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NFL 5 43 NFL players poised for breakout seasons in 2012 31006548 Big things coming? Big+things+coming%3F NFL

Children have the tendency to forget about their old toys when new presents arrive. NFL fans are much the same way when it comes to players on their favorite teams. It’s easy to get excited about offseason free-agent signings and incoming draft choices. But all 32 franchises already have players on their rosters who may be poised for breakout seasons in 2012. Here are some names to watch on each club. -- Alex Marvez
 

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NFL 5 43 NFL players poised for breakout seasons in 2012 31006546 Atlanta: Sean Weatherspoon, LB Atlanta%3A+Sean+Weatherspoon%2C+LB NFL

He had 115 tackles and eight passes defensed last season, but Weatherspoon is just scratching the surface of what he can accomplish as a disruptive force. Expect new Falcons defensive coordinator Mike Nolan to use Weatherspoon in more diverse ways than predecessor Brian VanGorder.

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NFL 5 43 NFL players poised for breakout seasons in 2012 31005663 Arizona: John Skelton, QB Arizona%3A+John+Skelton%2C+QB NFL

He was originally considered a temporary fill-in when starter Kevin Kolb was sidelined in Week 7 last season by foot and toe injuries. But the Cardinals won three of the next four games with Skelton at quarterback and then two of their final three during another starting stretch. Although his passing statistics were mediocre (11 touchdowns, 14 interceptions and a 54.9 completion percentage), Skelton showed enough promise that there will be an open competition with Kolb during the preseason.

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NFL 5 43 NFL players poised for breakout seasons in 2012 31006547 Baltimore: Pernell McPhee, LB Baltimore%3A+Pernell+McPhee%2C+LB NFL

The Ravens must fill the void created by the potential season-long absence of Terrell Suggs, who recently tore his Achilles tendon in an offseason workout. That means more playing time for McPhee, a 2011 fifth-round pick who notched six sacks as a rookie in limited playing time. McPhee will be part of a rotation that includes Paul Kruger, Sergio Kindle and rookie Courtney Upshaw.

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NFL 5 43 NFL players poised for breakout seasons in 2012 31006549 Buffalo: C.J. Spiller, RB Buffalo%3A+C.J.+Spiller%2C+RB NFL

As the No. 9 overall pick in the 2010 draft, Spiller was so underwhelming as a rookie that there were legitimate concerns he would become yet another Bills first-round bust a la Aaron Maybin and John McCargo. Spiller, though, showed major improvement in the second half of last season and posted his first 100-yard rushing game against Denver in Week 16. The shifty Spiller now must improve as a receiving threat out of the backfield as he shares the rushing load with starter Fred Jackson.

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NFL 5 43 NFL players poised for breakout seasons in 2012 31004850 Carolina: Jeff Otah, OT Carolina%3A+Jeff+Otah%2C+OT NFL

Otah and Jordan Gross were supposed to become Carolina’s bookend tackles for years to come when the former became a 2008 first-round draft pick. But after starting 25 games in his first two NFL seasons, Otah has missed 28 of the past 32 contests with various injuries. Otah’s return to health this offseason comes at a good time. Otah is set to become an unrestricted free agent in the 2013 offseason.

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NFL 5 43 NFL players poised for breakout seasons in 2012 31004852 Chicago: Earl Bennett, WR Chicago%3A+Earl+Bennett%2C+WR NFL

Changes in Chicago’s offensive systems and depth chart could lead to a statistical renaissance for Bennett, whose catches declined each of the past two seasons under former coordinator Mike Martz. Wide receiver Johnny Knox’s playing status with the Bears remains fuzzy after he suffered a serious spinal injury last season, while Devin Hester’s role likely will become more specialized. Bennett, already entering his fifth NFL season at the age of 25, has the trust of Bears quarterback and college teammate Jay Cutler. Bennett also should benefit from the coverage that probably will be rolled in the direction of newcomer Brandon Marshall.

