It wasn't too long ago when we, as NFL fans, understood it would take two full years for the vast majority of players to acclimate to intensified speed and power of the NFL. Now? Yeah, society isn't fond of waiting for anything, much less players to slowly come into their own. However, that doesn't mean Year 3 breakouts don't happen. They do. And a Year 3 breakout typically leads to a nice, lucrative contract extension.
These are the third-year pros primed to break out in 2023.
Yes, Fields went from in-over-his-head rookie to 1,000-yard rusher in Year 2, yet his passing numbers above clearly show there's ample room to grow throwing the football. That growth will occur in 2023, on a rebuilt Bears offense as he begins the season making his 26th professional start.
Fields had 13 "big-time throws" in 2022 and six of them came in his final five contests, including three against the Packers in which he completed 80% of his 25 attempts for 254 yards. Chicago spent the No. 9 overall pick on pass-blocking masher Darnell Wright from Tennessee -- my OT1 in the 2023 class -- after signing steady guard Nate Davis in free agency. YAC monster D.J. Moore was added in the Bears' trade out of the top selection and rookie speedster Tyler Scott will stretch defenses vertically to provide space for the quick passing game. Expect Fields' completion percentage to finish somewhere close to 65%. Now more comfortable with the speed of NFL defenses (his processing clearly improved down the stretch in 2022) and a respectable receiving trio of Moore, Darnell Mooney and Chase Claypool, Fields will move into the more normal range of passing yard and touchdown productivity.
The Rousseau breakout has been mounting. As a 21-year-old rookie with only one year of collegiate football experience, Rousseau's pressure-creation rate was a respectable albeit unspectacular 11.6% and he asserted himself as a rock-solid, edge-setting run defender.
In Year 2? A more chiseled Rousseau managed an improved pressure rate of 14.4%. He had at least two pressures in all but one contest he appeared in during his sophomore season in the NFL. Rousseau's stack-and-shed capabilities were still apparent against the run, although he missed tackles at a higher rate than his rookie season. The recently turned 23-year-old defensive end now gets to learn from and play with Von Miller and the similarly sized Leonard Floyd on Sean McDermott's defense, and he'll presumably be bigger and stronger than his first two NFL campaigns. Rousseau's an unconventional outside rusher at nearly 6-foot-7 and 270 pounds. He's decently flexible, has an enormous tackling/sack radius and his pass-rush move arsenal has noticeably diversified in his first two NFL seasons.
Christensen was a tackle at BYU and a very good one at that. He allowed a mere three pressures on over 400 pass-blocking snaps in 2021 for the Cougars. Then he tested through the imaginary roof at the BYU Pro Day but settled in at guard in his second NFL season, which made sense because of his smaller size and reach.
The move inside was a godsend for Christensen in Year 2. He only allowed 17 pressures on 533 pass-blocking opportunities compared to 25 pressures surrendered on 321 pass-block chances as a rookie. He's added bulk to his frame and at 6-foot-6 with 32-inch arms, he's plenty big enough to deal with interior rushers. Christensen will play next to center Bradley Bozeman again -- their rapport should continue to gain strength. Plus, Bryce Young specializes in getting the football out quickly, and the Panthers have added the likes of Adam Thielen and second-round pick Jonathan Mingo, who, in their own ways, should be very capable options underneath. Because of his pass-pro balance, refined hand work and bolstered strength, Christensen will step into the upper echelon of guards in Year 3, his age-26 season.
This is the year Davis plays like the huge, uber-athletic second-level playmaker he was that made him a first-round pick in 2021. We saw improvement from Year 1 to Year 2, which is a helpful prerequisite to be on the breakout radar. Davis' tackling was noticeably more reliable from snap-to-snap than his rookie season and didn't appear to be as lost in coverage as often.
The Commanders still have one of the game's most ferocious, talent-laden defensive fronts anchored by a quartet of former Round 1 picks. While that group mostly attacks upfield as opposed to eating blockers for Davis, now with over 1,400 snaps on his professional resume, the former Kentucky star's play-diagnosing skills have sharpened and he's now more equipped with his hands to defeat blockers en route to the ball. At just under 6-foot-4, 230-plus pounds with 33-inch arms and 4.48 speed, Davis has the goods to at least be respectable running with tight ends in coverage. The light appeared to flip on late in the 2022 season for Davis. It will stay on all 2023 season long.
After just four pressures in his first four outings of 2022, Browning erupted with 10 pressures in one of the otherwise sleepiest football games we've all witnessed in a while, a 12-9 loss to the Colts on "Thursday Night Football." That ridiculous effort catalyzed Browning to play more on the edge and sparked him for the rest of the season. After that effort, Browning averaged over 2.5 pressures per contest for the remainder of the year, including six games with at least three pressures.
An off-ball linebacker by trade, Browning demonstrated serious juice, bend and powerful hands rushing from the perimeter of the Broncos defensive line in his second season. Part of a rather loaded edge-rusher group, teams will not be able to focus on Browning game-plan wise. Next to Randy Gregory and Frank Clark, Browning will have a monster 2023 as a pass-rushing specialist who's also comfortable playing off the ball in some situations, thanks to his time spent there at Ohio State and earlier in his Broncos career.