The 2023 NFL season is still a few months away, but it's never too early to look ahead. With free agency and the NFL Draft now behind us, we have more clarity about the roster makeup for all 32 NFL teams, and if you partake, you've more than likely started some fantasy football research.
Journalists and fans alike spend this part of the offseason trying to get ahead of storylines. If you are effective at predicting the future, you could win some good money at sportsbooks or dominate your fantasy league. Last season, we saw breakout campaigns from several players, including Geno Smith, Jalen Hurts, Josh Jacobs, Tony Pollard and Talanoa Hufanga. Each of these players were important for their teams in 2022. Which players will take major steps forward in 2023?
Below, we will break down seven NFL players who are set for a breakout campaign.
The Steelers have now gone 19 straight seasons without a losing record, which is just one shy of tying the record in the Super Bowl Era. Last year was a close call, however, as Pittsburgh rebounded from 2-6 to finish 9-8. The Steelers had to win their final four games to get to nine wins!
Pickett's 184.9 passing yards per game ranked No. 28 in the NFL and his seven passing touchdowns ranked No. 33. The numbers themselves aren't impressive, but Pickett showed plenty of potential in 2022. Pickett's rookie campaign was a tale of two halves. He threw just one interception in his final eight games after throwing eight in his first five games. Maybe his breakout already started?
|Kenny Pickett last season||First 5 games||Final 8 games|
Yards per attempt
In Weeks 10-17, Pickett had three fourth quarter comebacks and four "game-winning drives," per Pro Football Reference. Two came back-to-back in Weeks 16 and 17 to keep the Steelers in the win column. It's rather impressive Pickett answered the bell as a rookie in the fourth quarter late in the year.
With multiple additions on the offensive line and weapons like Diontae Johnson, the young George Pickens, Pat Freiermuth, Darnell Washington, Najee Harris and Jaylen Warren, Pickett is very much a candidate to make a big second-year jump.
It's about time, right? Toney caught just 14 passes for 171 yards and two touchdowns in seven regular-season games played for the Chiefs after being acquired at the trade deadline, but he did play a monster role in the Super Bowl LVII victory with a touchdown reception, and then the longest punt return in Super Bowl history.
With JuJu Smith-Schuster gone, Toney is expected to be a consistent part of the offense in 2023. While he is mostly seen as a gadget player compared to a traditional WR1, Chiefs general manager Brett Veach believes Toney will play a .
"We have a lot of high hopes for him. I mean he was a first-round pick for a reason," Veach said. "There's a reason why we traded for him and we felt like he was first-round talent and I think if he stays healthy and continues to spend that chemistry with the coaching staff and with Pat, which I think he is doing a great job at, I think the sky is the limit for him."
The Seahawks arguably had the best draft class last year, and it was headlined by left tackle Charles Cross, running back Kenneth Walker and Defensive Rookie of the Year cornerback Tariq Woolen. However, right tackle Abraham Lucas definitely deserves to be included among those big names.
Lucas started in all 16 games he played last season, and allowed nine sacks in 975 offensive snaps played, per PFF. He earned a 68.5 PFF grade. While he allowed more sacks per snap than Cross, the left tackle had a lower PFF grade (63.7), and allowed 20 more pressures than Lucas, per SI.com.
Lucas could develop into a Pro Bowler. I expect him to have a cleaner, more consistent 2023 campaign.
You could easily put Titans wideout Treylon Burks here, but I'm interested in Tennessee's second-year tight end. Chig Okonkwo caught just 32 passes for 450 yards and three touchdowns in his rookie season, but proved he was the versatile playmaker many believed he could be coming out of Maryland. He ran wheel routes out of the backfield from the fullback position, worked the middle of the field and even took a screen pass 48 yards against the Chiefs.
Apart from potentially being a special playmaker, another reason Okonkwo makes this list is because of Tennessee's subpar wide receiving corps. New offensive coordinator Tim Kelly is going to have to game-plan with Okonkwo in mind if he wants to improve one of the worst passing attacks in the NFL. Look for Okonkwo and Burks to be focal points in the passing game for the Titans in 2023.
It looked like the Eagles got a steal in Dean with him being selected in the third round, but that remains to be seen. He didn't play a major role in his rookie season due to Kyzir White and T.J. Edwards, but both are on different teams now. Dean recorded just 13 combined tackles and one tackle for loss in 2022, but may be Philly's starting middle linebacker this season.
He's a smaller player, but Dean shined in arguably the best defense in college football history at Georgia. He is a smart player who can both play downhill and hold his own in coverage. Dean could be a three-down playmaking linebacker in 2023. Also, it doesn't hurt that he's working with so many former college teammates either.
Owusu-Koramoah took a step backwards in 2022 with 70 combined tackles, four passes defensed and two forced fumbles in 11 games played. But that doesn't take away the fact that he's an athletic specimen that can wear different hats on defense. There are a couple of reasons why I'm expecting JOK to have his best season yet in 2023.
The Browns made additions on the defensive line in Dalvin Tomlinson and Za'Darius Smith, which should open up things for the linebackers. Additionally, the Browns made what I believe is a good hire at defensive coordinator in Jim Schwartz. Schwartz doesn't blitz at a high rate, but relies on his defensive lines to be disruptive and apply pressure on quarterbacks. I think that's good for JOK.
Here's a fun one. The 49ers lost two of their top three leading sack artists from last year, as Samson Ebukam signed with the Indianapolis Colts, while Charles Omenihu is now with the Chiefs. This opens the door for Jackson, who recorded 14 combined tackles, six QB hits, eight passes defensed, one interception and three sacks in 15 games played with zero starts in his rookie season.
Jackson was aggressive rushing the passer from a two-point stance inside against offensive guards, but also got reps as the traditional defensive end with his hand in the dirt. What stood out about Jackson is that two of his three sacks came after the quarterback got out of trouble with an initial pursuer. He didn't give up on the play.
At the same time, it's no secret that Jackson's rookie season could have gone better. He was made a healthy inactive late in the year -- including in San Francisco's three postseason matchups.
"I think Drake showed a lot this year on what he can be, but he needs to get to what he can be," 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan said, via Niners Wire. "I thought he was closer to that earlier in the year. It was a long season and I think he learned as a year goes, if you lose any power in this league, it gets a lot harder. And we had a decent group of rushers and I think as the year went out and towards the end, it got too long for him, and his body wasn't quite ready for what we needed."
While how Jackson ended his rookie season doesn't exactly inspire optimism, how he started the year should. Again, Jackson is going to have an opportunity to start opposite of Nick Bosa. He's a special athlete, and if he finds that consistency under new defensive coordinator Steve Wilks, 2023 could be a big year for him.