Earlier this week, Bryan Broaddus mentioned three players who he anticipates breaking out in 2013. I liked his selection of tight end
Using stats and my nerd’s intuition, I’m going to take a crack at projecting four breakout players. I already broke down one of the guys who I’m projecting for a better-than-expected season, running back
So what am I looking for in predicting a breakout? The primary thing I want to capitalize on is variance; I’m looking for players who have already showed signs of quality play but have been the victims of randomness, i.e. they’ve experienced bad luck. Examples of that might be a cornerback who breaks up 15 passes but doesn’t have an interception or a defensive end who has a bunch of quarterback pressures but few sacks (see
Below, you’ll find the names of four players who underperformed (or got injured) in 2012. In many ways, their “breakouts” will come simply because they’re more likely to play to their potential. You can think of players as stocks, and I’m simply “buying” on those stocks whose price point is at a low and likely to “regress” upward.
One of the most important aspects of predicting a breakout is age. Spencer was a rarity for me in that I don’t normally project veteran players to break out. Instead, I’m looking for players on the rise, and that characterizes Smith perfectly.
When the Cowboys drafted Smith in 2011, he was just 20 years and four months old. Now 22 and six months old, Smith is entering his third NFL season at an age when many players are beginning their careers. Combined with his elite athleticism, Smith’s experience at such a young age is reason enough to predict a breakout.
Don’t be surprised to see Smith allow more sacks in 2013, though. I tracked him as yielding three sacks last year, but Pro Football Focus recorded 37 pressures. Based on historic pressure-to-sack ratios, Smith should have allowed closer to nine sacks last season. Nonetheless, Smith’s pressure rate should drop considerably in his third year. Expect him to allow in the range of 20 pressures and five sacks – quality numbers for a left tackle.
Parnell was the “anti-Smith” in 2012, allowing way more sacks than he “should have.” I tracked Parnell as giving up five sacks, but he allowed pressure on Romo on just 4.2 percent of his 191 snaps in pass protection. Based on his play, Parnell’s most likely sack total was just two.
The question is whether or not Parnell will be starting in 2013. If given a fair shake to win the starting job, I don’t see any way he doesn’t beat out
Church was playing well in 2012 before going down with an Achilles tear in Week 3. While that injury is a concern, Church had shown signs of improvement for a few years, racking up a team-high 10.5 percent tackle rate in his limited snaps.
At 6-1, 222 pounds, a good comp for Church is Seahawks safety Kam Chancellor. That’s especially true because Seattle runs a defense that’s very similar to what Monte Kiffin is going to bring to Dallas in 2013 – more zone concepts (although less Cover 2 than people think). That means Church will be in the box quite often. The safety recorded a 4.17 short shuttle before entering the NFL, suggesting he has plenty of short-area quickness to thrive in that area.
Claiborne is an elite player whose rookie season was marred by a few poor outings (think his five-penalty performance against the Eagles). The truth is that Claiborne wasn’t as bad as people tend to think, playing pretty well on a per-route basis.
Claiborne was targeted only 69 times in his first season, a really low mark for a rookie. Compare that to 87 targets for veteran
So when analyzing cornerbacks, I like to look at yards-per-route. That metric doesn’t penalize cornerbacks for having good coverage. If they aren’t targeted on a particular play, they’re rewarded for good coverage. Claiborne actually ranked in the top 25 in the NFL in yards allowed if we take into account all of the snaps he was in coverage. That suggests that Claiborne, despite hauling in just one interception, played as a low-end No. 1 cornerback in his rookie season. As the targets increase, so will the picks.