Published: April 11, 2016 at 08:45 a.m.
Updated: April 11, 2016 at 11:20 a.m.

Ronald Darby, Bud Dupree among Year 2 breakout candidates on defense


Marcus Peters ran away with the Defensive Rookie of the Year award last season. The Kansas City Chiefs' first-round pick was so impressive that Bucky Brooks already rates him as a top-five cornerback. But Peters wasn't the only rookie defender who flashed promise this past fall.

Last Friday, we explored 2016's potential sophomore sensations on offense. Now it's time to look at the other side of the ball with the 2015 draft class. Which defensive player is poised for a breakout in Year 2?

After a solid rookie season, Ronald Darby will take the next step in 2016
Ronald Darby had quite an encouraging year as a rookie in Buffalo. The way Rex Ryan utilizes his defensive backs to apply pressure and confusion to the offense, I think Darby could rack up around eight picks next season. He will be matched up against No. 1 wide receivers often, and offensive coordinators are going to test him. I think Darby will step up in those situations and have an even better year than last.
Eric Kendricks will be able to play more instinctively in Year 2 -- a scary thought for opponents
I thought Eric Kendricks came in and did a solid job for the Vikings in his rookie season. He made a lot of plays in both the running game and passing game. With one year under his belt, Kendricks will be more comfortable in the system and won't second-guess himself. He'll be able to relax and just react -- and be more explosive -- which will allow the Vikings' D to be more sound and improve on its No. 13 ranking in total defense. (To its credit, the unit did finish fifth in scoring D.)
Byron Jones ... What can't he do?
Dallas defensive back Byron Jones is an athletic freak who can cover anybody. We found out last year that he does a good job against the run, which surprised me. His versatility definitely makes him a candidate to break out this season, because he can play many positions: He can be a nickel, safety or corner and match up individually on a big-time tight end or a back. He does it all back there.
Darby will establish himself as a top-tier No. 1 corner
Even though some people might say Ronald Darby had a breakout season last year, I'm choosing him to truly break out this season, because I think the rest of the league will finally recognize and appreciate this young stud. He was terrific as a first-year starter, and Darby will be a guy that is a stand-up No. 1 cornerback. He's fast, tenacious, aggressive and plays with good instincts. He's a player I believe could be a dynamic corner, and everyone will truly appreciate his talent following his sophomore campaign with the Buffalo Bills.
Bud Dupree's production will catch up to his raw talent
From the Pittsburgh Steelers' coaching staff to the players, Bud Dupree is a main topic of conversation. He is ahead of the game and doesn't know how good he can be. A year ago, Bud didn't know his strengths, but he started to come around toward the end of the 2015 season. He's watched veteran guys around him like James Harrison for an entire year and learned from them. He saw Harrison's work ethic in the weight room, on the field and in the film room.

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