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NFL 5 43 NFL players poised for breakout seasons in 2012 31004849 Cincinnati: Carlos Dunlap, DE Cincinnati%3A+Carlos+Dunlap%2C+DE NFL

Dunlap has boldly proclaimed he is “looking to start” in 2012. That will be a certainty if Dunlap can stay healthy and regain the form that helped him notch a franchise rookie-record 9.5 sacks for the Bengals in 2010. The 6-foot-6, 289-pounder missed four games with a hamstring injury last season, and his sack total slumped to 4.5. Dunlap and Robert Geathers are competing for a first-string role.

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NFL 5 43 NFL players poised for breakout seasons in 2012 31004851 Cleveland: Greg Little, WR Cleveland%3A+Greg+Little%2C+WR NFL

It seemed like Little was dropping as many passes as he was catching during his rookie season. Little, though, still is a neophyte at the position. He was converted from running back early in his college career at North Carolina and didn’t play in 2010 after being declared ineligible. At 6-foot-2 and 220 pounds with speed, Little has the physical tools to become a No. 1 wide receiver. He will get that chance, with the Browns having some of the NFL’s worst depth at the position.

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NFL 5 43 NFL players poised for breakout seasons in 2012 31004853 Dallas: Bruce Carter, LB Dallas%3A+Bruce+Carter%2C+LB NFL

The offseason departures of Bradie James and Keith Brooking have created an opening next to starting inside linebacker Sean Lee. Carter, a 2010 second-round pick, will be competing with free-agent pickup Dan Connor (Carolina) for that spot. Carter was used mostly on special teams last year after not playing until midseason because of a college knee injury. He was considered a first-round prospect before getting hurt.

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NFL 5 43 NFL players poised for breakout seasons in 2012 31003637 Denver: Demaryius Thomas, WR Denver%3A+Demaryius+Thomas%2C+WR NFL

Three factors — an Achilles tendon injury, inconsistent Broncos quarterbacking the past two seasons and the adjustment from an option offense in college — have kept Thomas from making the splash expected when he became the No. 22 overall selection in 2010. Thomas, though, showed how dangerous a receiver he can be last January on his 80-yard touchdown catch in Denver’s first-round overtime playoff victory over Pittsburgh. Thomas is set for a big year with Peyton Manning under center for the Broncos.

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NFL 5 43 NFL players poised for breakout seasons in 2012 31003639 Detroit: Titus Young, WR Detroit%3A+Titus+Young%2C+WR NFL

The double teams frequently drawn by Lions wideout Calvin Johnson already have paid dividends for Young, who caught 48 passes for 607 yards and six touchdowns in his 2011 rookie campaign. Young should not only have an expanded role offensively, but could vie for return duties on punts and kickoffs.

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NFL 5 43 NFL players poised for breakout seasons in 2012 31003636 Green Bay: Randall Cobb, WR Green+Bay%3A+Randall+Cobb%2C+WR NFL

Cobb’s NFL debut could not have gone better, with a touchdown catch and 108-yard kickoff return for another score in Green Bay’s 2011 season-opening win against New Orleans. Cobb’s continuing development as a receiver may prompt the Packers to cut ties with 37-year-old Donald Driver before training camp.

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NFL 5 43 NFL players poised for breakout seasons in 2012 31003638 Houston: Brooks Reed, LB Houston%3A+Brooks+Reed%2C+LB NFL

Reed’s role as a rookie increased dramatically after Mario Williams was lost for the season in Week Five to a torn pectoral muscle. Reed improved so quickly that his total of 3.5 sacks in two playoff games was more than half his regular-season tally of six. Reed, Connor Barwin (11.5 sacks in 2011) and incoming first-round pick Whitney Mercilus give Houston the NFL’s top young trio of 3-4 outside pass-rushers.

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NFL 5 43 NFL players poised for breakout seasons in 2012 31004883 Indianapolis: Donald Brown, RB Indianapolis%3A+Donald+Brown%2C+RB NFL

The wholesale changes in Indianapolis this offseason should greatly help Brown as the Colts shift to a more run-heavy offense. Brown finally started living up to his 2009 first-round draft status late last season when running behind a fullback, a position that generally wasn’t used when Peyton Manning was at quarterback. Brown gained 161 yards on 18 carries in a Week 15 breakout performance against Tennessee. He is expected to carry the rushing load with the Colts releasing Joe Addai earlier in the offseason.

