates
Kenny Pickett, QB, Pittsburgh Steelers
2022: 13 Games, 63.0 Cmp%, 2,404 Yds Passing, 10 Total TDs, 9 INTs
The AFC is stacked with star-studded quarterbacks, and the Pittsburgh Steelers are banking on Kenny Pickett joining that group. The former first-round pick didn’t blow away anyone last season, but there were things to like.
He threw just one interception in his final eight games and led four game-winning drives. Pittsburgh general manager Omar Khan, in his first full offseason, surrounded Pickett with talent, adding G Isaac Seumalo, G Nate Herbig and WR Allen Robinson while also drafting OT Broderick Jones and TE Darnell Washington.
Daniel Jones, QB, New York Giants
2022: 16 Games, 67.2 Cmp%, 3,205 Yards Passing, 22 Total TDs, 5 INTs
After his fifth-year option was declined last offseason, Daniel Jones turned around and led the New York Giants to a surprising season, including a road playoff win. Jones showed leadership, made significant improvements as a runner and passer, and limited turnovers, which were a problem in the first three years of his career.
General manager Joe Schoen rewarded Jones with a massive four-year, $160 million contract, which many people have questioned. One thing is clear: The Giants would not have done that deal if they didn’t believe Jones can elevate his game further. The franchise tag was there if they wanted to see another year, but instead, they aggressively pursued a long-term commitment.
From there, they gave Jones weapons. New York added pass-catchers Darren Waller, Parris Campbell and Jalin Hyatt. They also drafted C John Michael Schmitz, who is likely a plug-and-play starter. Jones built great chemistry with coach Brian Daboll and offensive coordinator Mike Kafka in their first year together and having the entire offensive staff remain intact should go a long way.
Jevon Holland, S, Miami Dolphins
2022: 17 Games, 7 Passes Defended, 2 INTs, 1.5 Sacks, 1 forced fumble
Jevon Holland didn’t break out the way some thought he would in 2022, but things have changed in Miami this offseason that could bring him to the “superstar” level.
Miami hired well-respected coach Vic Fangio as its defensive coordinator, and safeties have historically had great success in his scheme. Dashon Goldson, Donte Whitner, Antoine Bethea, Eric Reid, Eddie Jackson and Justin Simmons had Pro Bowl seasons under Fangio.
His scheme allows safeties to play deep, which plays into what made Holland a Pro Bowler as a rookie. A number of injuries last season, notably to fellow starting safety Brandon Jones, forced Holland to play closer to the line of scrimmage.
Kyle Pitts, TE, Atlanta Falcons
2022: 10 Games, 28 Receptions, 356 Yards Receiving, 2 TDs
Many fans, especially in the fantasy community, were disappointed with how Kyle Pitts was utilized last season. The Atlanta Falcons‘ trade for TE Jonnu Smith this offseason confirms Pitts will play more of a receiver role, which suits him best.
The Falcons have put all their eggs in the Desmond Ridder basket, and they’ve provided the quarterback with plenty of other weapons, including RB Bijan Robinson and WR Drake London. But keep an eye on Pitts and what coach Arthur Smith, a former tight ends coach, has in store for him. Pitts needs to have a big year for his own sake because he’ll become extension-eligible next offseason.
Alexander Mattison, RB, Minnesota Vikings
2022: 17 Games, 74 Carries, 283 Yards Rushing, 6 Total TDs
Mattison re-signed this offseason on a two-year, $7 million contract and has filled in for Cook in the past. In five starts in 2021, he had 107 carries for 451 yards and added 22 receptions for 212 yards with five total touchdowns. This season will be the first time in Mattison’s career he’ll have the same play caller (Kevin O’Connell) and offensive coordinator (Wes Phillips) for consecutive seasons.
O’Connell confirmed how high they are on Mattison last month when he told reporters: “It’s been really good to see Alex take a few more reps and really show that all three-down kinda ownership that he’s been capable of for a long time.”
Update: The Vikings will release RB Dalvin Cook on Friday.
Greg Dulcich, TE, Denver Broncos
2022: 10 Games, 33 Receptions, 411 Yards Receiving, 2 TDs
Greg Dulcich struggled with injuries in his rookie season, missing five games to start the year and two games at the end. When he was on the field, he showed flashes as a reliable pass-catcher. He ranked sixth among tight ends in receiving yards from Weeks 7-13.
He’s set to enter training camp as the team’s top tight end, a curial position in Sean Payton’s offense. Payton told reporters last week Dulcich’s “menu is going to be lengthy in the passing game.”
Bernhard Raimann, OT, Indianapolis Colts
2022: 16 Games (11 Starts), 7 Penalties, 7 Sacks Allowed
During the 2022 draft process, some scouts viewed Bernhard Raimann as a prospect who could become a starting left tackle, but he needed time. The Indianapolis Colts, however, were forced to put him on the field early, and, as projected, he struggled.
He started to settle in as the season went on. Per PFF, Raimann earned a 77.1 grade in the second half of the season, which ranked 17th among eligible offensive tackles. The Colts did not sign any veteran competition in free agency. That paves the way for Raimann to be the starter and the blindside protector to Anthony Richardson.