Packers' Clinton-Dix, Boyd among NFL's rising stars
If you're not sure where Le'Veon Bell and Justin Forsett came from to reach the top of the NFL rushing charts, this will be helpful.
If you couldn't identify Jerry Hughes or Tashaun Gipson before they burst through as top-level defenders, read on.
Here's a road map to some likely breakthrough players -- an All-Risers Team, if you will -- for the 2015 season. And a couple Packers appear on the list, too.
QB--Ryan Tannehill, Dolphins.
He began his college career as a receiver, so Tannehill went through major adjustments to become a quarterback. In Year 4 as a pro, and with a new contract, watch him soar.
RB--Chris Ivory, Jets; Latavius Murray, Raiders.
New York needs to limit Ivory's carries because of his come-at-you running style. He's a reliable force under those parameters.
Last year, Murray showed more than just glimpses of how good he can be with a regular role.
WR--Martavis Bryant, Steelers; Paul Richardson, Seahawks.
Get this for Bryant: eight TDs among 26 receptions, 21.1 yards per catch -- mostly as a third wideout. With All-Pro Antonio Brown on the other side, Bryant could be dynamic.
Richardson's deep speed would add a dimension to Seattle's offense. He comes off ACL surgery, but when healthy figures to be impactful.
TE--Eric Ebron, Lions.
With Brandon Pettigrew a disappointment at the position, Ebron could get a chance to be a prime target for Matthew Stafford.
OT--Eric Fisher, Chiefs; D.J. Fluker, Chargers.
Fisher was the top overall pick in the 2013 draft, has shuffled around on KC's line. Now it's time to show he is no bust.
Fluker already has been a solid contributor in San Diego and will get better.
OG--La'el Collins, Cowboys; Joel Bitonio, Browns.
Yes, Collins is a rookie. He's also a first-round talent who slipped to free agency because of a police investigation in which he wasn't a suspect. He'll be a stud on the NFL's best O-line.
The physical Bitonio can be a beast, especially in the run game, and is athletic.
C--Russell Bodine, Bengals.
He started all 16 games as a rookie in 2014, and helped Cincinnati rank sixth in rushing. Pro Bowl could be next.
DE--Kareem Martin, Cardinals; Josh Boyd, Packers.
Martin will play linebacker and rush end for the Cardinals, who envision him as a focal point of the defense.
Green Bay is looking for a breakout pass rusher/run stopper up front, and Boyd could be the guy.
DT--Dominique Easley, Patriots; Sharrif Floyd, Vikings.
With Vince Wilfork gone to Houston, Patriots need a breakthrough from their 2014 first-round pick.
Floyd comes off a solid second season and seems ready for some dominating performances.
OLB--Jadeveon Clowney, Texans; Anthony Barr, Vikings.
Clowney's debut season was ruined by injury, but the talent is immeasurable. And he has J.J. Watt drawing blockers.
Barr had a strong rookie year and will be a playmaker all over the field for Minnesota.
ILB--Preston Brown, Bills; Michael Wilhoite, 49ers.
Brown fits perfectly in what Rex Ryan wants to do with his defensive schemes in Buffalo.
Wilhoite has no choice but to step up after Patrick Willis and Chris Borland retired. He showed signs of his skills as a starter in 2014 with Willis and NaVorro Bowman out.
CB--Logan Ryan, Patriots; E.J. Gaines, Rams.
No Revis. No Browner. New England needs Ryan to be a shutdown cornerback in his third pro season.
Gaines will benefit from a staunch pass rush that might be the league's best, and has the tools to be a star.
S--Johnathan Cyprien, Jaguars; Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Packers.
Cyprien is ready to emerge as a factor under defensive mastermind Gus Bradley.
Clinton-Dix needed to make some rookie missteps, but came on last year and should be a long-time fixture in Green Bay.