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09/02/2015 01:41 pm ET

The 25 NFL Breakout Stars Of 2015

These guys got next.
<span>Second-year players Carlos Hyde, Teddy Bridgewater, Davante Adams and Allen Robinson should all be in line for breakout
Credit: Associated Press
Second-year players Carlos Hyde, Teddy Bridgewater, Davante Adams and Allen Robinson should all be in line for breakout seasons.

Predicting the next crop of NFL stars isn't exactly like trying to finish The New York Times Sunday crossword puzzle -- but it's not much easier, either.

My predictions in 2014 were evidence of that; whereas, in 2012 and 2013, I seemed to hit the jackpot.

With pro football about to kick off, keep in mind that this year's list of breakout competitors excludes both rookies and defensive players.

Oh, and for the fantasy players out there, this list will hopefully help you win your league(s).

  • 1 Brandin Cooks, WR, New Orleans
    We pegged Cooks before his rookie year as a guy to watch, and, while shaky at times, he emerged as a real weapon for Drew Bre
    Credit: Chris Graythen via Getty Images
    We pegged Cooks before his rookie year as a guy to watch, and, while shaky at times, he emerged as a real weapon for Drew Brees. A versatile wideout -- and now a healthy one -- who can line up all over the field, the dynamic Oregon State man and former Biletnikoff Award winner no longer has to share targets with the departed Jimmy Graham and Kenny Stills. He should eat.
  • 2 Carlos Hyde, RB, San Francisco
    Longtime 49ers stalwart Frank Gore is in Indy, which means Hyde, the second-year man from Ohio State, is the unquestioned lea
    Credit: Michael Zagaris via Getty Images
    Longtime 49ers stalwart Frank Gore is in Indy, which means Hyde, the second-year man from Ohio State, is the unquestioned leader in the backfield. As a rookie, he gained 70.3 percent of his yards after contact -- the most of any running back in the NFL, according to Pro Football Focus. His bruising running style and nose for the goal line will be a welcome sight for Colin Kaepernick and this offense. Don't be surprised to see Hyde -- now in the zone-blocking scheme -- rack up 300 carries and over 1,500 total yards.
  • 3 Allen Robinson, WR, Jacksonville
    Forget about super-hyped free agent pickup Julius Thomas. Robinson was a revelation during his 10-game rookie campaign with t
    Credit: Associated Press
    Forget about super-hyped free agent pickup Julius Thomas. Robinson was a revelation during his 10-game rookie campaign with the Jags, amassing 548 yards while becoming the go-to target for fellow rookie Blake Bortles. In year two, expect a healthy Robinson to take another step forward and build his rapport with Bortles by continuing to catch both the easy and tough balls.
  • 4 Jarvis Landry, WR, Miami
    Fellow LSU receiving product Odell Beckham Jr. garnered most of the praise last year, but Landry quietly caught 84 balls, slo
    Credit: Associated Press
    Fellow LSU receiving product Odell Beckham Jr. garnered most of the praise last year, but Landry quietly caught 84 balls, slotting him 17th in the league. With Mike Wallace departed to Minnesota, the 5-foot-11 Landry will become Ryan Tannehill's true No. 1 option. Expect to see both his touchdowns and yards per catch rise as a result.
  • 5 Joseph Randle, RB, Dallas
    The truth is that Randle was supposed to play a bigger role last year, but then DeMarco Murray erupted and Randle couldn't st
    Credit: Tom Pennington via Getty Images
    The truth is that Randle was supposed to play a bigger role last year, but then DeMarco Murray erupted and Randle couldn't stay out of trouble. Now, with Murray gone and little in the form of competition, he gets the opportunity to be the Cowboys' feature back behind the game's premier offensive line. Tony Romo excels running play-action, and the best way to set it up is by establishing Randle, who's probably more talented than he's given credit for.
  • 6 Davante Adams, WR, Green Bay
    I loved Adams even before the devastating Jordy Nelson injury. He has all of the tools you covet in a young receiver: size, s
    Credit: Al Bello via Getty Images
