NFL teams all over the league are getting ready for the regular season of 2023 as mandatory minicamps begin to fill up. Before the start of training camp later this summer, this will be one of the first opportunities to see the entire roster coming together. Of course, when these teams meet again, people will look for players who are about to ascend. This could be a second-year player making a move after gaining a season’s worth of experience or even an experienced player who is in a different situation and seeking a reset.
By the end of 2023, each AFC team could have a player who is currently flying under the radar but who could have a significant impact on his team and become well-known. We’ll look at each team’s player below.
The Bills want to make it to the Super Bowl this year, but they’ll need good defensive play to do it. Given the abundance of elite quarterbacks in the AFC, it would be encouraging to see a player like 2022 first-round pick Kaiir Elam succeed in his second season. The cornerback from Florida had a hit-and-miss rookie season, appearing in just 13 regular-season games due to injuries.
Elam, however, finished his rookie campaign in the postseason on a high note. He made a few standout plays in Buffalo’s victory over the Dolphins during Super Wild Card Weekend, and he then got the start against Cincinnati in the divisional round.
This season’s defensive play-caller and head coach Sean McDermott referred to Elam’s performance against Miami as a “launching point” for him. The Bills will be in a strong position to win the Lombardi Trophy if he can maintain that form into 2023 and be a reliable presence opposite of Tre’Davious White.
The Texas A&M product was chosen by the Dolphins in the third round of the 2023 NFL Draught. Achane, who completed a 40-yard dash in 4.32 seconds, is a lightning-fast player who comes to Miami. As the season progresses, Achane might get more playing time. However, if head coach Mike McDaniel can plan plays to get Achane out in space, he could do wonders with his speed.
The Patriots added tight end Mike Gesicki and wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster to their pass-catching group for this season, but Tyquan Thornton, a second-round pick in 2022, may be the player who elevates the offence to a new level. Thornton has reportedly had a strong offseason. New offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien should be able to make use of Thornton’s speed, which distinguishes him from the other receivers in the room.
Thornton’s rookie season began poorly due to a fractured clavicle he sustained in the preseason, which kept him on injured reserve until Week 6. This was in addition to dealing with offensive turmoil last season at the play-caller position. Thornton is in a good position to play a bigger part in New England’s passing attack if the season gets off to a healthy start.
Of course, Aaron Rodgers and the arrival of many of his ex-Packer friends have been the focus of all the commotion in New York this offseason. Having said that, don’t discount Mecole Hardman, a former Chiefs pass-catcher, and the contributions the quick wideout could make to this offence. This offseason, ESPN claimed that Hardman joined the Jets in part because they assured him that he would be able to develop his route tree.
According to the report, New York thinks he has unrealized potential on intermediate routes. The 25-year-old was more frequently used as a vertical threat with Kansas City, so if New York can make use of a different aspect of his repertoire, he’ll be even more dynamic with Rodgers.
Don’t let the Bengals’ Day 3 selection of Illinois’ Brown in the fifth round of the 2023 NFL Draught cause you to ignore the promising running back. He ran for 1,643 yards and 10 touchdowns in his senior year of college, and he also added 27 receptions for 240 yards. Joe Mixon recently completed a season in which he averaged only 3.9 yards per carry. If Brown’s downward trend continues in 2023, he won’t just be the No. 2 back on the depth chart; at some point during the season, he might compete for the starting job.
after being chosen by the Ravens in the fourth round out of Coastal Carolina, probably showed flashes occasionally last season. He should feel much more at ease in the NFL now that he has a year of experience under his belt, even as he learns a new offence from new offensive coordinator Todd Monken. It would be shrewd of Monken to make use of Likely’s athleticism in the passing game. He and Mark Andrews could form a deadly tight end combination thanks to his 6-foot-4, 241-pound frame, which should be able to create a number of mismatches.
After signing with the Steelers as an undrafted free agent out of Oklahoma State in 2022, Jaylen Warren was one of the bigger surprises for the team. Najee Harris will continue to be the starting running back and receive the majority of the touches, but Warren, who is listed as the No. 2 on the depth chart, should get more work, particularly after a strong rookie campaign in which he averaged 5.6 yards per carry.
Last year, Warren had 6.5 touches on average. Even if that number rises to 10, his versatility as a pass-catcher and pure runner should help Pittsburgh’s backfield change up the pace and keep Harris fresh.
Kareem Hunt’s 158 touches out of the backfield are up for grabs this season because the Browns allowed him to leave in free agency. While starting running back Nick Chubb might adopt some of those touches, Jerome Ford, a fifth-round pick in 2022, might end up benefiting the most. Ford’s first season saw little action, but the offence under Kevin Stefanski offers him a great opportunity.
Hunt saw 123 carries and 44 targets while participating in 42% of the offensive snaps while serving as Chubb’s No. 2 option the previous season. Ford ran for 1,319 yards and 19 touchdowns in his final collegiate season at Cincinnati, and he also added 220 receiving yards and another score.
Even though Ridley is the most well-known player on this list, I think his inclusion in the Jaguars offence is still going largely unnoticed. He was acquired at the trade deadline the previous year, and the league just recently allowed him to play again after suspending him for breaking the rules regarding gambling.
Before this problem, which significantly slowed down his career, Ridley was regarded as one of the league’s top receivers and had already completed a 1,300-yard season. If the 28-year-old can regain that form, he could influence Trevor Lawrence in the same way that Stefon Diggs and A.J. Brown affected Josh Allen and Jalen Hurts, making Jacksonville a potential sleeping giant.
Spears, a third-round pick by Tennessee from Tulane, may make an immediate impact on the team. In addition to the Titans’ lack of depth at the skill positions, Derrick Henry has been put through a tonne of work in recent years, including a 349-carry season in 2022 that set a league record.
They’ll eventually have to take a break from that to keep the star coming back fresh, which might give Spears the opportunity to work more. Spears can be used as a pass-catcher in addition to being the No. 2 option behind Henry. This offseason, Spears has already attracted attention.
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