It’s been a while since I’ve posted anything here, but from here on out, expect to see more regular and frequent posts on View From the Upper Deck. The other piece of good news is that the NFL season has gotten underway.
On the dawn of the new season, here’s a look at some players who are poised for huge seasons. A lot of these guys played pretty well last year, but I expect them to take their games to another level in 2016. I haven’t included any rookies on this list, only players who have been in the league at least one year.
C.J. Anderson, RB (Denver Broncos)
Following Peyton Manning’s retirement, the Broncos will likely lean towards more of a run-heavy offense, and that means Anderson will be the main benefactor. Anderson has the physical skills to be every down back, averaging 4.8 yards per carry for his career with great strength and speed, and he’s already off to a great start after Thursday night’s performance against the Panthers. With the Broncos’ featuring an elite defense, they should use the ground game early and often to move the ball, and if Anderson proves he’s up for the task, the fourth year pro could find himself in contention for the league’s rushing title at season’s end.
Travis Benjamin, WR (San Diego Chargers)
When he finally became a starter in his fourth NFL season in 2015, Benjamin showed off the type of big play ability he is capable of. He is primed to take an even bigger step forward this year, as he moves from Cleveland to San Diego, where he will have a much more capable quarterback throwing him the ball, as well as the benefit of lining up alongside Keenan Allen and Antonio Gates, both of whom figure to see a good deal of attention from defenders.
Stefon Diggs, WR (Minnesota Vikings)
Diggs came out of nowhere to lead the Vikings in receiving yards last season, and now finds himself the top passing target for Minnesota’s offense. Don’t expect off-the-charts fantasy numbers, as the Vikings will be without Teddy Bridgewater for the season, and their offense will still be centered around Adrian Peterson. But Diggs is ready to establish himself as a trustworthy playmaker for whoever will be throwing him the ball.
Leonard Williams, DE (New York Jets)
The Jets took a chance by using last year’s #6 overall pick to take Williams, a highly talented athlete, but one who plays a position that New York had no obvious need for. Though he could end up seeing time at both defensive end and nose tackle, Damon Harrison’s departure in free agency should open the door for Williams to get more playing time and further refine his skill set. He’s only 22 and there’s plenty to like about Williams.
Zach Miller, TE (Chicago Bears)
Miller may be 31 years old, but he finished the 2015 season strong, recording four games of at least five catches and 50 yards during the last eight weeks of the season. Not to be confused with the former Raiders and Seahawks tight end of the same name, Miller nearly doubled his career yardage total in 2015. The reason for optimism? Miller showed late last season that he could be a very useful short passing option for the Bears, and with Matt Forte gone, a shortage of depth at wide receiver, and no competition behind him at tight end, Chicago could sure use that. A late career breakout is certainly in the cards, a la Gary Barnidge.
Jameis Winston, QB (Tampa Bay Buccaneers)
While Winston’s 2015 numbers can easily get lost among the depth of quality quarterbacks in today’s game, try comparing him to the historic ranks of rookie quarterbacks. Last year, he joined Cam Newton and Andrew Luck as the only rookies to pass for 4,000 yards in a season. He also added in six rushing touchdowns for good measure. Yes, he does need to improve upon his accuracy and decision making, but Winston has the athleticism and the offensive weapons around him to put up a big season.
Blake Bortles, QB (Jacksonville Jaguars)
This is a bit of a stretch since Bortles really had a breakout season last year, but I expect him to take an even bigger step forward. Bortles put up huge numbers in 2015 (4,428 yards and 35 touchdowns), but a lot of those numbers came with the Jaguars trailing big, and he turned the ball over 32 times, worst in the NFL. If Bortles can learn to protect the ball better, he can become an integral part in leading the Jaguars to their first playoff appearance since 2007.
Two other players who deserve an honorable mention are wide receivers Kevin White of the Bears and Dante Fowler Jr. of the Jaguars. Both were taken in the first round in last year’s draft, but missed the entire 2015 season due to injury. Now both of them find themselves in key roles with their respective clubs. White will be Chicago’s #2 option at wideout, alongside Alshon Jeffery, and Fowler is expected to be a key force on Jacksonville’s young defense.