Every year in the NFL, certain folks step out of the shadows. Promising youngsters blossom into stars. Guys finally grow up and live up to the hype. Players join new teams and thrive. Backups become starters and seize the opportunity.
Let's get ahead of the curve.
Top 100 Players of 2013
Here are my breakout players for 2013, Schein Nine style:
1) Trent Richardson, RB, Cleveland Browns: Cleveland's offense was a mess last year, and Richardson's rookie season didn't go as planned. Nicked and bruised with multiple ailments (ribs, knee), Richardson rumbled for a pedestrian 950 yards. He didn't show the power or burst that made him a top-three pick coming out of Alabama.
A healthy Richardson, a prideful Richardson with a chip on his shoulder, is destined for a gigantic sophomore season. New head coach Rob Chudzinski told the Cleveland media last month that Richardson is "quicker than what you see on tape."
Norv Turner isn't a skilled head coach, but he's a great play caller, and Chudzinski is lucky to have him. Turner's offenses have featured dominant backs through the years, from Emmitt Smith to Stephen Davis to Ricky Williams.
With Brandon Weeden at quarterback and questionable receivers out wide for the Browns, you know Richardson is going to get a lot of touches. I think Richardson will live up to his draft status and put up Pro Bowl-caliber numbers in a monster season. Grab him in your fantasy league!
2) Janoris Jenkins, CB, St. Louis Rams: His skills have never been questioned. His attitude and his maturity deservedly have been under the microscope forever. Jeff Fisher has a great knack for getting knuckleheads to focus and achieve. Jenkins enjoyed a very productive rookie season under Fisher, with 14 pass deflections and four picks. He's also a strong tackler.
With the Rams' underrated front seven and accompanying pass rush, Jenkins is going to become one of the best corners in the NFC this season.
3) Bruce Irvin, DE/OLB, Seattle Seahawks: This cat is a freak athlete. Irvin had eight sacks in his rookie year -- and he was still raw. With a full NFL season under his belt, this Seattle pass rusher will become one of the elite sack artists and disruptive forces in the game.
4) Delanie Walker, TE, Tennessee Titans: Walker is one of my favorite players in the NFL. He's a total team guy who will do anything to win, whether that means playing tight end, running back, receiver, special teams, catching passes or blocking. Last season, he snagged 21 passes and averaged 16.4 yards per catch. Walker is a matchup problem for linebackers and safeties.
Moving from the 49ers to the Titans via free agency, he should be even more involved in the passing attack. Vernon Davis was always the No. 1 tight end in San Francisco; now Walker sits atop the depth chart in Tennessee. And the Titans boast Chris Johnson and three talented receivers. Thus, Walker will be licking his chops when he sees who is covering him.
5) David Wilson, RB, New York Giants: I loved this pick when the Giants made it at the end of the first round in the 2012 NFL Draft. But Wilson's rookie season was doomed almost immediately when he lost a first-quarter fumble in the NFL Kickoff Game defeat to the Dallas Cowboys (and memorably got pretty emotional on the sideline). Tom Coughlin stuck the rook in the doghouse and didn't really let him out until the season's final month.
Ahmad Bradshaw's health issues, which routinely compromised his availability, made him an ex-Giant early this offseason. GM Jerry Reese drafted Wilson for his sizzle and power, his unique ability to both juke defenders and get yards after contact. After being a non-factor in the backfield for much last season, Wilson will come to play in 2013.
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6) Kelechi Osemele, OL, Baltimore Ravens: If I had a dollar for every Ravens player, coach or executive who credited "KO" for Baltimore's offensive turnaround in the playoffs, I'd be as rich as Joe Flacco. He's smart. He's physical. He's versatile. I think we are looking at many trips to Hawaii in Osemele's future.
7) Marcell Dareus, DT, Buffalo Bills: I thought the Bills would field the best defensive line in football last season. I was wrong on so many levels. But there were extenuating circumstances, from injury to tragedy.
Dareus' brother was killed in a triple-homicide in September. Understandably, he never seemed the same.
New Bills coach Doug Marrone made an astute hire by appointing Mike Pettine to be his defensive coordinator. Pettine worked wonders last season with New York Jets DL Muhammad Wilkerson. I think Dareus will dominate and anchor a turnaround for the Bills up front.
8) Vincent Brown, WR, San Diego Chargers: Brown missed all of last year with a broken ankle. When healthy, he has the hands, speed and skills to dominate. New Chargers head coach Mike McCoy told the media he has "high hopes" for Brown. And he should. McCoy understands offensive football and is probably drooling over the possibilities.
I think Brown needed a fresh start with a clean bill of health and a new head coach. He is going to rock this year.
Top 100 plays of 2012
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9) Nick Fairley, DT, Detroit Lions: There's a nice buzz brewing around Fairley this offseason. If you have noticed -- and as a noted critic of the Lions' off-field issues and lack of discipline in the past, I have -- Fairley has put his issues behind him. Teammates are gushing about his work ethic and physique. Talent has never been the question with Fairley; he just needs to stay focused and healthy.
Despite the fact that Fairley's absurdly talking Super Bowl for the team, I think he has been humbled by his personal experiences over two seasons in the league. I'm betting on a big turnaround in Year 3.