2023 Preseason All-Breakout Team: Kenny Pickett, Brian Robinson and Christian Watson among players set for big seasons

2MAE2M5 Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Drake London before an NFL football game against the Seattle Seahawks, Sunday, Sept. 25, 2022, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

  • Kenny Pickett in line for a breakout season at QB: Starting with Week 12, where he finished with an 88.5 offensive grade and an 86.3 passing grade, Pickett didn’t have a single game where his offense or passing grade dipped below 70 for the rest of the year (excluding a Week 14 matchup against Baltimore where he was knocked out early with a concussion).
  • Brian Robinson Jr. most likely to break out at RB: Robinson had a big stretch late in the season where he posted 84.7, 83.1, 74.1 and 76.1 rushing grades in four consecutive outings that helped him put up the eighth-best offensive grade amongst running backs at 82.5. With a clean bill of health, look for Robinson to take over as the Commanders’ bell cow this upcoming season.
  • Drake London ready to break out in Year 2: London is expected to be the No. 1 receiver in Atlanta and with the lack of other receiving threats around him, expect Desmond Ridder to go to him early and often in 2023.
Estimated reading time: 13 minutes

Every year, we see players who may not be household names that have been toiling about in mediocrity put it all together and become forces to be reckoned with in the league. Last year, that included Tua Tagovailoa, Geno Smith and Andrew Thomas, among others.

In this piece, we’re going to look at a starting lineup of players who could be in line for a breakout season of their own. For this exercise, the personnel groupings will be 11 personnel (one running back, one tight end, three receivers) on offense and a nickel defense (four defensive linemen, two linebackers, five defensive backs) to reflect the way the modern NFL is played today.

Quarterback: Kenny Pickett, Pittsburgh Steelers

His counting stats leave something to be desired, as Pickett finished his rookie year throwing for just 2,404 yards with only seven touchdowns and nine interceptions without a single multi-TD game. However, the Steelers’ late-season playoff push coincided directly with Pickett’s late-season improvement. Starting with Week 12, where he finished with an 88.5 offensive grade and an 86.3 passing grade, Pickett didn’t have a single game where his offense or passing grade dipped below 70 for the rest of the year (excluding a Week 14 matchup against Baltimore where he was knocked out early with a concussion). Pickett finished the season with a 75.5 offensive grade and 73.5 passing grade and with that late-season push, he could be primed for a big year in 2023.

Running Back: Brian Robinson Jr, Washington Commanders

After missing four games while recovering from a gunshot wound, Robinson became a surprising bright spot for the Commanders as the team’s power back. Robinson had a big stretch late in the season where he posted 84.7, 83.1, 74.1 and 76.1 rushing grades in four consecutive outings that helped him put up the eighth-best offensive grade amongst running backs at 82.5. With a clean bill of health, look for Robinson to take over as the Commanders’ bell cow this upcoming season.

Wide Receiver: Drake London, Atlanta Falcons

With all the praise and accolades going to the NFL's Offensive Rookie of the Year Garrett Wilson, London was actually the first receiver off the board in 2022 when the Falcons made him the eighth overall pick. Despite a very run-heavy system in Atlanta, London still put together a very strong rookie year, catching 72 passes for 866 yards and four TDs to go along with an 85.3 receiving grade. He saved his best performance for last, as his Week 18 performance saw him catch six passes for 120 yards and an 87.7 offensive grade. London is expected to be the No. 1 receiver in Atlanta and with the lack of other receiving threats around him, expect Desmond Ridder to go to him early and often in 2023.

Wide Receiver: Christian Watson, Green Bay Packers

Watson had a boom-or-bust rookie year for Green Bay. This was most apparent in an early-season stretch where he went four consecutive games with no more than two receptions in any game before following that up with a four-game stretch where he caught seven touchdowns. Watson also finished top-10 in the NFL in YAC per reception (6.4) and contested catch rate (75% of his contested targets were caught) so with a full year under his belt, we could be in for an explosion from the second-year man out of North Dakota State.

Wide Receiver: Kadarius Toney, Kansas City Chiefs

With all the noise surrounding Toney’s departure from the New York Giants and his Super Bowl run with the Chiefs, it’s hard to believe he’s entering just his third season in the NFL. Toney wasn’t able to make it work in New York, but he seemed to be more at home in Andy Reid’s offense, as he put up an 80.4 receiving grade in his limited time with the Chiefs. With a lack of high-end receiving options in Kansas City and a full offseason to get acclimated to the system, Toney could be in for a big year.

