Seahawks' Maxwell among 2014 NFL breakout stars

Seahawks' Maxwell among 2014 NFL breakout stars

Credit: Getty Images

Byron Maxwell #41 of the Seattle Seahawks breaks up this touchdown reception intended for Roddy White #84 of the Atlanta Falcons at Georgia Dome on November 10, 2013 in Atlanta, Georgia.

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by BRENT SOBLESKI / USA TODAY Sports

KING5.com

Posted on May 27, 2014 at 8:05 AM

Updated Tuesday, May 27 at 8:05 AM

Long before the Eagles’ LeSean McCoy was in the conversation as the best running back in the NFL, he was a rookie waiting for his chance to earn a bigger role in the team’s offense.

As a second-year player, McCoy exploded as the team’s starting running back and ran for over 1,000 yards. He’s consistently been one the NFL’s top rushers ever since.

Each year, these types of opportunities present themselves to talented young players. Some capitalize on the opportunity and eventually become household names.

The Q identified five talented players with the same type of opportunity in front of them to become this year’s breakout stars:

Andre Ellington, RB Arizona Cardinals

During Bruce Arians’ first season as the Cardinals head coach, he relied on veteran RB Rashard Mendenhall, because the veteran back already knew the offensive system.

Mendenhall started 15 games for the Cardinals last season, but Ellington saw his workload grow as the season wore on. The rookie back finished the season with 652 rushing yards on 115 carries. Ellington’s 5.5 yards per carry was the best average among players with over 100 carries. He was also a vital component in passing game with 39 receptions.

With Mendenhall’s abrupt retirement, Ellington’s speed and explosion will be featured in the Cardinals’ offense. And the team showed confidence in the second-year back by not adding much to the backfield during the offseason. Only Jonathan Dwyer was signed as a free agent to provide depth.

Ellington will also benefit from a revamped offensive line. Jared Veldheer was signed during free agency to man left tackle. Bradley Sowell will slide to the right side. And Jonathan Cooper, last year’s first-round pick, will take over at left guard after missing all of last season with a fractured left tibia.

With ample opportunity and improved blocking, Ellington has a chance to develop into a true feature back.

Jamie Collins, LB New England Patriots

Collins’s breakout game came in the playoffs when he had six tackles, a sack and an interception against the Indianapolis Colts.

After starting eight games last season, Collins now has the opportunity to replace Brandon Spikes, who signed with the Buffalo Bills as a free agent, as a full-time starter.

Collins will be a massive upgrade over Spikes from an athletic perspective. Spikes is a two-down run defender, but he is a liability in coverage due to his lack of quickness. Collins, however, was Top 5 in four of the six events at the 2013 NFL combine.

Collins’ ability to drop into coverage was evident late in the season. He deflected six passes in the team’s final six games. He also brings added versatility as an edge rusher in certain sub-packages.

The versatility the Patriots now have within their linebacker corps with Collins, Jarod Mayo and Dont’a Hightower will provide even more flexibility in Bill Belichick’s defense.

Byron Maxwell, CB Seattle Seahawks

The Seahawks’ famed “Legion of Boom” secondary will look a little different this fall. Neither Richard Sherman’s bookend, Brandon Browner, nor nickel corner Walter Thurmond were re-signed.

Browner’s loss paves the way for Maxwell to become Sherman’s new running mate at right cornerback. Maxwell isn’t as big or as physical as Browner, but he’s a better overall athlete with enough size (6-1, 207) to provide a presence at the line of scrimmage. Maxwell is also a smart defender in zone coverage.

The fourth-year cornerback became a starter during the final five games of the regular season after Browner was suspended, and Maxwell proved capable of playing at a high level throughout the playoffs, including the Super Bowl.

While Sherman and safeties Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor will demand most of the attention, Maxwell’s name will be mentioned far more often this season as an integral part of the best unit in professional football.

Travis Kelce, TE Kansas City Chiefs

The Chiefs lacked explosive play makers in their passing offense last year. Yet, the team decided not to add a high draft pick or experienced alternative at wide receiver or tight end.

What the Chiefs will gain this season is a healthy Kelce. The tight end was placed on injured reserve last season after only one game, because he required microfracture knee surgery.

Kelce, the team’s third-round pick in the 2013 draft, is a very good athlete. The numbers he posted at Cincinnati’s pro day last year would have made him a Top 5 performer in all but one event at the NFL combine.

The Chiefs do have high expectations for Kelce as he enters year two.

“…the emergence of a Travis Kelce being able to stretch the field as a tight end, hopefully that weapon adds another element to the passing game,” Chiefs general manager John Dorsey told MMQB.com’s Greg Bedard. “We took some nicks at the tight end position last year.”

Andy Reid showed during his time with the Philadelphia Eagles his willingness to feature the tight end, if a talented one was on the roster (Chad Lewis, L.J. Smith and Brent Celek). Reid now has a talented target at the position with the Chiefs in Kelce .

Ben Tate, RB Cleveland Browns

Tate finally gets the opportunity to be a feature back in Cleveland. For three seasons as a member of the Houston Texans, he backed up Arian Foster. During that time, Tate started nine games, but he never carried the ball more than 181 times in a season.

The opportunity to be the Browns’ lead back is ideal for Tate.

First, the team lacked talent at running back. It relied on an aging Willis McGahee last season after Trent Richardson was traded to the Indianapolis Colts. The Browns finished 27th in rushing offense.

Second, Tate won’t have to adjust to the Browns’ offensive scheme. The basic zone-running concepts Tate grew accustomed to with the Texans are the same principles employed by the Browns’ new offensive coordinator, Kyle Shanahan.

Finally, the Browns have a talented offensive line to run behind with Joe Thomas at left tackle and Alex Mack at center.

The Browns are a team committed to running the football under new head coach Mike Pettine. And Tate will be the biggest beneficiary.

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