For outsiders, the term “breakout” has become as much a part of the football lexicon as “shotgun” or “zone read.” The breakout of fantasy football, for instance, has fans with their eyes glued each August for the players who might accomplish something that the entire arcs of their careers suggest shouldn’t happen.
Some performances get players onto the main stage. Others were so absurd they weren’t meant to repeat themselves again.
Here are 10 statistical performances from last season that are unlikely to repeat themselves this time around:
- Panthers QB Cam Newton’s 35 passing touchdowns: As a former No. 1 overall pick with size, mobility and strength not seen in many other quarterbacks ever, Newton isn’t just going to exit the scene of elite young quarterbacks. It’s just less likely that he continues to score at the rate that won him the MVP trophy. His 239 yards per game, 7.8 yards per attempt and 59.8 percent completion rate all measure up to his career norms, but the 35 scoring tosses were 11 better than he’s had in any other season. His league-leading 7.1 touchdown percentage was 1.7 percent better than he’s had in any other year. Newton dominated on play action and in the red zone last year, and while Carolina’s dominant running game and tall receivers will continue to help in those areas, all the running the Panthers do will also limit the attempts over time. Newton still isn’t a great passer over the middle, so defensive adjustments will have their effect as well. His past two games came against Denver’s elite defense, but he had just one passing touchdown between them.
- Seahawks WR Doug Baldwin’s 14 receiving touchdowns: Baldwin had the very definition of a breakout season last year, and so much of it came in a wild stretch in which he was magically in tune with Russell Wilson. Of his league-high 14 touchdown catches, 11 came in Weeks 11-15. His other 74 career games have produced 15 scores. He’s long been one of the more underrated receivers in the league, a technical route runner with great hands, but he also benefited from big plays as defenses were keying in on the Seahawks running game that had so long been their identity. Wilson started to dip back out of the quick-hitting approach in the Seahawks’ final three games, and Baldwin caught one touchdown in that span. His breakout will earn him extra attention from defenses this year, and while he might still be a legitimate No. 1 receiver, it’s unlikely the 5-foot-10, 192-pound player is the top-scoring receiver again.
- Chargers QB Philip Rivers’ 437 pass completions: Rivers won’t lead the league in completions again this year because he won’t be throwing near the league-high 661 attempts he hurled during last year’s disastrous Chargers campaign. And he’ll be just fine with that. Rivers completed 58 more passes last year than he had in any of his nine other starting seasons, all because the injuries up front, Melvin Gordon’s corresponding struggles and a 21st-ranked defense put so much on his shoulders. With a healthy running game that added a center and a fullback this season, expect the Chargers to lean much more on the running back they traded up to select 15th overall last year. San Diego should bounce back to the competitive level that won at least seven games in 11 straight seasons before last year’s 4-12 campaign, and Rivers should get back to being the best player on offense rather than seemingly the only one.
- Browns TE Gary Barnidge’s 9 receiving touchdowns: At the age of 30, Gary Barnidge transitioned from career backup to one of the league’s most productive tight ends. He’s a legitimate talent, particularly with what he can do splitting out wide in the red zone, but he won’t be all Cleveland has to throw it up to this season. Terrelle Pryor and Josh Gordon both measure at least 6-foot-3. Although both are wild cards and Gordon will miss the first four games serving a substance-abuse suspension, it feels likely that they or first-round receiver Corey Coleman will start giving Cleveland quarterbacks options outside the tight end in the red zone.
- Bengals QB Andy Dalton’s 106.2 quarterback rating: Dalton enjoyed the very definition of a breakout season last year. The Bengals quarterback quieted so many critics by shattering his career marks with a 25-7 TD-INT ratio and 8.4 yards per attempt before he injured his thumb in the 13th game and didn’t return to the field. He’s healthy now, but so much of his support system has evaporated, from offensive coordinator and quarterback whisperer Hue Jackson leaving for Cleveland, from Nos. 2 and 3 wideouts Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu departing in free agency and now with Pro Bowl tight end Tyler Eifert sidelined for weeks while still recovering from an ankle injury. Dalton was at his best predicting diverse route combinations pre-snap to dictate which of his talented receivers would break free, and now he’ll have far more uncertainty at those positions as well as in the play calling. He might not fully slip back now that his longtime quarterbacks coach Ken Zampese is the offensive coordinator, but playing far closer to his decent career norms only seems logical.
- Falcons RB Devonta Freeman’s 11 rushing touchdowns: Freeman was a former fourth-round pick coming off a one-score rookie campaign when he broke out to lead the NFL in rushing touchdowns last season. His flashy numbers came largely bottled in a hot start, as he totaled nine of his touchdowns in Atlanta’s 6-0 run to begin the year and only two in his final nine games. Add in the return of last year’s second-round pick, Tevin Coleman, from the rib injury that cut his rookie year short, and Freeman should have a hard time sustaining that success for another 16-game slate.
- Chiefs DB Marcus Peters’ 8 interceptions: Peters’ breakout year came in his first in the league, earning him Defensive Player of the Year honors. This year, he’ll be challenged by tougher receivers this year after taking over the top cornerback role from Sean Smith, and he won’t have the same devastating pass rush forcing rushed throws for as long as All-Pro outside linebacker Justin Houston is recovering from ACL surgery. He should still be one of the league’s better ball hawks, but turnovers tend to be a fluky stat based on opportunity and offensive ineptitude, and it’s easy to see his chances for splash plays decreasing a little this season.
- Texans OLB Whitney Mercilus’ 12 sacks: Whitney Mercilus posted 18 sacks in his first three years and then doubled his average mark last year, finally presenting the Texans with a big-time threat on defense that isn’t J.J. Watt. As a former first-round pick, Mercilus seemed to meet his potential more than outplay it, but his competition should increase if fellow outside linebacker Jadeveon Clowney can stay healthy for the first time in his brief career. If he can, the former No. 1 overall pick might be the Texans player who gets to reach his potential this season, bringing Mercilus’ total down.
- Jaguars WR Allen Hurns’ 1,031 receiving yards: The former undrafted free agent really surprised last season as the backside complement to Allen Robinson. At 6-foot-3, he should still remain a threat in the red zone, but too many factors indicate his volume will decrease. The Jaguars signed 1,000-yard running back Chris Ivory to balance out the offense and three top-flight defensive starters to limit the number of shootouts they’ll plan in. Defenses will also certainly be more aware of his big-play threat this season.
- Jets QB Ryan Fitzpatrick’s 31 passing touchdowns: Clearly, the Jets weren’t all that confident in Fitzpatrick repeating a franchise record by how long it took them to finally bring him back in free agency. The career journeyman has never thrown for more than 24 scores in any other season, and although he’ll still have Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker out wide, the rest of the offense around him has worsened since last season. Left tackle D’Brickashaw Ferguson retired and he lost Ivory for a 30-year-old running back in Matt Forte. Fitzpatrick is the very definition of a game manager, and the offense around him is looking more like two great receivers than it does a well-rounded unit that can hide all of his flaws.