NFL Breakout Players of 2011, Plus Potential 2012 Breakouts

There are a number of different ways that an NFL player can become an impact player for his team. Many are acquired through the draft and thrust into a starting role, while some may need to work their way through the depth chart, only seeing the field when a hole opens via trade or injury. Some just flat out show their abilities and leave the coaches no choice but to keep putting them out on the field.

The 2011 season provided great examples for all these scenarios: rookies playing phenomenally from the get go, players making “the jump” in their second or third year, and seasoned veterans finally breaking through.

2011 Top Rookies

The top of the 2011 draft has performed as well, if not better than drafts in recent memories, starting with No. 1 pick Cam Newton. Newton started off with such a bang, with back-to-back 400+ yard games to start the season and really didn’t slow down from there.

Von Miller also helped revitalize the Denver Bronco defense, forming a dynamic tandem with Elvis Dumervil, helping to provide the defensive effort that Tim Tebow needs to stay in the game.

AJ Green and Julio Jones are absolute studs and will be for years to come.  Aldon Smith, the No. 7 pick in the draft, also had a phenomenal season for Jim Harbaugh’s 49ers defense, with 14 sacks, good for fifth in the league.

2011 Breakout Players

Yeah, he’s a rookie too, but DeMarco Murray had a hell of a year until he got hurt. He got his big chance in Week 7 when Felix Jones sat out with an ankle sprain, and Murray responded with 253 yards on 25 carries. He followed up that game with 508 yards in his next five games before breaking his ankle in Week 14.

On the other side of the ball, but staying in the same division, Jason Pierre-Paul had a remarkable year for the New York Giants. He helped revitalize the defensive line for the Giants, giving new life to Osi Umenyiora and Justin Tuck and adding a fearsome part to one of the toughest D-Lines in the league.

Antonio Brown also proved to be an excellent complement to Mike Wallace, giving Big Ben another vertical threat, adding almost 1,000 yards  from his 2010 receiving total (167 to 1,108).

The players that were the real breakout players in 2011 were both at the wide receiver position, and they will be facing off against each other this weekend. Jordy Nelson showed glimpses of what he could do last season, especially in the Super Bowl where he hauled in 9 passes for 140 yards. In 2011, Nelson busted out to the tune of 1,263 yards and 15 touchdowns, benefitting from often only having single coverage in the Packers’ prolific offense.

Victor Cruz caught some attention last season, hauling in three touchdowns in the Giants’ preseason opener against the Jets, but did not catch a single pass in the regular season, spending most of it on the IR. This season, however, Cruz busted onto the scene with 1,536 receiving yards, which established a New York Giants record.

Cruz was perhaps the breakout star of 2011.

2011 Breakout Veteran

Justin Smith has been one of the best defensive players in the league this season, playing pretty much wherever he was needed on the 49ers defensive line. He’s made the Pro Bowl each of the past two seasons, but his play this season has allowed his excellent teammates, such as Patrick Willis, Navarro Bowman, and Aldon Smith to thrive, forming the best front seven in the league. Smith also got in on the action, chipping in 7.5 sacks on his own.

Potential 2012 Breakout Players

So who will be similar players that will break out in 2012? It’s impossible to say just yet, especially not knowing who could be where. But there are a couple of candidates that stand out as possibilities heading forward.

Desmond Bishop: Little bit of a homer pick here, but I’ve been very impressed with the way he’s played all season. I think he was deserving of Pro Bowl consideration, with 115 tackles on the season and five sacks, which was best among inside linebackers this season. I think the Packers are going to put some focus on the defense this off-season, and Bishop will be a big part of that, which will pay off next season.

Kendall Hunter: Hunter has been a great complement to Frank Gore all season, and with a full off-season, I think Jim Harbaugh will find ways to get him very involved in the offense. It will be necessary for Alex Smith to pass to his backs out of the backfield, and there’s no doubt that Hunter’s 14 receptions from this season will go up. More carries for him means less for Gore, which benefits San Francisco in both cases. I don’t think the 49ers are a one-year fluke, and Hunter should help them win the NFC West again next season.

Royster and Helu could give Washington the running game to compete in the NFC East next season.

Evan Royster/Roy Helu: It’s well known what Mike Shanahan can do with running backs, and the Royster/Helu really came on toward the end of the season.

Royster, the rookie out of Penn State totaled 401 yards over the last four weeks of the season and is a big back, standing 6-foot-1, 212 pounds, that could develop into the Redskins’ every down back.

Helu is not small either, at 6-foot, 220 pounds, but has shown abilities in the passing game, catching 49 balls this season.

