The 2022 NFL Draft class was loaded with immediate contributors, and even some players who developed into instant superstars.
Jets cornerback Ahmad "Sauce" Gardner took home Defensive Rookie of The Year honors while playing his way into the fringes of the Defensive Player of The Year conversation. Brock Purdy emerged from being the final pick of the draft to leading the San Francisco 49ers to 60 minutes from the Super Bowl, while Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave both finished among the top 20 in receiving yards across the league.
Wilson was the most named player during conversations with decision-makers inside the league, as a player who will make major strides in 2023. After the Jets' young star caught 83 passes for 1,103 yards with 4 touchdowns as a rookie, NFL executives polled, nearly unanimously, suggested that Aaron Rodgers' presence at quarterback will lead to big things for Wilson this season.
Still, there are several players who have merely scratched the surface of their potential, and could be primed to have breakout seasons in 2023.
FanBuzz surveyed nearly a dozen NFL executives, coaches, and scouts for which second-year players are most likely to be this season's breakout stars:
Drake London, WR, Atlanta Falcons
"Keep an eye on Drake London. He was solid last season, and he'll get even better looks this year if Kyle Pitts continues to improve," - AFC Offensive Coordinator
It was easy to see Drake London's home run potential as a rookie.
After being chosen No. 8 overall by the Falcons, London proceeded to average 12.0 yards per catch while leading the Falcons with a team-high 866 receiving yards and catching four touchdowns. Now that Desmond Ridder emerges as the Falcons' starting quarterback, and by all accounts has gotten off to a fast start during training camp, London could see even more opportunities to stretch the field.
London sits atop the Falcons' depth chart, and this offense has the potential to be one of the more fascinating in the league, especially with Pitts, rookie explosive rookie workhorse running back Bijan Robinson, and veteran pass-catching tight end Jonnu Smith all commanding some attention, London has the potential to take a major step in 2023. Especially as a playmaker with the ball in his hands after the catch.
Kerby Joseph, S, Detroit Lions
"Kerby is a freak athlete and a playmaker. Not many like him back there in the NFL." - NFC Personnel Director
Joseph is certainly a physically imposing presence, as a 6-foot-1 and 203-pound wrecking ball of a defensive back. The Lions' third-round pick made his presence known as a difference-maker in the secondary, intercepting four passes while holding opposing quarterbacks to an 89.2 passer rating when he was targeted.
Now with the benefit of a full offseason and entering his second season in the Lions' defensive scheme, if Joseph can build on his strong rookie season, there's a good chance that the Lions' defense lives up to its expectation of being one of the more menacing in the league.
Darrian Beavers, LB, New York Giants
"I really liked Darrian Beavers coming out. He's a big, physical athlete who can play all over a defense. You can put him at linebacker or on the outside as a pass-rusher. His true value is his ability to line up in multiple spots and create mismatches with his size." - AFC College Scouting Director
Beavers was forced to "redshirt" as a rookie, as he recovered from a torn ACL, but as the preseason is set to get underway, the Giants' sixth-round pick has vaulted to the top of the depth chart at inside linebacker, potentially primed to play a marquee role in coordinator Don "Wink" Martindale's defense.
The 6-foot-4 and 255-pound Cincinnati alum could seize a starting job following Jarrad Davis' injury. Prior to being chosen by the Giants, Beavers was a constant presence in opposing backfields for the Bearcats, producing 11.0 tackles for loss with 4.0 sacks, 1 interception and 98 total tackles as a senior in 2021.
Chris Olave, WR, New Orleans Saints
"Chris Olave is the first name to jump to mind. Has all the tools, and should be better with improved quarterback play." - NFC Front Office Executive
Chris Olave's transition from Ohio State to the NFL couldn't have possibly gone smoother.
Olave arrived in New Orleans and proved that he belonged in the Saints' explosive collection of offensive skill players. The dynamic 6-foot-1 and 187-pound receiver pulled down 72 receptions in 114 targets, producing 1,044 yards with four touchdowns, as Saints quarterbacks produced an 86.3 passer rating when looking in his direction.
After the Saints signed veteran quarterback Derek Carr this offseason, improved quarterback play could unlock Olave's full potential, and give him the chance to be even more productive in his second NFL season.
Aidan Hutchinson, EDGE, Detroit Lions
"He had a really nice rookie year, but I think Aidan Hutchinson is going to really breakout. I'm not saying he's Nick Bosa, T.J. Watt, or those guys. But, I think he'll take a big step, I wouldn't be surprised if he has 15 or 20 sacks this year." - Veteran NFC Scout
There are some inside the league who believe Hutchinson should have been the No. 1 overall pick in 2022, and as a rookie, Hutchinson strengthened that argument while proving he's capable of being one of the Lions' foundational building blocks on defense.
Hutchinson logged 9.5 sacks with 53 total quarterback pressures. Beyond making life miserable for opposing quarterbacks, Hutchinson also intercepted three passes and recovered a pair of fumbles. The Lions' defense is primed to be one of the stingiest in the league, and playing opposite James Houston, who produced 8.0 sacks in 2022, should create opportunities for Hutchinson to be even more disruptive in 2023.
Want More Sports News?
Get the biggest and best sports news sent directly to your inbox.