Top Ten Breakout NFL Players

In honor of the first weekend of the 2006 NFL season, we take a look at ten players to watch this year.

By Brian Ekberg - posted September 8, 2006

Remember when Ben Roethlisberger and Tom Brady weren't household names? Remember when the only Kansas City running back of note was Priest Holmes, and the only ball carrier in St. Louis that anyone knew was Marshall Faulk? In the cases of the Chiefs and Rams, now it's all about Larry Johnson and Stephen Jackson, both of whom used their predecessors' ailments and age as a stepping stone to NFL stardom. And just as was the case with Brady and Big Ben, Jackson and LJ, you can expect to see a whole new crop of NFL players emerge this season. While much of the focus in the early part of the 2006 NFL season will be on first-year stars like Reggie Bush, Matt Leinart, and Vince Young, we've got our eyes on 10 more players--including a few rookies--that we expect to come up big in 2006.

Matt Jones - Wide Receiver - Jacksonville Jaguars

Even by NFL standards, Matt Jones is a physical freak. Standing at a towering 6'6", the guy looms over defenders and presents Byron Leftwich with a super-sized target with flytraps for hands. Nor does it hurt that the guy has great speed and is big enough to bowl over safeties as if they were made of papier-mache. Oh, and the former Arkansas quarterback has also been known to toss a ball or two in the NFL. Jones will see more balls tossed his way now that Jimmy Smith is retired, and we expect Jones to at least double his modest 2005 output.


Matt Jones will use his size and strength to become a favorite target of Byron Leftwich.

Frank Gore - Running Back - San Francisco 49ers

While the terms "talent," "San Francisco," and "NFL" don't seem to go together very well lately, it's tough not to see Gore's tremendous upside in the 49ers' backfield. The former Miami Hurricane, in just his third year in the league, has taken over as the premier running back for the team. In a league where more teams seem to be splitting carries between one or more backs, the 49ers seem to have found their man and will be sticking with him, barring injury, all season long. One needs look no further than the trade of former 49ers running back Kevan Barlow to the New York Jets for what amounts to a handful of sticky candy wrappers and a glass of lukewarm water (read: an undisclosed draft pick) to see how much Mike Nolan and crew are banking on Gore.


With the departure of Kevan Barlow, Frank Gore is set to become the featured back for the 49ers.

D'Brickashaw Ferguson - Offensive Tackle - New York Jets

Here's the first clue we had that Ferguson was going to be something special in the NFL: Jets fans cheered loudly when his name was called during the first round of the 2006 NFL Draft. Considering Jets fans are among the most notorious of Draft Day boo-birds, this phenomenon stuck with us long after the draft was done. Now, of course, it's up to Ferguson (whose unusual first name comes from the novel The Thorn Birds) to prove he was worth the cheers and the first-round salary. Goodness knows the Jets need help up front. With the oft-injured Chad Pennington getting another chance at starting under center, we're sure he'll feel better having D'Brick helping to hold the line.


Chad Pennington's health (and the hopes of Jets fans) rest on the shoulders of this highly touted rookie.

Chris Simms - Quarterback - Tampa Bay Buccaneers

You could perhaps make the argument that the Bucs' quarterback broke through last year. Still, we're thinking that the Son of Phil has some surprises up his sleeve for the 2006 season. It doesn't hurt, of course, that he played in 11 games last season (up from five in 2004), or that he's got vets like Joey Galloway, Michael Clayton, and Ike Hilliard to throw to, or a standout running back like Cadillac Williams to shoulder the load. But, from all reports of the 2006 preseason, Simms sounds like he's becoming more like the kind of quarterback his dad was in the 1980s--an underrated talent with a knack for rallying a team around him, leading by example, and, best of all, making things happen.


This is the year Simms steps out from underneath his famous father's shadow.

