Mike Triplett wrote a blurb for ESPN.com predicting the breakout star for the New Orleans Saints in 2017 (no pay wall! yay!). Tripletts pick for the Saints? 2016 First Round Draft Pick Sheldon Rankins.
The 12th pick in the 2016 draft missed the first seven games last year because of a broken fibula, but he finished with four sacks and a forced fumble. Rankins said he wants those "flash" plays to come on a much more consistent level now that's he's fully healthy and has a full year in the system. Actually, he stressed multiple times that he wants to "dominate" on a consistent level. The 6-foot-2, 305-pounder has real Pro Bowl potential as an athletic big man who can get to the passer and disrupt the run. The Saints are counting on him in the wake of the heart condition that ended veteran DT Nick Fairley's season.
Even after missing the first portion of the 2016 season, Rankins still had a solid year. In our Year in Review piece earlier this offseason, we day-dreamed about what Rankins’s numbers could look like over a full season: 35 tackles, 7 sacks and 9 QB hits.
With a solid rookie year, a (hopefully) healthy season in 2017, and an increase in playing time due to the absence of the aforementioned Fairley and another year in the system, Rankins is a solid safe-money bet for a breakout in 2017.
On the offensive side of the ball, look for TE Coby Fleener to have a breakout of his own in 2017. After a lackluster first year in New Orleans and chemistry between Fleener and Drew Brees not developing as quickly as everyone had hoped, Fleener is primed for an increase in targets after the Brandin Cooks trade for the Patriots.
Other honorable mentions for breakout 2017 years: RB Adrian Peterson, DE Alex Okafor, DE/LB Hau’oli Kikaha, WR Willie Snead and OL Andrus Peat.