When the regular season is just 18 weeks, three weeks feels like enough time to start figuring out the NFL breakout candidates for 2022.

At this point, the preseason position rankings for 2022 have all but gone out the window. If nothing else, they’ve become irrelevant because all that matters is what players have produced over the first three weeks of the season and what they can potentially do the rest of the way.

NFL breakout candidates 2022

But who are the NFL breakout players in 2022? Obviously, it’s too early to know for sure. But it doesn’t take until the end of the season to start looking for candidates to be among the next crop of stars in the league. Keep in mind that this is only based on the first three weeks of the season, here are our top 10 NFL breakout candidates for 2022. 

10. Jordan Davis, Eagles

As one of several members of last year’s dominant Georgia defense to be selected in the first round, there were high hopes for Jordan Davis. But he’s been quicker than expected to turn that potential into production.

In just a few weeks, Davis has become an important member of Philadelphia’s defensive line. The stats aren’t there just yet, but it’s clear from watching him that he’s more than holding his own in the trenches. Based on early returns from Davis, the best is yet to come from him.

 
 
 
 

9. Chris Olave, Saints

It’s still early, but Chris Olave surely looks like he’s going to be one of the NFL’s breakout wide receivers this year. He’s quickly adjusted to playing at the next level and become a frequent target for New Orleans quarterback Jameis Winston.

Even with Michael Thomas and Jarvis Landry also on the field for the Saints, Olave is seeing plenty of balls thrown his way. More importantly, he’s making the most of it, racking up 147 receiving yards in his third career game. While there were a lot of great wide receivers in this year’s rookie class, Olave has made the best first impression, which is no small feat.

8. Pete Werner, Saints

The Saints had high hopes when they drafted Pete Werner out of Ohio State last year. But as the 60th overall pick in the draft, few projected him to be a star. But Werner is on his way to being just that, quickly making a name for himself on an already stacked New Orleans defense.

Werner has started the 2022 season as one of the most productive tacklers in the league. Keep in mind that he only played in three games last year, so in his first sustained period of action, Werner is standing out.

7. Jordyn Brooks, Seahawks

The Seahawks probably wouldn’t have let Bobby Wagner sign with the Rams without a bigger fight if they didn’t have Jordan Brooks waiting in the wings.

Brooks was a starter right away as a rookie in 2020 and displayed plenty of promise over his first two seasons. However, he still had big shoes to fill with Wagner being the longtime heart of Seattle’s defense. But with Wagner out of the picture, Brooks has indeed stepped up to fill the void. He’s one of the top tacklers in the NFL during the first few weeks of the season and is turning himself into the leader of the Seattle defense.

6. Khalil Herbert, Bears

Khalil Herbert may not have been an obvious candidate to be one of the NFL’s breakout running backs before the season, but that’s why they play the games. The Bears have had one of the top rushing attacks in the league during the early part of the season with Herbert being the team’s leading rusher.

While he’s still sharing carries with David Montgomery and Justin Fields, Herbert is doing far more than either when he gets the ball in his hands, racking up 157 rushing yards and two touchdowns during a Week 3 win over the Texans. Despite being a smaller back, it’s not hard to envision Herbert evolving into an Alvin Kamara or Austin Ekeler type back and making a real impact moving forward.

5. Patrick Surtain, Broncos

Expectations coming into the NFL were high for Patrick Surtain, who is the son of a three-time Pro Bowler. However, he’s starting to live up to those expectations and then some.

Surtain was one of the best rookies in the league last year and has been even better early in 2022. He hasn’t had to make that many tackles this season because the ball isn’t being thrown in his direction, and when it is, the receiver he’s covering isn’t catching it. Surtain is quickly becoming one of the top cover corners in the league and looks poised to be even better than his father.

4. Talanoa Hufanga, 49ers

Not only does Talanoa Hufanga look a little like Troy Polamalu, but Hufanga also plays a lot like him as well. Both played at USC, so it shouldn’t be too surprising that Hufanga is following in Polamalu’s footsteps. But what is surprising is how much of a difference-maker Hufanga has been for the 49ers, especially since he’s in his second year in the league and was only a fifth-round pick last year.

He’s already shown a knack for making plays all over the field and having a nose for the ball. Plus, Hufanga is grading out as one of the top safeties in the league, so he’s clearly about to have a breakout season and establish himself as one of the best defensive backs in the NFL.

3. Alex Highsmith, Steelers

Obviously, the Steelers are missing T.J. Watt after he suffered an injury in Week 1. But they miss him a little less with Alex Highsmith around.

The third-year player out of Charlotte collected 4.5 sacks in the first three games of the season to lead the league. After having just two sacks as a rookie, Highsmith had six sacks in 2021 while starting 16 games for the Steelers. He merely seems to be taking yet another step forward in his development, making him one of the top NFL breakout candidates in 2022 on the defensive side of the ball.

2. Tua Tagovailoa, Dolphins

There was plenty of skepticism surrounding Tua Tagovailoa heading into the season, but his critics have started to quiet down after his impressive start. His six touchdown passes in Miami’s comeback win over the Ravens in Week 2 was something special and the type of coming-out party that many believed Tagovailoa would never provide.

The Dolphins did a lot of work during the offseason to improve the supporting cast around him. Based on the early returns, that’s paying off because Tagovailoa has been one of the NFL’s breakout QBs in 2022 and has Miami positioned for a big year.

1. Jalen Hurts, Eagles

It’s possible that we’re seeing Jalen Hurts turn into one of the top quarterbacks in the NFL right before our eyes. When he led the Eagles to the playoffs last year, Hurts did most of the damage with his legs. But he’s evolved into a more competent passer this season, averaging over 300 passing yards per game.

The Eagles adding A.J. Brown to the offense has helped a lot but Hurts deserves a lot of the credit as well.

Plus, he remains a threat with his legs, which means opposing teams still have to respect that part of his game. There’s a long way to go, but Hurts looks like one of the top NFL breakout candidates in 2022 and could be among the league’s best dual-threat quarterbacks by the end of the year.

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