The NFC isn't as strong as the AFC these days, yet there's plenty of opportunities for teams to emerge as Super Bowl contenders thanks to the lack of true threats in the conference. The Philadelphia Eagles are the defending NFC champions and have another loaded roster returning in 2023, but the Dallas Cowboys and San Francisco 49ers are lurking to take Philadelphia off its throne.
There are plenty of opportunities for a surprise contender or two in the conference. The Detroit Lions, Seattle Seahawks and New Orleans Saints fall into that mix. The New York Giants could emerge into a Super Bowl contenders if they have a breakout player this season.
How do these teams get into contention for the Super Bowl? One of the under-the-radar players has to take the next step in their development. These players are already good and can transform to elite at their respective position, or they can finally have the breakout season their teams are expecting.
These are the players worth monitoring in the NFC for 2023. By the end of this upcoming season, these players have the potential to become household names (rookies are not counted for this list).
With no DeAndre Hopkins or A.J. Green in the mix, the opportunity is there for Moore to get significant targets in the Cardinals offense -- specifically in the slot. Injuries hampered Moore from having a big sophomore season, as he finished with 41 catches for 414 yards and a touchdown in just eight games -- all starts.
If Moore can stay healthy, those numbers should significantly improve in an offense devoid of playmakers.
Already one of the underrated cornerbacks in the NFL, Terrell already earned a Second Team All-Pro selection in his first three years in the league. Terrell had only 47 tackles with no interceptions last season, and his coverage numbers were worse.
Opposing quarterbacks had a 100.6 passer rating targeting Terrell, who allowed nine touchdowns last season. While Terrell allowed 55.7% of his passes thrown his way to be caught, expect those numbers to significantly decrease in 2023 (Terrell allowed a 43.9 passer rating in 2021).
Crazy to consider Sanders an "under-the-radar" player when he was the No. 1 running back on the league's top-ranked rushing attack over the last two seasons. Sanders has been one of the more underappreciated backs in the league. Over the past four seasons, Sanders has 3,708 rushing yards -- good for ninth most in the NFL during that span. Sanders has averaged 5.02 yards per carry -- fourth best in the NFL among running backs with a minimum of 500 carries (fifth overall).
Sanders is coming off the best season of his four-year career, rushing 259 times for a career-high 1,269 yards and 11 touchdowns. He also put up a career-high 1,347 yards from scrimmage in earning his first Pro Bowl selection, finishing fifth in the NFL in rushing.
Sanders will get that opportunity to prove he's worth the money he's making in Carolina.
Who led the Bears in sacks last season? That would be Brisker, who finished with four sacks on the year -- becoming just the third defensive back in franchise history to record four-plus sacks in a season (and the first one since 1986).
Brisker finished with 103 tackles (five for loss), four sacks, with two passes defended and an interception in his rookie season. While Brisker can improve in coverage (four pass touchdowns and 88.7 passer rating allowed), he's on the verge to be a fixture in Chicago's defense for years to come.
Smith was thrust into action on the Cowboys' offensive line last season, thanks to an injury that kept Tyron Smith out for the first 13 games of the season. He started every game for the Cowboys in his rookie season, playing 1,022 snaps at left tackle and 121 snaps at guard -- becoming a valuable piece toward Dallas winning 12 games last year.
While Smith allowed seven sacks and 35 pressures with a beat rate of 4.6%, he gained valuable experience and is expected to be a fixture on Dallas' line. If Smith is the left guard in 2023 (with Tyron Smith healthy), the pair could be a lethal force for Dallas going forward.
One of the free agent signings who is part of the Lions' revamped secondary, Sutton could be a star in Detroit. Sutton allowed just a 54.6 passer rating in coverage last season with three interceptions, also having a career high in passes defensed (15).
Sutton allowed the eighth-lowest passer rating in coverage last season among players targeted a minimum of 50 times, so he's already one of the top cover corners in the game. If the Lions make a deep playoff run, Sutton will become a well-known name.
One of the maligned rookie receivers on the Packers roster last season, Watson ended up becoming one of the top deep-ball wideouts in the league. Watson finished with 611 receiving yards and seven touchdowns in his rookie year (14.9 yards per catch), but had the most receiving touchdowns (seven) and sixth in yards per catch (16.9) over the final eight games of the year.
