Every season, some NFL players break out to become stars in the league. Experience plays a major factor in this, but other factors can play a part too - veterans leaving the team, coaching staff changing, among others.
Check out our predictions for the 10 NFL players who'll improve the most during the 2021 season.
10 Most improved players heading into the 2021 NFL season
#1 - CeeDee Lamb, WR, Dallas Cowboys
Lamb had an awesome rookie season as he fell into Dallas' lap during the 2020 NFL Draft. Even without Dak Prescott for most of the season, the wide receiver still amassed 74 receptions for 935 yards and 5 touchdowns.
As he gets more experienced this year, Lamb will surely surpass 1000 yards if he doesn't get injured. His blend of route running and athleticism makes it really hard for any cornerback to cover Lamb without a safety helping him over the top. Watch out for him becoming the Cowboys' number one receiver during the season.
#2 - Jeff Okudah, CB, Detroit Lions
Okudah's rookie season was really disappointing as he had to play in Matt Patricia's defense, which called for a ton of man-to-man coverage when it was clear Detroit had the personnel to play a more zonal game. He also had minor injuries which allowed him to play in only 9 games in 2020.
The fact that Patricia is gone is already a victory for the Lions, but Okudah should see a breakout year with more experience and a normal offseason. He's got the ball skills and the athleticism to do so, even if he's assigned to cover man-to-man.
#3 - Denzel Mims, WR, New York Jets
Mims actually had a pretty good rookie season if you put it into context. The Jets offense was poor and Adam Gase was the worst coach in the league by a mile. Sam Darnold was really bad and Joe Flacco wasn't much better either. The offensive line only had Mekhi Becton playing at a high level.
When you look at only 357 yards for Mims, it looks like a small number. However, he played in only 9 games for a team whose main aspiration was to lose enough games to lock the number one pick in the draft and even then they failed to do so.
The coaching staff is better now. Zach Wilson is the new quarterback in town and the offensive line got reinforcements. All of this should help Mims have a breakout year, as he certainly has the talent to become a star player for the future.
#4 - Dallas Goedert, TE, Philadelphia Eagles
Every year Goedert seems to become a better player but his stats don't exactly show it. 2021 looks the year when his fair recognition will come, as he'll start the season as the number one tight end for the Eagles, even if Zach Ertz somehow stays with the team.
Goedert is athletic enough to beat safeties and he's quick on his routes and his breaks towards the sideline. He's also become a solid blocker over the last couple of years. There's potential for more than 1000 receiving yards this year.
#5 - Montez Sweat, EDGE, Washington Football Team
Sweat has put up good numbers in his first two seasons, but he's got the potential to do even more.
Before the 2019 draft, everyone thought of Sweat as a project because of his incredible athleticism, but his technique needed some work back then. With two years of experience in the league and considering how many one-on-one opportunities he'll get in that amazing defensive line, we'll surely see him reach 10 sacks for the first time in his career.
#6 - Irv Smith Jr., TE, Minnesota Vikings
Smith is a fantastic red zone threat for the Vikings, whose snap count was split in his first years in the league because Minnesota already had Kyle Rudolph, a more experienced vet, on the roster.
Rudolph is with the New York Giants now. So is this the year where Smith Jr. will become a top 10 tight end?
The expectation says he will as he's got the intangibles to do so and now a favorable situation in the Vikings' offense will only aid that process.
#7 - Jerry Jeudy, WR, Denver Broncos
Jeudy is a player whose production floor in Alabama was so high that everybody thought he was going to crush the NFL since his rookie season. His numbers last year were decent but his play on the field was inconsistent at times, and there's a lot of clean-up to do in 2021, especially regarding his drops.
But the stage is set for him to surpass 1000 yards this year and become the superstar player he is meant to be. He's got Courtland Sutton playing with him and Teddy Bridgewater is a much more consistent quarterback than Drew Lock. With more experience and consistency, his breakout year will see him rank among the elite in the position.
#8 - Anthony Firkser, TE, Tennessee Titans
Firkser is an underrated player who's going to breakout in 2021 mainly because of the opportunities he'll receive in Tennessee's offense. With Jonnu Smith gone in free agency, he'll be the Titans' number one tight end.
Although Firkser isn't the red zone monster that Smith is, he's got a good route running and he's very effective in finding soft spots in the middle of the field. Watch out for him becoming an important piece of the Titans offense alongside AJ Brown and Julio Jones.
#9 - Deebo Samuel, WR, San Francisco 49ers
Injuries stopped Deebo's progress in 2020 after a strong rookie season, but the 49ers receiver looks set for a breakout with a healthy offense and perhaps a change in the quarterback position.
With his speed and agility, Samuel will always be an important piece in Shanahan's offense. His lateral quickness is really impressive and he's a fine receiver as well who does a good job at the point of attack.
#10 - Ed Oliver, DT, Buffalo Bills
Closing the list, Oliver drew comparisons to Aaron Donald during his pre-draft season because of his athletic similarity: a small defensive tackle who's strong and agile.
His first two seasons in the NFL, however, looked nothing like Donald at all. But the jump from the AAC to the NFL is really big and with more experience, he can become a star this season, as Star Lotulelei comes back from the opt-out to occupy a lot of inside gaps and open space for guys like Oliver.