Who is one potential breakout player for each NFC East team in 2013?
Dallas Cowboys: Bruce Carter. I was torn between Carter and Morris Claiborne for this distinction -- and in a way, both already broke out to some degree last season. Carter and Claiborne are fantastic talents, but I do have concerns about how Claiborne, a true man-to-man cornerback at his roots, will be used in Dallas’ new 4-3 scheme, which should feature a lot of Cover 2. On the other hand, Carter is a perfect fit as a Derrick Brooks-style weakside linebacker with his extreme athletic ability to run, hit and make plays in space. Carter is coming off a season-ending elbow injury, but that shouldn’t slow him down in 2013, and he played very well last season before the injury. Expect a lot of big plays from the dynamic Carter.
New York Giants: David Wilson. Want a real dark horse for the Giants’ breakout player? Try tight end Adrien Robinson. But I am going to play this one a little safer. Wilson already broke out as one of the best return men in the league as a rookie. As a running back, he had some very impressive showings, including a great game versus New Orleans in which he showed off his elite big-play ability. This guy is flat-out fast and gets to top speed in a blink. Wilson needs to work on the nuances of the position, namely his pass-protection skills, to truly see the field as much as his talent deserves. Andre Brown is also in the equation in New York’s backfield and could handle much of the dirty work and short yardage. But in his second season, expect Wilson to be improved and expect the Giants to have a better, more defined role carved out for last year’s first-round pick. Then, let the fireworks begin.
Philadelphia Eagles: James Casey. There is a reason Philadelphia signed Casey right when free agency opened. Chip Kelly has a plan for Casey, who was tragically underused in Houston. The Texans moved him around a fair amount but used him too often as a blocking fullback. Expect Kelly also to move Casey all over the formation and utilize his versatility, but also expect Casey to be a tight end first in Philadelphia. I can’t say I know exactly how Kelly is going to employ Casey, or even what the Eagles’ offense will look like exactly in 2013. But I do know that Casey can block, catch, run and operate on the move. I’m betting that Philadelphia’s new offense and Casey will be an excellent match.
Washington Redskins: Leonard Hankerson. I struggled finding a 2013 breakout player for the Redskins, but I do think Hankerson should be in line for a much bigger role and his skill set fits what Mike Shanahan wants to do with this offensive attack. First of all, wide receivers must be very good blockers in this offense. Hankerson has the size and overall physicality to develop into a very good edge blocker. He also is built to run quick-hitting routes like slants -- which work really well off Washington’s fantastic play-action game -- and to do something after the catch with a physical running style. Hankerson isn’t an elite deep threat and has just average wide-receiver speed, but he can go up and get the football downfield or in a crowd in the end zone. Drops have been a problem for Hankerson, but I expect him to take a noticeable step forward in 2013 and become a solid No. 2 receiver opposite Pierre Garcon.