Even with a new quarterback in Jordan Love, there's no denying Watson's talent. As the No. 1 wideout in Green Bay, a 1,000-yard season may be on the horizon.
The Rams have been high on Noteboom in the past, but last year was a disaster in his first season as Andrew Whitworth's replacement at left tackle. Noteboom played just six games and allowed five sacks and 22 pressures with a pressure rate of 9.9% -- the highest of his career.
The offensive line will be healthy in 2023, starting with Noteboom. He'll get an opportunity to prove the Rams he's the player who allowed just three sacks in the three seasons prior to his performance last season.
With the Vikings reportedly cutting ties with Dalvin Cook's, Mattison will get the opportunity to prove he's the No. 1 running back. Mattison had 100 carries for 462 yards and a touchdown last season (averaging 4.6 yards per carry).
Mattison was Cook's backup the last four years, rushing for 1,670 yards and 11 touchdowns (averaging 4.1 yards per carry). The Vikings will get to see how Mattison can do as the featured back minus Cook, who has rushed for over 1,000 yards in each of the last four seasons.
New Orleans Saints
Olave was one of the league's best rookie wideouts last season, producing no matter who the Saints' quarterback was. He finished with 72 catches for 1,042 yards and four touchdowns, ending up fourth in Offensive Rookie of the Year voting. He joined Danny Abramowicz (1967) as only the second Saints player to lead the team in receptions, receiving yards and yards per catch in his rookie campaign.
New York Giants
The Giants are counting on Neal to be the right tackle they drafted at No. 7 overall this season. Neal has plenty of talent, but he struggled in his rookie season -- allowing eight sacks, 10 quarterback hits, 37 pressures and an 8.7% pressure rate.
With a year under his belt, Neal has an opportunity to take the Giants to the next level. A good sophomore season could get the Giants back to the divisional round of the playoffs, providing excellent expectations for the offensive line going forward.
Dickerson has only been in the league two years, yet he already is one of the best guards in the game. Selected to a Pro Bowl in 2022, Dickerson allowed just one sack and 17 pressures at left guard. He allowed just four quarterback hits and 2.9% pressure rate.
A huge Year 3 could be in store for Dickerson, who already is one of the best offensive linemen on arguably the best offensive line in the game.
San Francisco 49ers
One of the more underappreciated safeties in the game, Hufanga's coverage numbers significantly improved in Year 2. Opposing quarterbacks targeting Hufanga had a 70.1 passer rating, even though they threw six touchdowns off him. That shouldn't take away what Hufanga was able to do with his opportunities, having four interceptions and nine passes defended.
Already a First Team All-Pro, Hufanga finished with 97 tackles and two sacks last season. He had three interceptions through the first seven games last season, becoming a leader on a stacked 49ers defense.
An even bigger 2023 may be in store, as Hufanga should solidify himself as one of the elite safeties in football.
Woolen had a case for Defensive Rookie of the Year last season, already earning a Pro Bowl berth after a standout first season in the NFL. Tied for the league lead with six interceptions, Woolen finished with 63 tackles, three fumble recoveries along with a defensive touchdown.
Opposing quarterbacks had just a 46.1 passer rating targeting Woolen, the sixth-lowest rate in the NFL. With Devon Witherspoon next to Woolen in 2023, a huge Year 2 could be in store.
Already heading into his fourth season, Winfield appears primed for a big season in the takeaway department. Winfield has just four interceptions in three seasons, but opposing quarterbacks have just a 67.3 passer rating targeting him.
A Pro Bowler in 2021, Winfield had 80 tackles, six quarterback hits, four sacks, an interception and three passes defended last season. He's in the conversation as one of the best young safeties in the game, but has the opportunity to become one of the elite players at his position in 2023.
Dotson had an impressive rookie season in 2022, despite playing with three different quarterbacks. Establishing himself as a deep-ball receiver, Dotson finished with 35 catches for 523 yards and seven touchdowns -- as his 14.9 yards per catch was fourth highest in the NFC.
Dotson tied Christian Watson for first in touchdown catches amongst rookies and was second in yards per catch among rookies (minimum 50 targets). Playing next to terry McLaurin will help Dotson make a big leap in 2023.