Defining “breakout player is rather subjective. Does going from already good to great qualify as having a breakout year when such a player is already heavily involved? Or does one have to go from obscure to one of our better players to truly be considered a breakout? Really both can be. I’d argue that Rodney Smith was a known name, a good back and broke out last year to be great. Blake Cashman fits the bill of going from obscurity to one of the team’s best defenders in the final third (or more) of the season.
So, based on this wide definition of “break out,” who are going to be this year’s breakout players?
WR - Tyler Johnson - I know...I know, we’ve been waiting for a wide receiver to truly break out year after year. I was initially planning on that receiver being Rashad Still, since he really has the best physical tools of anyone who has caught a pass on gameday. But I think Tyler Johnson is going to be the one who actually does. He will lead the team in receptions this year and be a receiver that Big Ten defenses will have to account for over the next few years. His physical nature and improved technical aspects have stood out according to camp reports. he is going to break out as the team’s best receiver and a year from now we’ll be very excited about what he’ll bring to the offense in his final two seasons.
OLB - Kamal Martin - He’s going to go from a guy who played sparingly as a true freshman to breaking out and becoming one of the best players on this Gopher defense. You will recall that Blake Cashman went from a walk-on who was never going to see the field to the defensive MVP of the Gopher’s upset win over Washington State in the bowl game. Well, Martin is going to take that starting position from Cashman and you will see his versatility as he shows he can defend the run, cover tight ends and rush the passer. He won’t be winning any MVP honors but he is going to be a play-maker on this defense and one that becomes a three-year starter.
I heavily debated any of the three sophomore linebackers for this call-out, but I’m riding the Martin train for now. I’m a huge fan of Carter Coughlin and Thomas Barber, but Martin breaks out this year.
DB - Antoine Winfield Jr - We all know Winfield and he had a fantastic year as a true freshman last year. But this year he goes from a solid player with some promise to one of the more feared defenders in the Big Ten. When he originally committed to Minnesota, Matt pointed out to us that Winfield has blazing speed, an aggressive tackling mentality and a strong football intelligence. That was apparent during his freshman season but I’m buying high on Winfield. I believe that he becomes a leader in the secondary and will be in the running for All-Big Ten consideration by the end of the season. And only 533 more tackles to go to break Tyrone Carter’s record.
Looks like I went with a trio of sophomores to break out this year. Would be thrilled to see all three of these guys take off with their Gopher careers and along with a few other stud sophomores (Devers, Croft, DeLattiboudere, Coughlin, Barber, Howard) lead this team to some new heights in a couple years.
But back to 2017...the three names above are the ones I’m anticipating have the biggest breakouts. Who am I missing?