Seven NFL players set for breakout season in 2023: Kenny Pickett and Kadarius Toney title list

Seven NFL players set for breakout season in 2023: Kenny Pickett and Kadarius Toney title list

The 2023 NFL season is still months away, but it’s never too early to plan ahead. With free agency and the NFL Draft now behind us, we have more clarity on the makeup of the NFL’s 32-team roster, and if you’re in, you’ve more than likely started researching fantasy football. .

Journalists and fans spend this part of the offseason trying to get ahead of the storylines. If you’re good at predicting the future, you could make big money at sports betting or dominate your fantasy league. Last season we saw breakout campaigns from several players, including Geno Smith, Jalen Hurts, Josh Jacobs, Tony Pollard and Talanoa Hufanga. Each of these players was important to their team in 2022. Which players will make big leaps forward in 2023?

Below, we’ll break down seven NFL players who are ready for a breakout campaign.

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The Steelers have now gone 19 straight seasons without a losing record, which is only a shy of tying the Super Bowl-era record. Last year was a close call, however, as Pittsburgh rebounded from 2-6 to finish 9-8. The Steelers had to win their last four games to reach nine wins!

Pickett’s 184.9 passing yards per game ranked 28th in the NFL and his seven passing touchdowns ranked 33rd. The numbers themselves aren’t impressive, but Pickett showed a lot of potential in 2022. Pickett’s rookie campaign was a two-half story. He has thrown just one interception in his last eight games after throwing eight in his first five games. Maybe his escape has already begun?




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In weeks 10 through 17, Pickett had three fourth-quarter comebacks and four “winning drives,” according to Pro Football Reference. Two came back in a row in Weeks 16 and 17 to keep the Steelers in the win column. That’s pretty impressive Pickett answered the bell as a fourth-quarter rookie at the end of the year.

With multiple additions on the offensive line and weapons like Diontae Johnson, young George Pickens, Pat Freiermuth, Darnell Washington, Najee Harris and Jaylen Warren, Pickett is quite a candidate to take a big leap into the second year.

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It was time, right? Toney caught just 14 passes for 171 yards and two touchdowns in seven regular season games played for the Chiefs after being acquired at the trade deadline, but he played a monster role in the Super Bowl LVII win with a touchdown reception, then the longest punt return in Super Bowl history.

With the departure of JuJu Smith-Schuster, Toney should be an integral part of the offense in 2023. Although he is primarily considered a gimmicky player compared to a traditional WR1, Chiefs general manager Brett Veach believes will play a major role in the future.

“We have a lot of hope for him. I mean he was a first-round pick for a reason,” Veach said. “There’s a reason we traded him and we felt like he was a first-round talent and I think if he stays healthy and continues to have that chemistry with the staff at coaches and with Pat, I think he’s doing a great job at , I think the sky’s the limit for him.”

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The Seahawks had arguably the best draft class last year, and it was headlined by left tackle Charles Cross, running back Kenneth Walker and Defensive Rookie of the Year cornerback Tariq Woolen. However, right tackle Abraham Lucas certainly deserves to be included among those big names.

Lucas started in all 16 games he played last season and allowed nine sacks in 975 offensive snaps played, per PFF. He earned a 68.5 PFF rating. While he allowed more sacks per slam than Cross, the left tackle had a lower PFF rating (63.7) and allowed 20 more sacks than Lucas, according to

Lucas could become a Pro Bowler. I expect him to have a cleaner, more cohesive 2023 campaign.

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You could easily put Titans wide Treylon Burks here, but I’m interested in Tennessee’s sophomore tight end. Chig Okonkwo caught just 32 passes for 450 yards and three touchdowns in his rookie season but proved he was the versatile point guard many thought he could come out of Maryland. He wheeled routes out of the backfield from the fullback position, worked in midfield and even had a 48-yard screen pass against the Chiefs.

Besides potentially being a special playmaker, another reason Okonkwo makes this list is because of Tennessee’s below average receiving corps. New offensive coordinator Tim Kelly will have to plan a game with Okonkwo in mind if he wants to improve on one of the NFL’s worst passing attacks. Look for Okonkwo and Burks as focal points in the passing game for the Titans in 2023.

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It looked like the Eagles robbed Dean with his third-round selection, but that remains to be seen. He didn’t play a major role in his rookie season due to Kyzir White and TJ Edwards, but the two are now on different teams. Dean has just 13 combined tackles and one tackle for loss in 2022, but could be Philly’s starting center linebacker this season.

He’s a smaller player, but Dean arguably shone in the best defense in college football history at Georgia. He’s a smart player who can both play downhill and defend in cover. Dean could be a three-game linebacker in 2023. Besides, it doesn’t hurt that he works with so many former college teammates either.

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Owusu-Koramoah took a step back in 2022 with 70 combined tackles, four passes defended and two forced fumbles in 11 games played. But that doesn’t take away from the fact that he’s an athletic specimen who can wear different hats in defense. There are several reasons why I expect JOK to have his best season yet in 2023.

The Browns made defensive line additions in Dalvin Tomlinson and Za’Darius Smith, which should open things up for linebackers. Also, the Browns made what I believe was a good hire of defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz. Schwartz doesn’t blitz at high tempo, but relies on his defensive lines to be disruptive and put pressure on quarterbacks. I think it’s good for JOK.

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Here’s a fun one. The 49ers lost two of their top three sack artists from last year, as Samson Ebukam signed with the Indianapolis Colts, while Charles Omenihu is now with the Chiefs. That opens the door for Jackson, who recorded 14 combined tackles, six QB hits, eight passes defended, one interception and three sacks in 15 games played with zero starts in his rookie season.

Jackson was aggressive rushing the passer from a two-point position inside against offensive guards, but also got reps as a traditional defensive end with his hand in the dirt. What stands out about Jackson is that two of his three sacks came after the quarterback got out of trouble with an initial chaser. He did not give up the game.

At the same time, it’s no secret that Jackson’s rookie season could have gone better. He went inactive in good health at the end of the year – including all three of San Francisco’s postseason games.

“I think Drake has shown a lot this year about what he can be, but he has to get to what he can be,” 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan said, via Niners Wire. “I thought he was closer to that earlier in the year. It’s been a long season and I think he’s learned over the year, if you lose power in this league it becomes much harder and we had a decent group of rushers and I think as the year went on and towards the end it just got too long for him, and his body wasn’t quite ready for what we needed.”

While the way Jackson ended his rookie season doesn’t exactly inspire optimism, the way he started the year should. Once again, Jackson will have the opportunity to start opposite Nick Bosa. He’s a special athlete, and if he finds that consistency under new defensive coordinator Steve Wilks, 2023 could be a big year for him.

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