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NFL 5 43 NFL players poised for breakout seasons in 2012 31003642 Jacksonville: Derek Cox, CB Jacksonville%3A+Derek+Cox%2C+CB NFL

Rashean Mathis has passed the torch. Cox is now considered the top cornerback in Jacksonville while Mathis will compete against free-agent addition Aaron Ross (New York Giants) for the other starting spot. Cox, who will be entering his fourth NFL season, started only six games last year because of groin and knee injuries but played well when on the field.

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NFL 5 43 NFL players poised for breakout seasons in 2012 31003640 Kansas City: Tony Moeaki, TE Kansas+City%3A+Tony+Moeaki%2C+TE NFL

Moeaki was set to become Kansas City’s most dangerous receiving threat at tight end since Tony Gonzalez after a 47-catch rookie season in 2010. Moeaki, though, missed all of the 2011 campaign after suffering a torn anterior cruciate ligament in the preseason finale. A healthy Moeaki is expected to play a major role in an offense that also will benefit from the return of running back Jamaal Charles (knee) from injured reserve.

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NFL 5 43 NFL players poised for breakout seasons in 2012 31003644 Miami: Jimmy Wilson, S Miami%3A+Jimmy+Wilson%2C+S NFL

When the Dolphins surprisingly released Yeremiah Bell a week into free agency, a starting safety spot was opened. Wilson, who played at cornerback as a rookie in 2011, received snaps there in the team’s April minicamp. Although he’s undersized for the position at 5-foot-10 and 185 pounds, Wilson played safety at the University of Montana and has good ball-hawking instincts.

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NFL 5 43 NFL players poised for breakout seasons in 2012 31003643 Minnesota, Kyle Rudolph, TE Minnesota%2C+Kyle+Rudolph%2C+TE NFL

With 26 catches for 249 yards and three touchdowns as a rookie in 2011, the 22-year-old flashed the ability to create defensive mismatches like fellow big-bodied tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Jimmy Graham. Rudolph should be more prominently featured this year in an offense that suffered growing pains last season under rookie quarterback Christian Ponder.

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NFL 5 43 NFL players poised for breakout seasons in 2012 31003641 New England: Brandon Spikes, LB New+England%3A+Brandon+Spikes%2C+LB NFL

After being sidelined for seven games last season with a sprained knee, Spikes began to blossom in the playoffs. He had 26 tackles, an interception and a forced fumble in three playoff games, including 11 stops in Super Bowl XLVI against the New York Giants. Spikes should be even more effective in his third NFL season. He also will receive additional help with the Patriots augmenting their front seven with the first-round selections of end Chandler Jones and outside linebacker Dont’a Hightower.

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NFL 5 43 NFL players poised for breakout seasons in 2012 31003653 New York Giants: Marvin Austin, DE New+York+Giants%3A+Marvin+Austin%2C+DE NFL

Call him Starvin’ Marvin since he hasn’t played football in two years. Austin was declared ineligible at the University of North Carolina in 2010 and spent all of last year on injured reserve after tearing his pectoral muscle during the preseason. Even with the Giants signing free agent defensive tackle Shaun Rogers in free agency, Austin will push for snaps on run downs in New York’s vaunted defensive line rotation.

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NFL 5 43 NFL players poised for breakout seasons in 2012 31003651 New York Jets: Jeremy Kerley, WR New+York+Jets%3A+Jeremy+Kerley%2C+WR NFL

He was a pleasant fifth-round surprise for the Jets, catching 29 passes for 314 yards and one touchdown as a rookie. With Plaxico Burress not expected to re-sign, Kerley has a legitimate chance of becoming a starter opposite Santonio Holmes.

