Second-year NFL breakout players to watch for in 2021

Some of the best players in the NFL will be second-year players from an impressive 2020 NFL Draft class, but who will break out this season?

The 2020 NFL Draft class introduced plenty of young talent to the NFL. However, there are many players primed to break out in Year 2 of their NFL careers. We see position players get most of the love in these kinds of pieces, so we’ll make sure to bring the hog mollies on the interior to the party. Which players will break out during the 2021 NFL season?

2021 Second-Year Breakout Candidates: The big boys

Let’s get to the young men who play with their hands in the dirt first. This part of the list will include primary pass rushers as well as the 300+ pounders.

Chase Young, DE, Washington Football Team

Let’s start with the obvious. Young isn’t just a freak pass rusher with outstanding technical prowess and athleticism. Young also gets to line up alongside Daron Payne, Jonathan Allen, Matt Ioannidis, Montez Sweat, and Tim Settle. The team also doesn’t have a ton of edge depth, so Young’s snap count should be astronomical.

That could hinder his overall effectiveness on obvious pass-rush downs, but the sheer volume of pass rushes he’ll see in 2021 should yield positive statistical regression. The PFN staff as a whole believes he’s an NFL Defensive Player of the Year candidate. Although I wouldn’t personally go that far, he should break out as one of the best players in the NFL in Year 2.

Davon Hamilton, DT, Jacksonville Jaguars

Urban Meyer’s OSU staff recruited the former Buckeye. Now, Hamilton takes on Year 2, looking to break out under his old college coach. Hamilton was a third-round pick last year at defensive tackle. However, that’s probably due to his underwhelming athletic profile for his size.

The 320-pound NFL player doesn’t wow with explosion. He’s technically proficient with his hands and plays with a great understanding of leverage. This allows him to remain in position with a quick mental trigger against run-blocking schemes. Hamilton might never put up massive numbers as an interior defender, but he could progress into one of the better run-defending nose tackles in the game.

Tyler Biadasz, C, Dallas Cowboys

Many believed Biadasz was a future first-round pick before his final season at Wisconsin. He battled through injury at the time, and his effectiveness lacked as his athleticism was zapped. However, he’s a full two seasons from those injuries, and he has the Cowboys’ starting center job on lock.

Playing alongside Zack Martin (after his brief stint out) should also help him break out in Year 2. Biadasz flashed as a rookie in his 426 offensive snaps, but the entire line was in shambles in 2020.

Lucas Niang, OT, Kansas City Chiefs

Niang had good reviews coming out of TCU, but a hip injury ended his final collegiate season early. When the pandemic hit the United States, Niang opted out of the 2020 NFL season. Now, Niang heads into the season with no Mitchell Schwartz starting over him at right tackle.

Niang had a bit of everything as he headed to the NFL. He was technically proficient and had more-than-good-enough athleticism for the position. With Patrick Mahomes quarterbacking the Chiefs, Niang is blocking for the $500 million man and highest-paid QB in history. He needs to be good.

Skill positions

Now, it’s time to get into the smaller guys. These skill-position players will break out in 2021.

Jeffrey Okudah, CB, Detroit Lions

Honestly, it was tough to pick a candidate for cornerback. Okudah struggled as a rookie, but the belief is that he can still be that top-five-caliber player the Lions drafted.

His “breakout” will be more about elevating his play to a more respectable level. Okudah was a physical cornerback with great cerebral ability and technique while at Ohio State. In 2020, Okudah played through a severe core muscle injury that required surgery after the year. If it affected him as much as has been reported, his game will take a huge leap forward in 2021.

Logan Wilson, LB, Cincinnati Bengals

It was difficult to find a linebacker to “break out.” None of the top guys burst onto the scene in 2020, but it’s difficult to see any of them taking a massive leap forward.

Nevertheless, the Bengals need Wilson to turn into one of the NFL’s breakout players. Germaine Pratt won’t get the job done on the second level for the Bengals’ defense.

Wilson isn’t the most explosive athlete, but he’s fluid enough to survive in space and coverage. If D.J. Reader can occupy some double-teams, Wilson could take that necessary leap forward.

Terrell Burgess, S, Los Angeles Rams

Burgess is a do-it-all safety that should perfectly fit in a defense with Jalen Ramsey, Darious Williams, Taylor Rapp, and Jordan Fuller. Fuller was another candidate, but he already hit a peak we weren’t expecting from the NFL Draft.

Burgess has the ability to cover receivers from the slot and play on the back end as a traditional safety. His versatility allows new defensive coordinator Raheem Morris to use him creatively as both.

Antonio Gibson, RB, Washington Football Team

Gibson was so much fun to watch at Memphis, even in incredibly limited situations. He’s the most recent Memphis Tiger with limited reps to explode at the NFL level. Gibson played receiver for the most part (like Tony Pollard) for the Tigers before transitioning to RB full-time as an NFL player.

Gibson’s physical profile is perfect for the position. At 6’0″ and 230 pounds, he has the density to break tackles. He also runs a sub-4.4 40-yard dash and moves incredibly well laterally. His upside as a receiver is immense, especially in a Scott Turner offense.

Adam Trautman, TE, New Orleans Saints

Trautman has to be one of the NFL players to break out in 2021. The Saints absolutely need some offensive firepower with Michael Thomas missing the start of the season. Trautman escaped serious injury when he rolled his ankle during the preseason. Still, he needs to get healthy for Jameis Winston and the Saints’ offense.

Trautman didn’t run well at the NFL Combine, but he has elite lateral mobility, which helped him as a route runner coming out of Dayton. He’ll be used as a mismatch piece in the offense. Overall, the 2020 TE class looks like a struggle.

CeeDee Lamb, WR, Dallas Cowboys

Conversely, the 2020 receiver class looks ridiculously good. With Prescott healthy, Lamb looked like he might be one of the most productive breakout NFL players in the league. However, the offense fell off in general, as did Lamb.

Lamb added muscle to his frame during the offseason, and he’s been in the lab learning from Amari Cooper. From a footwork perspective, that is an absolutely massive development if it pays off because Cooper is one of the best route runners in the NFL. By season’s end, Lamb will cement himself as the Cowboys’ WR1.

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