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The NFL is a results-driven league, and when a player has the talent to yield results, he's not going to remain a secret for long.
Take Jacksonville Jaguars running back James Robinson. The undrafted free agent out of Illinois State was virtually unknown coming into the regular season. But 339 scrimmage yards and three touchdowns later, he is one of the early breakout stars of the 2020 season.
While not every team can have a hidden gem explode the way Robinson did, each has at least one unheralded role player who could be headed for bigger things and a brighter spotlight.
Here, we'll examine one player from each team who is set to break out or has already started doing so. We'll look at former castoffs, middle- to late-round rookies and others who have been overlooked until now.
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While Kenyan Drake has taken hold of the Arizona Cardinals' starting running back job, third-year back Chase Edmonds is beginning to carve out a role as a reliable pass-catcher. He's caught eight passes on 11 targets for 49 yards, three first downs and a touchdown. He's also returned six kicks for 132 yards.
"He can catch it, run it, block, play special teams, and he's really bright football-wise," head coach Kliff Kingsbury told reporters in August. "He's everything you want."
Though Edmonds has been a solid contributor before, his previous high in receptions was 20 in 2018. He's on pace for 43. Drake, DeAndre Hopkins, Larry Fitzgerald and, of course, Kyler Murray are the stars of Arizona's high-profile offense, but Edmonds is a quietly valuable piece of the proverbial puzzle.
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Atlanta Falcons running back Brian Hill has shown flashes over the past two seasons. Specifically, he started two games in 2019 and logged 78 carries. However, Hill has largely resided in the shadow of Julio Jones, Matt Ryan and, now, fellow back Todd Gurley.
Hill is a dangerous ball-carrier, though, and showed in Week 3 that he deserves a few more opportunities. Against the Chicago Bears, Hill ripped off 58 yards and a touchdown on nine carries while adding 22 yards on a reception.
The Falcons have yet to uncover a winor any semblance of a fourth-quarter defensebut they may have uncovered a high-end complementary back and future starter in Hill.
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The Baltimore Ravens used a late third-round pick (No. 106 overall) on Mississippi State left tackle Tyre Phillips. He has since gone from being a late Day 2 pick to a starter for one of the most prolific offenses in the NFL.
And Phillips has not appeared to be in over his head.
"To start on the offensive line as a rookie at a position that you didn't play in college, it's pretty remarkable," head coach John Harbaugh told reporters after the season opener. "He's got a long way to go; he can improve so much. But I look at that as a real positive."
According to Pro Football Focus, Phillips has been responsible for just one sack and zero penalties in 121 snaps heading into Week 3. He got his third start against the Kansas City Chiefs on Monday night.
In drafting Phillips, Baltimore may have unearthed its long-term replacement for Marshal Yanda.
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Thanks to the maturation of quarterback Josh Allen, the Buffalo Bills have one of the more prolific passing attacks in the NFL. While Allen, Stefon Diggs, Cole Beasley and John Brown headline the attack, rookie fourth-round pick Gabriel Davis has been a sneaky good clutch contributor.
The former UCF standout has caught all seven passes thrown his way for 103 yards, four first downs and a touchdown. He had four catches for 81 yards in Week 3 alone. He also drew a pass interference penalty on 4th-and-8 to help set up Buffalo's game-winning touchdown.
"He's just done an incredible job to this point being ready when his number's been called," head coach Sean McDermott said, per Jay Skurski of the Buffalo News.
While Allen has plenty of other pass-catchers he can go to, don't be shocked if he starts calling Davis' number on a more consistent basis.
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The Carolina Panthers notched their first win of the season in Week 3, thanks in no small part to a defense that held the Los Angeles Chargers to just 16 points. One underrated piece of that defense is rookie sixth-round pick Bravvion Roy.
Roy is not a constant presence along the linehe's played just 27 percent of the snapsbut he's made an impact. The 330-pound tackle clogs running lanes, and he's capable of taking down ball-carriers by himself.
Of Roy's five tackles, four have been solo.
No. 7 pick Derrick Brown was the prize of Carolina's defense-only draft class, but the Panthers seem to have found a keeper in Roy as well.
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After the Chicago Bears benched Mitchell Trubisky on Sunday, Nick Foles mounted a comeback against the Falcons, giving them a tough decision at quarterbackor maybe not so tough, as Matt Nagy named Foles the starter for Week 4 on Monday, according to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport.
The Bears don't have a tough decision to make at receiver, as rookie fifth-round pick Darnell Mooney is becoming one of the team's most reliable pass-catchers.
The Tulane produce has caught eight of 11 targets for 93 yards and a touchdown. He's also shown an ability to get open more consistently than 2018 second-round pick Anthony Miller.
While both Miller and Mooney can fill valuable roles behind No. 1 receiver Allen Robinson IIMiller caught the game-winner against AtlantaMooney is the receiver few expected to shine.