Vernon Davis - Tight End - San Francisco 49ers

Two San Francisco 49ers on a list of breakout players in 2006? What in the sweet, sandy hell are we thinking? Well, check this out: Vernon Davis has got the physical size and hands to be on par with great receiving backs like Antonio Bryant and Alge Crumpler. And while it's easy to argue that his great abilities won't amount to jack squat with Alex Smith behind center, we look at it as an opportunity for Vernon to show what he's truly made of. After all, if he can reel in some touchdowns from Smith and help San Francisco win four or five games, he'll be a hero. If, on the other hand, the 9ers aren't able to stop the freefall, well, at least Davis can look forward to catching passes from Brady Quinn in 2007.


The next time Alex Smith gets in a pinch in the pocket, he'll be glad to have a playmaker like Vernon Davis as an option.




Antrel Rolle - Cornerback - Arizona Cardinals

Don't look now, but the Cardinals have talent, and not just on offense. While the lion's share of the attention has been on the Cardinals' offensive attack--with Matt Leinart, Edgerrin James, Anquan Boldin, and Larry Fitzgerald formulating a fearsome foursome--the defense should be much improved as well. Players like Karlos Dansby and Bertrand Berry are surely no slouches, but our eyes will be squarely focused on Antrel Rolle as he creates havoc in the secondary for receivers all season long. Rolle's 28 tackles and one interception in five games in 2005 didn't give us a complete picture of his talents--he tore cartilage in his left knee early in the season and missed the remainder of the year. Nonetheless, we're expecting big numbers from Rolle this year.


Wide receivers are the problem. Antrel Rolle is the cure.

Shawne Merriman - Linebacker - San Diego Chargers

Why do we like Merriman in 2006? Well, beyond the 43 tackles, 10 sacks, and four passes he defended during the 2005 Chargers campaign, we like Shawne because...well...Shawne likes Shawne. Consider this recent quote from Merriman on his own skills:

"I have respect for Lawrence Taylor, Derrick Thomas, all the guys who did it for so long, and especially Junior Seau," Merriman said. "I enjoyed watching him as I was growing up. But I'm bigger and I'm stronger and I'm faster, and I can make more things happen... I respect what Junior Seau did for the game. No disrespect to Junior or the fans who love him, but I'm better than Junior."

We couldn't have said it better, Lights Out.


Merriman is quick to point out that he's already better than the game's best linebackers. This year we'll get to see if Lights Out can back up his talk.

Brandon Lloyd - Wide Receiver - Washington Redskins

It seems like nearly every catch Brandon Lloyd makes is a circus catch. Ever since his rookie year in 2003, Lloyd has built a reputation for making impossible, one-handed grabs, and generally making the laws of physics look like mere suggestions. Unfortunately, Lloyd has also accrued a rep as a guy who doesn't like to get hit. It's not surprising--we're astounded his beanpole frame isn't snapped in half every time he's tackled. While nobody's going to doubt his superglue hands, what will set this year apart from his previous three will be Lloyd's willingness to make plays regardless of the cost to his body.


A player known for his circus grabs, Lloyd is going to have to be operating in all three rings if the Redskins hope to make the playoffs.

Philip Rivers - Quarterback - San Diego Chargers

Here's where we go out on a limb. Rivers, the perennial backup in San Diego ever since he was traded to the team from the New York Giants, has the vast majority of the past two seasons riding the pine behind Drew Brees. Now that Brees is with New Orleans, it's Rivers' time to prove he was worth trading Eli Manning to the Giants. So far in 2006, the news is good. In three preseason games, Rivers has looked pretty good, going 30 for 46 with one touchdown and one interception to his credit. Yes, those are preseason numbers, but there's no reason to think the string of successes can't continue into the regular season.


No playing longer second fiddle to Drew Brees, Philip Rivers will finally get a chance to prove he was worth the draft pick in 2004.

Roy Williams - Wide Receiver - Detroit Lions

The Detroit Lions spent the last few years building up an offense that was centered on a trio of extremely gifted receivers, all of whom had dominated the field in college. Charles Rogers, Roy Williams, and Mike Williams looked to form an unbeatable trio of talent; unfortunately, all three receivers lacked that special something--a quarterback worth his salt. Now, for better or worse, it looks like Jon Kitna will fill the QB void in Detroit and, while skepticism may remain about Kitna, the addition of Mike Martz as offensive coordinator will surely add some zip to the Lions' attack. We look for Roy Williams to stand out and even help lead Detroit to more than a few victories.