Tight End: Chigoziem Okonkwo, Tennessee Titans

Okonkwo was a relative unknown to the casual fan when he was selected with the 143rd pick in the 2022 NFL Draft. He’s a bit undersized for the tight end position at 6-foot-3 and 238 pounds, but he’s a crazy athlete, as he ran a 4.52-second 40-yard dash and recorded a 35.5-inch vertical. As the season went along, he managed to take over the starting TE role for the Titans and made some big plays down the stretch, earning 75.0-plus receiving grades in five of the last six games of the Titans’ season. While Tennessee faltered down the stretch, Okonkwo did not, and he’s primed for a breakout 2023 with an added workload.

Offensive Tackle: Colton McKivitz, San Francisco 49ers

After Mike McGlinchey left to join the Denver Broncos in free agency, the 49ers had a hole to fill at right tackle. Yet, with their nine draft picks, not one was used on an offensive lineman, let alone a tackle. This leaves the door open for a competition for the starting right tackle job between Matt Pryor, who spent the last two seasons in Indianapolis, and 2020 fifth-rounder McKivitz. Pryor has much more starting experience, but he’s coming off a season where he put up a 44.9 overall grade, including a 40.8 pass-blocking grade. McKivitz only really got significant playing time in Week 4 of the 2022 season, but he played pretty well against a difficult pass rush, putting up an 87.3 pass-blocking grade while surrendering zero pressures. Don’t be too surprised if you see McKivitz take the majority of the snaps at right tackle for the 49ers this season.

Offensive Tackle: Bernhard Raimann, Indianapolis Colts

With all the issues the Colts had on the offensive line last season, surprisingly, the one guy who didn’t have a down year was Raimann, who was consistently solid across the board, finishing with a 73.3 offensive grade, 74.7 run-blocking grade and a 71.4 pass-blocking grade. After a 48.5 pass-blocking grade against the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 11, Raimann didn’t have a single game below 70 the rest of the season. If the rest of the offensive line bounces back to what each member has historically been capable of, then Anthony Richardson’s going to have plenty of time to throw in his rookie year.

Offensive Guard: Cole Strange, New England Patriots

Strange had a very volatile rookie season after the Patriots shockingly made him the 29th pick in the 2022 draft. Strange had some very high highs, as he put up eight games with an 80.0-plus pass-blocking grade, including four of his last five contests. However, he also had some very low lows, as he also recorded four games with a sub-50.0 pass-blocking grade, including one performance against the Colts in Week 9, where he managed to post a 0 pass-blocking grade. However, given the way Strange finished his rookie year, it’s likely that we see a big leap in Year 2.

Offensive Guard: Teven Jenkins, Chicago Bears

As a rookie second-round tackle in 2021, Jenkins didn’t make his NFL debut until Week 14 and had a lot of struggles, finishing with a 47.5 offensive grade, a 62.7 run-blocking grade and a 54.6 pass-blocking grade. He kicked inside to guard in 2022, and his performance improved dramatically, as he put up an 80.7 offensive grade, a 82.2 run-blocking grade and a 65.9 pass-blocking grade. With a full season as a guard under his belt, look for Jenkins to continue to make strides toward becoming one of the top linemen in the league.

Center: Josh Myers, Green Bay Packers

After being a second-round pick in 2021, Myers took on the starting center job for the Packers in 2022 and was about as average as they come. Myers’ PFF grade never dipped below 53.2 nor rose above 71.2 at any point in the season, leading to a 60.4 season-long grade. All of his grades improved over his rookie season, though, as his offensive grade jumped from 54.9 to 60.4 while his run blocking improved from 49.4 to 53.5 and his pass blocking went up from 65.9 to 74.3. With this continued improvement, look for Myers to make new starting quarterback Jordan Love’s life a lot easier in 2023.

Edge Defender: David Ojabo, Baltimore Ravens

Due to an injury suffered during pre-draft workouts, Ojabo slid to the second round of the 2022 draft and missed nearly his entire rookie season, only appearing in three games and getting notable playing time in just one, a Week 18 loss. Ojabo did register his first career sack and forced a fumble in that game, though, putting up an 83.2 overall grade with a 77.2 pass-rush grade. With a clean bill of health in 2023, look for Ojabo to be one of the breakout stars along what is currently a thin Ravens pass rush.

Edge Defender: Micheal Clemons, New York Jets

As a rookie fourth-rounder in 2022, Clemons didn’t start a single game but was effective when he did appear on the field. While not a finished product as a pass-rusher, as his 58.6 pass-rush grade can attest to, Clemons was very stout as a run defender, putting up an 86.4 run-defense grade and an 81.5 tackling grade. If Clemons can add some more pass-rush moves to his repertoire, he could form a dangerous edge trio alongside Jermaine Johnson II and Carl Lawson.

Defensive Interior: Devonte Wyatt, Green Bay Packers

One of Green Bay’s two first-rounders in 2022, Wyatt didn’t start to see significant playing time until the last three games of the season, which featured his highest snap totals. He was a beast with the Packers’ season on the line against the Detroit Lions in Week 18, putting up a 90.6 defensive grade and a 92.2 pass-rush grade in that game. With the Dean Lowry and Jarran Reed departures, expect a big bump in playing time for Wyatt on the Packers’ defensive line.

