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Each and every year, opportunities for a breakout arise on NFL teams. This may be due to a few different factors. The depth chart may be a bit thinner in spots, compared to the year before. Elsewhere, the raw talent or technical refinement cannot be denied in a short span. With that in mind, let’s take a quick look around the NFC East.
This division is filled with plenty of question marks. The writing appears to be on the wall for one quarterback. The division winner from last season arguably got worse, at least on paper. Whereas with the two other squads, they each have a fairly wide range of outcomes that could resonate for their 2022 finish.
Over the next couple of weeks, we will be running through all eight divisions, giving our best picks at 2022 breakout candidates. We began things earlier this week with the AFC East breakout candidates, which you can read here. Today, we will stick on the east coast once again. Let’s now kick things off with the NFC East breakout candidates, beginning with a defensive back from the Dallas Cowboys.
Dallas Cowboys- DB Kelvin Joseph
The Dallas Cowboys performed better defensively than most people expected last year. In fact, the unit ranked in the top ten in points allowed (seventh), takeaways (first), passing touchdowns allowed (seventh), rushing touchdowns allowed (seventh) and points allowed per drive (fourth). Defensive coordinator Dan Quinn was able to remind people of his expertise in designing coverages and making adjustments. So much so, that he even received some notable head coaching interviews earlier this offseason. He did not land one. But, Quinn could very well be a strong candidate once again next offseason.
The Cowboys secondary does have some questions entering 2022, however. Trevon Diggs dazzled with his league-leading 11 interceptions. Yet, there were still some hiccups for him along the way in 2021. Both Anthony Brown and Jourdan Lewis can be hit or miss when playing in the slot. The one name who could truly breakout for Dallas? That would be Kelvin Joseph.
Joseph enters his sophomore campaign, having notched two pass breakups, one fumble recovery and one tackle for loss last season. He did not allow much through the air when targeted as a rookie. Granted, his snaps were limited throughout the course of the season, as Joseph only had 17 passes that were targeted against him. Nonetheless, he finished with a completion percentage allowed of just 47.1 percent. Joseph is slated to be the starting outside corner opposite of Diggs this season. With his length, instincts and ball skills briefly shining last year, Joseph could continue to be a pest against passes with an increased role.
New York Giants- WR Kadarius Toney
It was a wild rookie campaign for Kadarius Toney in 2021, to say the least. He was unable to find full comfort throughout training camp and the preseason. The first-round pick had just 14 yards receiving on four catches during the first three regular season games. Eventually, Toney found his footing for two encouraging performances against the New Orleans Saints and the Cowboys. In those games combined, the Florida product totaled 16 receptions and 267 receiving yards.
That would unfortunately be the only bright spots for Toney as a rookie. In that same game at Dallas, he threw a punch and appeared to have hurt his relationship with head coach Joe Judge, who had subsequently been fired after the season. Toney only had a measly 19 catches for 139 receiving yards in the last five games he played in. Most of all, he was inactive for seven of the final 11 games of the season. Toney battled multiple injuries, including to his shoulder, hamstring, oblique and quad. Meanwhile, he even had two stints where he was placed on the COVID-19 list.
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How can Toney improve in 2022? For starters, the change at head coach to Brian Daboll could do wonders for the wide receiver, from both an on-field and off-field perspective. Daboll has been able to help wide receivers increase production in numerous ways, due to his vertical attack. He also does not appear to be the same disciplinarian that Judge was, which could also bode well for Toney. In a make-or-break season for Daniel Jones, along with his run-after-catch style and speed, it could be this pass catcher that gives Giants fans hope by showing more consistency in a shaky offensive skill group.
Philadelphia Eagles- WR Quez Watkins
The star power has certainly heightened among the Philadelphia Eagles roster for 2022. Arguably, no addition was more crucial to possible improvement than that of wide receiver AJ Brown. The Eagles acquired him from the Tennessee Titans and gave Brown a new four-year contract extension worth $100 million. For some wide receivers, that may seem to be too imposing for those looking to breakout.
Jalen Reagor has continued to struggle, following hype as a first-round pick in 2020. Other depth pieces like Greg Ward or Zach Pascal are now having to work harder to land more offensive snaps. One player that could benefit more from the Brown addition? That could very well be Quez Watkins.
Mainly, he and Brown’s styles could complement each other extremely well. Brown’s physicality and dominant ball skills make him a challenging threat in the intermediate to deep passing game. Meanwhile, Watkins has the long speed to create numerous opportunities to gain significant yardage after the catch. He can take the roof off of the top of the defense. Or, Watkins displayed a detail-oriented approach to be creative as a route runner, leaving defensive backs guessing. He finished with 43 receptions, 647 receiving yards (15 yards per reception) and one receiving touchdown last year. With a steady presence and deeper wide receiver room, Watkins could possibly surpass the 1,000-yard receiving plateau in 2022.
Washington Commanders- SAF Kamren Curl
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Over the last two years, Kamren Curl has quietly been one of the better bargains at the safety position. Washington selected him in the seventh round in 2020. So far, he has done nothing but produce from the moment he joined the organization. Across the last two campaigns, Curl has accumulated nine pass breakups, eight quarterback hits, six tackles for loss, three sacks, three interceptions and one fumble recovery.
Moreover, he has continued to come through against opposing pass catchers over the middle of the field. Curl saw his completion percentage allowed drop from 73.6 percent in 2020 to a reasonable 59.3 percent in 2021. He can offer length, plays bigger than his size and flash short area burst. Washington struggled defensively more than most people thought they would last season. For Curl, he has a major chance to become the leader of the safety room. Landon Collins is now gone. The production has continued to grow for Curl. And in 2022, he could firmly become the top dog of the Washington secondary with yet another strong showing.
Be on the lookout for more 2022 NFL offseason articles and analysis in the coming days here at Full Press Coverage.
– Braden Holecek is the Kansas City Chiefs managing editor for Full Press Coverage. He covers the NFL. Like and follow on Follow @ebearcat9//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js Follow @FPC_Chiefs//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js and Facebook.
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