NFL News & Analysis

Breakout candidates for all 16 AFC teams: Chiefs' Kadarius Toney, Steelers' Kenny Pickett and more

Pittsburgh Steelers Kenny Pickett (8) sprints out of the pocket during the first half against the Las Vegas Raiders at Acrisure Stadium in Pittsburgh, PA on December 24, 2022. Pittsburgh Steelers Vs Las Vegas Raiders Week 16

• Chiefs' Kadarius Toney remains a high-ceiling wideout: The door is wide open in Kansas City's wide receiver room for Toney to live up to his first-round pedigree.

• Year 2 is set to be promising for Kenny Pickett: He earned the second-highest PFF passing grade over the last seven weeks of the 2022 season.

• Will Kader Kohou continue to exceed expectations? The former undrafted free agent impressed last season and will now play alongside Jalen Ramsey.

Estimated reading time: 8 minutes

As we enter the summer months, we turn the page from the NFL draft to preview pieces for the 2023 season and beyond. We've already identified the top 25 players under the age of 25 and followed that up with our top 30 players over the age of 30. Today, we'll look at potential breakout players ahead of 2023. 

These players have either flashed potential on a limited number of snaps and should have bigger roles in 2023, or they have played well already but have yet to catch the attention of the general public and media.



Baltimore Ravens: EDGE David Ojabo

Ojabo missed most of the 2022 season due to a torn Achilles and thus played only 21 snaps on defense throughout his rookie campaign. However, he did flash potential in Week 18 against the Bengals, logging 20 of those snaps. His 83.2 overall grade for the game ranked 13th among individual game performances by rookie edge defenders in 2022. Furthermore, the Ravens have lost Calais Campbell, Jason Pierre-Paul and Justin Houston since last season, so Ojabo should have plenty of opportunities to prove himself in 2023.

Buffalo Bills: CB Kaiir Elam

Despite being a first-round pick in 2022, Elam failed to become a starting cornerback by the start of the season and had an inconsistent rookie year. However, as a former first-round pick, he should have plenty of opportunities to win that position battle. He also finished the season strong, flipping his 56.7 PFF grade in the regular season to 87.1 in two playoff games, a mark that would have ranked second among cornerbacks in the regular season.

Cincinnati Bengals: CB Cam Taylor-Britt

Taylor-Britt was thrust into action following Chidobe Awuzie’s injury in 2022, and he did not disappoint. He ranked 59th among cornerbacks in PFF grade as a rookie but improved as the season progressed. From Week 12 on — including the postseason — he earned a 74.8 PFF grade, which tied for 19th best among 96 cornerbacks with at least 100 snaps over that span.

Cleveland Browns: CB Martin Emerson

Another rookie cornerback, Emerson played a significant role for the Browns all season, as he finished the year with the seventh-most snaps among first-year cornerbacks. And he also quietly put together an impressive season. He earned a 72.5 PFF grade, which ranked 23rd among cornerbacks, and he forced an incompletion on 20% of the passes into his coverage, the ninth-best rate at the position.

Denver Broncos: TE Greg Dulcich

Dulcich got off to a slow start in his rookie campaign, one that ended early due to injuries. But in between those injuries, he was one of the few bright spots on an otherwise struggling Broncos offense. While his 60.4 overall grade was good for only 41st among tight ends, it was heavily influenced by his blocking struggles. When looking at only his receiving grade, he ranked 24th among tight ends. Furthermore, between Week 7 and Week 13 — when he was playing at his best — he ranked sixth among tight ends in receiving yards and PFF receiving grade.

Houston Texans: WR Nico Collins

Collins might have already had a breakout season in 2022 if not for a couple of injuries and below-par quarterback play. His 72.4 PFF grade ranked only 35th among wide receivers last season; however, passes going his way were completed only 56.9% of the time, the 10th-lowest rate in the NFL despite Collins not dropping a single target all season. In fact, he was just one of nine receivers not to drop a pass among players with at least 50 targets last season.

Indianapolis Colts: OT Bernhard Raimann

Raimann experienced some growing pains in the first weeks of his NFL career, but as the season progressed, and the Colts started to fall apart, he played better and better. In the second half of the season, he earned a 77.1 overall grade that ranked 17th among offensive tackles. He was also one of only 10 offensive tackles to earn 74.0-plus grades in both run blocking and pass protection.

