One great thing about the NFL is that on a year-in and year-out basis, you can count on breakout performances from relatively unknown players. It just adds to the remarkable unpredictability that is pro football. Sometimes, just seeing a player makes a few plays can tell you what kind of ability and potential he possesses. Whether that talent shines through right away, or it takes a few years, it is always important to make a mental note and evaluate young players bursting onto the NFL scene. Let’s go over some young players who are starting to show up big and who have star potential in years to come.
Two major things have happened with the West Virginia rookie, and the first is rather obvious. Austin has simply gained experience and confidence throughout the year and it is starting to pay dividends on the field with 50-yard touchdowns becoming a regular thing for the ultra-quick first year player. Even in Week 9, Austin blew by a Titans defensive back for what should have been an 85-yard scoring play if not for the poor throw from the quarterback.
Secondly, and more importantly, the Rams coaching staff has stopped asking Austin to always create in open space all by himself. Instead, they have designed plays such as misdirection runs and short throws to allow Austin to have even one less defender to make miss. As was the case this past Sunday, the Bears defense was flat-footed on the opening St Louis drive when Austin was used to run a misdirection toss. The Bears’ pursuit on the play was poor and when the safety failed to bring Austin to the ground, it was game over. We have all always known how quick and fast the rookie was, but now it is starting to translate to the field with Tavon Austin undoubtedly becoming one of the most dangerous per-touch players in the NFL today.
Like most fans out there watching the Chiefs vs. Chargers shootout Sunday, you were probably wondering who that massive player was running away from Chiefs defenders with ease for a long touchdown. Well, don’t feel bad because when a player gets drafted in the 4th round out of Louisana-Lafayette only a year and a half ago, and hasn’t seen the field during the 2013 campaign, he is going to be relatively unknown. Green possesses a spectacular combination of both size and speed at 6-foot-6, 240 pounds. In fact, Philip Rivers was quoted as saying that Green was the fastest player on the team. Was he joking? I’m not no sure after watching his long strides pull away from the Chiefs defensive backs.
When you think about Green, he is going to draw comparison to another breakout tight end in the AFC West this season in Julius Thomas. Ladarius serves as a bit more of a project in terms of overall natural receiving skills than does Thomas, but is probably a better raw athlete as well. Both Thomas and Green have a lot of room to improve as a blocker but I believe Green will turn out to be the better of the two in that category when it is his turn to take over the Antonio Gates role in the Chargers offense. In the meantime though, it will be very entertaining and interesting to see just how much the Chargers use their special talent at tight end.
An extremely raw talent coming out of the University of Tennessee, it was very easy to question whether or not such an inconsistent player could put it all together mentally at the next level. Even I fell into the trap of thinking Hunter might become another first round receiver who never quite reached his potential. Well, if the early indications are anything, the sky is the limit for one of the most talented young receivers in the league right now. At 6-foot-4 and close to 200 pounds, the measurables are definitely there and while he runs with long strides, he creates separation with ease, especially on in breaking routes. Smaller defenders are an incredibly bad mismatch vs. Hunter because they not only can not make up the separation created, but they can’t get around his body or jump high enough to make a play on the football.
The most impressive thing for me about Hunter during his rookie season has been the wide array of routes he has been successful running. Right now, the slant route and the fade/jump ball are his biggest strengths, but those are not the only plays he is making. He is learning to settle down and make catches in zone coverages, and even more importantly than that, he is making plays after the catch once he has the football in his hands. His development has been accelerated to a point at which I am almost surprised at the early success he is having. No matter who the quarterback is in Tennessee next season, you can bet playing with Justin Hunter will excite them greatly, as not many players in the league, forget receivers, have the kind of upside he possesses.
Benny Cunningham – While he might look similar in size to his counterpart, Zac Stacy, they have very different running styles. Cunningham will never follow his blocks as well as Stacy or break as many tackles, but my goodness does this runner have an eye-popping burst once he gets the football. If he does get the start this Sunday, don’t expect the production or even the workload vs. the 49ers stacked defense, but do expect to be impressed whenever the slightest of running lanes opens up.
Marquise Goodwin – It really is a beautiful thing when world-class track speed truly and fully translates to the football field. Nobody in today’s NFL has done it better, especially since Goodwin has improved in all areas of his game since his days a Texas – which was only a year ago. Goodwin tracks the ball in the air very well, and is slowly becoming more than just a very effective deep threat. He is the fastest player in the NFL and if you’re a Bills’ fan, you surely wake up on Sunday mornings looking forward to seeing this guy take the field.
Robert Housler – Not a rookie or even a second year player, but just now I am finally seeing signs of him developing into a true football player. Housler is not afraid of contact down the middle of the field and is becoming a major cog in the suddenly explosive Cardinals offense. Three plays during the first drive of Sunday’s game were designed for Housler, as it is becoming apparent the coaching staff has realized what kind of talent Housler is. Only once since Week 5 has he seen less than five targets in a game and in each of his last three games he has caught four balls for over 50 yards. Might not sound like a lot right now, but he is due for a major breakout game, and I believe it is right around the corner.
Rod Streater – Not an elite athlete, but has more speed than he’s given credit for (check the Week 9 film vs. Philly), and can do just enough to separate from defensive backs. Streater is a very reliable target though, and he has natural instincts during scramble plays, which were obviously needed more often when Terrelle Pryor was under center. Streater does not have many weaknesses is his game, with strong hands and a knack for coming down with jump balls. With over 80 yards receiving in three of his last four games, if Streater can gain 400 more yards in the five remaining games for Oakland he will very quietly eclipse 1,000 yards at 15.0 yards per catch. He’ll be a solid starter in this league for years to come.
Go ahead and follow me on twitter @JohnnyLFootball, as I don’t mind fielding any questions regarding your fantasy team. Thanks again for reading and best of luck to you as you very likely enter the all important fantasy playoffs.