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 offensive 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.
So, without further ado, here is the offensive side of my 2023 All-Breakout Team. (Click here for the defensive rundown.)
No wonder Ben Roethlisberger was worried about his Steelers legacy. OK, truth be told, Pickett has a ways to go -- and at least two rings to win -- before threatening the standing of the future Hall of Famer. That said, the second-year quarterback has already shown glimpses of the clutch factor (SEE: four game-winning drives and three fourth-quarter comebacks over 12 starts as a rookie) and poise needed to play at an elite level. With Pickett also displaying the accuracy, ball placement and anticipation to shred defenses as a pinpoint passer, the youngster could quickly earn a seat at the crowded table of star quarterbacks in the AFC.
Stevenson is fresh off his first 1,000-yard season, but the third-year pro should be even better in an offense designed and directed by an experienced offensive coordinator. Bill O'Brien will put the ball in the hands of the rugged runner to set the table for Mac Jones and a complementary play-action passing game. Not to mention, New England's second-leading rusher from 2022, Damien Harris, departed in free agency to Buffalo. So this is Rhamondre's show. As a three-down playmaker with the size, strength and skill to shoulder a heavy workload, Stevenson could post big numbers this season.
The former first-round pick of the Giants provided a series of splash plays in the Chiefs' Super Bowl LVII triumph. And the ensuing buzz surrounding Toney's potential ascension to the WR1 role in Kansas City could foreshadow a breakout campaign for the 24-year-old. As an explosive weapon with exceptional stop-start quickness and running skills, Toney can produce big plays on horizontal or vertical routes. With Patrick Mahomes capable of elevating wideouts with his pinpoint accuracy and unlimited range, this emerging playmaker could make a serious mark on the 2023 campaign.
The second-round pick burst on the scene in 2022, piling up 51 catches for 801 yards and four touchdowns. Moreover, the 6-foot-3 200-pounder displayed outstanding hand-eye coordination with a series of jaw-dropping, acrobatic catches that piqued the interest of the football world. With more playing time and an expanded role on the horizon, Pickens could enter the conversation as a top-10 receiver by the end of 2023. The Pickett-to-Pickens connection will have Terrible Towels waving for years to come.
The route-running specialist has a chance to emerge as the Broncos' featured pass catcher in Sean Payton's offense. As a versatile playmaker with the potential to create mismatches from the slot or out wide, Jeudy gives Payton a versatile chess piece to deploy all over the chessboard. Given the creative play caller's success with Michael Thomas, Brandin Cooks, Marques Colston and many others over the years, Jeudy could finish with 100-plus catches as Denver's No. 1 option.
After a solid rookie campaign -- highlighted by an eight-catch, 103-yard outing in Week 18 -- Likely is poised to make a major impact in Year 2 as part of an offensive makeover that could turn the Lamar Jackson-led Ravens into an aerial circus under new coordinator Todd Monken. With opponents focusing on passing-game weapons like Odell Beckham Jr., Mark Andrews, Rashod Bateman and first-round pick Zay Flowers, Likely could produce big play after big play as the designated seam runner against two-deep coverage.
The third-year pro figures to be one of the most important pieces of the Jaguars' offensive puzzle this season. Little is expected to fill in for Cam Robinson during the left tackle's forthcoming suspension, but he could also kick inside to left guard or play right tackle as part of a five-man front that is expected to keep franchise face Trevor Lawrence clean in the pocket. With Doug Pederson counting on the versatile blocker to fill a key position on the front line, the football world could soon come to appreciate Walker's talents as a polished technician at the point of attack.
Franchise left tackles are expected to dominate on the blind side from the first snap to the final whistle. Ekwonu showed flashes of brilliance as a 17-game starter in Year 1. From his ability to maul defenders as a run blocker to his anchor and mirror skills in pass protection, Ekwonu displayed the raw tools that made him the No. 6 overall pick in last year's draft. Now it's about providing consistent dominance. Given an entire offseason to refine and polish his technique under the watchful eye of offensive line guru James Campen, the 6-4 320-pounder could vie for individual honors with a leap from good to great in Year 2.
The ultra-versatile blocker has displayed all-star potential at offensive guard and offensive tackle. Vera-Tucker has snuffed out elite pass rushers on the edges and bullied defenders in the trenches, showcasing a unique set of skills that are hard to find in trench warriors. With more eyes on the Jets following Aaron Rodgers' arrival, the talented technician should receive the respect and recognition he deserves as a premier offensive lineman.
Billed as a raw athlete following his selection as the No. 24 overall pick last year, Smith exceeded expectations by displaying versatility and positional flexibility as a rookie. Smith's ability to seamlessly flip-flop between guard and tackle helps Mike McCarthy put his best five blockers on the field. In addition, Smith's impressive work on the edges gives the Cowboys an insurance policy to protect against another Tyron Smith injury at left tackle. The younger Smith could really see his star rise with continued technical refinement in 2023.
Credit Mike McDaniel and his staff for unlocking Williams' potential with a move to the pivot. The former second-round pick thrived in his first season with the Dolphins after an up-and-down four-year tenure as a guard with the Cowboys. Williams' intelligence, strength and power stabilized Miami's front and helped the team make the playoffs for just the second time in the past 14 seasons. With the veteran anchoring a rebuilt offensive line that steadies an explosive attack, the football world should give the rugged blocker his props for his overall improvement as a player. In his second year as a center, Williams could be in position to receive individual accolades.