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One under-the-radar player who could be a star for each NFC team: Bears, Packers have underrated skill weapons

Written by on June 15, 2024

The 2024 NFL season is fast approaching. And the usual suspects tend to fill the headlines as we await the start of the new campaign: Patrick Mahomes, Justin Jefferson, etc. But what about underrated breakout candidates? Remember the Los Angeles Rams of last year: No one could’ve predicted that youngsters like Kyren Williams and Puka Nacua would end up driving Sean McVay’s squad back into the playoff picture.

Which overlooked players could emerge from the shadows this time around? Here’s one for each NFC team. (To check out the under-the-radar players from the AFC who could erupt in 2024, click here.)

Arizona Cardinals: OLB Dennis Gardeck

The energetic seventh-year veteran quietly logged six sacks and seven tackles for loss in his first year under coach Jonathan Gannon. Now positioned behind D-line reinforcements in Bilal Nichols and Justin Jones, he could have an even cleaner path to pass-rushing impact.

Atlanta Falcons: WR Ray-Ray McCloud III

In a restocked wide receiver room, the former Pittsburgh Steelers and San Francisco 49ers reserve may not be a primary target for new quarterback Kirk Cousins, but his extensive experience as a return specialist could make him invaluable with the NFL’s revamped kick-return rules.

Carolina Panthers: S Jordan Fuller

Purged from the Rams in free agency, Fuller isn’t necessarily a big name, but he is 26 coming off a career year in L.A., with a knack for finding the ball. As part of a young Panthers defense still boasting talent at every level, he could be primed for a big-play debut in Charlotte.

Chicago Bears: RB D’Andre Swift

Swift’s name has been lost in the shuffle of even bigger Bears moves this offseason, including Caleb Williams‘ entry at quarterback and the dual addition of Keenan Allen and Rome Odunze out wide. But he was always explosive when used by the Philadelphia Eagles in 2023.

Dallas Cowboys: DE Sam Williams

For a guy who received Defensive Rookie of the Year consideration in 2022, Williams often gets overshadowed by Micah Parsons and Co. But after combining for eight sacks, 15 tackles for loss and 16 quarterback hits in two NFL seasons, he could be primed for more with an expanded role.

Detroit Lions: CB Ennis Rakestraw Jr.

Terrion Arnold was the splash of the Lions’ 2024 draft, surprisingly sliding to Motown at the back of Round 1. But Rakestraw’s tenacious physicality could make him an equally seamless fit for a Dan Campbell contender, especially depending on Carlton Davis‘ availability at corner.

Green Bay Packers: WR Dontayvion Wicks

Insert basically any Packers wideout here, and you’d be justified. Quarterback Jordan Love is surrounded by young, mostly unknown but incredibly promising pass catchers. After averaging close to 15 yards per catch as a rookie, Wicks could prove to be his top big-play threat downfield.

Los Angeles Rams: OLB Byron Young

A 2023 third-round pick who had eight sacks as a rookie, Young is certainly not a nobody in L.A. But with Aaron Donald retired, he’s got a chance to really make a name for himself on the defensive front, especially with rookie Jared Verse also plugged into the pass-rushing rotation.

Minnesota Vikings: WR Brandon Powell

As long as Justin Jefferson and Jordan Addison are on the field, Minnesota’s offense goes through them. But Powell is a shifty multipurpose option set for new opportunities with K.J. Osborn gone and T.J. Hockenson recovering from injury. He’s also a proven return specialist.

New Orleans Saints: CB Paulson Adebo

Marshon Lattimore is the household name on the perimeter, but the young Adebo turned a corner as a regular starter in 2023, finishing with a career-high four picks and 18 pass breakups. Still nationally underrecognized, he could be an even bigger staple of Dennis Allen’s defense in Year 4.

New York Giants: WR Wan’Dale Robinson

After quietly logging an impressive 76.1% catch rate over his first two NFL seasons, the third-year slot target is primed for even more opportunities, thanks to the addition of the explosive Malik Nabers out wide. With or without Daniel Jones under center, his numbers should be on the rise.

Philadelphia Eagles: OG Tyler Steen

Jason Kelce’s retirement is the big story on the Eagles’ vaunted offensive line, but Steen, a 2023 third-rounder out of Alabama, could help ease the interior shuffle by taking over at right guard. Assistant coach Jeff Stoutland knows how to develop the trenches in Philly, boosting the kid’s stock.

San Francisco 49ers: DE Leonard Floyd

Chase Young was a low-risk, high-upside bet down the stretch in 2023, but Floyd as Nick Bosa’s new running mate should prove far steadier. With 39.5 sacks over the last four years between the Rams and Buffalo Bills, he’s a safe bet to feast as part of San Francisco’s physical front.

Seattle Seahawks: OLB Uchenna Nwosu

With ex-Baltimore Ravens defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald running the show, basically any veteran defender could be in for a leap this year; Dre’Mont Jones is another strong candidate. But after an injury-hampered 2023, Nwosu could be a key to the pass rush.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: CB Zyon McCollum

Todd Bowles has an enviable lineup at the back end of his secondary, with do-it-all star Antoine Winfield Jr. reunited with underrated safety partner Jordan Whitehead. The physically gifted McCollum could benefit from their sturdy hand on the perimeter after a busier 2023 campaign.

Washington Commanders: LB Frankie Luvu

The former Panthers starter got big money to join Washington in free agency, but he’s probably not getting the attention he deserves. After an increasingly active role rushing the pocket in Carolina, he has a chance to be a difference-maker at the heart of Dan Quinn’s defense.

The post One under-the-radar player who could be a star for each NFC team: Bears, Packers have underrated skill weapons first appeared on CBS Sports.


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