I Will Say I Told You So: AFC East Breakout Players for 2013

Lamar Miller showed the potential in his rookie season to have a breakout sophomore year as the team’s starting RB. (Photo: USA Today Sports Images)

Miami Dolphins

Lamar Miller, Running Back

With Reggie Bush gone, somebody needs to step up in the Dolphins running game. If last season is any indication, it’s certainly not going to be Daniel Thomas. While Thomas averaged 3.6 yards per carry on 91 attempts last year, and battled injuries for a second consecutive season, Miller showed flashes of being a legitimate threat, carrying the ball 51 times and averaging 4.9 yards per carry. The Dolphins rushed the ball 383 times last year, with Bush taking 227 of those, so significant carries are likely to come Miller’s way in 2013.

In college, and so far in the NFL, Miller has shown solid vision and been able to hit the hole hard after it opens up. That’s a valuable skill to have behind Miami’s power running line. Miller also possesses shiftiness in space and a good second gear to get away from defenders in the open field.

Miller may not be the pass catcher that Bush is, but he is a solid receiver, and with the way Miami likes to get the ball to its backs in space, he could see real value in the passing game as well. The only downside for Miller is the emergence of fifth-round rookie Mike Gillislee, who could be a threat in the passing game from the start. If Miller isn’t able to hold off Gillislee in passing situations, it could cut into his overall value.

Koa Misi, Outside linebacker

Finding a defensive breakout player on the Dolphins proved to be the hardest task of all. Phillip Wheeler was a candidate, but he already emerged as a strong performer for the Raiders, and the rest of the Dolphins defense has already established themselves in the NFL or might never (looking at you, Jared Odrick). So that left me with Misi, who might actually not be a terrible choice.

Misi was a talented pass-rusher coming out of Utah. He got off the line quickly, showed solid tackling fundamentals, and the ability to lower his pads and get around the edge. However, Misi was never asked to do much in coverage and didn’t show a real variety of pass-rushing moves. When he came to the NFL and was switched to OLB, he seemed overwhelmed at times by the amount of new responsibilities that he had.

Although Misi notched 4.5 sacks in his rookie campaign, he never seemed to fully “get it.” After a poor and injury-plagued second season, Misi showed real improvement last year. He became a better run defender, totaling more tackles (65) than he has in any other season, and showed more diversity in his pass-rushing. Although he only recorded 3.5 sacks, I expect that number to rise this season. If he’s able to continue to improve on his run defense, he might become a well-rounded defensive presence.

 

Buffalo Bills

T.J. Graham, Wide Receiver

I don’t think T.J. Graham will be one of the focal points of the Bills offense; that will still be C.J. Spiller and Stevie Johnson. I also don’t think he’ll necessarily earn a starting wide receiver job; my favorite for that is still Robert Woods. However, I do think Graham will be far better utilized in Marrone’s new offense and will be able to showcase his deep speed with Kevin Kolb or EJ Manuel at quarterback, since both of them throw the deep ball better than Fitzpatrick.

Early indications are that the new scheme has already been beneficial for the second-year pro. Chris Brown, of BuffaloBills.com, reported that Graham has been one of the real winners of this young offseason. Brown said Graham looks “bigger, stronger, and faster” on the field, and has been one of the Bills’ most consistent performers in organized team activities.

Graham did have a problem with drops last year and is fighting for time against some stiff competition, but even though undrafted rookie Da’Rick Rodgers is talented and third-round draft pick Marquis Goodwin possesses elite deep speed, Graham has the leg up with a year of experience in the NFL. He knows how to pace himself through the season, and he knows how to work past slumps and energy drains. Mixing that experience with his prolific speed, a high-tempo offense and an increase in weapons that will likely force the defense to spread their focus around, Graham could see a real jump in performance.

Nigel Bradham, Inside Linebacker

Just to be honest, I’m a huge Nigel Bradham apologist. I love physical, aggressive players on defense who can fly to the ball and try to jar it loose on every hit. Bradham is a physical specimen who comes to play every single down. When he was inserted into the starting lineup midway through last season, the Bills run defense was noticeably better.

Now that Bradham has been shifted to the middle of the defense, I think he’ll be even more effective. He was the captain of the defense for Florida State, has experience adjusting plays after recognizing offensive sets and can fly around the field. He’ll have more opportunities for tackles at that position and can use his aggressive style of play on more blitzes behind the imposing tandem of Williams and Dareus. With the increased opportunity, new scheme and Bradham’s evolving talents, I think this could be a big season for the second-year pro.

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Tags: AFC East, Breakout Players, Chandler Jones, Chris Ivory, Demario Davis, Koa Misi, Lamar Miller, Nigel Bradham, Shane Vereen, T.J. Graham

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