    I loved Adams even before the devastating Jordy Nelson injury. He has all of the tools you covet in a young receiver: size, speed, route-running ability and consistent hands in cold weather. As a rookie, he single-handedly broke the game open against Dallas in the divisional round of last year's playoffs. And, despite being the fourth option in the Green Bay offense (behind Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb and Eddie Lacy), Adams has earned the trust of Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay staff. He won't see enough targets to amass the gaudy numbers of Jarvis Landry, say -- but to be sure, we can expect a bump in his production.
  • 7 Derek Carr, QB, Oakland
    Carr had a solid rookie campaign, despite playing on a wretched football team with little help. The Raiders went out and got
    Credit: Steve Nehf via Getty Images
    Carr had a solid rookie campaign, despite playing on a wretched football team with little help. The Raiders went out and got the best receiver in the draft in Alabama's Amari Cooper, whose tremendous route running and consistent hands will help Carr immensely. If he can stay upright, Carr --- who will also benefit from his new offensive coordinator, Bill Musgrave -- should enjoy a very productive second season in Oakland.
  • 8 Lamar Miller, RB, Miami
    Miami wants to run the ball, and the diminutive&nbsp;Miller has the necessary speed and pass-catching ability to really help
    Credit: Chris Trotman via Getty Images
    Miami wants to run the ball, and the diminutive Miller has the necessary speed and pass-catching ability to really help Ryan Tannehill out of the backfield. But he needs to stay on the field for three downs, and he needs to become a 20-touch guy. Coming off his most productive season as a pro, Miller -- who rushed for 1,099 yards and eight scores -- has the playmaking ability to take it to another level in 2015. Better yet, this is the all-important first contract year.
  • 9 Markus Wheaton, WR, Pittsburgh
    Wheaton doesn't have the physical stature&nbsp;of teammate Martavis Bryant, but his lightning speed and ability to work the m
    Credit: Justin K. Aller via Getty Images
    Wheaton doesn't have the physical stature of teammate Martavis Bryant, but his lightning speed and ability to work the middle of the field will make him a favorite of Ben Roethlisberger. With Antonio Brown and even Bryant commanding top corners, Wheaton will benefit that much more. He could feasibly catch 70 balls and pass the 1K mark.
  • 10 Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Minnesota
    Bridgewater was 6-6 as a starter sans Adrian Peterson, but his nearly 3,000 yards were more impressive. The&nbsp;Louisville p
    Credit: Joel Auerbach via Getty Images
    Bridgewater was 6-6 as a starter sans Adrian Peterson, but his nearly 3,000 yards were more impressive. The Louisville product completed over 72 percent of his passes in December, and has drawn the praise of coaches and teammates in camp. Now, with Adrian Peterson back in the fold, along with rising receiver Charles Johnson and speedster Mike Wallace -- acquired via trade last March -- Bridgewater seems on the verge of stardom. Plus, he has Norv Turner to aid in his development.
  • 11 Jordan Matthews, WR, Philadelphia
    We know Chip Kelly wants to throw the ball, and we know he likes Matthews. That's all you really need, but here's the cherry
    Credit: Al Bello via Getty Images
    We know Chip Kelly wants to throw the ball, and we know he likes Matthews. That's all you really need, but here's the cherry on top: Matthews, at 6 feet 3 inches, is a big, rangy target who, by all accounts, is having a splendid training camp. New quarterback Sam Bradford will love his ability to stretch the field and, perhaps equally importantly, make plays in the slot. Moreover, the No. 1 receiving option in the Eagles' passing game has averaged 83.5 receptions for 1,325 yards and 9.5 touchdowns under Kelly, per SI.com. Plus, former Eagle Jeremy Maclin's 143 targets are up for grabs.
  • 12 Charles Johnson, WR, Minnesota
    Johnson -- not the more-hyped Cordarrelle Patterson --is&nbsp;the one to watch for on the perimeter for the Vikings. A true d
    Credit: Joe Robbins via Getty Images
    Johnson -- not the more-hyped Cordarrelle Patterson --is the one to watch for on the perimeter for the Vikings. A true downfield threat (sub-4.4 speed) with big, strong hands and a massive target range, the 6-foot-2 Johnson -- a Division II product out of Grand Valley State -- will expand his route tree in the always-pivotal third season for a wide receiver. Teddy Bridgewater will look his way a ton, and the result could be a 1,000-yard season.
