Breakout Candidate No. 6: James Cook, RB, Bills
Devin Singletary and Zack Moss are out. James Cook is in. The Bills hope this shift to the younger, more explosive option will transform the running game behind Josh Allen.
Cook never handled the lion’s share of snaps in college, and the same trend continued in Year 1 in the NFL. On a mere 89 rushing attempts, the former Bulldog racked up 507 yards, netting a respectable 5.7 yards per carry. Cook’s 21 receptions highlight his three-down ability, even if his pass-blocking needs work.
Damien Harris, Latavius Murray, and Nyheim Hines are more proven options on the depth chart, but none of them can single-handedly change a game the way Cook can. North of 1,000 yards and ten touchdowns is well within reach for the 23-year-old dynamo.
Breakout Candidate No. 7: Desmond Ridder, QB, Falcons
Last but certainly not least is quarterback Desmond Ridder. I pounded the drum for the Cincinnati signal-caller last April, grading him as the top-rated passer in the class and a player worthy of going on Day 1.
Alas, Ridder would be the second quarterback off the board behind Kenny Pickett. On the surface that isn’t shocking, but it was stunning to see Ridder fall all the way to the middle of Round 3 at the 2022 NFL Draft.
Sure, Ridder isn’t dripping with physical traits. He doesn’t have the biggest arm, the most velocity, or the picturesque frame of others. However, what he lacks physically, he more than makes up for in football IQ and mechanics.
Ridder’s footwork is steady, and his ability to maneuver the pocket is special. Although he boasts 4.5-speed, the running game was not a primary focus as a rookie. Expect that to change as Ridder becomes more comfortable leading the offense.
Head coach Arthur Smith has experience with Ryan Tannehill in his previous stint with the Titans. The veteran is a solid comp for Ridder as he currently stands. Both are capable of making plays with their legs but prefer to stick in the pocket and dice defenses up through the air.
Ideally, Ridder will look like a higher-end version of Tannehill in Year 2. Dak Prescott is the name many lob around, and it is something I subscribe to myself. Even if Ridder lands somewhere between the two extremes, that will be enough to lead the improved Falcons roster to a postseason berth. With that comes a boom in popularity league-wide.