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NFL 5 43 NFL players poised for breakout seasons in 2012 31003652 New Orleans: Junior Galette, DE New+Orleans%3A+Junior+Galette%2C+DE NFL

He has all the makings of being yet another undrafted gem discovered by Saints general manager Mickey Loomis. Galette began emerging as one of New Orleans’ top pass rushers last season but must improve against the run. Fortunately for him, new defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo helped develop some of the NFL’s best ends when holding that same position with the New York Giants. Galette’s improvement would help lessen the sting of losing end Will Smith to a four-game NFL suspension for his involvement in the Saints’ bounty scandal.

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NFL 5 43 NFL players poised for breakout seasons in 2012 31003649 Oakland: DeMarcus Van Dyke, CB Oakland%3A+DeMarcus+Van+Dyke%2C+CB NFL

A 2011 third-round draft choice, Van Dyke was thrown into the fire early when becoming a starter for four games just five weeks into the regular season. Van Dyke has a chance to keep the position full time with Oakland cutting Stanford Routt and Chris Johnson during the offseason. Van Dyke is expected to compete with Chimdi Chekwa and ex-49ers cornerback Shawntae Spencer to start opposite Ron Bartell, a former St. Louis starter also signed by Oakland this offseason.

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NFL 5 43 NFL players poised for breakout seasons in 2012 31003650 Philadelphia: Jaiquawn Jarrett, S Philadelphia%3A+Jaiquawn+Jarrett%2C+S NFL

Four years after deciding not to re-sign Brian Dawkins, the Eagles still haven’t found a difference-maker at strong safety. That’s what Philadelphia is hoping Jarrett becomes after having the benefits of a full offseason workout program to become stronger and add bulk. A 2011 second-round pick, Jarrett will compete with Kurt Coleman to start during training camp.

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NFL 5 43 NFL players poised for breakout seasons in 2012 31003659 Pittsburgh: Emmanuel Sanders, WR Pittsburgh%3A+Emmanuel+Sanders%2C+WR NFL

A young Steelers wideout has come into his own each of the past two years. With 50 catches in his first two seasons, Sanders has displayed the same earmarks as Mike Wallace (2010) and Antonio Brown (2011). An emerging threat in the slot, Sanders could receive even more opportunities in Pittsburgh’s passing game if Wallace remains embroiled in a contract dispute.

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NFL 5 43 NFL players poised for breakout seasons in 2012 31003658 St. Louis: Sam Bradford, QB St.+Louis%3A+Sam+Bradford%2C+QB NFL

No NFL quarterback suffered a bigger sophomore slump last season than Bradford, who had guided St. Louis to a 7-9 record as a rookie in 2010. The Rams were decimated by injuries, and Bradford never clicked in offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels’ new system. Bradford, who missed the final three games because of an ankle injury, has a new coordinator in Brian Schottenheimer. He also has a better supporting cast with the Rams adding a top-notch veteran center (Scott Wells) and two rookie skill-position players (wide receiver Brian Quick and running back Isaiah Pead) in the second round. Bradford received a strong endorsement this offseason from Rams head coach Jeff Fisher, who resisted the temptation to select Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III with the draft’s No. 2 overall pick.

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NFL 5 43 NFL players poised for breakout seasons in 2012 31003660 San Diego: Vincent Brown, WR San+Diego%3A+Vincent+Brown%2C+WR NFL

The Chargers signed four veteran wideouts during the offseason (Robert Meachem, Eddie Royal, Roscoe Parrish and Michael Spurlock) after the free-agent loss of Vincent Jackson to Tampa Bay. Brown, though, shouldn’t be looking over his shoulder unless it’s for a Philip Rivers pass. Brown impressed as a rookie in 2011 with a 17.3-yard average on his 19 catches and has an excellent chance for an expanded role.

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NFL 5 43 NFL players poised for breakout seasons in 2012 31003656 San Francisco: Michael Crabtree, WR San+Francisco%3A+Michael+Crabtree%2C+WR NFL

For the first time in his four-year NFL career, Crabtree is enjoying an offseason bereft of injury or recovery from surgery. The 49ers hope that will help Crabtree reach the elite status they projected when selecting him with the No. 10 overall pick in 2010. San Francisco, though, isn’t taking any chances. The team signed two big-name wide receivers (Randy Moss and Mario Manningham) and used a first-round draft pick on Illinois’ A.J. Jenkins.

