Every year there are players that seemingly come out of nowhere and have exceptional seasons. While some are players that have been in the league a few years in a backup role before getting their shot and taking a Darth Vader-type chokehold on a starting spot, others will have seasons of mediocre play before inexplicably exploding on the NFL landscape.
This award is more subjective than most of our awards because putting a number on the term “breakout” isn’t simply determining who played best with x, y, z criteria. All these players performed very well in 2015 and made this list for different reasons.
Tyrod Taylor, QB, Buffalo Bills
After backing up Joe Flacco in Baltimore for four seasons, Taylor signed with Rex Ryan and the Buffalo Bills and beat out Matt Cassel and E.J. Manuel for the starting spot. Taylor didn’t take long to breakout as he was extremely efficient (14-19, 195 yards, 1 TD) in a Week 1 upset of Indianapolis but also showcased his dual-threat capabilities rushing for 39 yards and a touchdown.
One of the most impressive areas of Taylor’s game was his deep passing abilities, as he attempted an NFL high 18.2 percent of his total passes 20-plus yards downfield. He ranked second with 12 touchdowns and fifth with 1,014 yards. Despite attempting so many deep passes, Taylor kept a respectable 44.9 accuracy percentage that was good for 10th in the NFL.
Another area of Taylor’s game that surprised was his enhanced ability under pressure. While all quarterbacks become worse under pressure (and Taylor is no exception), he was less worse than the NFL average, as his passer rating dipped just 16.7 points (from 104.3 with no pressure to 87.6 under pressure) compared to 26.5 avg. (98.2 to 71.7).
Of all the things Taylor brings to the table, the most impressive part of his game is his uncanny ability to make the “wow” throws. He ranked third in the league in such throws with nine, behind Ben Roethlisberger (11) and Carson Palmer (10) and just ahead of Derek Carr at six. These “wow” throws are of variety that take incredible accuracy and timing, while beating extremely tight coverage.
The Bills landed an absolute steal, particularly because Taylor's cap hit was less than either of the two players he beat out and also less than other backups such as Matt Schaub, Charlie Whitehurst, and Derek Anderson.
Weston Richburg, C, New York Giants
PFF’s third best center for 2015, Richburg could also be a most improved player candidate. He made the sophomore leap after a rocky rookie season that saw him allow two sacks, seven hits, and 16 hurries, while also struggling in the run game. In 2015, Richburg didn’t allow a sack all year while giving up just one hit and 11 hurries. Arguably the strongest part of Richburg’s game is when he’s leading on screen blocks, and he was by far the best center in the league doing so.
Allen Robinson, WR, Jacksonville Jaguars
Slightly snubbed in the Pro Bowl voting (initially), Robinson is another piece that shows how incredible the 2014 wide receiver class really is. While his 1,400 receiving yards and 14 touchdowns are gaudy numbers to look at, Robinson’s 20 catches for 672 deep yards led the league and he also posted a respectable 2.16 yards per route run.
Delvin Breaux, CB, New Orleans Saints
To show how good Breuax can be, turn on his tape against Jacksonville and see one of the best performances by a cornerback all year. He shutdown both Robinson (one catch, 2 yards, two passes defensed) and Allen Hurns (no catches, one interception) and was practically untouchable. He was third in the league in pass defensed (15) and allowed a 48.8 percent catch rate, fourth in the NFL.
Tyler Eifert, TE, Cincinnati Bengals
After a gruesome elbow injury ended his 2014 season, Eifert bounced back in a huge way for the Bengals and helped play a major role in Andy Dalton’s improvement. Eifert led all TEs with 13 touchdowns and also was solid as a run blocker, grading as our seventh best in 2015.
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