|Lenny Ignelzi/Associated Press|
|With Vincent Jackson's departure, Vincent Brown (above) should become a key piece for the San Diego Chargers.|
We know all about the current stars of in the NFL. So, who's next? Training camps, which start in full force this week, provide an opportunity for lesser-known guys to make a splash. Which player do you think will enjoy a breakthrough camp?
Once-promising OLB Cunningham facing make-or-break season in New EnglandMy under-the-radar pick comes from waaaay under the radar. In 2010, New England Patriots outside linebacker Jermaine Cunningham was a promising prospect. A second-round pick with prototype size for a 3-4 edge player, he logged 34 tackles, two forced fumbles and a sack in his rookie campaign. Yet after the lockout, he wasn't the same. Cunningham ended an injury-plagued 2011 season on IR after recording one tackle in nine games. Yet he's my pick to emerge from the shadows in 2012.
Cunningham still has the same size and speed, and he's fixed his leg issues. This is a make-or-break year for Cunningham, and he needs that pressure to shine. While the Patriots drafted a pass rusher in Chandler Jones, don't be surprised if it's Cunningham contributing on all downs in his third NFL season.
Raiders clearly confident in Moore's immense potential at receiverOakland Raiders' second-year wideout Denarius Moore is someone to keep an eye on. The team's trade of Louis Murphy to the Carolina Panthers on Monday confirmed Oakland's confidence in the emerging, six-foot, 190-pound talent.
As a rookie, Moore logged a somewhat unremarkable 33 grabs, but they went for 618 yards and five touchdowns. That's 18.7 yards a catch. He's a game-breaker who needs to develop some consistency. If he does, Moore is a major threat for an offense that also has speed on the other side with Darrius Heyward-Bey, who enjoyed a breakthrough season of his own in 2011.
After Vincent Jackson's departure, Vincent Brown could blow up in San DiegoThe San Diego Chargers' loss of one Vincent could open the door for another Vincent to become a household name among NFL fans in 2012.
Vincent Jackson signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as a free agent this offseason, and while Malcom Floyd should continue his role as a downfield threat, Chargers QB Philip Rivers might want to look Vincent Brown's way more often this fall.
The San Diego State product doesn't have Jackson's size/speed combination, but flashed talent as a rookie (19 catches, 329 yards, two touchdowns) to work the middle of the field and run some vertical routes. With talented tight end Antonio Gates also getting another year older, Brown needs to come up big in training camp so Rivers will trust him when the season starts in September.
McPhee will help fuel Ravens' pass rush during Suggs' absenceI am looking at a couple of defensive linemen who could wreak havoc this season. First is Pernell McPhee on the Baltimore Ravens. McPhee caught my eye last year at this time as a lineman with natural pass-rush skills. He possesses the quickness and suddenness you covet. With Terrell Suggs out of the lineup for an extended period of time, I think McPhee will shine. And with the Ravens' improved play at corner, they will incorporate more pressure packages. This will give McPhee and his fellow pass rushers more opportunities to get to the quarterback.
A dark horse is Philadelphia Eagles DE Phillip Hunt. He will be lost in the shadows of Trent Cole and Jason Babin, but Hunt has speed off the edge that can give offensive tackles trouble. He won't be a big-name guy in training camp, but he will be an interesting guy to watch nonetheless.
Packers' Starks is primed for a breakout season (in fantasy and reality)How about I give you my guy AND throw in some fantasy advice, too? Yes, I'm that kind of guy. There's something to that old adage about being in the right place at the right time, and that's James Starks in Green Bay.
Last year, Starks split the starting RB job with Ryan Grant, usually getting between 10 and 13 carries a week -- not enough to really become a huge weapon. (Trust me, as a James Starks owner in fantasy last season, I was painfully aware of his shortcomings in the responsibility department.) But you could see the kind of talent he has in short bursts.
Grant is gone this season. And even though the Green Bay Packers don't run the football all that much with Aaron Rodgers behind center, Starks is going to get all the carries because he's the only one there. Now he'll touch the ball 17-20 times a game -- also catching passes out of the backfield -- and be a huge contributor. Not only is this the year to own him in fantasy, it's the year he hits the NFL map with a splash.
Under "Hard Knocks" spotlight, Miami TE Clay is destined for stardomHBO's "Hard Knocks" has been the launching pad for many breakout stars, so it should come as no surprise the biggest star of 2012 training camp will come from the Miami Dolphins.
And no, I'm not talking about Lauren Tannehill.
Instead it will be tight end Charles Clay. It makes sense, right? Tight end has become the NFL's must-have accessory, like the on-field version of the iPhone. Clay will become a big part of the Dolphins' offense in 2012. He showed some flashes during a limited engagement last year, with three touchdowns on 16 receptions, and new coach Joe Philbin is already dreaming up ways of working him into the offense. So remember where you heard it first.