The NFL is replete with talent at every position. Typically, in a league of professional athletes, talent can be expected to coincide with on-field reputation. However, for all the football stars that generate team hype, there are other stories–just as intriguing in their own right–about players that are primed to make their respective marks on the football world. What follows is five players that call that category their own, but not for very long. These are the diamonds in the rough, the unknown phenoms, and the most unlikely household names of 2015.
C. J. Anderson
Don’t be mistaken, this is Peyton Manning’s offense in the Mile High City. But while it’s Manning at the reins, Anderson is the rock that holds the key to Denver’s consistency on offense. After early season struggles for the Broncos running game last year, Anderson opened eyes with his emergence both in the ground game and as an pass-catching option out of the backfield. He was trusted with more and more carries as the season went on, and he quietly became the perfect complement to the Broncos dangerous receiving core. That said, his biggest contribution wasn’t in the numbers last year. The reason that Anderson was so valuable to Manning in 2014 was that he allowed the veteran signal-caller to revert to a game-managing role–something that Manning excels at. Expect a big encore year for the former undrafted free agent.
Teddy Bridgewater now has a full year in the NFL under his belt. That means that with a more experienced, dynamic quarterback, the Vikings’ Cordarelle Patterson will get his best chance to define the type of player he is for Minnesota in 2015. Following a promising rookie campaign, Patterson fell into a sophomore slump last season, losing his starting job to Charles Johnson. Better known as an electric return specialist, he’s had his struggles on route-running and pre-snap movements. This offseason has seen reports of mixed results–those showcasing his athletic nature, and other showing lack of discipline. Either way, his potential is beyond most. With a little tweaking to his approach, the Vikings may have a great weapon in the later stages of development.
It’s not that this is a lesser-known player that makes him a surprise appearance on this breakout list. Rather, it has much more to do with how many people have used Bradford as a point of reference in their tirades against Chip Kelly’s “lunacy” as the Eagles head coach. Yes, Bradford has had an injury-plagued career, and yes, he’s already taken shots this preseason. But never was it said that he couldn’t play quarterback at a professional level. Because when Bradford was out on the field with the Rams, he had success–especially in 2013, when he had 14 touchdowns to 4 interceptions before he was injured. The Eagles offensive system presents Bradford with more weapons than he ever had in St. Louis, and there is no reason to believe that he won’t experience at least the same level of success in Philadelphia.
Last year was the year of the rookie running back. And while Jeremy Hill was lighting up opposing front-sevens in Cincinnati, Mason was doing the same thing in St. Louis.
The former Auburn record-breaker finished last year with 765 yards as the leading rusher for the Rams in each game he played. Don’t be fooled by the selection of Todd Gurley in the first round of the draft. While Gurley gets back into football shape with his knee, Mason is the go-to guy in the ground game. In 2015, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the Rams offense center around the rushing attack that Mason provides. With new quarterback Nick Foles, Mason can be a constant in what could otherwise be an adjustment period at the beginning of the season. As soon as he’s healthy, expect a quick start for the Rams’ third-round draft pick.
An elbow injury in the first game of the 2014 season kept Eifert from seeing the field. This year, defenses won’t be quite so lucky when they face the Bengals offense. Labeled “uncoverable” during the Bengals training camp, Eifert provides Andy Dalton with a massive frame, a body that can effectively box-out defenders, and speed that, by all accounts, blatantly betrays his size. Adding to that list of skills sets is the fact that the former Notre Dame star has the ability to evolve into one of the most dangerous red-zone threats in the league. The Bengals dearly missed him last year, and in 2015, opposing defenses will find out why: he’s a mismatch nightmare.