Five potential breakout players for 2013: Who will it be? All Green Bay Packers All the Time
Packers CB Davon House
Packers CB Davon House

Every NFL season begins with a blank slate and ends with a long list of newly-minted star players.

Last season, 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick may be the prime example of a player that took the next step and pushed his team to the next level, as San Francisco won the NFC and advanced to Super Bowl XLVII.

Broncos receiver Demaryius Thomas went from being an afterthought in a Tim Tebow-led offense in 2011 to being one of the most dangerous offensive players in football in 2012. Thomas ranked fourth in the NFL with 1,434 receiving yards.

And in Green Bay, a pair of Packers wideouts enjoyed breakout years of their own.

After showing flashes of brilliance as a rookie in 2011, Randall Cobb exploded onto the scene last season, leading the team with 80 catches and 954 receiving yards. Cobb is the odds-on favorite to lead the team in both categories in 2013.

Fellow receiver James Jones enjoyed a breakout season of his own. Jones set career highs in all three major categories, catching 64 passes for 784 yards and 14 touchdowns.

Playing in an offense with Aaron Rodgers under center, any receiver could become the team’s “go-to guy” on a week-to-week basis. But Jordy Nelson had his coming-out party in 2011, and Jones and Cobb had their last year. So unless one of the Packers young, unproven receivers can take a step forward and join the rotation, this year’s breakout player may be on the defensive side of the ball.

Let’s take a look at five potential breakout candidates for the 2013 season. Feel free to comment and let me know who you think will be the team’s breakout player this season, even if they’re not on the list.

(NOTE: Rookies will not be included on this list. It’s tough to forecast a rookie having a breakout year when he has yet to play a single down at the NFL level. That means Eddie Lacy, Johnathan Franklin and Datone Jones are not listed.)

1. FS Morgan Burnett

It took Nick Collins until his fourth season to reach his potential. Morgan Burnett may not be Collins, but there are some distinct similarities between the two. And through their first three NFL seasons, Burnett trumps Collins in most statistical categories.

Last season was undoubtedly Burnett’s best as a professional. He was arguably the team’s most valuable player in a rather uneventful game against the Jacksonville Jaguars in Week 8, and he emerged as Christian Ponder’s go-to receiver against the Minnesota Vikings in Week 13. Without a clear-cut starter alongside him in the secondary, Burnett will be counted upon to take his game to the next level this season.

Burnett is entering the final year of his rookie contract, and with a productive 2013 season, he’ll likely be paid handsomely next summer. Seahawks safety Kam Chancellor has become one of the top safeties in the league, and he just received a five-year extension worth $35 million, including $17 million guaranteed. Burnett may not be at Chancellor’s level yet, but this upcoming season will play a huge role in determining his open-market value next summer.

2. CB Davon House

Prior to suffering a shoulder injury in the team’s first preseason game in San Diego, Davon House looked like one of the team’s most impressive players throughout training camp. Last summer, it became abundantly clear that Randall Cobb would have an expanded role within the offense in his second year, and it certainly looked like House would be the starting cornerback opposite Tramon Williams.

One of my favorite position battles to watch at practice is when the wide receivers and cornerbacks go one-on-one. Randall Cobb was virtually uncoverable throughout the summer, as was Jordy Nelson. But when House lined up across from either player, all bets were off. To me, House was the most impressive cornerback throughout the summer.

But after the shoulder injury, House was inactive until Week 7 in St. Louis. His absence allowed Sam Shields to return to 2010 form, while rookie Casey Hayward emerged as one of the most reliable slot cornerbacks in the league. With such a crowded depth chart at the position, House will need to have another impressive training camp if he’s going to find the field in 2013. But assuming he’s 100 percent healthy again, don’t be surprised if House takes a giant leap forward in his third NFL season.

3. TE Jermichael Finley

No player on the Packers roster elicits as much of a reaction as Jermichael Finley. For whatever reason, there doesn’t seem to be much of a middle ground–either you can’t stand Finley the player or Finley the person, or you think he’s a talented player who has an interesting way with words. Either way, 2013 is a crossroads for Finley, as he enters the final year of the contract.

