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Friday, April 12, 2013
Eight in the Box: Breakout player

By Matt Williamson

NFC Eight in the Box: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Who is one potential breakout player for each AFC North team in 2013?

Baltimore Ravens: Kelechi Osemele. It can be argued that Osemele did, in fact, break out at the end of his rookie season. And it could be argued that the Ravens’ shuffling of their offensive line -- moving Osemele to left guard from right tackle, Michael Oher from left tackle to right tackle and inserting Bryant McKinnie at left tackle -- was the single biggest reason for their spectacular Super Bowl run. But while the argument holds true that Osemele excelled at left guard, I believe he is just scratching the surface and will become a Pro Bowl-caliber player and one of the elite guards in the game. Still new to the position, Osemele is a massive human being with extremely long arms and huge, powerful hands. But unlike some offensive tackles who move inside, leverage and pad level is not a problem for this extremely talented young man.

Cincinnati Bengals: Mohamed Sanu. There wasn’t a Bengals player who jumped up as a breakout candidate, unlike with the other three teams. That isn’t to suggest that Cincinnati has drafted poorly. I view young players Kevin Zeitler and Vontaze Burfict as already having broken out. Last year’s first-round pick, Dre Kirkpatrick, certainly is a candidate, but we haven’t seen enough at the NFL level to judge him. The same is true for Devon Still and Brandon Thompson. That left receivers Sanu and Marvin Jones, who logged about double the snaps as Sanu in 2012. Either could develop into a quality second option opposite the great A.J. Green, but Sanu is the better prospect in my opinion. While he isn’t a perimeter burner like Green, he is a sure-handed, big-bodied wideout who fits well with Andy Dalton, who gets the ball out quickly and allows his receivers to perform after the catch. Like the defensive players mentioned above, there isn’t a lot of film of Sanu to go off. He caught just 16 passes before a Week 12 foot injury ended his rookie season, but he should be penciled in as a starter and see plenty of favorable matchups.

Cleveland Browns: Jordan Cameron. There were easier choices for the Browns than Cameron, namely on the offensive side of the ball, from their impressive rookie class from a year ago. Trent Richardson, Josh Gordon and even Mitchell Schwartz all have extremely promising young careers after impressing as rookies. I expect all three to drastically improve and for Richardson to be one of the top running backs in the league in 2013. But I went with Cameron, a relatively unknown tight end, because of his abilities, the coaching and a major increase of snaps. Cameron is the typical athletic former basketball player with the long frame to really excel against safety and linebacker coverage. But why do I really expect this breakout? Look no further than Cleveland’s new head coach, Rob Chudzinski. Going back to his days as the tight ends coach at the University of Miami, Chudzinski has a spectacular track record for developing great talent into great production at this position. Cameron is his latest project; expect it to go very well.

Pittsburgh Steelers: Cortez Allen. Recent first-round selections David DeCastro and Cameron Heyward crossed my mind for this honor, but I went with Allen over those linemen. Allen fits the mold of what Pittsburgh does at cornerback to a T. On a regular basis, the Steelers draft big, developmental cornerbacks in the middle rounds. Those players tend to have nondescript rookie seasons while making their bones on special teams and learning “The Steeler Way” in Dick LeBeau’s defense. In Year 2, these cornerbacks often take a step forward, playing in sub packages and filling in for injured starters. And if that development goes well, as it did for last year’s starting cornerbacks, Ike Taylor and Keenan Lewis, they take over a starting position. It’s Allen’s turn to do exactly that. The Steelers allowed Lewis to leave for New Orleans, showing they have all the faith in the world in Allen. They did sign William Gay -- another corner they once drafted and who fits this mold -- but Gay is a depth player who is obviously familiar with the system and franchise. Allen gets the opportunity to step up. Expect big things.