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No. 1 overall pick Joe Burrow and the Cincinnati Bengals have receiving talent. Between Tyler Boyd, A.J. Green, John Ross III and second-round pick Tee Higgins, Burrow has several quality targets. Former Los Angeles Rams wideout Mike Thomas didn't seem to factor into the equation before the season.
The 2016 sixth-round pick had just 10 career receptions, but he's proved to be one of Burrow's most reliable targets. He's caught eight of nine targets for 57 yards and a touchdown.
While Thomas has played just 27 percent of the snaps, he has the highest catch rate on the team among players with more than one target. While opposing defenses shouldn't expect a heavy dose of him, they should be aware of Thomas when he's on the field.
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After the Cleveland Browns added Jedrick Wills Jr. and Jack Conklin in the offseason, fans would have been hard-pressed to expect arguably the team's most impressive lineman to be right guard Wyatt Teller. A fifth-round pick of the Bills in 2018, Teller was traded last August and started nine games.
He was serviceable, but he's been impressive this year. He hasn't allowed a sack in 194 snaps, though he has been whistled for three penalties, according to Pro Football Focus, and he's been a mauler in the running game. He's a big reason why Cleveland entered Week 3 ranked third in yards per play when running inside (5.8 yards), according to Football Outsiders.
While many teams wouldn't be excited about another team's castoff, the Browns and running backs Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt should be thrilled to have Teller.
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The Dallas Cowboys made tight end Dalton Schultz a fourth-round pick in the 2018 draft. However, the Stanford product didn't play much in his first two seasonseven with Jason Witten away from the team during Schultz's rookie year.
Schultz caught just 13 passes for 122 yards. This season, however, Schultz has played a significantly increased role. While he played just 28 percent of the snaps as a rookie and 10 percent last year, he's up to 69 percent this season. He ranks fourth on the team in targets (20) and receptions (14).
Schultz is on pace for 75 catches and 784 yards. Those are impressive numbers considering Dak Prescott is also throwing to Amari Cooper, CeeDee Lamb, Michael Gallup and Ezekiel Elliott.
Opposing defenses had been able to ignore Schultz before this year, but that's not the case anymore.
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Denver Broncos linebacker Malik Reed is not a household name. An undrafted free agent out of Nevada, Reed worked his way into a significant rotational role as a rookie and has played the same role this year.
Though he started eight games in 2019, he played just 44 percent of the snaps. He's played at that same clip this year, but he's on pace for even better numbers. He finished last season with 27 tackles, one pass defended, two sacks and six quarterback hurries. While he has yet to produce a sack, he has one quarterback hurry, one pass defended and seven tackles.
"He's showing the value of what he learned last year," head coach Vic Fangio said, per Kyle Newman of the Denver Post.
Expect the fans of Denver's AFC West rivals to become plenty familiar with Reed in the coming months.
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Star wideout Kenny Golladay returned from a hamstring injury Sunday and helped lead the Detroit Lions to their first victory. While the Lions missed him, his absence helped them get a good look at rookie fifth-round pick Quintez Cephus.
Cephus, an unheralded pass-catcher out of Wisconsin, caught three passes in each of the first two games, totaling 97 yards and an impressive 16.2 yards per catch. While he didn't log a target against the Cardinals in Week 3, Cephus has shown he can be a productive complementary receiver.
Expect him to get more opportunities as the season progresses and to potentially be a significant piece of the offense's future. Golladay, Danny Amendola and Marvin Jones Jr. are all scheduled to reach free agency next offseason.
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Signed by the Lions as an undrafted free agent in 2017, tight end Robert Tonyan has spent the last three seasons with the Green Bay Packers. If you're not familiar with him, though, you're probably not alone.
Tonyan had caught only 14 passes for 177 yards entering this season, though he did snag two touchdowns. This season, though, it's starting to look like Tonyan will be a much bigger part of the offense.
He didn't get a target in Week 1 but has seven receptions for 75 yards and two touchdowns since. He had five for 50 yards against the New Orleans Saints on Sunday, including the game-winning touchdown.
Tonyan is on pace for 37 receptions and 400 yards. While those aren't outlandish numbers, they're close to what Jimmy Graham (38 catches, 447 yards, three touchdowns) gave the Packers last season.
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The Houston Texans don't have much to feel good about after falling to 0-3 and looking like a non-playoff team. They should, however, be thrilled with second-year defensive end Charles Omenihu.
The fifth-round pick has already logged two sacks after producing three sacks as a rookie. He has a sack in each of his past two games and is tied with J.J. Watt for the team lead.
While Omenihu isn't likely to become the second coming of Watt or even former Texans edge-rusher Jadeveon Clowney, he's shaping up to be a productive situational pass-rusher. If Houston can improve its pass rushit has just seven sacksperhaps it can start slowing opposing offenses and start compiling wins.
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Before long, Indianapolis Colts tight end Mo Alie-Cox may be less of a hidden gem and more of an offensive regular. He's already beginning to gain the attention of fantasy football enthusiasts after back-to-back impressive outings.
