Former NFL player and scout Bucky Brooks knows the ins and outs of this league, providing keen insight in his notebook. In today's installment, he spotlights 11 defensive players on the rise.
Every NFL season brings new stars to the fore, with a series of players morphing from faces in the crowd into household names.
So, who's poised for prominence in 2023? That's what I'm looking to forecast with the All-Breakout Team.
After reviewing my notes from last season and digging back into the film, I'm here to spotlight players on the come up at each position. These guys have yet to earn All-Pro or Pro Bowl honors, but I'm predicting they could garner serious consideration with their play in the coming campaign.
Last week in this space, I revealed the offensive breakout candidates. Now it's time to turn to the defensive side of the ball.
The third-year pro has teased the league with his pass-rushing talents over the past two years, recording 12 sacks in 30 starts. When he's firing on all cylinders, Rousseau's combination of length, athleticism and savvy has created problems for offensive tackles who cannot handle his energy on the edges. With the former first-rounder coming into his own under the tutelage of Von Miller, Rousseau has a great chance to reach double-digit sacks in a season for the first time.
It is not a coincidence that the Chiefs moved on from Frank Clark after Karlaftis' strong rookie season. The high-motor edge defender tallied six regular-season sacks and added another in the AFC Championship game while honing his craft as a first-year player. As Karlaftis settles into his role as the designated pass rusher beside All-Pro DT Chris Jones, we could see his sack production surge with regular one-on-one opportunities on the edge.
Green Bay's transformation from an offense-centric squad to a team sparked by its defense could hinge on Wyatt's development as an interior disruptor. After contributing in Year 1 as a rotational player behind Jarran Reed and Dean Lowry, the 6-foot-3, 304-pounder should make his mark as a sturdy run stopper with pass-rushing skills. After posting eight pressures, five quarterback hurries and 1.5 sacks in a backup role, Wyatt could double or triple those numbers as a full-time starter at defensive tackle.
The monstrous defender's potential to seamlessly transition from a 4-3 defensive tackle to a 3-4 defensive end could make him a star in the versatile scheme employed by new Panthers defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero. Although Brown earned rave reviews last season for his production as a "plug" defender in an attacking four-man front (67 tackles, one sack, seven batted-down passes and an interception), the 6-5, 320-pounder could expand his game in a defense that allows him to move around at the point of attack. Whether aligning over the center or on either shade of the offensive guard, Brown should have more opportunities to show off his pass-rushing skills while also continuing to crush the run.
The Eagles' new green-dot defender could make his mark immediately as a first-time starter. The second-year pro was regarded as a high-IQ defender with excellent communication and playmaking skills at Georgia, but the league did not get a real chance to see him in action last season, as he served an apprenticeship behind veteran LBs Kyzir White and T.J. Edwards. After the free-agent departures of White and Edwards, Dean has assumed signal-calling duties. The undersized linebacker will get a chance to show out as a tackling machine playing behind a monstrous group of defensive tackles (including fellow Georgia products Jordan Davis and Jalen Carter) that will allow him to flow freely to the ball.
The former special teams standout created a buzz in league circles last season with his strong performance as New Orleans' third linebacker and emergency fill-in for Pete Werner. Elliss notched six of his seven sacks over the Saints' final nine games, showing the football world that he could thrive as a full-time starter. After inking a a three-year, $21.5 million deal with the rival Falcons, the former seventh-round pick could put up the kind of numbers that make him a household name by the end of the 2023 season.
Lost in the Texans' disappointing 2022 season: The impressive flashes delivered by the No. 3 overall pick. Yes, Sauce Gardner -- the cornerback who came off the board at No. 4 overall -- received Defensive Rookie of the Year honors, and rightfully so. Gardner was immediately one of the best corners in the NFL, while Stingley suffered the typical ebbs and flows of a rookie campaign, ultimately missing the final eight weeks of the season with a lingering hamstring injury. But in his nine-game debut, the silky smooth corner displayed the athleticism, agility and instincts to blanket receivers in man or zone coverage. With new head coach DeMeco Ryans installing a versatile scheme that enables corners to dig a little deeper into the toolbox, Stingley has a chance to show off his skills as a lockdown cover man with a polished game.
Despite dealing with various injuries since entering the league, the former top-10 pick has shown elite skills as a lockdown corner. Horn's size (6-1, 200 pounds), athleticism and explosiveness enable him to shadow No. 1 receivers of all shapes and styles. Whether facing a big-bodied pass catcher with extraordinary strength or a diminutive playmaker with cat-like quickness, the Panthers' CB1 has the skills to get the job done. If Horn avoids the injury bug, the league will finally get a chance to appreciate his talents as a potential superstar on the island.
A fifth-round pick in 2021, Lenoir emerged as a pleasant surprise in 2022. He logged 13 regular-season starts and started each of the 49ers' three playoff games, proving his worth as a versatile inside-outside corner with impressive instincts and awareness. With new defensive coordinator Steve Wilks likely to implement more zone-based schemes that allow defensive backs to play with vision on the quarterback, this scrappy cover man could transition from surprising stopper (21.8 passer rating allowed in the playoffs, per PFF) to bona fide playmaking stud.
Delpit flashed Pro Bowl potential in 2022 with 105 tackles, four interceptions and 10 passes defensed. But that could be just the beginning, a foreshadowing of his rise to the ranks of the elite at the position. As a 6-3, 208-pounder comfortable in the deep middle and near the box, Delpit is the kind of versatile, new-age safety NFL teams are looking for.
After settling in as a full-time starter in his second season, Cisco is poised to become an impact player on a defense that could benefit greatly from opponents trying to keep up with the Jaguars' high-powered offense. As a natural ballhawk with outstanding instincts, awareness and range, the 2021 third-rounder could become a turnover machine as the center fielder in a "see ball, get ball" defense that lives off takeaways. If the Jaguars generate a little pressure at the line of scrimmage, Cisco could vie for all-star honors as an emerging star with picks aplenty.