Let’s cut to the chase. Every year I make these lists anticipating 5 players on both sides of the ball. These are guys that aren’t known as stars, but rather rising ones, and the expectation is for them to make the forward leap and progress further down the road.
In other words, “breaking out.”
Today’s list takes a look on the offensive side of things. While an ordinary “breakout” list would look at players with potential, this list will include guys that have somewhat broken out and guys that have looked promising. No oldies either. This strictly looks at younger athletes, enough said.
There’s no specific order for my lists. These 5 guys are guys I’ll be most interested in entering the 2015 season. Finally, just because a guy you really like isn’t on here doesn’t mean I’m not interested. These are just the 5 guys I’m the most interested in heading into the 2015 season.
With that said, here’s my list.
DeAndre Hopkins (WR, Houston Texans)
It’s been well established that former Texans great Andre Johnson had very little to enjoy when it came to QBs. That changed when Matt Schaub had that good run from 2009-2012, but since then it’s been a trainwreck.
Enter DeAndre Hopkins, AKA Andre Johnson 2.0. Looking very impressive for a #2 WR, Nuk will finally lead Houston as the #1 receiver, and expectations should be really high in the city of Houston.
In spite of the fact that the Texans do not have a good option at signal calling at all, Hopkins has managed to play really well thus far in his career. He’s coming off a sophomore season in which he had 76 catches for 1,210 yards and 6 touchdowns. As far as the playing style, he’s an excellent route runner that can create easy separation, as well as provide a huge margin for error. Many of his catches from 2014 came on inaccurate passes thrown behind or too high. In addition, official stats listed 3 drops from last year, despite 51 incompletions when targeting him. Very impressive.
What’s even more impressive is that Nuk also has the only season in franchise history with 1,000+ receiving yards from a non-Andre Johnson WR.
As you can see, the list is “dominated” by Owen Daniels and Kevin Walter, but the 3rd year receiver being at the top has to excite Texans fans.
Hopkins is an elite talent that has delivered in an awful situation so far. He has the ability to make bad QBs look better than they actually are, a rarity for the WR position. This probably won’t change, as Hopkins’ options for QB include Brian Hoyer (yuck), Ryan Mallett (gah), and Tom Savage (best name for a football player ever). Nevertheless, expect the best year from Hopkins yet, and his playmaking skills can only progress down the road.
Travis Kelce (TE, Kansas City Chiefs)
Zeus himself. As the Chiefs new #1 Tight End, Kelce is a favorite to watch for the upcoming 2015 season. Why? He has a few similarities to the best TE in the game; Rob Gronkowski. As well as being the leading receiver for his respective team (862 yards) last year, Kelce has the size and the height of Gronk. Take a look at the chart below.
Kelce doesn’t have as much impact as a receiving tight end as Gronk, but it’s pretty close. Zeus’ yards per route run were also SECOND to Gronk last season (via PFF). His size allows him to matchup favorably, making him run solid routes whilst being an explosive offensive weapon.
Kelce was also PFF’s #1 graded blocking tight end, despite not even being the starter for his own team. With the absence of Anthony Fasano, Kelce should breakout as one of the game’s elite tight ends in 2015. Much like Gronk, he is a viable yards-after-the-catch player, able to use his strength to get even more yards. The only worry is his health, but a 100% version will scare defenses, guaranteed.
Fantasy football players be aware. Grab Kelce before it’s too late.
Carlos Hyde (RB, San Francisco 49ers)
The former star runningback from Ohio State, much live Travis Kelce and DeAndre Hopkins, finds himself as his franchise’s #1 guy for his respective position.
Hyde’s current situation is grim. The 49ers have gone threw perhaps the worst offseason in recent memory, losing most of their core players and identity. As such, parts like the offensive line have gotten worse, and it’s unlikely they’ll give Hyde the fantastic run blocking they gave him last year.
Still, as Frank Gore’s replacement, Hyde offers the 49ers a fresher perspective on the run game. His vision is very good, allowing him to make cuts with relative ease, and his size is 235 lb, putting him with other power running backs such as Marshawn Lynch and Eddie Lacy. His skill set and potential are small flames of hope for a franchise that seems to have none of it, as shown against the New Orleans Saints, where he displayed a couple of explosive runs.
During the Colin Kaepernick era, San Francisco has built their identity around the run game. Going away from it in 2014 turned out to be for the worse, as Kaepernick could not progress as a pocket passer. Despite this, Hyde’s rookie season became one of the few positives the team has experienced, and his new RB1 should carry them from out of the abyss.
Teddy Bridgewater (QB, Minnesota Vikings)
The best QB from the 2014 draft class, Teddy Bridgewater managed to impress in his rookie season, primarily in the month of December, in which he posted the 4th highest YPA in a QBs’ debut in that month since 1998, as well as the highest CMP% (72.3%) in that span.
It’s been said numerous times in the past, but Teddy’s 14-12 TD-INT ratio misleads. Should we eliminate all the great throws he’s made because he’s had fewer TD in his rookie season than, say, Derek Carr? I don’t think so. Bridgewater had the highest Total QBR of all the rookies (50.2), as well as the highest approximate value (9) according to Pro-Football-Reference. It seemed as if a clean pocket was a rarity; Teddy played behind one of 2014’s worst offensive lines and witnessed a struggling kicking unit, and inconsistent receivers, but managed to play really well (for rookie standards) under pressure.
Bridgewater doesn’t have the impressive arm strength many QBs boast, but he’s got something to make up for it; accuracy. At times his accuracy mirrored that of a younger Peyton Manning, and this came under situations where he was getting hit constantly.
Thus far, Teddy looks to be the best QB the Vikings have drafted since Daunte Culpepper. It’ll be interesting to see his progression and if he’ll make the leap into the higher QB tiers for the 2015 season.
And also because it’s one of my favorite charts I’ve made, I’ll show it again.
Chris Matthews (WR, Seattle Seahawks)
Deep down, I’m a big fan of the underdog story. Most of us should be anyway. So when an undrafted receiver goes from playing in the CFL, to working as a security guard, to making the 53-man roster, and to playing the game of his life in the Super Bowl, it’s like a dream come true.
The Seahawks may have lost that game, but Chris Matthews offers the potential to be the receiver they desperately needed. The same guy that recovered a crucial onside kick that helped SEA win the NFC Championship Game, Matthews caught 4 passes for 109 yards and a touchdown in the big game.
Matthews lacks the ability to create easy separation, but what he lacks in speed he (almost) makes up for angle adjusting. Similar to a Dez Bryant/Megatron type guy, he showed in the Super Bowl that he could adjust to any throw, giving him the edge in this area over the other Seahawks receivers.
Despite being under contract, Matthews’ status remains unknown, as he’ll have to work through OTA’s and training camp in order to preserve his roster spot. If he gets through, however, there’s a possibility he’ll provide a change of pace in the Seahawks receiving corp.
After all, getting this far has to be a blessing for him.
If you have 5 offensive players you feel need to be watched in 2015, send them to my Twitter account @KinsleyNFL.