It’s not inconceivable that the two could combine for 2,000 total yards, and that figure has a better chance of coming true if Washington shores up its offensive line and finds the quarterback it needs.

Jermaine Gresham: Having a freakishly athletic tight end is common among almost every single playoff team in 2011, and that includes the Cincinnati Bengals. Gresham stands 6-foot-5, 260 pounds, and has had two consistent years in the league so far.

With Andy Dalton that much more comfortable under center next season and teams keying in on AJ Green, expect Gresham to see much more work over the middle, and I wouldn’t be shocked if Gresham came close to doubling the 596 yards and 6 touchdowns he had this season.

Demaryius Thomas: By now you’ve seen the 80-yard touchdown catch that he gets no credit for, despite the fact that he had to outrun three Steelers defenders, stiff-arming them along the way. Thomas is a thick 6-foot-3, 225-pound wideout who will make the jump to a bona fide number one wideout next season.

Tim Tebow’s not going anywhere, and the throws that Tebow can make play into Thomas’s strengths. They’ll have the off-season to work on rapport and timing, and with Eric Decker as a talented number two receiver, teams won’t be able to focus as much on Thomas as they’d like. Demaryius finished the regular season with 551 yards on just 32 receptions, and if Tebow progresses at all, it’s easy to see those numbers doubling in 2012.

JJ Watt: The other hero of the wild-card round, JJ Watt could see a monster breakout season in 2012. He was known for his non-stop motor that helped raise his draft stock coming out of Wisconsin, and has shown the same amount of effort as a pro. He’s just a rookie who gathered 5.5 sacks this season, and with Mario Williams back for the Texans next season, Watt is primed for an even better 2012.

Watt played huge in the Texans' first playoff win last week.

About Chris Callaway

Chris lives and works in La Crosse, Wisconsin, working primarily on-air while doing some writing as well. He is a part-owner of the Green Bay Packers, a Milwaukee Brewers die-hard, learning hockey while supporting the Minnesota Wild, and is also a fan of the Wisconsin Badgers and the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. Follow him on twitter @ccallaway33.


  1. Lardarius Webb of the Baltimore Ravens and Roy Helu of the Washington Redskins will be holding their annual, 4 day 3 night, football camp from June 29-July 2 at McDaniel College, Westminster, MD. Go to for more info.

  2. I am now not sure where you’re getting your information, however great topic. I needs to spend a while studying much more or figuring out more. Thank you for fantastic info I used to be in search of this info for my mission.

  3. Howdy very nice blog!! Guy .. Beautiful .. Superb .. I will bookmark your web site and take the feeds also

  4. First off I want to say superb blog! I had a quick question in which I’d like to ask if you don’t mind. I was curious to find out how you center yourself and clear your mind prior to writing. I have had a difficult time clearing my mind in getting my thoughts out. I truly do take pleasure in writing but it just seems like the first 10 to 15 minutes tend to be lost just trying to figure out how to begin. Any suggestions or tips? Thank you!

  5. I just could not leave your web site prior to suggesting that I extremely enjoyed the standard info an individual provide in your guests? Is going to be back ceaselessly to inspect new posts

  6. An outstanding share! I have just forwarded this onto a co-worker who was doing a little homework on this. And he actually bought me lunch because I found it for him…lol. So let me reword this…. Thank YOU for the meal!! But yeah, thanx for spending some time to discuss this subject here on your web site.

  7. Wow! This could be one particular of the most beneficial blogs We’ve ever arrive across on this subject. Actually Excellent. I’m also an expert in this topic therefore I can understand your hard work.

  8. You made several fine points there. I did a search on the subject and found the majority of folks will consent with your blog.

  9. Hello there, just became aware of your blog through Google, and found that it is really informative. I am going to watch out for brussels. I’ll appreciate if you continue this in future. Many people will be benefited from your writing. Cheers!

  10. Very energetic article, I loved that bit. Will there be a part 2?

  11. Can you tell us more about this? I’d want to find out some additional information.

  12. we prefer to honor a lot of other net web-sites around the internet, even though they aren

  13. Write more, thats all I have to say. Literally, it seems as though you relied on the video to make your point. You obviously know what youre talking about, why waste your intelligence on just posting videos to your weblog when you could be giving us something enlightening to read?

  14. I’m really enjoying the theme/design of your website. Do you ever run into any browser compatibility problems? A small number of my blog audience have complained about my website not operating correctly in Explorer but looks great in Safari. Do you have any advice to help fix this issue?

