A rookie season getting cut short by injury screeches any momentum to a halt and is the ultimate roadblock for a young player in the league. We saw a multitude of Day 1 or Day 2 picks who were either ruled out for the season before it began or very early into their debut campaigns in the NFL.
Now healthy, let's rank some of these players by their chances to break out in 2023.
8. Jameson Williams, WR, Lions
Hard to imagine a rockier start to an NFL career for Williams, who of course was sidelined for most of his rookie campaign, which was expected. Upon returning, he was hardly the dynamic weapon we witnessed at Alabama in 2021. Williams finished Year 1 as a professional with one catch for 41 yards -- which did go for a touchdown -- and one rush for 40 yards. That's it.
Now healthy, Williams will miss the first six games of his sophomore season due to violating the league's gambling policy. Goodness. Of course, the Lions will welcome him back in late October, but I wonder how much rapport Jared Goff will have already formulated with rookie tight end Sam LaPorta, fellow first-year weapon Jahmyr Gibbs out of the backfield, and former Lion Marvin Jones. Because if there are strong connections made there, given the essential guarantee that Amon-Ra St. Brown will see 125-plus targets, how many looks will be available for Williams in what should be one of the best offenses in the NFC?
Williams seems to be up against it. I don't see a noticeable breakout in his second NFL season. Even in this Detroit attack.
7. Trevor Penning, OT, Saints
Penning had a ghastly showcase early in 2022 before his season-ending injury. For as punishing as he was at Northern Iowa when getting downhill, his pass-protection issues stem from lack of balance and overreliance on his strength -- which is not an advantage anymore.
For this 2022 first-rounder, an ascension to average pass-blocking would constitute as a breakout. Could it happen? It's a long shot. Missing basically an entire season to add functional power to his game is majorly damaging for a young perimeter blocker, particularly one like Penning who earned first-round draft status mostly due to his strength at the point of attack at the small-school level.
6. Wan'Dale Robinson, WR, Giants
The yards-after-the-catch prowess Robinson demonstrated at Nebraska and Kentucky should translate to the NFL quickly, and he's young (he's still only 22). That bodes well for his future. I'm not one to predict future injuries, yet a 5-foot-8, 180-ish pound body feels pretty susceptible to punishment from NFL defenders.
However, Robinson's relatively low on this list not due to a lack of talent. It's because the Giants have signed every receiver under the sun this offseason, with Parris Campbell, Jamison Crowder and Cole Beasley. They traded up to select Jalin Hyatt in the third round and Sterling Shepard is still kicking.
With the Darren Waller acquisition, and Darius Slayton and Isaiah Hodgins on the perimeter, will there be enough targets for Robinson to truly break out? Remember, Daniel Jones didn't even throw 475 passes in 2022.
5. David Ojabo, EDGE, Ravens
Ojabo has the athletic goods to rock in the NFL. Is he capable enough with his hands when he can't win with sheer burst and bend alone? That's the key question with the second-year Ravens rusher, who played just 21 snaps in his rookie campaign due to an Achilles tear he suffered during the pre-draft process. Frankly, though, it was amazing Ojabo was able to return to the field at all in Year 1 given the severity of that injury. Ahhh youth.
Clearly Baltimore prioritizes a shiny athletic profile on the edge -- check out Odafe Oweh's workout. With Ojabo, his breakout will hinge on whether or not he's gotten more combative at the pass-rushing apex. His upper body should be stronger than where it was during his final season at Michigan. That's good. But hardly getting any in-game reps to feel what it's like to rush against enormous, long, athletic, and powerful offensive tackles will create a longer acclimation process for him. He'll flash. No doubt. His athleticism will be the catalyst in those moments. I don't know if we'll see a full-scale breakout. Yet.
4. Logan Bruss, OL, Rams
Bruss was the antithesis of the classic Wisconsin offensive lineman, who traditionally is a big, overpowering, lesser athlete. Bruss had a phenomenal combine in 2022 at 6-foot-5 and around 310 pounds, and he got all the Wisconsin complex run-scheme experience. His acceleration off the snap, short-area quickness, and balance are ideal attributes for Sean McVay's stretch-run based offense.
Did he need to add some weight and power? Sure -- 99% of young blockers do. But he wasn't coming from a place of weakness in grappling situations. Not at all. Over the years, McVay and Co. have done a marvelous job identifying the correct type of blockers for their system and maximizing their strengths to get the most out of them quickly.
3. Joshua Paschal, DT/EDGE, Lions
Paschal is one of two sleeping giants on the Lions defensive line -- Levi Onwuzurike is the other. Paschal was a menacing force on those high-caliber Kentucky clubs, routinely winning through guards and tackles. At nearly 6-3 and almost 270 pounds, he has a position-flexible frame and can win with burst or violent hands at the point of attack. He generated 68 quarterback pressures on his final 667 pass-rush snaps with the Wildcats from a variety of pre-snap alignments.
Playing on a front with Aidan Hutchinson, James Houston, the wide and nimble Alim McNeill plus third-round monster Brodric Martin will free Paschal in many situations. I feel good about an impending breakout for Detroit's second-round pick in 2022.
2. Lewis Cine, S, Vikings
Of course with Cine, this prediction is mostly considering my pre-draft evaluation of him, since he went down for the season so early in his debut campaign in Minnesota.
Even in today's NFL, which is oozing with insane athletes, there aren't many 6-2, 200-pound safeties with 4.37 speed like Cine. He'll play in Brian Flores' defense, the same scheme that highlighted then-rookie Jevon Holland as blitzing specialist and versatile coverage player. Holland burst onto the scene in Miami under Flores with a pair of picks, 10 pass breakups and a whopping 16 quarterback pressures on 65 pass-rushing snaps (his safety teammate Brandon Jones led all safeties with 17 pressures that year, by the way).
Think Flores will deploy Cine on blitzes in 2023? Yes. Often.
Playing alongside fringe future Hall of Famer Harrison Smith is a boon for Cine too.
1. Breece Hall, RB, Jets
Hall looked like a budding star in the Jets backfield through seven contests -- 5.8 yards per carry, the third-highest yards-after-contact-per-rush average (4.13) among qualifying backs, and while not overly elusive, he'd hit the seventh-most runs of 15-plus yards (8) in football.
Heck, he even was averaging 11.5 yards per reception on his 19 grabs. Altogether, Rookie of the Year type stuff from Hall a season ago, no doubt. I'm ever-so-slightly concerned with New York's blocking unit, especially on the edges. Leaks up front are most damaging to any running back's production. Yet, Hall is so ridiculously talented and got experience running behind less-than-dominant offensive fronts at Iowa State. With much attention paid to Aaron Rodgers, Garrett Wilson and Co. Hall will, let's say, continue his breakout from his rookie campaign.