  • 13 Latavius Murray, RB, Oakland
    Murray flashed brilliance during his second year, highlighted by his 4-carry, 120-yard, 2-touchdown performance against Kansa
    Credit: Associated Press
    Murray flashed brilliance during his second year, highlighted by his 4-carry, 120-yard, 2-touchdown performance against Kansas City in Week 11. A monstrous runner with real speed at 6 feet 3 inches, Murray is also a capable receiving threat for Derek Carr out of the backfield. Basically, get this guy the ball any way you can, and he will take care of the rest.
  • 14 John Brown, WR, Arizona
    Brown, a Division II Pittsburg State product, is the true No. 2 receiver in Arizona's offense, and with&nbsp;Michael Floyd's
    Credit: Christian Petersen via Getty Images
    Brown, a Division II Pittsburg State product, is the true No. 2 receiver in Arizona's offense, and with Michael Floyd's injury concerns, he may even be the No. 1 at times. An explosive, shifty wideout with breakaway speed, he also put on an extra 10 pounds of muscle during the offseason. Simply put, Carson Palmer will feed him a ton of targets this season, and Brown will capitalize.
  • 15 Travis Kelce, TE, Kansas City
    "Gronk-lite," as I refer to Kelce, is a physical specimen with tremendous athletic ability and a receiving skill set we simpl
    Credit: Jamie Squire via Getty Images
    "Gronk-lite," as I refer to Kelce, is a physical specimen with tremendous athletic ability and a receiving skill set we simply do not see that often. A 6-foot-5, 260 pound behemoth of a tight end who can really run, he should reach the 75-catch, 1,000-yard mark in his second pro season. Like Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Kelce is another second-year tight end with massive upside.
  • 16 Jonathan Stewart, RB, Carolina
    Stewart, a 28-year-old veteran running back, doesn't really fit the "breakout" mold, but opportunity strikes. The brutally un
    Credit: Associated Press
    Stewart, a 28-year-old veteran running back, doesn't really fit the "breakout" mold, but opportunity strikes. The brutally unsuccessful Thunder and Lightning combination he made with DeAngelo Williams is finally over. Assuming Stewart stays healthy (and durability has been an issue in the past), he will go over the 1,000-yard clip for the first time since 2009.
  • 17 Alfred Blue, RB, Houston
    Arian Foster is out, which means Alfred Blue -- a rugged second-year back from LSU -- will have every opportunity to assume t
    Credit: Gregory Shamus via Getty Images
    Arian Foster is out, which means Alfred Blue -- a rugged second-year back from LSU -- will have every opportunity to assume the role for Bill O'Brien's offense. The Texans may have trouble scoring, but their stout defense will keep them in games. Plus, no team runs the ball more. Blue, whom I had pegged as a potential fantasy sleeper before Foster's injury, is known for his vision and toughness -- two traits that will earn him carries ... and production.
  • 18 Tyler Eifert, TE, Cincinnati
    I liked Philly's Zach Ertz here, too, but Eifert is more important to his offense -- an instrumental component to Andy Dalton
    Credit: Peter Aiken via Getty Images
    I liked Philly's Zach Ertz here, too, but Eifert is more important to his offense -- an instrumental component to Andy Dalton's success. The third-year man from Notre Dame is finally healthy, after essentially missing all of 2014-15. At 6 feet 6 inches, he provides a massive target range for Dalton, especially inside the 20s, where he can win jump-balls. Eifert is a robust talent whose consistent hands should lend themselves to plenty of targets while amassing at least 65 catches. Plus, because Eifert is a capable blocker and because Jermaine Gresham is gone, he will also take the lion's share of snaps.
  • 19 C.J. Anderson, RB, Denver
    Anderson burst onto the scene later in the season with his nasty running style and consistent play. Further, because he can c
    Credit: Colorado Springs Gazette via Getty Images