  15. Hi it’s me, I am also visiting this site regularly, tis website is actually fastidious and thee users are truly sharing plpeasant thoughts.Allso visit my blog post m88

  16. For most up-to-date information you have to visit world-wide-web and on the web I found this web page as a most excellent web site for hottest updates.

  17. hey there and thank you for your information – I have definitely picked up something new from right here.

  18. Wow, amazing blog layout! How long have you been blogging for? you make blogging look easy. The overall look of your site is fantastic, let alone the content!Look into my web blog :: deer hunter 2014 hack

  19. Thank you a bunch for sharing this with all of us you really recognise what you are talking about! Bookmarked. Please additionally consult with my web site =). We may have a link trade contract between us!

  20. I quite like looking through an article that will make men and women think. Also, thank you for allowing for me to comment!

  21. What’s up, yup this piece of writing is truly nice and I have learned lot of things from it concerning blogging. thanks.

  22. I am constantly browsing online for ideas that can benefit me. Thanks!

  23. Perfectly composed articles, Really enjoyed studying.

  24. I’m pretty pleased to find this web site. I want to to thank you for your time due to this wonderful read!! I definitely savored every little bit of it and i also have you bookmarked to check out new information on your web site.SiMorell307

  25. I do agree with all of the concepts you’ve presented in your post. They are very convincing and will certainly work. Nonetheless, the posts are very quick for novices. May you please extend them a little from next time? Thanks for the post.

  26. Whats up are using WordPress for your site platform? I’m new to the blog world but I’m trying to get started and create my own.

  27. Thank you a lot for sharing this with all folks you really recognize what you are talking approximately! Bookmarked. Please also discuss with my web site =). We can have a hyperlink exchange arrangement between us

  28. Did you get some of your thoughts from here (similar ideas):

  29. Did you get some of your thoughts from here (similar perspective):

  30. I am genuinely happy to read this weblog posts which consists of lots of valuable information, thanks for providing these kinds of data.

  31. Did you get some of your thoughts from here (similar perspective):

  32. There are actually quite a lot of particulars like that to take into consideration. That may be a nice level to carry up. I supply the thoughts above as general inspiration but clearly there are questions just like the one you bring up where a very powerful thing will likely be working in honest good faith. I don?t know if greatest practices have emerged around things like that, but I’m positive that your job is clearly identified as a fair game. Both boys and girls feel the impression of just a second

  33. Yesterday, while I was at work, my sister stole my iphone and tested to see if it can survive a 30 foot drop, just so she can be a youtube sensation. My apple ipad is now destroyed and she has 83 views. I know this is completely off topic but I had to share it with someone!

  34. Hey there, I think your site might be having browser compatibility issues. When I look at your website in Opera, it looks fine but when opening in Internet Explorer, it has some overlapping. I just wanted to give you a quick heads up! Other then that, wonderful blog!

  35. Hello there, simply became aware of your weblog via Google, and located that it’s really informative. I’m gonna be careful for brussels. I will appreciate for those who continue this in future. Lots of folks will likely be benefited from your writing. Cheers!

  36. Irrespective of which part of the body it strikes, psoriasis can be recognized from any other ailment by these obviously recognized symptoms. Many studies have pointed out that pustular psoriasis of the palms and soles, a variant of psoriasis, is aggravated by smoking. Since psoriasis is in your blood stream so will be the medicine.

  37. Thanks for every other informative website. The place else may just I am getting that kind of information written in such an ideal method? I’ve a challenge that I am just now working on, and I have been on the look out for such information.

  38. Good day! I could have sworn I’ve been to this website before but after reading through some of the post I realized it’s new to me. Nonetheless, I’m definitely delighted I found it and I’ll be bookmarking and checking back frequently!

  39. This website definitely has all the info I wanted concerning this subject and didn’t know who to ask.

  40. Everyone loves what you guys are up too. This type of clever work and coverage! Keep up the great works guys I’ve you guys to our blogroll.

  41. I just want to tell you that I am newbie to blogging and site-building and actually loved you’re website. More than likely I’m likely to bookmark your blog post . You actually come with outstanding posts. Appreciate it for sharing your web site.

  42. Couldn’t be written any better. Reading this post reminds me of my old room mate! He always kept talking about this. I will forward this article to him. Pretty sure he will have a good read. Thanks for sharing!

  43. Merely wanna state that this is extremely helpful, Thanks for taking your time to write this.

  44. I as well as my friends have been reading through the best solutions located on your website and then at once developed an awful feeling I never thanked you for those tips. The men came so very interested to read them and have now unquestionably been having fun with those things. I appreciate you for actually being very helpful and then for obtaining variety of ideal themes millions of individuals are really wanting to discover. Our honest apologies for not saying thanks to you earlier.

