In some divisions, the second year breakout players are guys who weren’t drafted in the premium rounds and showed flashes as rookies. In the AFC East, every club has a premium round guy who is ready to play up to his draft status in 2014. Two (E.J. Manuel and Geno Smith) play the most important position in football: quarterback!
E.J. Manuel – Buffalo Bills
There might be more pressure on E.J. Manuel to have a breakout year than any other player in the NFL. Manuel was the only quarterback taken in the first round of the 2013 NFL Draft. To many, it was a surprise that he went in the first round. The consensus was that he was a solid second round pick.
Manuel showed flashes of good play in 2013 but was held back by injuries. He played in 10 games and completed 180 of 306 passes for 1972 yards, 11 touchdowns and nine interceptions. Though he played on Sunday in those 10 games, he missed valuable practice time with the injuries. A rookie, especially a quarterback, needs as many reps as he can get in practice.
Manuel has the full off season and OTA period to improve his game and develop a chemistry with new receivers Sammy Watkins and Mike Williams. This is important, because with new ownership coming in within the next six months, a lot of jobs and careers can be tied to his success.
Geno Smith – New York Jets
Like Manuel, there is a lot of pressure on Geno Smith to succeed. He was the second quarterback taken in the 2013 NFL Draft, and while he played in all 16 games, his play was inconsistent at best. For the year, Smith completed 247 of 443 passes for 3,046 yards, 12 touchdowns and 21 interceptions. To put it mildly, his touchdown to interception ratio was horrible!
Smith also has the full off season to work on his game and improve. The Jets brought in Michael Vick to provide competition, but the job belongs to Smith unless he falters.
It was thought that the Jets would draft a wide receiver in the premium rounds, but they waited until the fourth round before they selected Jalen Saunders a lightning fast slot receiver from Oklahoma and Shaq Evans a big “X” receiver from UCLA. The Jets did select Jace Amaro, a talented “move” tight end, in the second round. Amaro can create mismatch problems for the defense.
In free agency, the Jets signed Eric Decker, the former Broncos' receiver, who has size and talent. Another interesting signing was Jacoby Ford from the Raiders. While Ford has been injury prone, he is also very fast and talented. The Jets have upgraded the talent around Smith. Now it’s up to Smith to play to his enormous potential.
Dion Jordan – Miami Dolphins
When you are the third pick in the first round of any draft, you are expected to come in and make an instant contribution. Such was not the case with Dion Jordan last year in Miami. While he was supposed to be a pass rusher, he finished the season with 22 total tackles and just 2.0 sacks.
In fairness, Jordan was dealing with a shoulder injury in 2013 that prevented him from getting to full strength. Knowing he was a disappointment, Jordan began his off season workouts shortly after the 2013 season ended. He has become a dedicated weightlifter and is now up to over 260 pounds.
Jordan has rare athleticism for a defensive end and with his traits. The Dolphins should be able to use him in different ways to put pressure on the offense. With added strength and size and at full health, there is no reason Jordan can’t reach his potential and be a double digit sack guy in 2014.
Aaron Dobson – New England Patriots
The Patriots had a makeover at the receiver position in 2013. It was hoped that second round pick Aaron Dobson from Marshall would make an immediate contribution. Dobson did show flashes and finished the season with 37 receptions for 519 yards and four touchdowns. He also added two catches in the playoffs.
Dobson was bothered by a foot injury in 2013. It was thought that rest in the early off season would take care of the problem. When he still was having problems in early March, Dobson elected to have it surgically repaired. Rehab from the surgery will prevent Dobson from participating in OTA’s but he will be full go for training camp.
A healthy Aaron Dobson has the potential to be Tom Brady’s number two receiver in his second year, with a 65 to 70 catch season and 10 touchdowns.
Follo Greg on Twitter @greggabe
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