Before suffering a season-ending knee injury in Week 5 of 2010, Finley was the focal point of the Packers offense. Through the first four games of 2010, Finley had already racked up 21 catches for 301 yards. Over the course of a 16-game season, those numbers equate to 84 receptions and 1,204 yards. That’s pretty good.

Finley has drawn the ire of many Packers fans for dropped passes and a loud mouth, but after the team’s Week 10 bye, he was one of the most effect tight ends in football. Mike McCarthy said he saw “a change” in Finley over the second half of the season. And now that Greg Jennings is playing in Minnesota, Finley will have every opportunity to become a key component of the team’s passing attack this season.

4. OLB Nick Perry

After getting off to a slow start in his rookie season, Nick Perry gave football fans a glimpse of his potential when he clocked an unsuspecting Andrew Luck in Week 5. Perry hit Luck directly below the chin, in the middle of the breastplate, drawing a 15-yard flag for playing football. But nonetheless, that one play gave Packers fans reason for optimism.

On the opposite side of Clay Matthews, the Packers have had somewhat of a revolving door. Brad Jones, Frank Zombo, Erik Walden and Dezman Moses have each taken turns to be the starter, but nobody has firmly grasped the opportunity. Perry will enter 2013 as the favorite to start, and despite only suiting up for six games as a rookie, being around the system for a full calendar year should help his development.

Perry played defensive end at USC, and he still looks like a defensive end. At 265 pounds, he’s certainly built more like LaMarr Woodley than James Harrison. Fortunately for Perry, he has the opportunity to watch Matthews–one of the best outside linebackers in the NFL–play the position on a weekly basis. If Perry reaches his potential in his second NFL season and Matthews stays healthy, the Packers defense will be much improved.

5. SS Jerron McMillian

Despite safety being one of the deeper positions in the 2013 NFL Draft, the Packers decided not to draft a single player at that position. That means either the Packers weren’t as high on this year’s crop of safeties as most draft analysts and/or other teams–or–they’re excited about someone already on the roster.

Jerron McMillian is entering his second year now, and he certainly has enough athletic ability to become an every-down player in the Packers defense. Barring a late addition of a veteran player, McMillian will battle M.D. Jennings to be the team’s starting safety alongside Burnett.

At this point, McMillian is clearly better in run defense than Jennings, and the two are pretty comparable in pass coverage. McMillian may be another year or two away from reaching his full potential, but he is a candidate to take a giant step forward in his second NFL season.


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Marques is a Journalism student, serving as the Sports Editor of UW-Green Bay\'s campus newspaper The Fourth Estate and a Packers writer at Jersey Al\'s Follow Marques on Twitter @MJEversoll.


39 thoughts on “Five potential breakout players for 2013: Who will it be?

  1. pretty much agree on all of them. I’m hoping Mike Neal will be in this discussion once the year starts.

    1. Yeah, I hear you. Neal along with Datone Jones could help make the D-line solid and allow the linebackers to be a more effective part of this 3-4

    2. Agreed on Neal. Think he had a bit of a “breakout year” in 2012, but he’s got the talent to build on that.

      He and Harris/Green were some others I considered.

      1. I’m not going to go on a limb and declare it. But w/ Neal emerging and Jones added to the mix w/ Raji, the Packers have the potential to have a very good pass rush from the DL. If Jolly returns and beats out Wilson, the DL along w/ Pickett and Raji could turn into a damn good group! I’m trying to temper my enthusiasm cuz as of now its very much unproven and has plenty of “if”s but theres certainly some intriguing talent now.

      2. I really like Mike Neal. Unlike the consensus of opinion, though, I think that he’ll be fortunate to make the roster, given the addition of Jones and Boyd and possibly Pena to the “D” line. If he does make the roster, will it be on the PUP list or will he eventually be placed on IR? He’s had too many injuries, too many “bad breaks” in the past for 2013 to be his “breakout” year. I doubt if the Pack will give him another year to heal.