With Charles Rogers out and Mike Williams struggling, Roy may be the only Lions receiver worth his contract in 2006.

So that's our list of breakout players in 2006. Agree or disagree? Care to add a name or two on the list, or dispute one of our choices? Let's hear what you've got to say in the comments section below!



Written By

Discussion

170 comments
zeldafreak2080
zeldafreak2080

what about the big three college guys? reggie bush, vince young, and matt leinart. cmon gamespot!

tequilero
tequilero

Not even a single Bears player? :(

ajcali08
ajcali08

Should of had Micheal Colston or Marice Drew-Jones in there.

kirby3152
kirby3152

okay, after analyzing your list i have this to say: it could be better. i mean, seriously, chris simms? he looked like crap against one of the most lack-luster teams from yesteryear, the ravens. now i wont bash their 'd', el contrare it as a whole is one of the best since its inception (from the super bowl in 200 - now they have placed in the top ten defenses in the league every year), so rather then waste a spot on somone as trivial as him and give it to someone else who has played second fiddle since his draft to one of the best and had to play for another team to become someone : chester taylor. now maybe noone else will agree with me, but chestor taylor did very very well against the redskins, but even though THAT is no feat consider the 2005 season where he ran only 117 times and still got over 400 yards on the ground, with the leagues worst o-line in front of him. he averaged 4.2 yrds on the ground and 7.1 yards in the air. he is an extraordinary player who now has time to grow. i mean, look at the last running back the ravens released who went on to start for another team: preist holmes. he was a breakout player, no? lead the league how many years in tds? so no, there needs to be a swtch and maybe a special inclusion for reggie bush since he just simply is a playmaker, otherwise i cannot agree more with your list.

hendrix29
hendrix29

Eli Manning, he had a great game Sunday Night, the defense and Peyton just blew it for him.

rangeraa
rangeraa

ya merriman is a BEAST...3 sacks and its only week 1..holay.. as for madden...madden blows..ea shouldnt have been allowed to buy out the nfl licience because espn 2k5 was much better than any madden game and now ea can just put out whatever garbage it wants and get away with it because theres no competition and people need the newest football game...do you really think last years madden on the 360 would've been so bare-bones had there been a sega title right next to it? i dont think so..boo madden i hate you..but how else will i get my updated rosters? sigh..

upuratut
upuratut

chargers 27- raiders 0 merriman was a freak tonight!! what was that, like 6 sacks?! rivers didn't do too bad either. we'll see how the rest of the season goes, but for an opening game for the regular season, they couldn't have done it any better! go chargers! oh, and i agree, reggie bush?! here's he at?! the saints had a good opening game, and bush did excellent!

Enterprise-E
Enterprise-E

WHERE IS REGGIE BUSH!!!!????? Come On Gamespot. Show your love for the Bush.

fws831
fws831

Merriman is already a break out player. i agree with matt jones and cris simms(even thought he had a bad first game) and davis. but the rest of the list would be different if i made it.

BlackWarrior024
BlackWarrior024

Your list of "So called Breakout Players" sucks really BAD!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

chrmnxpnoy
chrmnxpnoy

Where the hell is Reggie Bush!!!!!?

ultimate_zero
ultimate_zero

I wonder how T.O is gonna be like this year, trouble's already started

acerazer
acerazer

Uh... there is no Jermaine Jones in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and the Cowboys definitely never had an undefeated season. The 1972 Dolphins were the only ones to do that. Unless that comment was some kind of joke. Which in this case, I don't get it.

emanziboy
emanziboy

They seem a little obsessed with the niners. There are two of them on there and Brandon Lloyd was a niner last year.

emanziboy
emanziboy

I agree that Frank Gore will have a huge season, but how can Vernon Davis have a breakout year if he's a rookie? By the way, it's only Gore's second season, not third like they said.

Pi_r_Round
Pi_r_Round

Matt Jones played awesome last night. So did Leftwhich, for that matter. I am finally excited about the Jaguars season.

Turisman4
Turisman4

For a bunch of guys who didn't really think Madden 07 was the best football game ever, you're sure putting a lot of Madden on the website!