Defensive Interior: Christian Barmore, New England Patriots

Barmore missed a lot of time in the middle of the season due to knee inflammation but played some of the best football of his career upon returning, as he recorded a career-best 90.8 defensive grade against the Miami Dolphins in Week 17 while putting up seven pressures, including a sack and three QB hits. He followed that up with an 88.4 grade in Week 18 to go along with an 86.8 pass rush grade. Look for Barmore to build on that late-season momentum and carry it into 2023.

Linebacker: Nakobe Dean, Philadelphia Eagles

As the leader of an all-time great defense at Georgia in 2021, Dean was projected by many to be a first-round pick in the 2022 draft. Concerns over his shoulder caused him to drop to the third round, though, and Dean only played 47 defensive snaps during the Eagles’ run to an NFC championship. With the departures of T.J. Edwards and Kyzir White in the offseason, Dean will have every opportunity to take over the middle of this Eagles defense as they attempt to return to the Super Bowl.

Linebacker: Patrick Queen, Baltimore Ravens

Since being a first-round pick in 2020, Queen has been a fixture in the Ravens’ defense, for better or worse. Queen got off to a very shaky rookie year, putting up some very poor grades in pretty much every category except pass rushing. Below are Queen’s three-year performances.

Season DEF Run D Tackling Coverage Pass Rush
2020 29.7 29.0 34.3 30.0 71.2
2021 43.5 54.4 41.5 35.1 69.4
2022 69.7 64.6 52.0 65.5 78.5

As we can see, Queen has always been an above-average pass-rusher, but it wasn’t until 2022 that we started seeing him figure out the other elements of his game. After getting his fifth-year option declined, if his grades continue to jump like they have each season, Queen could be in for a big payday next offseason.

Cornerback: Kaiir Elam, Buffalo Bills

After being taken with the 23rd selection of the 2022 draft, Elam had a very up-and-down rookie season, as he put up seven sub-60.0 coverage grades. However, a switch seemed to flip in the playoffs, as Elam put up his best game in the wild-card round, posting an 88.1 overall grade and an 88.0 coverage grade to go with an interception. In Buffalo’s two postseason games, Elam combined to allow just two catches for eight yards. If Elam can ride that postseason momentum into the 2023 regular season, the Bills may have an answer for some of the high-flying offenses in the AFC.

Cornerback: Trent McDuffie, Kansas City Chiefs

While seventh-rounder Jaylen Watson received a lot of attention for his explosive plays as a rookie, McDuffie was quietly the more reliable rookie corner for the Chiefs amidst their Super Bowl run. After returning from a hamstring injury that knocked him out of action for six weeks, McDuffie started every game and put up a 74.9 defensive grade and 75.1 coverage grade. McDuffie’s versatility to play both outside and in the slot (536 snaps outside vs 247 as a slot corner) will make him a valuable member of the secondary as the Chiefs attempt to defend their Super Bowl title.

Cornerback: Martin Emerson, Cleveland Browns

With a crowded cornerback room featuring the likes of Denzel Ward and Greg Newsome II, Emerson had the highest defensive and coverage grades of the group at 72.5 and 75.1, respectively. In an AFC North that features receivers like Ja’Marr Chase, Tee Higgins and George Pickens, building on a strong rookie campaign from Emerson will help the Browns keep pace in a tough division.

Safety: Reed Blankenship, Philadelphia Eagles

After going undrafted out of Middle Tennessee in 2022, Blankenship had to scratch and claw to make an impact on an Eagles defense with Super Bowl aspirations, and he did just that starting in Week 12. In limited action, Blankenship posted solid numbers across the board, posting a 79.4 PFF grade, an 89.4 run-defense grade, a 82.1 tackling grade and a 70.8 coverage grade. After the departures of Chauncey Gardner-Johnson and Marcus Epps, Blankenship is looking at a major uptick in playing time and production in 2023.

Safety: Daxton Hill, Cincinnati Bengals

Hill played very sparingly as a rookie in 2022, as the Bengals had one of the best safety duos in football with Jessie Bates III and Vonn Bell already in tow. However, both departed in free agency, thrusting the former first-rounder out of Michigan into the spotlight. Going up against quarterbacks like Lamar Jackson, Deshaun Watson and Kenny Pickett in the AFC North, Hill will likely be tested early and often, giving him plenty of opportunities to show why he was the 31st pick in last year’s draft.


Unlock the 2023 Fantasy Draft Kit, with League Sync, Live Draft Assistant, PFF Grades & Data Platform that powers all 32 Pro Teams

$31 Draft Kit Fee + $8.99/mo
$89.88/yr + FREE Draft Kit