Wednesday, August 02, 2017

The NFL's top 25 breakout 'prospects' for 2017

By Rivers McCown

August 2, 2017

Every year, Football Outsiders puts together a list of the NFL's best and brightest young players who have barely played. Eighty percent of the draft-day discussion is about first-round picks, and 10 percent is about the players that should have been first-round picks, but instead went in the second round.

This list is about the others. Everybody knows that Marcus Mariota and Myles Garrett are good. There's a cottage industry around the idea of hyping every draft's No. 1 quarterback as a potential superstar. This is a list of players that have a strong chance to make an impact in the NFL despite their lack of draft stock and the fact that they weren't immediate NFL starters. (Our full criteria for who's eligible for this list is at the bottom of this article.)

Previous instances of the list have hyped players such as Geno Atkins, Elvis Dumervil, Malcolm Butler and Jamaal Charles before they blew up. Last year's list included David Johnson, Danielle Hunter and Super Bowl star Grady Jarrett.

This year, there weren't any prospects head-and-shoulders above the rest of the crew, like we've seen in past instances. Last year, for example, David Johnson was an easy top prospect. We actually had to have a bit of a debate to settle on the top of the list.

Here are the top 25 breakout prospects for 2017:

17. A.J. Derby, TE, Denver Broncos

Age: 25 | 191 offensive snaps | Fifth-round pick (2015)

Derby had the size, speed and skill to be a star college tight end, but resisted the change for many years, even transferring from Iowa to Arkansas to try to stay at quarterback. Without much statistical track record, and coming out of college with an injury that caused him to miss his bowl game and most of the combine, it was a surprise that he was actually drafted. But under the watchful eye of Bill Belichick, Derby blossomed to the point that the Patriots were able to deal him to Denver and recoup their initial investment.

Given the lack of a real established tight end in Denver, Derby doesn't have much to beat out to see playing time. He's certainly the best receiving option the Broncos have at the position. New offensive coordinator Mike McCoy's tenure with the Chargers heavily emphasized tight ends, and while Derby is no Antonio Gates, he should see a little more involvement than he did last year.

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