The start of offseason workout programs means under the radar players can begin their climb to further relevance. ESPN NFL writer Field Yates put together a list of eight players entering their second season and have breakout potential, and he included Carlos Hyde and Aaron Lynch.
Veteran Reggie Bush gives San Francisco a change-of-pace back, with Hyde offering some hammerhead power on first and second downs. The 49ers have their work cut out for them to account for personnel losses on defense this offseason, but Hyde and a ground-centric offense can lighten the load.
One player whose development will be pivotal in getting that 49ers defense on track is Lynch, a 2014 fifth-round pick who slipped due to some character concerns. But the talent is apparent, and so was the production in abbreviated duty last year. He totaled six sacks in a part-time role. He's 6-foot-5, 270 pounds with natural rush skills and just turned 22. Watch out.
Hyde is an obvious choice given the departure of Gore. Kendall Hunter and Reggie Bush will get their opportunities as well, but Hyde will head into training camp with a significant opportunity. Hyde finished 2014 with 333 rushing yards and four touchdowns. If the offensive line can hold up, and the team can figure out a consistent left guard and center, Hyde will benefit tremendously.
Lynch was a breakout player as a rookie, but that was primarily among 49ers fans. In year two, he has a decent chance of moving into the starting lineup, or at the very least handling more nickel work. He split time with Dan Skuta while Aldon Smith was out, and benefited at times after that when Ahmad Brooks had his ups and downs with the coaching staff. This year, Skuta is out of the picture, and Brooks is not exactly going to be with the 49ers a whole lot longer. Lynch will see more snaps, and with a year of experience under his belt, he'll be in prime position to break out in a big way.
Other than those two, who else do you view as potential breakout candidates (not necessarily just in their second year)? Here are three more players that could find themselves breaking out, or at least gaining bigger roles.
1. Quinton Dial - People talk a lot about Tank Carradine, but Dial is the guy who worked his way into more playing time in his second season. With Justin Smith's future in question, and Darnell Dockett just a short-term option, I could see Dial ending up with a sizable up-tick in playing time.
2. Brandon Thomas - This is an easy one given that he is going to get a shot at the left guard position. It remains to be seen if he will actually earn that job and avoid any setbacks with his knee, but if he can stay healthy, he has a great shot of ending up in the starting lineup.
3. Dontae Johnson - Tramaine Brock is likely to be starting at one of the two cornerback positions, and Dontae Johnson has a legit shot at starting on the other side. He will face competition from Shareece Wright, Kenneth Acker, Keith Reaser and Chris Cook, among others, but he gained valuable experience last season. I think he ends up in the starting lineup, and could be in line for a solid season.