We know, we know. Every year, it's supposed to be the breakout year for Bradford, and it never really is. But there are reasons to believe that this will be the year that the first overall pick of the 2010 draft makes good on all his potential.
2 of 26Damian Strohmeyer/SI
RB: Stevan Ridley
A third-year back from LSU, Stevan Ridley was one of the most efficient per-play backs in the NFL last year, and he could have even more of an impact in an offense suddenly desperate for targets.
3 of 26David E. Klutho/SI
RB: C.J. Spiller
Buffalo's offense is not C.J. Spiller will be the key to an offensive resurgence in Buffalo under new head coach Doug Marrone, especially when E.J. Manuel takes over at quarterback for the long term. Manuel has the best ability of any quarterback in this draft class to run option packages, and Spiller is one of the NFL's most dynamic backs in space.
4 of 26Leon Halip/Getty Images
FB: Bruce Miller
If fullbacks are on the way out of the NFL, as many will tell you, someone forgot to tell the 49ers. In the offense created by Jim Harbaugh and Greg Roman, Bruce Miller is an incredibly important cog. Not only is he a dynamic blocker, perfectly attuned to the team's power/counter/trap blocking schemes, but also he's a sure bet to line up all over the place -- especially in the 49ers' Pistol plays with quarterback Colin Kaepernick -- and further upset potential defensive adjustments.
5 of 26Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
WR: Golden Tate
The Seahawks have been waiting for Golden Tate to break out since they selected him in the second round of the 2010 draft out of Notre Dame. He started to come on late last season -- he was one of the league's best speed slot targets in 2012 -- and in training camp this year, he's looked truly special.
6 of 26Phelan M. Ebenhack/AP
WR: Cecil Shorts
Cecil Shorts managed to transcend his fourth-round status in his second season of 2012 by amassing more receiving yards and touchdowns than Justin Blackmon, the Jags' first-round pick last year. He also had 17 receptions of 20 yards or more last season, which tied him with Steve Smith, Anquan Boldin, Randall Cobb, Mike Williams, and Julio Jones. Only Tampa Bay's Vincent Jackson had a higher yards per reception total than Shorts (who tied with San Diego's Danario Alexander at 17.8).
7 of 26Julio Cortez/AP
TE: Brandon Myers
Brandon Myers was a little-known fountain of efficiency in an Oakland offense that generally possessed too little of that attribute in 2012. Now that he's in New York, the Giants plan to take him vertical, and this should be fun to watch. Eli Manning hasn't had a consistent target at that position for a while, and Myers seems to fit the bill.
8 of 26Peter Read Miller/SI
OT: Andrew Whitworth
Andrew Whitworth has missed just eight possible starts since the Bengals selected him in the 2006 draft, and 2012 may have been his best season. He allowed just three sacks, and a total of three hits and hurries in 992 total snaps, protecting a young quarterback in Andy Dalton who is still learning to deal with pressure.
9 of 26Larry French/Getty Images
OT: Will Beatty
The Giants proved that they understood Will Beatty's value by re-signing him to a five-year, $38.75 million contract in February. Beatty was finally able to transcend the injury issues that bedeviled him through the early parts of his career, and he gave up just four sacks and 4.5 hits/hurries in 951 snaps last year. Eli Manning won't have to worry too much about his blind side if Beatty stays healthy over the next few seasons.
10 of 26Richard A. Brightly/Icon SMI
OG: Andy Levitre
Andy Levitre was a force for the Buffalo Bills' underrated line from 2009 through 2012 -- he never missed a game and always performed at a very high level. There are few cleaner technicians in the game, and it showed on the field in 2012 ? in 1,007 total snaps, Levitre allowed just 1.5 sacks, didn't permit a single hit or hurry and had just nine blown blocks.
11 of 26Larry French/Getty Images
OG: Chris Chester
Protecting a rookie quarterback in Robert Griffin III, with one of the most roll-right offenses in the NFL, Chris Chester didn't allow a single sack last season and had just nine blown blocks in 1,032 snaps. The veteran benefitted from the amazing job turned in by offensive line coach Chris Foerster.
12 of 26Richard C. Lewis/Icon SMI
C: Stefen Wisniewski
Stefan Wisniewski seems to be unheralded for a few reasons -- he played his rookie season with a torn labrum, and he's not a natural guard. Still, he put together an impressive second pro season at center, displaying an increased sense of how to use his power and technique on over 1,000 snaps.
13 of 26Greg McWilliams/Icon SMI
DE: Derrick Morgan
In 2012, Derrick Morgan racked up 6.5 sacks -- a below-average total for a first-round pick -- but his sub-stats were extremely impressive, and point to greater things. He ranked sixth overall in quarterback hurries with 28.5, ahead of guys like Ndamukong Suh, Jared Allen and Aldon Smith. He ranked seventh in quarterback hits with 25, ahead of guys like DeMarcus Ware, Chris Clemons and Elvis Dumervil. There's a fairly decent correlation between a low sack total with high hits and hurries one season and a bust-out sack number the next season (call it the "Chris Long Rule,"), so Morgan bears watching in 2013.
14 of 26Nick Wass/AP
DE: Jabaal Sheard
Jabaal Sheard will play outside linebacker on a high number of snaps in Ray Horton's defense, but it's his 2011-12 work as an end with which we're concerned. He's put up 15.5 sacks in that time in a front seven that gets too little recognition as it is, and we believe that he's about to become one of the pre-eminent pass rushers in the game.
15 of 26Toni L. Sandys/The Washington Post via Getty Images
DT: Barry Cofield
In 2013, Barry Cofield had his best NFL season to date, racking up outstanding pressure numbers at the nose in Washington's 5-2 fronts. The Northwestern product has developed the ability to take on double teams with strength and power, but it's his knack for sifting through blocks that has allowed him to make more plays than the average bowling ball up the middle. He amassed 2.5 sacks, 13 quarterback hits, 19 quarterback hurries and two deflected passes at a position where most players get swallowed up providing rush lanes for others.