The former VCU basketball standout signed as an undrafted free agent in 2017. However, he was rarely utilized during his first two seasons (he didn't play in 2017). He caught a combined 15 passes for 226 yards and two touchdowns in 2018 and 2019.
Over the past two weeks, however, Alie-Cox has caught eight passes for 161 yards and a touchdown. This recent opportunity has come with starting tight end Jack Doyle coming back from an ankle injury, but it's going to be difficult to justify taking Alie-Cox off the field after he's flashed a rapport with quarterback Philip Rivers.
Expect Alie-Cox to keep racking up receptions.
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The Jacksonville Jaguars parted with several key players in the offseason, including running back Leonard Fournette, defensive ends Calais Campbell and Yannick Ngakoue and safety Ronnie Harrison Jr. Yet Jacksonville was surprisingly competitive before its Week 3 meltdown against the Miami Dolphins.
We've already mentioned how running back James Robinson has boosted the offense. Well, rookie third-round pick DaVon Hamilton has helped give the team a jolt on the other side of the ball. The Ohio State product has played 44 percent of the snaps and has seven tackles.
While losing Campbell and Ngakoue hurt the defense, Hamilton can rotate with Abry Jones and Taven Bryan to give the unit a lot to work with on the interior.
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While the Jaguars have gotten a notable boost from DaVon Hamilton, the Kansas City Chiefs have gotten a major one from rookie fifth-round pick Mike Danna. The Michigan standout has quietly been one of the team's better frontline defenders.
Through the first two weeks of the season, Danna racked up six tackles, a sack, a quarterback hit and three pressures. He added a tackle Monday night against the Ravens.
Danna would likely be getting more attention if not for running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire and defensive back L'Jarius Sneed. Edwards-Helaire and Sneed have been two of the league's most impressive rookies, leaving Danna as more of a secret.
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Las Vegas Raiders rookie left guard John Simpson was thrust into action in Week 2 when starter Richie Incognito exited with an Achilles injury. The fourth-round pick out of Clemson had an up-and-down showing his first time out.
"His biggest issue came in pass protection, where he ended the game with a lowly 11.8 PFF grade after surrendering five total pressures," Sam Monson of Pro Football Focus wrote. "The volume of pressure wasn't as big a problem as the type of pressure allowed, with multiple decisive and near-immediate losses causing problems for the Raiders offense."
However, Simpson has shown promise and has been far from a disaster. Through 128 snaps, he has allowed just one sack but has been whistled for two penalties, according to Pro Football Focus.
Simpson will likely cede the starting job back to Incognito when he returns from injured reserve. However, he looks like a future mainstay for Las Vegas.
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Is receiver Jalen Guyton destined to be a centerpiece of the Los Angeles Chargers offense? Probably not. However, he's shown he can be a complementary piece, and the 2019 undrafted free agent out of North Texas has already been more productive than he was last year.
Guyton finished his rookie season without a reception, but he already has four. He's made at least one catch in each game and tallied 53 yards, three first downs and a touchdown.
While Guyton is going to take a back seat to Keenan Allen, Mike Williams and tight end Hunter Henry, don't be surprised to see more of him when L.A. puts three wideouts on the field.
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Los Angeles Rams defensive tackle Morgan Fox has been with the team since 2016when he was signed as an undrafted free agent out of Colorado State-Pueblobut he has never been a high-profile member of the squad.
Through three seasonshe missed 2018 with a torn ACLFox had appeared in 36 games but logged just 42 tackles and 4.5 sacks. While he remains a reserve, he's already produced five tackles, a sack, a tackle for loss and two quarterback pressuresall while playing just 37 percent of the snaps.
Fox is a versatile and valuable rotational piece, albeit an underrated one.
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Casual fans might be familiar with Miami Dolphins rookie left tackle Austin Jackson, who was the 18th pick in the April draft. They're far less likely to know rookie right guard Solomon Kindley, who wasn't selected until the fourth round.
However, Kindley emerged as a starter by Week 1 and has played well. According to Pro Football Focus, he's responsible for two penalties and zero sacks in 198 snaps.
While the interior of the offensive line isn't exactly gashing holes in defensive frontsthe Dolphins rank 18th with 4.2 yards per inside rushing attempt, per Football OutsidersKindley is playing like a permanent fixture.
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Though former Furman left tackle Dakota Dozier spent five seasons with the New York Jets before he signed with the Minnesota Vikings in April 2019, he remains a hidden gem. The 2014 fourth-round pick had made only 11 starts entering the season. The Vikings, though, gave him a chance to be the team's starter at left guard in the offseason.
"He's always been a good player, trying to battle to become a starter," offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak said in early September, via Lindsey Young and Eric Smith of the team's official website.
Dozier took the job and has run with it. He has started all three games and been responsible for just one sack and zero penalties in 171 snaps, according to Pro Football Focus. He's one of the few bright spots for a disappointing offense.
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