TAMPA, FL - OCTOBER 02: Denver Broncos linebacker Shane Ray (56) chats with Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston (3) after the game October 2, 2016 at Raymond James Stadium. (Photo By John Leyba/The Denver Post via Getty Images)

Every year in the NFL certain players go from ‘dependable’ to ‘elite’. These performances usually take them to their first Pro Bowls and off the waiver wire in fantasy football. Last years breakout stars included names like: Raiders receiver – Amari Cooper and Atlanta sack master – Vic Beasley. The NFL is a young mans league right now, and for any team to have success, it constantly needs great players to emerge on a season to season basis.

No rookies will appear on this list and players such as Tyreek Hill and Michael Thomas whom have already become bonafide stars – even in their first years – will not be included.

5 Potential NFL Breakout Stars

Hunter Henry (TE) – Los Angeles Chargers

Henry made a name for himself in 2016 when he quickly became Philip Rivers no.1 redzone target. As a rookie last season, Henry notched 8 total TD receptions; one clear of the Chargers long time super star TE: Antonio Gates. Even if Henry is not the most quickest tight end, he has found a way to get open everywhere on the field.

The biggest reason for Henry’s potential breakout is the age of Gates. Gates has been a Charger for his entire career and now has a decade of play as an ‘elite’ tight end but he is now 37 years old. At this time in Gates career it will be hard to keep up with the quick pace of the ever evolving NFL and Henry will benefit.

If Gates numbers continue to fall, Henry will get every opportunity to become the next star tight end in the NFL. Everyone already knows he has no problem hauling in scores but what would elevate his game is increasing his receiving yards. Last season, Henry only had 70 less receiving yards than Gates but was targeted 38 less times. When those targets increase so will Henry’s yards.

Henry will become a household name outside of Los Angeles soon enough, it is just a matter of when he gets his chance.

Jameis Winston (QB) – Tampa Bay Buccaneers

At quarterback this season, the two prime breakout candidates are competitors that already know each other well: Marcus Mariota and Jamies Winston. The no.1 and no.2 picks have been two of the best 1-2 QB combos to be drafted back-to-back in the past decade. Both are primed to have great 2017 seasons but because of the Titans recent makeover, Winston is being overlooked.

Winston made his first Pro Bowl in 2016 despite having very similar numbers to his rookie campaign and those numbers are poised for a jump. Over the offseason, Tampa Bay GM Jason Licht went out and got Winston two incredible new targets. The additions of O.J Howard and DeSean Jackson give Winston options all over the field. Pair them with an already elite receiver in Mike Evans and you have an offence that could rank in the top-5 at seasons end.

All the additions should almost guarantee that Winston will eclipse his fairly average QB numbers from years one and two. He will almost certainly throw for more touchdowns and his two safety-blankets at tight end should help him throw less interceptions. As long as Winston can keep the ball in his hands and off the ground, his numbers will leap and so will the Bucs win totals.

Breshad Perriman (WR) – Baltimore Ravens

A first round pick of the Ravens in 2015, Perriman missed the entirety of his initial rookie year due to a nagging knee injury. 2016 basically played as Perriman’s rookie campaign and he showed flashes of elite ability. The only problem was, those flashes were not consistent. Perriman made catches in traffic and showed he still has blistering speed. The question is, will he be able to take that all important next step in his ‘sophomore’ year?

If you look at Perriman from a fantasy perspective, it is hard to see his value. He will not catch 10 passes a game and is not the biggest red zone threat. However, he is now by default, going to start for the Ravens. Perriman will be given every opportunity in 2017 to show why he was draft 26th overall and should put up significantly better numbers than last season. Gone are Steve Smith Sr. and Kamar Aiken; setting the stage for Perriman. Wide receivers numbers typically jump from year-one to year-two. Joe Flacco has a powerful arm and should have no problem hitting Perriman behind the other teams DBs.

For Perriman to have success, all he has to do is make sure he does not drop the ball. His speed is what makes him special but his hands will elevate his game to the next level. Perriman was not targeted all that much in 2016 but he lead the team in drops despite being fourth in targets. If he wants to elevate his game, he needs to be more reliable. His 15.1 yards per catch average is great but so are receptions. All Perriman has to do in 2017 is catch more balls and could draw a similar stat line to those of 2013 Raven, Torrey Smith.

Paul Perkins (RB) – New York Giants

The Giants made some big additions on offence during the 2017 offseason but surprisingly, did not add any running backs through free agency or via the draft. Brandon Marshall and Evan Engram are great additions to an already great passing attack but the Giants still need someone to run the ball after they finished 4th last in rushing yards in 2016. Enter Perkins.

Perkins was a 5th round pick of the Giants in last seasons entry draft and did not get many carries in the early stages of 2016. But as the season went on and the Giants ground game looked bleak, he began seeing more and more snaps. During week 14 he finally got to see a feature back amount of carries. Over Perkins last four regular season games he averaged 15.5 carries a game and ran for about 4.735 yards per carry. It may not be anything spectacular but it was also Perkins rookie season and now his totals have a chance to jump.

Perkins has a chance to assert himself as a premier back early and will get significantly less attention from defences considering the Giants ariel armada. Everything is clicking at the right time for Perkins will have every opportunity to be the biggest breakout running back of 2017.

Shane Ray (OLB) – Denver Broncos

Before being selected with the 23rd pick in the 2015 NFL Entry Draft, Ray was the SEC Defensive Player of The Year and a sure fire top 10 pick. His draft stock took a huge hit after missing the scouting combine with a foot injury and being cited for possession of marijuana just three days before he was selected. The Broncos gain was everyone else’s loss.

Everyone who watched Ray play in college could see his potential to be a top-flight NFL pass rusher and 2017 might be his first real chance to breakout. Ray has been playing behind two of the best to ever rush the passer – DeMarcus Ware and Von Miller – and it is now his time make an impact on every snap. The speed of Ray is his strongest skill and should draw a lot of 1-on-1 blocking, while Miller takes the double teams. He already had 8 sacks in 2016 and is looking at making it into the double-digits. His tackles should also increase now that he is going to become a full-time starter.

The depth on the Broncos defence plays heavily in Ray’s favour. Denver has a top-3 secondary in the NFL giving Ray plenty of time to get to the quarterback. He also has the ability to clog up holes in the running game and should be a menace, forcing running backs into uncomfortable positions off the edge. Even if Ray has not been a starter since day one, he is slowly becoming one of the leagues most complete outside linebackers and will assert himself in that class in 2017.

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