    3. IMO its not even close. Mike Neal is the most talented defensive lineman on the team. Power/quickness/hands, he has it all. He starts week one and anchors that dline

  2. Here are a couple more to add to the list:

    1) Derek Sherrod (1st round pick that’s been injured for 2 years; its now or never
    2) Brad Jones (Has Freakish athleticism and notable strength now that he’s grown into his frame to go along with a high football acumen. I expect big things)
    3)Terrell Manning ( T.T. traded up for him in last years draft and he plays like his hair is on fire; that’s refreshing at MLB)
    4) B.J. RAJI (AGAIN. Hopefully Perry, Matthews, Jones and Pickett can free up some one on one work for “The Beej” the same way Cullen Jenkins did when he was here)
    5) B.J. Coleman ( Becomes a top 3 back-up in the league with the tutelage of McCarthy and Rodgers a la Matt Flynn)

  3. not that i don’t think perry can become a good player, but i can’t stand it when people use that hit on luck as an example of how goos he can be.

    go watch the play… he wasn’t even blocked.

    1. I agree about that. I don’t see how not getting blocked and drawing a penalty can in any way be a reason for optimism or of how good Perry can be. Just makes no damn sense to me!

      1. I think the optimism is there based on the speed with which he closed on the QB. Also the fact that the hit was a crushing blow and knocked the ball loose doesn’t hurt. I agree, going unblocked makes it less impressive, but the combination of power, size and speed are what make Perry intriguing. GoPack!

        1. I saw (And feel that others who watched Perry’s play closely) plenty of indications that Perry could become a force outside of that particular play.

          He has domineering strength and is very quick. It will all come down to his ability to learn to play and assess out of the two point stance. If he can learn hand techniques and how to set tackles up from an upright position, he has all the athleticism and strength to excel.

        2. I’ll be impressed when he beats the OT and makes that play. Now that would get me excited! I like Perry but that play wasn’t impressive to me. Especially confidering the flag.

          1. The flag was an atrocious call! Don’t hold that against Perry. Everyone knows, including the announcers, it was a clean hit. GoPack!

            1. How can you possibly say that?! He led w/ his helmet, not his shoulder! It wasn’t a helmet to helmet, but he still led w/ his helmet. No matter how you cut it that’s still a penalty.

  4. If all these players take steps forward it’s going to be a special season.

    If only 1 or even 2… could be tough to watch in the divisional round.. again

  5. Good list. Finley is an interesting one to appear here. He’s certainly had plenty of time to “break out”. I don’t think anyone would complain if he does this year, even if it is year 6. I have my reservations about a guy who takes that long but he’s a Packer this year so might as well hope he does.

    1. I will go out on a limb and predict Finley to finish second on the team in catches this year behind Cobb.

      1. I think I’d lean towards Nelson, but I think Finley will be very close. It’s been far from crowded on the Finley bandwagon, but I think a few people will jump on this year.

        Finley needs to produce this year, because if not, he’ll be elsewhere in 2014.

        1. I think he’s gone regardless. If he doesn’t produce, we won’t want him back. If he does produce, we probably can’t afford him…

          LOok for that compensatory pick though!!

        2. I’m expecting a very focused Finley in a contract year. ARod still needs to look for him, but I think he can be a monster in the deep middle.

  6. Nice article. Really agree on House. Been waiting since we drafted him for him to step up. To make a long story short, I happened to see him in person in college at New Mexico St. And, I have seen an awful lot of college football games but that was the only one where it was obvious from the opening snap that the best player on the field was a corner. He was all over the place. Never saw that before or since.

  7. Going against all common sense…

    Alex Green.

    He’s still my boy. Let’s see a healthy Green.

    1. May sound crazy to most, but I’m with you.

      Lot of talk about Lacy and Franklin — and rightfully so — but I still think Green brings some nice things to the table. And people seem to be quick to forget about DuJuan Harris.

      1. Green has a great skill set.

        While most thought he was the odd man out last season, I have always felt it was Starks. I would have figured coming into this season the battle would be Harris and Green.

        Don’t get me wrong, things got a whole lot more complicated with Lacy and Franklin- in a very good way.

        From a very superficial standpoint, Lacy and Harris are cast from the same mold, as Franklin and Green are as well.

