NFL Training Camp 2014: 5 second-year players who need breakout seasons

In the age of instant satisfaction, rookies who struggle to make a big burst on the scene are often forgotten.  Players in the NFL are labeled “bust” quicker than ever before.  Once a player is labeled a bust, it is almost impossible to shake the label. 

Last season, a few rookies did not live up to their draft status.  This season will be a huge step in the process for them to maintain their confidence and not become labeled a bust.  Here are the top five second-year players who need breakout seasons.

1. Tavon Austin

Austin showed flashes of the promise that had him selected eighth overall in the 2013 draft.  The problem was other than those flashes, his effect on the offense was barely noticeable.  Offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer must find ways to get more out of him.  The talent is clearly there, just ask the Indianapolis Colts who he burned twice for 138 yards and two touchdowns.   He can be more than just a bubble screen guy, so hopefully for him, the coaches allow him to showcase more of his talent this season. 

2. Dee Milliner

Milliner looked lost at times last season.  He was benched due to poor play, but rookie cornerbacks may have the toughest job, outside of rookie quarterbacks, to transition to the talent level in the NFL.  In college if a corner is solid, quarterbacks don’t throw his way. In the NFL that is not really the case, especially for a rookie.  As bad as Milliner looked early, he seemed to figure a few things out late in the season.  If he can build on his experience from last season, the New York Jets may have another top-echelon corner in the making. The team must have faith in him since they elected not to bring in any veterans to be the No. 1 corner. He obviously has faith in himself, as according to the New York Daily News he believes himself to be the best corner in the league.  

“The best corner in the league? Me,” Milliner told the Daily News in an interview Saturday. “I ain’t gonna say that somebody else is better than me.”

3. Jarvis Jones

Learning Dick Labeu’s defense can be challenging.  Jones did not meet the challenge last season.  He will have to muster a better effort this year as the Pittsburgh Steelers have decided to go with young talent.  The departure of Lamar Woodley means Jones will be counted on to do far more than he did last season.  The Steelers have finished 8-8 the last two seasons and coach Mike Tomlin’s seat could be getting warm. Jones will play a pivotal role in the team attempting to return to the playoffs. 

4. Matt Elam

Elam had the horrible misfortune of being drafted to essentially replace a future Hall of Famer in Ed Reed.  Elam struggled mightily last season.  There seemed to be constant miscommunication in the Baltimore Ravens secondary and miscommunication often led to long scoring plays.  The good sign was that Elam did not lack confidence.  He called out Calvin Johnson last season and backed it up with his best game of the season.  Elam will likely play strong safety this season, and he may feel more comfortable there.  The Ravens hope him being comfortable leads to more consistent play. 

5. Geno Smith

Smith was not selected in the first-round but that did not mean he was not scrutinized like a first-round player.  Playing in New York brings a certain level of pressure.  At times Smith seemed up to the challenge.  However, his struggles with turning the ball over overshadowed the potential he sometimes displayed.  Smith showed his toughness and his willingness to try and make the big play.  Now he needs to learn how not to put his defense in difficult situations. The pressure of Michael Vick lurking to take his job will likely bring the best out of him.  The question is, is Smith at his best good enough to lead the Jets to the playoffs?  


Photo Courtesy: Getty Images

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Keenan Actkins

Keenan Actkins is an Arizona resident living in the Phoenix metropolitan area. He brings a wealth of sports knowledge and passion to the team with his unique insight and strong voice and opinion. He also contributes to Yahoo! Voices and has written for


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