Year two should very rarely be considered the "breakout year" for a young player. Unless that player was able to show major signs of possibly breaking out in their first year, than the idea of them doing so can be viewed as being overly optimistic. That is not to say that a player cannot make a massive leap between year one and year two. But it is far more likely that a player gradually builds on their confidence and understanding of the game.
Tavon Austin started his rookie season off very slow. While he caught a lot of passes in his first 5-6 NFL games, he also dropped a lot. Through the first six weeks, Austin dropped seven passes. His drop rate was a ridiculous 17.1%. But as the case with most extremely explosive players, the reward of playing him far outweighed the risk. With more playing time comes more confidence and understanding. As the season progressed, Austin improved and showcased more and more of that explosive talent that made him the eighth overall pick. In fact, after starting the first six games with 7 drops, Austin would finish his season with zero drops after week six. He also went on to score touchdowns in the form of receiving, rushing, and returning. Before spraining his ankle in week 14, it became clear the game was starting to slow down, and Austin's potential began to translate into production. I fully expect Austin to pick up where he left off in week 14 of the 2013 season.
Projection: 51 rec---669 yds---14 rush---174 yds---412 ret yds---8 total tds
I strongly doubt if there was one Rams fan out there that was not extremely disappointed to hear that Stedman Bailey would be suspended four games to begin the year. The reason for that disappointment is because there is no denying what Bailey can bring to the table, and he carries a lot of expectations heading into year two. Many believed when Bailey was drafted that he was instantly the best receiver on the Rams roster. He did not get many opportunities early in the season to show what he could do for the team, but once the chance came, he really stepped up. Over the final six weeks of the season, Bailey caught 16 passes for 214 yards, and added 2 carries for 33 yards and a touchdown. He made some very tough grabs in traffic, and consistently fought for extra yards. Oh, and his drop rate? Yeah, it was zero. Bailey entered the NFL with a reputation of being a hard worker that always played with a chip on his shoulder. After being suspended he now has a real chip to fuel him in his return.
Projection: 55 rec---734 yds---5 tds---1 drop
There has been some chatter about Zac Stacy possibly losing his starting job this year. That is silly talk, and quite frankly ungrateful. After the season this young man gave St. Louis, and now people are actually doubting him, that is insane. He kept the Rams competitive, as well as brief playoff contenders. It's kind of crazy to think of him as someone that could be on the verge of losing his starting role. Stacy displayed some of the best vision you could find last season. He exploited cutback lanes as good as anyone. He ran with great burst, balance, and power. He finished the season ranked eighth in average yards after contact. He had all this success in only 12 weeks, with practically no passing game to support him. I fully expect Zac Stacy to retain his starting role, be even better this year, as it already looks like he has improved his physical condition.
Projection: 290 rush---1,278 yds---10 tds---27 rec---178 yds
Alec Ogletree really showed why Jeff Fisher would blush last summer every time someone mentioned his name. He has a knack for being around the ball. The kid simply plays all out, sideline to sideline, football. He also looks to create turnovers with every opportunity given, and had success on quite a few occasions. Ogletree is a high effort - high energy - player that is going to give you everything he has. It's obvious that he has fun out there on the field. The best news about Ogletree is that he is wise enough to know that if he wants to get better, he has to learn the ropes. Which is why it's awesome that he has allowed James Laurinaitis to take him under his wing. Laurinaitis is one of the smartest linebackers in the NFL, and his football IQ is off the charts. The only thing that separates Olgetree from becoming a truly special linebacker is his understanding of the pro game. After a season under his belt and a whole year around James, I still expect him to have more than his fair share of mental lapse, but Ogletree should come out guns blazing.
Projection: 142 tkl---2 int---5 ff---4 sck
T.J. McDonald must have been the happiest safety alive this off-season. To hear that your team just signed Gregg Williams is the best news you can have as an NFL safety. Williams has a helluva track record with safeties in his system. Pro Bowls galore. With that being said, it's hard to envision McDonald as a Pro Bowl safety next year. He struggled mightily in coverage and missed a lot of tackles. But he showed enough promise to assume there will be a significant overall improvement with his performance. He does not have the same privilege as Alec Ogletree, to learn from a very knowledgeable veteran in his position group. But T.J. is a smart player and will have Williams there to assist him along the way. I think it is safe to say McDonald will have a solid season.
Projection: 80 tkl---2 int---3.5 sck---2 ff