16 of 26Ray Carlin/Icon SMI
DT: Jason Hatcher
Jason Hatcher was an unrecognized force for Rob Ryan's Cowboys defense, putting up as many quarterback hits (11) as DeMarcus Ware had, and almost as many hurries (20.5 to Ware's 22). As Ware pointed out recently, Hatcher ranked second behind J.J. Watt in quarterback pressures among interior linemen, and if new Cowboys defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin uses Hatcher as a three-technique in a 4-3 front, Hatcher could repeat those numbers.
17 of 26Mark LoMoglio/Icon SMI
DL: Michael Bennett
For our purposes, "defensive linemen" are players who spend serious time at end and tackle in multiple fronts, tie up various gaps and excel pretty much everywhere. Michael Bennett did so with authority for the Bucs in 2012 and will do the same for Pete Carroll's Seattle defense in 2013. Few coaches better understand how to move linemen around in multiple fronts than Carroll.
18 of 26Jason O. Watson/Getty Images
DL: LaMarr Houston
LaMarr Houston's relative anonymity has been a mystery since he was drafted by Oakland in the second round in 2010. He put up five sacks his rookie season, when the coaches were moving him all over the place, and kept his QB pressures at 21 in his second season despite moving down to one sack (an indication that sacks don't tell the whole story when it comes to pass-rushers). In 2012, he moved back up in the sack department, upped his hit total to 10, from six, and maintained his status as one of the best young undersold multi-gap defenders in the league.
19 of 26Carlos M. Saavedra/SI
ILB: Sean Lee
Sean Lee played in just six games last year before a severe case of turf toe ended his season, but he was unquestionably the NFL's best range linebacker before that happened. Lee can fly to the ball in running plays, which is what you'd expect of an inside linebacker, but his X-Factor is his ability to cover in the passing game. Lee will move from ILB to the MIKE (middle linebacker) position in Monte Kiffin's Tampa-2 concepts, and he has everything it takes to be great in that role -- if he can just stay healthy.
20 of 26David Dermer/Diamond Images/Getty Images
ILB: D'Qwell Jackson
D'Qwell Jackson is one reason you shouldn't sleep on Cleveland's defense this season. He'll be blitzing more in Ray Horton's defense, and he's very excited about the possibilies. "It's going to be good to finally get after the Baltimores and the Pittsburghs and actually give them a little dose of their own medicine," he said in April.
21 of 26Al Tielemans/SI
OLB: Ryan Kerrigan
Ryan Kerrigan's 2012 stats (8.5 sacks, seven hits, 27 hurries and six tipped passes) would be impressive for any pass-rushing "endbacker," but he really stands out when you consider that Brian Orakpo, his ostensible bookend, was out for most of last season, allowing offensive lines to cheat over to Kerrigan's side. Orakpo and Kerrigan on the field at the same time will be very bad news for quarterbacks around the league.
22 of 26Jack Dempsey/AP
OLB: Wesley Woodyard
Wesley Woodyard is an interesting wild card. Long a team captain and special-teams contributor, he developed into a starting force last season in Jack Del Rio's defense. Blitzing from inside and outside, he totaled 117 tackles, three interceptions and 5.5 sacks, becoming the first player since Brian Urlacher in 2007 to amass at least 100 tackles, three picks and five sacks.
23 of 26Greg Nelson/SI
CB: Casey Hayward
As the Packers' primary slot cornerback in 2012, Casey Heyward led the team in picks with six in his rookie season. Per Football Outsiders' Adjusted Success Rate metric, he was the most efficient pass defender in the league last year. And it wasn't just out of the slot -- per Pro Football Focus, he played 338 of his 769 snaps in the slot, and grabbed just two of his picks there. He allowed a ridiculous 47.0 quarterback rating when in the slot, the best in the NFL among qualifying players, and a 31.1 rating overall, also the best in the league. Hayward is fighting for more starting time outside, and the only thing stopping him is how great he is as a slot corner -- a position increasing in importance as offenses go with more three- and four-receiver sets in hurry-up offenses.
24 of 26Scott Halleran/Getty Images
CB: Kareem Jackson
Kareem Jackson was a relatively unheralded cog in Houston's defense last season, and it's worth mentioning that J.J. Watt wasn't the only Texan playing out of his mind in 2012. Only Washington's Josh Wilson had more snaps in pass coverage than Jackson's 635, and though he did allow five touchdowns, he also picked off four passes and allowed just 44 receptions on 94 targets.
25 of 26Rick Stewart/Getty Images
S: Jairus Byrd
Jairus Byrd frequently gets bashed by people looking at stats without understanding their schematic context -- yes, he is usually among the league leaders in yards per pass allowed (14.3 in 2012), but that's because he's playing center field so often, and he's usually (and literally) Buffalo's last line of defense. In 2012, he allowed just 16 receptions as the primary target on 561 coverage snaps, picked off five passes and allowed no touchdowns. That last stat is especially impressive for a deep safety. Oh, yeah -- he was one of Pro Football Focus's highest-rated safeties as a run defender. Byrd is now a great all-around player and should be recognized as such.
26 of 26Richard C. Lewis/Icon SMI
S: Reshad Jones
The Dolphins just re-signed Jones to a new four-year, $30 million contract, so it's safe to say that they don't think he's underrated, but it's surprising that he isn't mentioned more as one of the league's up-and-coming safeties. He ranked seventh in FO's coverage metrics, and sixth among safeties in yards per pass. Jones is only 25 and is definitely trending up.
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