  45. Rattling good information can be found on blog . “The quality of an organization can never exceed the quality of the minds that make it up.” by Harold R. McAlindon.

  46. I genuinely enjoy studying on this web site, it contains superb content. “Don’t put too fine a point to your wit for fear it should get blunted.” by Miguel de Cervantes.

  47. Some really nice and useful info on this web site, too I believe the design contains fantastic features.

  48. As soon as I detected this website I went on reddit to share some of the love with them.

  49. You have remarked very interesting details ! ps decent web site . “Wisdom is the supreme part of happiness.” by Sophocles.

  50. I have not checked in here for some time because I thought it was getting boring, but the last few posts are great quality so I guess I’ll add you back to my everyday bloglist. You deserve it my friend :)

  51. I like what you guys are up too. Such intelligent work and reporting! Carry on the excellent works guys I’ve incorporated you guys to my blogroll. I think it’ll improve the value of my website :).

  52. What i don’t understood is actually how you’re not really a lot more neatly-liked than you might be now. You’re very intelligent. You already know thus significantly when it comes to this subject, produced me in my opinion believe it from a lot of varied angles. Its like men and women don’t seem to be interested except it is something to do with Woman gaga! Your own stuffs excellent. At all times maintain it up!

  53. I actually wanted to write down a small note to say thanks to you for those nice solutions you are posting at this site. My time intensive internet look up has at the end of the day been paid with really good facts to talk about with my friends and family. I ‘d tell you that we site visitors are truly fortunate to live in a fantastic network with so many perfect people with very beneficial tricks. I feel quite happy to have come across your webpage and look forward to some more thrilling times reading here. Thank you once more for a lot of things.

  54. I am continuously invstigating online for articles that can benefit me. Thank you!

  55. you’re truly a good webmaster. The website loading pace is amazing. It sort of feels that you are doing any distinctive trick. Also, The contents are masterwork. you’ve done a magnificent activity in this subject!

  56. I’m very happy to read this. This is the kind of manual that needs to be given and not the random misinformation that’s at the other blogs. Appreciate your sharing this greatest doc.

  57. Faytech North America is a touch screen Manufacturer of both monitors and pcs. They specialize in the design, development, manufacturing and marketing of Capacitive touch screen, Resistive touch screen, Industrial touch screen, IP65 touch screen, touchscreen monitors and integrated touchscreen PCs. Contact them at, 121 Varick Street, New York, NY 10013, +1 646 205 3214

  58. MetroClick specializes in building completely interactive products like Photo Booth for rental or sale, Touch Screen Kiosks, Large Touch Screen Displays , Monitors, Digital Signages and experiences. With our own hardware production facility and in-house software development teams, we are able to achieve the highest level of customization and versatility for Photo Booths, Touch Screen Kiosks, Touch Screen Monitors and Digital Signage. Visit MetroClick at or , 121 Varick St, New York, NY 10013, +1 646-843-0888

  59. Hello my family member! I want to say that this article is awesome, nice written and include approximately all significant infos. I’d like to peer extra posts like this.

  60. certainly like your web site however you have to check the spelling on several of your posts. A number of them are rife with spelling issues and I in finding it very bothersome to inform the reality then again I will surely come again again.

  61. You are a very capable individual!

  62. Hi, i think that i saw you visited my website thus i came to “return the favor”.I am attempting to find things to improve my website!I suppose its ok to use some of your ideas!!

  63. Hi my family member! I wish to say that this article is awesome, nice written and come with almost all vital infos. I¡¦d like to see extra posts like this .

  64. I was just searching for this information for some time. After 6 hours of continuous Googleing, at last I got it in your website. I wonder what’s the lack of Google strategy that don’t rank this type of informative web sites in top of the list. Usually the top websites are full of garbage.

  65. I have been browsing online more than three hours today, yet I never found any interesting article like yours. It’s pretty worth enough for me. In my opinion, if all website owners and bloggers made good content as you did, the internet will be much more useful than ever before.

  66. I have learn several just right stuff here. Definitely value bookmarking for revisiting. I wonder how so much attempt you place to create this kind of excellent informative site.

  67. What i don’t understood is in fact how you are now not actually a lot more smartly-favored than you may be now. You are very intelligent. You realize therefore considerably with regards to this matter, produced me in my view consider it from numerous varied angles. Its like women and men aren’t fascinated unless it is one thing to do with Girl gaga! Your own stuffs excellent. All the time maintain it up!

Speak Your Mind