Every team in the NFL has its cadre of star players and dependable starters. A group of players that coaches and fans can depend on to lead the team week in and week out, regardless of the circumstances.
Every team also has an X-factor or two. Wild cards, if you will. Players who aren’t exactly household names, but have the explosive potential to do something game-changing and put their team over the top.
We would usually take quarterbacks out of this equation because solid quarterback play is imperative for a team’s consistent success.
But in some instances, it’s necessary to include less-heralded quarterbacks with the potential for breakout performances that can heavily impact a team’s season.
Washington Football Team: Ryan Fitzpatrick (QB) – With a stout defense led by reigning defensive rookie of the year Chase Young, the play of journeyman “FitzMagic” at QB is vital. With plenty of weaponry around him he needs to avoid the catastrophic mistakes he’s known for.
Ryan Fitzpatrick will start for the WFT in Week 1, per @RapSheet
Fitzmagic QB1 is a beautiful thing 🪄 pic.twitter.com/CEnZV8sIMf
— PFF Fantasy Football (@PFF_Fantasy) August 29, 2021
Dallas Cowboys: Randy Gregory (DE) – If Gregory could just put the weed down he could be a really good edge rusher.
This pair will lead the charge. I am excited to see Randy Gregory unleashed. pic.twitter.com/jt5MhgPJq0
— john.herndon.storyteller (@JohnHerndonJr) September 2, 2021
The 28-year-old he’s a legitimate breakout candidate in new defensive coordinator Dan Quinn’s aggressive approach.
He was solid last year although he didn’t reach the 300 snaps threshold the team was hoping for, but he still played well enough to be the focus opposing offenses weekly.
New York Giants: Azeez Olujari (Rookie/DE) – The Giants had a pretty stout defense last year but they still struggled to get to opposing QBs.
That’s where Olujari can help because he’s an elite pass rusher.
Georgia LB Azeez Olujari credits his relentless work ethic to his parents.
— NFL (@NFL) March 17, 2021
The G-Men’s best defensive lineman last season were all on the interior. So Azeez will have ample opportunities to solidify one edge spot in NYC.
Philadelphia Eagles: DeVonta Smith (Rookie/WR) – Smith, the 2020 Heisman Trophy winner, couldn’t be covered in the SEC or on the biggest stage last season at Alabama.
DeVonta Smith stacking the DB & using a rocker-step at the break pic.twitter.com/tcaW1xKfD6
— Receiver Life (@ReceiverLife_) August 26, 2021
His unique skillset of elite route running and ball skills are sure to help the lowest ranked receiver unit in the league since 2018.
Buffalo Bills: Dane Jackson (CB) – With Tre’Davious White on one side and one of the best man-to-man corners in the league, the big question for the Super Bowl contender Bills, is who’s gonna cover the other side. Jackson looks like the choice there or in the slot.
Sean McDermott says the competition for CB2 between Levi Wallace and Dane Jackson is still going. He said you’ll see Levi out there today and then Dane at times.
— Matt Parrino (@MattParrino) September 2, 2021
He showed some real promise last season in limited action. If they can solidify that and their pass rush they’ll have a real shot at unseating the powerful Chiefs.
New England Patriots: Kyle Van Noy (LB) – The do-it-all linebacker had a breakthrough season for the Patriots in 2019, after playing almost exclusively as an edge rusher.
Between Matthew Judon, Josh Uche, Kyle Van Noy, Dont’a Hightower, Christian Barmore, Chase Winovich etc, this group is going to be an issue for opposing offensive lines all season. pic.twitter.com/deObyNc7WW
— Pats Buzz (@PatsBuzz) August 29, 2021
That changed a bit when he was with the Dolphins and asked to rush the passer and cover backs and tight ends. Now back in NE his presence should help an upstart pass rush in Foxboro.
Also the young QB Mac Jones is ready to take the reigns so we’ll also keep an eye the franchise’s new signal caller.
Miami Dolphins: Will Fuller and Jaylen Waddle (WRs) – The Dolphins have speed to burn with the free agency acquisition of Fuller and drafting of Waddle.