Devilsfanatic
Devilsfanatic

Jermaine James RB for the Dallas Cowboys in his first full pro season he led the Cowboys to 16-0 record with 3,500 rushing yards and led them all the way to the Super Bowl where he won MVP and was Pro Bowl MVP too, Jermaine retired thereafter and is enshrined the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton after a remarkable ONE season.

The_MrB
The_MrB

I agree, this feature isn't relevant to games and is pretty lame.

acerazer
acerazer

Haha good point Darthus. At first I was kind of behind GameSpot in their analysis of the NFL since Madden was just released. But when you put it that way, it is kind of silly. I mean, we wouldn't want to read a history lecture article every time a game based on historical facts was released. Then we would get one every month with all the World War II games out there.

Darthus
Darthus

I agree, not game related at all. And sure it's "their site", but I bet if they started covering dog breefs with half of their articles because Nintendogs has dogs in it, they'd lose some subscribers.

rangeraa
rangeraa

JediStorm like where is carson palmer WHO DEY! Ummm...actually im pretty sure his breakout year was last year....

SoD-DontCry
SoD-DontCry

[This message was deleted at the request of the original poster]

acerazer
acerazer

Yeah, with half of the players already being labeled in the NFL as "Good", I'm gonna have to say that this list is only half complete. But I give GameSpot credit, it's very hard to predict who will be good and who will be a bust in the NFL. I mean, if it was easy, NFL scouts would have their teams scoring 50 points a game.

TtWwIiSsTtAa
TtWwIiSsTtAa

I think Reggie Brown will have a big breakout this year, him and Stallworth will do great

Wargamer89
Wargamer89

eh, stick to the games plz fellas... KURT WARNER

Zigsta
Zigsta

Where's Reggie Bush?

Tunga_basic
Tunga_basic

To me Roy Williams and Shawn Merriman already had their break out year But for Brandon Lloyd, the Redskins better find a quarterback to be able to throw him the ball so he can actually have a break out year lol

madhatter1507
madhatter1507

---------- nietzscheyay Other than the pictures of players, I don't see how this article relates to the subject material of the website. At all. ---------- Its their Site, they can do what they want to with it. ---------- JediStorm like where is carson palmer WHO DEY! ---------- Carson isnt a Breakout player. Altho he is the greatest, he isnt "breaking out" this season. But don't get me wrong, Im a HUGE Bengals fan.

prvtTucker
prvtTucker

heck yes!!!! matt jones!!!!!!! I am a huge arkansas fan and seeing that made my day thanks gamespot! but wheres DeAngelo williams!??!?! he is definitely a break out star

PhinsFan4Life
PhinsFan4Life

im not a bucs fan but its only been 1 week lol. if u watch football it takes more than 1 game to have a bad season sheesh. he can still be a break out player

mattman0404
mattman0404

What the hell, WHERE'S ALL THE D LINE???

nietzscheyay
nietzscheyay

Other than the pictures of players, I don't see how this article relates to the subject material of the website. At all.

natethegreat235
natethegreat235

Reggie Bush can't be a breakout because everyone expects him to be the lebron james of football and come out of college(highschool in lebrons case) and be the best player in his sport.

JediStorm
JediStorm

like where is carson palmer WHO DEY!

lewti27
lewti27

If Chris Sims was a breakout he must of broke back in because he played so bad yesterday he got benched by a guy named Bruce Gradkowski not worthy of the list yet.

optimal
optimal

These players are ok, but they wont make or break this season for their team. I wonder who picked em? Who ever did should probably not be allowed to do this kind of thing again. Just look at what happened to Tampa Bay yesterday, Sims is going to step it up alright. He's going to break the record for how many points his team can lose by.

smbius
smbius

How can anyone hate football? Crazy. Anyhow, Gore was nuts. Vernon is still shaking out the little rookie mistakes. Whatever happened to Manny Lawson? Why isn't Bush listed in here? Brady Quinn? Umm...he's still /w NotreDame and he hasn't announced he'll turn pro...and more importantly...he still needs to be DRAFTED on the phreaking 9ers...which is a huge "IF" in itself. Gamespot needs to stick with games or at least how this list affects Madden 07.

