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Steelers' 2012 Breakout Player

Every year in the night sky of the Steelers' roster a new star blinks into being. Antonio Brown blazed not only into Steelers blogs but gained national attention with his seemingly effortless ability to gain separation. Before that, Mike Wallace cast his effulgent rays on the football world with his blinding speed. Who will be the bright beacon of future glory shining forth this year? Will it be another rookie sensation like those listed above, or an established player who finally finds his groove like Keenan Lewis or William Gay did?

In fact, lets go ahead and separate the two categories. Which Steeler rookie will shine the brightest, and which returning player will take the rest of the football world by surprise? As far as returning players, it would be hard for any player to take Steelers fans by surprise because we know our team so well, so lets define "breakout returning player" in terms of exceeding popular non-Steeler expectations. We can use Steeler Nation's expectations as a tie-breaker if necessary. Here are the candidates

DeCastro- Tough to dramatically exceed expectations once you've been designated the next Steve Hutchison. Unless DeCastro displays the ability to block three players at once or something, it'll be hard for him to surprise anyone who followed the draft at all. And playing OG will not catch the attention of the casual fans who didn't follow the draft. Pouncey did it, though...

Adams - Adams will exceed some folks' expectations simply by not being in prison by the end of the year, so that's a plus...

Spence - It's so difficult to make an immediate impact as a Steelers LB. Steelers fans will be amazed if he even starts; what are the odds he does enough to put himself in the national awareness...

Ta'amu - The Killer Whale will have a shot with Big Snack hurt, but remember it took years before anyone notice Hampton. Such is the life of the NT...

Rainey - If Rainey had an OC who was really good at getting scatbacks the ball in space and a QB who liked to extend plays and improvise he could do a lot. Hmmmm...

Clemmons - A perfect dark horse, zero hype and plenty of talent, at least in measurables. The only problem is that he still has to do it on the field... with four really good receivers ahead of him on the depth chart...

My view: Corners and safeties have learned to stay disciplined when Ben extends plays. This year, LB's will learn the same lesson as Ben repeatedly scrambles around until the entire front 7 is in the backfield, then dumps the ball off to Rainey who runs for a TD. Rainey will get his touches on screens, reverses, and other misdirection plays along with special teams and will basically be the RB version this year of what Antonio Brown was last year.

Now let's examine the veterans. There are plenty of guys on this list, too. Some of them have been held back by injury, are finally getting a shot because of an injury to a starter, or just didn't have much of a chance last year because of the lockout. All of them have an opportunity this year, all the more intriguing because unlike the rookies this may be their best and last shot to make a name for themselves or even stay in football. Let's have a look at our contestants.

Redman - Steelers fans already know he's the world's most interesting running back, but most of the league hasn't yet heard about him. With a stronger OL and first shot at the starting position you have to like his odds...

Dwyer - Rumor has it Dwyer is again overweight, but it's still very early in the year and he still has a great size/speed ratio and a 6.0 yds/carry average in his few opportunities to date...

Sanders - In the rare times he's been uninjured he's been able to get open all over the field Steelers fans know he just has to stay healthy to impress a lot of people. That, and pass Cotchery on the depth chart...

Cortez Allen - He hardly set the world on fire last year as a 4th CB with 15 tackles no PD, no INT. But he earned Steelers fans' trust, and as a rookie without an offseason that says a lot...

Curtis Brown - Last year's third rounder has more athleticism than Allen, but was held back by an ankle injury (besides the whole lockout thing). He could leapfrog Allen this year and steal the spotlight...

My view: The easy answer is Redman, and it's probably the right one. He's got the vision and feet a power back needs, with a strong passing game to keep teams from stacking 8 in the box. An improved OL will give him an advantage when idiot commentators compare his production to Mendy's last year, and they'll love talking about the balance this brings to the big play ability of the passing game. The thing is, I hate playing the favorite, so my money's on Jon Dwyer. This is really his last chance and I just can't believe he loves cheeseburgers more than the opportunity to be an NFL star. If he's in shape, Dwyer is a more complete back than Redman, the sort you can "run the wheels off" as Tomlin likes to do. At the very least, I expect the preseason battle between Dwyer and Redman to be an interesting one.

Alright, weigh in Steeler faithful. Who do you expect to make the biggest splash from out of nowhere this year (as far as the league is concerned)?

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