In my opinion, in order to qualify as a “breakout candidate”, the player must have at least one full season under his belt. As good as Luke Joeckel and Johnathan Cyprien may be this year, they can’t count as breakout players if they end up being completely dominant because this is their first year (which would be pretty awesome to see either way). So out of the gate, rookies don’t even qualify as a “breakout candidate.”
During that season, the player may have had high expectations that he did not meet. Maybe that player experienced injury and had his season cut short. Either way, that said player must have a lot to prove, and the conditions have to be just right for the player to experience a breakout campaign. Here are my 2013 breakout candidates.
- Blaine Gabbert. Why? Because he has no choice. Gabbert is entering his 3rd year. This will be his second as “the guy.” He’s 23 years old and Jedd Fisch will be his 3rd offensive coordinator. The circumstances are just right for Gabbert to step up and prove why he was once considered a top ten talent as a rookie. The overall team around him has gotten younger and more competitive. I believe that Fisch’s system will compliment Gabbert’s skillset and give Gabbert more freedom at the line of scrimmage. Throw in the fact that protection should be better with Eugene Monroe at left tackle and No. 2 overall pick Luke Joeckel at right tackle, a healthy Maurice Jones-Drew will be returning, and Cecil Shorts will be looking to build on his own stellar 2012 breakout campaign, how could Gabbert not become the competitive quarterback we all hope he is?
- Jason Babin. Ok, ok. I know, he’s 33 years old and at the tail end of his career. Babin has seen success, however. He will be the Leo week one, and he’s fully recovered from his offseason surgery. At this point in the career of a 30 something NFL player, the responsibilities must be simplified. That’s exactly what’s happening with Babin’s position. There’s no kind of coverage responsibilities with the Leo. It’s been noted time and time again this offseason. The Leo is supposed to do one thing-rush the quarterback. That’s something Babin has shown he can do in the past.
- Andre Branch. He had what? 12 tackles and a sack last year? The entire defense, let alone the defensive line, was bad in 2012. Posting 20 sacks as a whole, the defense needs as many players to pressure the quarterback as possible. Branch was considered one of the top young pass rushers heading into the 2012 draft. I think he bounces back in this scheme and we begin to see him progress. He won’t get starter snaps unless someone goes down, but I believe that he can be an integral part of the defensive line rotation, and eventually develop into a starter.
- Tyson Alualu. One of the jokes of the 2010 draft, Alualu hasn’t been able to produce the kinds of numbers that come with being a top ten pick. He was drafted to be a defensive tackle who can collapse the pocket and get sacks from the position, but due to injuries Alualu just hasn’t been able to perform. He’s been moved to strongside defensive end in this new defensive scheme. He won’t have as many opportunities to rush the quarterback, but he will have more run-defending responsibilities. I think Alualu can flourish in this role and we will see a resurgent player who has pretty much been written off by everyone.
Those are the players who I think are most likely to breakout. If you don’t have a quarterback and guys who can take down the other team’s quarterback, you will find yourself in a whole heap of trouble come the regular season. In a nutshell (and I do the best I can to avoid stating the obvious) if Gabbert doesn’t improve and if the pass rush doesn’t improve, the Jaguars will once again be picking in the top 10 come 2014.
-David R. Johns