Every NFL season, we see a handful players who are solid take the next step and rise to stardom, and today, I’ll be taking on the tall task of trying to predict who five of these breakout players could be for next season:
- Rashod Bateman
WR, Baltimore Ravens
The Ravens aren’t a very pass-heavy team, but over the last few years, they have liked to have two capable pass catchers to prevent defenses from stacking the box against the run. Their primary pass catcher will remain star tight end Mark Andrews, but with Marquise Brown being traded during the draft, Bateman has a real opportunity to step up as the number one wide receiver on this offense. A first-round pick in the 2021 NFL draft, Bateman had a lot of hype coming out of college, but he couldn’t do more than show some flashes here and there during an injury-riddled rookie campaign. The contract situation with star QB Lamar Jackson is notable, however. If Jackson somehow misses significant time this year or holds out, that could spell trouble for the developing young receiver, but assuming things go to plan for the Ravens, Bateman is a prime candidate to take his game to a new level in 2022.
- Nick Bolton
LB, Kansas City Chiefs
The Chiefs had one of, if not the best draft in all of the NFL last year. Not only did they get young studs like Creed Humphrey and Trey Smith on the offensive line, but they also got a true difference maker on the defense in Bolton. He was a projected first-round pick in many mock drafts leading up to the 2021 draft, but he fell and the Chiefs were able to get a steal on him in the late second round. In his rookie campaign, he logged a team-leading 112 total tackles, and in addition to that, he also got 11 TFL’s and one touchdown off of a fumble recovery that iced a close fourth-quarter game against the Denver Broncos. The Chiefs defense has been lacking energy, youth, and speed over the past few seasons, but Bolton has come in and already made a game-changing impact on this team, which helps to give them a fighting chance in a star-studded AFC West. If he can further prove himself and really make that second-year leap, he could cause problems for opposing offenses for years to come.
- Donald Parham
TE, Los Angeles Chargers
Parham has had an interesting career throughout his two years in the NFL. He started out as an UDFA for the Chargers after coming from the XFL, but he has solidified himself as a solid tight end throughout his first two years on the Chargers. Most recently, he had an incident in a game where he hit the ground while catching a football, and he just laid motionless on the turf. Many people thought it was a serious injury, and he got stretchered off, but he turned out to be alright after that. It was a scary scene, but he is expected to be ready to go for the 2022 season. Aside from those setbacks, Parham has flashed some serious potential when he is on the field. He is 6’8, can get up higher than almost anyone at the catch point, and has solid athleticism to pair with his size. The team did bring in Gerald Everett this offseason, but with the emergence of quarterback Justin Herbert, there are plenty of passes to go around in the Chargers offense. Parham could very realistically develop into a premier red-zone threat in an already stout Chargers passing attack.
- Pat Freiermuth
TE, Pittsburgh Steelers
Freiermuth went rather under the radar in 2021, but he flashed some elite potential during his rookie campaign with the Steelers. He paired nearly 500 yards with 7 touchdowns, and he was one of the team’s go-to options in the red zone. He has already proved that he can be an effective player, and as he gets experience and continues to develop, he could turn into a top tight end in the league. He did all of this with an aging Ben Roethlisberger as his quarterback last year, and his production will only continue to get better if either Mitchell Trubisky or Kenny Pickett can stand out as a good young quarterback for this team. Young tight ends generally take a few years to develop into elite players, but with the potential that Freiermuth showed in year one, he very well could turn into a top player at the position as soon as next season.
- Bryan Edwards
WR, Atlanta Falcons
Every year, it seems like Bryan Edwards gets a bunch of hype coming out of training camp, with him even drawing comparisons to Randy Moss and Terrell Owens near the start of the regular season last year. Over his first two seasons, however, he has not even come close to satisfying the level of hype he has received. He is good for a nice play here or there, but he wasn’t a consistent part of the Raiders passing attack and he couldn’t stay on the field long enough to actually make an impact on the game. That is set to change this season, however. He got traded to the Atlanta Falcons, who are in dire need of receiver help after the suspension of Calvin Ridley, and he is projected to be the top wide receiver on the team this season. In addition to the high projected volume, he is reuniting with quarterback Marcus Mariota, who he played with in Las Vegas and presumably has some level of chemistry already established with. Mariota is projected to be the starter for the Falcons, and that means good things for Edwards, who has already proven to be a capable receiver, but just needs the extra push to make the jump in year three. He never justified the hype he got in Las Vegas, but he has a fresh start this year and a clear path to establishing himself as a high-value young receiver.
*All stats vis ProFootballReference