Every season players emerge from the shadows of anonymity, or something less than stardom, and play so well they demand to be considered among the best in the league.
Sometimes there was some precursor to this coming out, and other times it is a total surprise. That first group unleashes the "I-told-you-so" reaction and the latter is, really, one of the things that makes watching NFL games fun -- surprise stars.
Reporters who cover each NFL team were asked to predict a breakout player for 2014 so they will be on the record here to validate an "I-told-you-so" if their selections are as prescient as they hope.
Some of these names are already somewhat known -- Arizona wide receiver Michael Floyd, Baltimore tight end Dennis Pitta and Minnesota returner/wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson. So their odds of becoming a breakout player should be better.
In fact, as a rookie last season, Patterson bolted to a record 109-yard kickoff return and was an All-Pro and Pro-Bowl selection as a returner. But the call by the Vikings' TSX reporter is that Patterson will have a breakout year as a wide receiver. Not much of a reach.
Here is a look at the players selected by TSX writers on each team as candidates to be a Breakout Player in 2014:
--Breakout player: Wide receiver Michael Floyd. Floyd was better in 2013, his second year, than he was as a rookie. Judging by his performance in the offseason, 2014 should be even better. Floyd has always caught the ball well. Last year, he proved he could play through injury, and he improved catching the ball in traffic. He should be a big target in the red zone.
--Breakout player: Running back Devonta Freeman. At 5-foot-8, 206 pounds, Freeman was selected by the Falcons in the fourth round (103rd overall) of the draft. He became the first Florida State running back since Warrick Dunn to rush for over 1,000 yards when he logged 1,016 yards on 173 carries in 2013. With Steven Jackson showing signs of slowing down, after a strong offseason Freeman appears first in line to take over.
"Devonta has very good quickness," coach Mike Smith said. "He's got very good strength. He's one of our stronger players, pound for pound. He's a guy that has great vision and great quickness. He's picking up the pass protections and that's probably the biggest transition that a running back has to go through in the NFL. He has to have a good feel for pass protections and it's very complicated with all of the different looks that they are going to be presented in the regular season."
--Breakout player: Tight end Dennis Pitta. Primed for a big season, Pitta is healthy again after missing time last year with a fractured, dislocated right hip. He signed a five-year $32 million contract in March to stay with the Ravens. Pitta appears tailor-made for offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak's tight-end friendly offense.
--Breakout player: Wide receiver Marquise Goodwin. Goodwin flashed some excitement last season as a deep threat as he caught three touchdown passes on deep balls, using his dynamic speed to get behind the defense. Injuries slowed him at several points during the year, though, and he finished with just 17 catches for 283 yards.
With a year in the system, Goodwin could become a key player in the passing game. Defenses will be concerned with rookie receiver Sammy Watkins, and receiver Robert Woods deserves attention on underneath routes, so Goodwin could find himself in some favorable matchups on the outside. To succeed, he needs to stay healthy, and be more consistent as a pass-catcher.
--Breakout player: Tight end Ed Dickson. Dickson "broke out" once before, but that was in Baltimore. Unfortunately for Dickson, his 54 catches and five touchdowns in 2011 were surrounded by three other subpar seasons. Given a fresh start in Carolina, Dickson could have a major role in 2014. The Panthers want to increase the number of plays they run out of a two-tight end set, and they see Dickson as an intriguing complement to fellow tight end Greg Olsen.
--Breakout player: Linebacker Jonathan Bostic. The second-year linebacker has Shea McClellin for competition on the strong side, and because of his speed and last year's starting experience at linebacker, he could be the odds-on favorite to be a nickel package starter alongside Lance Briggs.
Last year, Bostic seemed so fast he overran plays and didn't understand the nuances of the defensive scheme from the middle linebacker spot. His speed-size combination may make him a better fit on the outside; actually he might be a better Will than Sam backer, but isn't taking Lance Briggs' spot yet. Coaches have been working with him more on breaking down and getting the tackle, and on recognizing his lane of responsibility. Also, play from the outside is less complicated. Without veteran James Anderson in the mix, Bostic should get more of a shot at regular playing time and develop quickly.
--Breakout player: Linebacker Emmanuel Lamur. The outside linebacker could have been listed here at this time last season but a season-ending shoulder injury in the final preseason game derailed a promising year.
At 6-foot-4, 240 pounds, Lamur can fly around the field and plays an ideal weak-side spot in this system. The Bengals plan to unleash him on defenders and will create hellacious matchup problems on third down standing next to Vontaze Burfict.
--Breakout player: Safety Donte Whitner. Whitner is entering his ninth season and he has been to the Pro Bowl three times, so why would he be considered a breakout player? Because the Browns have never had an impact player like him.
Whitner has already proven he is a strong leader. He can change a game by a bone-jarring hit or an interception, as he proved during his three seasons with the 49ers. Whitner has extra motivation to succeed because he went to Glenville High School in Cleveland.
--Breakout player: Defensive end/tackle Tyrone Crawford is the player everyone on the Cowboys expects big things from in 2014. The former 2012 second-round pick was supposed to break out last year but suffered a torn Achilles on the first day of training camp. He went about his rehab aggressively and purposefully. Look for him to be a disruptive force as a pass rusher.
--Breakout player: Wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders. Although he replaces Eric Decker in the Broncos' lineup, Sanders is not a template copy of Decker, and brings more quickness and elusiveness to the role than Decker, who was a classic big target. Sanders could eventually slide into the slot in the distant future, and in the short term could be a slot option if Wes Welker's concussion issues return; he had two in the 2013 season.
Sanders had incremental improvement in production and efficiency during his four years with the Steelers, but was always the No. 2 or No. 3 wide receiver option in an offense that strove for balance. In the Broncos' pass-intensive attack, being the second or third choice could still net him 80 receptions, over 1,000 yards and double-digit touchdowns.
--Breakout player: Tight end Eric Ebron. The Lions have plenty of breakout candidates like defensive end Ezekiel Ansah and cornerback Darius Slay, who are both entering their second season, but rookie tight end Eric Ebron will be the most consistent of the three. At 6-foot-4, 250 pounds, Ebron gives the Lions' offense a dimension it hasn't had since Matthew Stafford has been quarterback, and offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi will try to use him similarly to how the Saints use Jimmy Graham because that's where he spent the past seven seasons.
Ebron's speed and precise route running will automatically push him ahead of 2013 rookie standout Joseph Fauria, and he should line up primarily as the No. 3 receiver in the slot while Brandon Pettigrew stays in line. Stafford will spread the ball around, but there's a good chance Ebron finishes the year as the Lions' second or third most-productive pass catcher.
GREEN BAY PACKERS
--Breakout player: Cornerback Casey Hayward. One of the best developments in an offseason that lacked sizzle for the Packers was having Hayward on the field for the entire spring program. He was sabotaged by a recurring hamstring injury that cost him all but three games last season.
A veritable playmaker his debut season in 2012, when he led all rookies that season with six interceptions, Hayward closed this offseason in rousing fashion. He had a leaping interception in the end zone during a red-zone segment on the first day of minicamp June 17, prompting teammates and coaches to rave about the nickel back who looks poised to break through again after what amounted to a lost season in 2013.
"Casey has made plays all spring," coach Mike McCarthy said. "Every time 'Case' is one the field, you can feel his presence. He's a very competitive, very instinctive exceptional athlete. Ball skills, you could put him on offense."