Konchosensei
Konchosensei

"Apparently you know nothing of the etymology of the word football, nor do you know anything of the history of the two sports. I'd explain it to you, but you don't care. Also, if you hadn't noticed, sports games are a significant portion of gthe gaming industry, and many people who come here are interested in both." ---Actually, I do know where it comes from. It has the same origin as both football/futbol/soccer and rugby. I am well aware that both the British and the Canadians are as much to blame for American football as the Americans are. Yet, I still say Americans because it is so much more fun. "where are you from? africa? plus, that comment made you look extremely nerdy in front of a lot of people" ---cute. That comment made you look like quite the racist. Not that I don't... (really, 'African' or 'American' is even a race). Let's just say that I probably don't live on the same continent as you. I'm definitely not the only one on here wondering why Gamespot is doing some silly sports feature here. I think it's retarded. Not only did they write this thing, but they also placed it as one of their five features articles. That is the one of the biggest problems. This is a gaming site; not a sports site. The featured articles should be about games. This is not about a game, but about what the writers think of some players. I would also think it's dumb if they did a player feature on actual football, baseball, rugby, basketball, ice hockey, etc. I didn't read this whole article either. I read a couple of paragraphs, looked at the pretty pictures of the new NFL game, and thought it would be fun to comment (it definitely is!). On the other hand, I might be completely wrong. It seems that in America, an NFL game is very popular. This article features character profiles of the very same characters that you can play as in the game. Is this not done for other games as well? Does this article not generate excitement for this upcoming game? Will they be doing character profiles for Final Fantasy XII before you guys get a chance to play that game? That would be on the same level as this, wouldn't it? Still, seeing this kind of feature on the top of Gamespot does make the site look very lame. Oh well, I'll look forward to seeing what Gamespot has to say about the Tokyo Game Show that's happening soon; between it's features of the new Madden game. Maybe I'll see myself in some of their photographs. ;)

cosmic315
cosmic315

[This message was deleted at the request of the original poster]

LiLCes909
LiLCes909

Matt Jones is for real, he made great catches against the cowboys,

daviwinn
daviwinn

Unlike some of you, I agree with the list and Chris Simms. Yeah, he had a bad day yesterday. A really bad day. No, make that a horrible day. But he'll bounce right back and I would be surprised if he didn't lead his team to the playoffs AGAIN this year.

Socom_sniper
Socom_sniper

I HIGHLY DISAGREE. Even though you had Roy Williams on the list and I am a lions fan. Roy Williams is a decent play but he had a horrible game yesterday aganist the seahawks. Phillip Rivers ARE YOU SERIOUS. Cris Sims Two words that look like one overrated

umd1998
umd1998

Nice little featurette... And I like how you picked my fellow Maryland Terp Vernon Davis (who had a monster first NFL game, by the way!) But don't you mean "on par with great TIGHT ENDS like Antonio GATES and Alge Crumpler," instead of "on par with great receiving backs like Antonio Bryant and Alge Crumpler." ?? I'm an editor and a sports fiend, and this really irked me LOL I've offered to edit stuff for GameSpot before, but to no avail...

ocdog45
ocdog45

chris simms yeah right. rest of the list looks good.

rangeraa
rangeraa

cant forget kellen winslow

SilV3RSix
SilV3RSix

Ragin_Asian "Donte will have a pro bowl year,but Devery Henderson will have a breakout year and we got Reggie Bush.Brees,Bush,Mcallister,Horn, Saints will win The NFC South." Dante WILL have a breakout year... for the EAGLES!! Dude, the Saints MIGHT improve their record, but they are not going to win the NFC South. Atl will win the division with their running game and massive pass rush (did anyone see John Abraham tear up Carolina?) If Steve Smith stays hurt for awhile, its obvious Carolina has no offense. And if the Bucs, not just Simms, play like they did yesterday, the Saints might walk into 2nd place in the division by default.

Charbalarba
Charbalarba

Lawerence Maroney and Reggie Bush, deserve to be on that list.