These two will add a vertical dimension to the offense and that’s right in quarterback Tua Tagovailoa’s wheelhouse as he specializes in the deep ball.
Their speed and ability to separate will also give Tagovailoa more options over the middle.
New York Jets: Corey Davis (WR) – Davis is coming off a career year with the Titans. Was he a product of 2,000-yard rusher Derrick Henry allowing more single coverage because teams overloaded the box?
Jets WR Corey Davis is ranked as #36 in #FantasyFootball rankings.
Too high? Too low? Just right?
— GMFB (@gmfb) August 31, 2021
We’ll find out soon enough as the Jets added him in hopes of being a security blanket for prized rookie QB Zach Wilson.
Los Angeles Rams: Matt Stafford (QB) – Since the arrival of Sean McVay in 2017, the Rams offense has finished in the top 10 in offensive efficiency every season.
Tom Brady behind Dak and Matt Stafford completely nullifies this list https://t.co/JgZ49GY214
— Cam (@Yung_dreads_713) September 1, 2021
Even with McVay’s exceptional play-calling, Goff struggled and showed an inability to improvise.
That’s something McVay and the Rams brass believe they’re getting with the gunslinger Stafford. We shall see. For their sake I hope they’re correct after trading two first-round picks for the strong-armed vet.
Seattle Seahawks: Ahkello Witherspoon (CB) – The veteran cornerback was very inconsistent last season, but the Seahawks are a team with questionable defensive back depth, so they need Witherspoon to step up and be a guy they can trust in the secondary.
San Francisco 49ers: Dee Ford (DE) – A healthy Dee Ford would do wonders for a Niners defense excited to get Nick Bosa back after he tore his ACL early last season.
The team knows what Bosa is gonna give them. The Niners know Ford isn’t gonna turn into the edge rusher who led the league in pressures in 2018, but they’ll need him to compliment Bosa.
A healthy Jason Verrett in the secondary will also do wonders as well for a defense that has some real impact players at all three levels.
Arizona Cardinals: JJ Watt (DE) – JJ Watt’s decline has been somewhat overblown. He’s certainly not the same game-wrecker that brought home three Defensive Player of the Year trophies in four years from 2012 to 2015, but Watt has still been one of the best defensive lineman in the NFL for the Houston Texans over the past three seasons.
Watt should have in an impact on both the interior and edge for the Cardinals opposite Chandler Jones.
Kansas City Chiefs: Mecole Hardman (WR) – After showing interest and coming up empty on JuJu Smith-Schuster and Josh Reynolds during free agency, the team has now turned to Hardman to play opposite Tyreke Hill at WR.
Hardman has shown flashes of brilliance as a receiver and return man, but he’s also been inconsistent.
He caught just about everything thrown his way as a rookie but in 2020 his 13.7 percent drop rate was one of the highest in the league.
Fortunately, he has Hill and Travis Kelce taking a ton of attention so he should see many one-on-one opportunities and with Mahomes delivering the pill Hardman should thrive for Andy Reid and Eric Bieniemy.
Los Angeles Chargers: Offensive Line – The Chargers offensive line has been a sore subject for years. The elite QB play of Philip Rivers and now Justin Herbert has made the line look serviceable at best. But that kind of play under constant pressure is hard to maintain.
The off-season additions of Rashawn Slater, Corey Linsley, Matt Feiler and Oday Aboushi leave this unit much improved. Linsley ranked as the league’s top center last season.
Denver Broncos: Von Miller (DE) – The league’s best edge defender of the last decade is back to lead the young Broncos defense. His presence alone will make life easier for guys like Bradley Chubb, Shelby Harris and Dre’Mont Jones.
— Denver Broncos (@Broncos) August 29, 2021
With that pass rush and a secondary that showed some real promise last season the Broncos are gonna be a good defense. The health and play of Miller will determine if they can acheive greatness.
Las Vegas Raiders – Corey Littleton (LB) – For a defense devoid of playmakers the “Rayduhs” need Littleton to play up to the big contract they gave him in free agency in 2020.
Last season he was outplayed by Nick Kwiatkowski and Nicholas Murrow in a disappointing first season in “Sin City.” His play picking up could go a long way to fixing the team’s very porous defense.