Jacksonville Jaguars: CB Tyson Campbell

Campbell already had a very impressive season in 2022, but most of the attention on the Jaguars' defense went to the pass rush. The second-year player ranked seventh among cornerbacks in PFF grade and played the most snaps at his position when including the postseason. In addition, he allowed only 0.69 receiving yards per coverage snap, the fourth-lowest mark out of 84 cornerbacks.

Kansas City Chiefs: WR Kadarius Toney

Why will Toney have a breakout season in 2023? Just turn on the tape of last year’s Super Bowl to find the answer. Toney was on the field for only seven snaps and still scored a touchdown and had a decisive punt return. Add in JuJu Smith-Schuster‘s departure and a whole offseason for Toney in Kansas City, and it is understandable why Chiefs fans are excited about the potential of the former Giants wide receiver.

Las Vegas Raiders: CB Tyler Hall

It is yet to be seen how big of a role Hall can have on the Raiders' defense, as he is projected to be a backup cornerback in 2023. However, based on his play in 2022, he could very well earn some additional playing time and be expected to take advantage of that. He only played in the second half of the 2022 season and was on the field for just 218 snaps. Nevertheless, he earned the third-highest coverage grade among cornerbacks over the last eight weeks of the season. In addition, he allowed just 0.28 receiving yards per coverage snap, which was the lowest mark in the entire league.

Los Angeles Chargers: G Zion Johnson

Johnson is another second-year player who struggled a bit early in his rookie season, but he showed plenty of promising signs as the season went on to make Chargers fans excited about a potential leap in Year 2. Even though he ranked just 39th in PFF grade among guards on the season, his 70.8 grade over the last seven weeks of the regular season was good for 12th best at his position. Also, his 73.5 run-blocking grade over that span ranked fifth among guards.

Miami Dolphins: CB Kader Kohou

Despite being an undrafted free agent, Kohou played the fourth-most snaps among rookie cornerbacks during the 2022 season. While Jalen Ramsey‘s arrival might limit Kohou's workload, he may see a more defined role in 2023. Even though he was the most targeted cornerback in 2022, with 116 passes going his way, he allowed only one receiving touchdown and kept opposing quarterbacks to a 76.3 passer rating, which was the 36th-lowest mark out of 150 cornerbacks.

New England Patriots: DI Christian Barmore

Many expected Barmore to have a breakout season in 2022, but his sophomore season got off to a slow start before he missed time due to injury. However, he finished strong, which is a good sign for 2023. Prior to Week 17 of 2022, Barmore had failed to record a PFF grade over 82.0 in any games, but he followed that up with two elite performances. He earned PFF grades of 90.8 and 88.4 in Week 17 and Week 18, respectively. Consequently, he was PFF’s highest-graded player at his position over the last two weeks of the season, sporting a grade that would have been good for third place among interior defenders throughout the entire season.

New York Jets: G Alijah Vera-Tucker

After playing left guard in his rookie season, Vera-Tucker started games at left tackle, right guard and right tackle in 2022 and is expected to be the starting right guard for the Jets in 2023. The former USC Trojan was off to a promising start before getting injured in Week 7 and missing the rest of the season. His 71.8 overall grade was a considerable improvement from his rookie season and ranked 16th among guards in the NFL, while his 76.5 run-blocking grade was good for sixth at his position.

Pittsburgh Steelers: QB Kenny Pickett

Pickett was the first quarterback selected in the 2022 NFL Draft, and while he got off to a slow start last season, he had a very promising finish to his rookie campaign. His 75.5 overall grade ranked 18th among quarterbacks, and he was among the best at the position during the last seven weeks of the season. In fact, he earned the second-highest PFF passing grade in that time span, behind only Joe Burrow, and ranked second in big-time throw percentage — ahead of the likes of Patrick Mahomes and Burrow. He also posted the lowest turnover-worthy play percentage in the league in that span.

Tennessee Titans: LB Azeez Al-Shaair

Signing Al-Shaair to a one-year deal might have been one of this offseason's best free-agent additions when it comes to value and price. Al-Shaair managed to improve his PFF grade every year he was with the 49ers and ended up being the 18th-highest-graded linebacker in the league in 2022. Although he didn't get on the field much behind Fred Warner and Dre Greenlaw, Al-Shaair impressed during his limited playing time, as he finished with the eighth-highest run-defense grade among linebackers.

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