        I believe those are the “real” competitions at RB this camp. Lacy and Harris battling for the “bruiser” back position, while Franklin and Green battle it out for the 3rd down/Change of pace/gadget back position.

        Deciding on who gets the third HB slot is going to be tough and will probably be based on long term ceiling, STs, or pass blocking. Hell, maybe they keep four.

        1. I would say Green is much more like Lacy. 225 to Lacy 230. Harris and Franklin are little 3rd down guys. Think you got comparison mixed up.

          1. Per usual, you look at stat sheets, I watch people play.

            If you think Green and Lacy are the same type of back, or that Harris and Franklin’s skill sets are comparable, I’m calling you out:

            You don’t watch football. You read stat sheets.

            1. Certainly hope your not saying Harris runs anything like Lacy. THAT would be utterly ridiculous! Harris and Franklin are virtual carbon copies of one another! Green and Lacy run a lot alike. Look at Greens 40yd run vs Indy?, then watch Lacy highlights again.

              Apparently you need to pay more attention!

              1. Lacy is a power back who has run vs. a loaded box his entire career. Yes, he has that “spin move” everyone talks about, but his game is smash mouth football, picking a narrow crease in a crowded field, slamming the hole, and taking on all commers.. Much like Harris. Lacy lives in the redzone and particularly the goal line.

                Green, while a large upright runner, made his name running out of the spread his entire career.. His game has always been taking advantage of, and working in, space. He runs to daylight, and uses subtlety to make a defender miss in open space to get his yards. He works large open spaces like a WR leverages a field to make YAC. Green was only sparingly used in short yardage or goaline situations.

              2. I don’t care about Lacy’s spin move. That’s a small part of his repertoire anyway. The important thing to note in the run by Green vs Indy was the way he cut and then got in the secondary, then made another cut to get separation from the defenders. You can see Lacy do that a lot when he get in the open field. Make a nice hard cut to gain more yards. Also if you look closely, on the run by Green, notice the way he drops his weight to make the cuts. In the open field every RB is pretty upright, some more than others. But when he makes a cut or is going to hit a defender he does a good job of dropping his weight to gain leverage and get the most out of a run.

                Also, while Green played his final 2 years in Hawaii running from the spread of more correctly the run and shoot, your wrong becuz he played his 1st 2 years as the Tail Back in a pro style offense at Butte. So he is also accustomed to being in a RB centric offense. The Green that we saw mostly last year was a Green that was not nearly 100% after ACL. He has limited explosiveness after a couple games, which made him appear tentative of unable to show any power. But he showed in flashes like the run vs Indy before his knee/legs started to show the effects.

                Go back to Greens college highlites and you’ll see Green breaking tackles and running thru DB’s. You simply are looking at Green being in a run and shoot and his lack of explosiveness running last year after the ACL. You’ll see a much different Green a year removed from ACL.

              3. I will say that Lacy is a more physical runner than Green, but its not really that pronounced as it looks on first blush due to Green’s ACL last year.

  8. I’m a huge Davon House and Terrell Manning fan. I identified them both pre-draft as players I wanted to see the Packers draft! IMO they will be come outstanding players the Packers D will rely on in the next few years.

    Davon House is the kinda CB that Al Harris was, but w/ better athleticism, speed and ball skills. He has a long way to go to reach the heights Harris did, but that’s the kind of upside he has.

    Manning is the kind of sideline to sideline playmaking ILB to be come a difference maker. Tough, Physical against the run and the athleticism to become a quality coverage LB.

    Can’t wait to see them blossom into terrific players. Don’t know if they’ll ever be Pro Bowl or anything, but they have excellent upside!

  9. We don’t focus on the OL but I’ll put one of the them in this category, just don’t know which one cuz…
    Bulaga was turning into a borderline pro bowler at RT, what if he excels at LT?
    AR recently praised EDS’s performance at OC, what if EDS plays that way for a whole season?
    If Lang plays full time at RG and stays healthy how good can he be?
    Can Barclay/Newhouse/Datko/Sherrod stand out if they solidify the RT position?

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