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Jason O. Watson - USA TODAY Sports http://static.foxsports.com/content/fscom/img/2012/05/13/051312-NFL-breakout-players-OB-g29_20120513173412167_600_400.JPG http://static.foxsports.com/content/fscom/img/2012/05/13/051312-NFL-breakout-players-OB-g29_20120513173412167_107_80.JPG
NFL 5 43 NFL players poised for breakout seasons in 2012 31003657 Seattle: K.J. Wright, LB Seattle%3A+K.J.+Wright%2C+LB NFL

A 2011 fourth-round pick, Wright immediately displayed far better instincts at linebacker than 2009 first-rounder Aaron Curry ever did in Seattle. Wright’s quick emergence led to Curry being traded to Oakland midway through last season. Wright should be even more effective in 2012 since the Seahawks chose two front-seven defenders (pass-rush end Bruce Irvin and middle linebacker Bobby Wagner) in the first two rounds of April’s draft.

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Kyle Terada - USA TODAY Sports http://static.foxsports.com/content/fscom/img/2012/05/13/051312-NFL-breakout-players-OB-g30_20120513173412166_600_400.JPG http://static.foxsports.com/content/fscom/img/2012/05/13/051312-NFL-breakout-players-OB-g30_20120513173412166_107_80.JPG
NFL 5 43 NFL players poised for breakout seasons in 2012 31003664 Tampa Bay: Gerald McCoy, DT Tampa+Bay%3A+Gerald+McCoy%2C+DT NFL

New Bucs head coach Greg Schiano has said he believes McCoy can become a “dominant force” in his defense. McCoy flashed signs of being just that in his first two NFL seasons but has missed 19 games during that span because of injuries. The Bucs also are hoping that 2010 second-round pick Brian Price can flourish after suffering his own rash of NFL injuries.

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Kim Klement - USA TODAY Sports http://static.foxsports.com/content/fscom/img/2012/05/13/051312-NFL-breakout-players-OB-g31_20120513173538175_600_400.JPG http://static.foxsports.com/content/fscom/img/2012/05/13/051312-NFL-breakout-players-OB-g31_20120513173538175_107_80.JPG
NFL 5 43 NFL players poised for breakout seasons in 2012 31003665 Tennessee: Derrick Morgan, DE Tennessee%3A+Derrick+Morgan%2C+DE NFL

A torn anterior cruciate ligament as a rookie and change in Tennessee’s defensive scheme has kept Morgan from fulfilling the potential that made him a 2010 first-round draft choice. Morgan got valuable experience when starting the final 10 games last season and should benefit from the blocking attention that free-agent addition Kamerion Wimbley will draw in passing situations.

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Timothy T. Ludwig - USA TODAY Sports http://static.foxsports.com/content/fscom/img/2012/05/13/051312-NFL-breakout-players-OB-g32_20120513173538176_600_400.JPG http://static.foxsports.com/content/fscom/img/2012/05/13/051312-NFL-breakout-players-OB-g32_20120513173538176_107_80.JPG
NFL 5 43 NFL players poised for breakout seasons in 2012 31003663 Washington: Leonard Hankerson, WR Washington%3A+Leonard+Hankerson%2C+WR NFL

The best game of Hankerson’s rookie season came last November in the same stadium where he played college football at the University of Miami. But in a cruel twist, Hankerson was forced to miss the rest of the season after injuring his hip during that eight-catch, 106-yard performance against the Dolphins. Hankerson won’t be participating in Washington’s offseason program while rehabilitating from surgery. But when he does return, expect Hankerson to emerge as Washington’s third wide receiver alongside incoming free agents Pierre Garcon and Josh Morgan.

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Mitch Stringer - USA TODAY Sports http://static.foxsports.com/content/fscom/img/2012/05/13/051312-NFL-breakout-players-OB-g33_20120513173538174_600_400.JPG http://static.foxsports.com/content/fscom/img/2012/05/13/051312-NFL-breakout-players-OB-g33_20120513173538174_107_80.JPG
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