    Anderson burst onto the scene later in the season with his nasty running style and consistent play. Further, because he can catch the ball (34 receptions), he's an ideal fit for Peyton Manning and Denver. He also tied for second in the ESPN good blocking yards per attempt (GBYPA) metric, which gauges a ball carrier's productivity on plays with good blocking. Expect more of the same from Anderson, with an expanded role from Week 1.
  • 20 Jeremy Hill RB, Cincinnati
    Year two for Jeremy Hill means he can show why -- during the second half of last year -- only Marshawn Lynch and Eddie Lacy h
    Credit: Associated Press
    Year two for Jeremy Hill means he can show why -- during the second half of last year -- only Marshawn Lynch and Eddie Lacy had more yards after contact. Marvin Lewis loves to run the ball, and with Hill, he has one of the game's truly elite young backs: a physical, and yet very dynamic, runner. Don't be too worried about Giovani Bernard stealing reps. Instead, expect a monstrous season for the former LSU standout.
  • 21 Martavis Bryant, WR, Pittsburgh
    Bryant joins C.J. Spiller, DeAndre Hopkins and Sammy Watkins as another one of Clemson's skill position dynamos. Expectations
    Credit: Justin K. Aller via Getty Images
    Bryant joins C.J. Spiller, DeAndre Hopkins and Sammy Watkins as another one of Clemson's skill position dynamos. Expectations are tempered with the 4-game suspension, but even still, Bryant should put up big numbers. The 6-foot-5 receiver can beat you with speed (4.4 40) and size, not to mention a consistent set of hands rare for a 23-year-old. We know Big Ben loves to throw the deep ball, an area in which few were better than Bryant last season, including both Calvin Johnson and A.J. Green, per ESPN.com.
  • 22 Doug Martin, RB, Tampa Bay
    Remember this guy? After taking the league by storm and rushing for nearly 1,500 yards as a rookie -- <a href="http://www.huf
    Credit: Joe Robbins via Getty Images
    Remember this guy? After taking the league by storm and rushing for nearly 1,500 yards as a rookie -- one of my few accurate predictions -- Martin has posted back-to-back sub-500-yard seasons with putrid yards per carry averages. The Bucs, meanwhile, have revamped a bad offensive line, and Martin has reportedly lost a ton of weight as well. He will provide a boost to Jameis Winston and regain the form he had three years ago.
  • 23 Chris Ivory, RB, New York Jets
    The 27-year-old Ivory is hardly the sexiest name on this list, but he is a proven in-between-the-tackles runner who will be o
    Credit: Associated Press
    The 27-year-old Ivory is hardly the sexiest name on this list, but he is a proven in-between-the-tackles runner who will be on the field for three downs and earn goal line carries. The Jets -- even without Geno Smith under center -- want to control the clock and let their defense win games. Ivory, who will earn plenty of yards after contact and won't cough it up, should be in line for his best year yet.
  • 24 Eddie Royal, WR, Chicago
    I had the former Virginia Tech standout in this group even before the Kevin White injury news. Royal is as steady as he is st
    Credit: Jonathan Daniel via Getty Images
    I had the former Virginia Tech standout in this group even before the Kevin White injury news. Royal is as steady as he is stealthy, consistently under the radar despite catching 109 balls and scoring 15 touchdowns over the past two years. Now, the 29-year-old vet heads to Chicago, where he will reunite with Jay Cutler. In 2008, as a rookie with Denver, Royal caught 91 balls from Cutler, working primarily in the slot. He will once again assume that role in 2015, this time opposite Alshon Jeffery, who's sure to command plenty of attention. 
  • 25 DeAndre Hopkins, WR, Houston
    DeAndre Hopkins has the look and feel of a guy about to bust out for a massive, All-Pro type of year. Plus, we know that the
    Credit: Associated Press
    DeAndre Hopkins has the look and feel of a guy about to bust out for a massive, All-Pro type of year. Plus, we know that the crucial step for wide receivers comes in year three. The Texans' quarterback issues are a concern, but Hopkins is a true burner who can flat-out catch the football. Expect the third year wideout to improve on his 1,200-yard, 6-touchdown effort. 
Email me at jordan.schultz@huffingtonpost.com or ask me questions about anything sports-related at @Schultz_Report, and follow me on Instagram @Schultz_Report.
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