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Breakout or fakeout: Which offensive stars can stay hot in 2024?

Julian Catalfo / theScore

In this two-part series, theScore's football editors give a verdict on whether 2023 breakout players will continue their success in 2024.

First up are the offensive stars, with defensive players on deck. Rookies from last season weren't considered.

2023 stats: 4,280 yards, 31 TDs/11 INTs, 69.4% completion rate, 113.0 passer rating

Purdy is coming off a terrific 2023 campaign in which he was in the conversation for MVP thanks to his line of 31 touchdown passes, 11 interceptions, and 4,280 passing yards. He also led the NFL in yards per attempt (9.6), yards per completion (13.9), and passer rating (113.0). But was this fine continuation of his 2022 season a mirage or was it the real deal?

Detractors will point to Kyle Shanahan and say the offensive mastermind's system is incredibly quarterback-friendly. The argument is based in truth, but it's not one that should be used against Purdy. While he may not have the physical talent that other top quarterbacks possess, he executes what he's asked to do. It's also worth mentioning that no 49ers quarterback has lifted their level of play to Purdy's since Shanahan took over in 2017.

Purdy's 2023 campaign put him in rare territory, too. Only four quarterbacks have replicated his 9.6 yards per pass attempt and 13.9 yards per completion in a season (minimum 200 pass attempts, 10 games played). Three of the other four are Hall of Famers:

  • Brock Purdy (2023)
  • Kurt Warner (2000)
  • Chris Chandler (1998)
  • Norm Van Brocklin (1954)
  • Otto Graham (1953)

There is the caveat that 2,054 of Purdy's 4,280 passing yards came after the catch, per PFR. In a Shanahan offense with playmakers such as Brandon Aiyuk, George Kittle, and Deebo Samuel, that's not entirely surprising. But is it proof that Purdy is a fakeout candidate? Not really.

Here are all the quarterbacks who have racked up over 2,000 yards after the catch since PFR started tracking the statistic in 2018.

Looking at the names above, an excessive amount of yards after the catch doesn't appear to be an indicator of bad quarterback play. Many on the list are Pro Bowlers, first-team All-Pros, and Super Bowl champions.

While the impact of Shanahan's system on Purdy's performance can be debated, it seems very clear that the 49ers signal-caller is more than equipped to excel going forward.


2023 stats: 4,159 yards, 32 TDs/11 INTs, 64.2% completion rate, 96.1 passer rating

Few first-round quarterbacks in the modern NFL get to sit a year before becoming a full-time starter, let alone three. But Love took the long road thanks to Aaron Rodgers' re-emergence as an MVP-winning player, starting just one game and throwing 83 total passes from 2020-22. With so much time as a background character, Love was one of the biggest question marks heading into the 2023 campaign.

The first half of Love's debut season as Green Bay's QB1 was a roller coaster, with the 25-year-old mixing in moments of brilliance with erratic decision-making and accuracy. But as Love and the Packers' young weapons settled in, he played like an unquestioned top-five quarterback.

The above chart doesn't even include his near-flawless playoff debut in which he completed 76.2% of his passes for 272 yards and three touchdowns to produce a 157.2 passer rating.

Love's production wasn't just a box-score mirage; his advanced metrics were also strong over the final eight games of the regular season. He only finished outside the top 10 in weekly QBR once and put together two top-two performances. Love also ranked second in EPA/play and completion percentage over expected and third in success rate. Most impressively, he was a third-down monster despite his inexperience, consistently performing at a level similar to more veteran quarterbacks.


Love did leave a bad final impression, throwing an awful interception that sealed the divisional-round loss to the San Francisco 49ers. It was a reminder that he's still a work in progress who is too confident at times because of his outstanding physical skills.

Still, if Love settles in somewhere between his opening 2023 play and his red-hot second-half performance, he'll be a borderline top-10 quarterback. And if his early play can be attributed to finding his footing while dealing with the enormous pressure of replacing a future Hall of Famer, Love has all the tools to become an elite quarterback in 2024.


2023 stats: 228 carries, 1,144 yards, 12 TDs; 32 catches, 206 yards, 3 TDs

You'd be forgiven for having low expectations for Williams entering last season, but that shouldn't be the case this time around.

Williams had 215 total yards and no touchdowns as a rookie before leading the NFL in rushing yards per game (95.3) and finding the end zone on 15 occasions in his second year.

The Notre Dame product only played in 12 games after missing some time, but he was actually more effective when he returned. He had four of his six 100-yard games in Weeks 12 through 17 and posted 88 and 87 yards in the two games where he didn't reach the century mark.

Williams racked up at least 52 rushing yards in all but one of his appearances and had 65 or more scrimmage yards in every game. His 59.6% success rate as a runner was fourth in the NFL but tops among all 1,000-yard rushers and second among running backs, per PFR. That success rate was bolstered by his 9.9 carries per broken tackle, which ranked seventh among qualifying runners.

It didn't matter where he was attacking from, either, as Williams rushed for at least 100 yards through every gap from tackle to tackle, per PFF.

Williams will be 24 when Week 1 rolls around, and it looks like he'll continue to be one of the most effective and efficient runners in football.


2023 stats: 272 carries, 990 yards, 6 TDs; 64 catches, 549 yards, 3 TDs

At first glance, White produced a great sophomore campaign. He more than doubled his rushing total from his rookie season and scored six more touchdowns, helping the Tampa Bay Buccaneers secure an unlikely NFC South crown. The arrow is seemingly pointing up for the running back. However, the optimism for Year 3 takes a hit the deeper you look into his 2023 campaign.

The first thing you notice when examining White's production is his lack of efficiency. His 3.6 yards per carry ranked 40th among running backs with 100-plus carries. Sometimes, yards per carry doesn't tell the entire story, but White also ranked 42nd in success rate. He simply wasn't good at moving the chains and relied on volume to boost his numbers.

Every seemingly positive stat for White quickly falls apart when viewed from an efficiency perspective. For example, White ranked sixth in total yards before contact but 27th per attempt, and 18th in total yards after contact but 46th per attempt. And White wasn't exactly facing a brick wall every time he ran the ball; he ranked 28th in the percentage of carries with eight or more defenders in the box, per Next Gen Stats.

The Bucs' offensive line was far from a dominant unit, but it was a solid group, finishing 13th in PFF's final ranking for 2023. White produced less than what he should've given his blocking and finished last in rushing yards over expected with minus-110. The 25-year-old just isn't explosive enough to be a full-time starter, with only 13.7% of his runs - 42nd among players with 100-plus attempts - going for 15 yards or more.

White's saving grace is his skills as a receiver. His 549 yards ranked third among running backs, and he produced that impressive total efficiently, ranking first in catch rate, sixth in yards per catch, and seventh in success rate. He was far more comfortable in space as a receiver, breaking only one fewer tackles on catches (eight) than as a rusher (nine).

White will probably produce another decent season thanks to his heavy workload and a lack of competition, but he's far from an ascending star.

Verdict: FAKEOUT

2023 stats: 209 carries, 1,012 yards, 18 TDs; 25 catches, 175 yards, 3 TDs

Mostert exploded in 2023, leading the league in rushing scores and tying Christian McCaffrey for scrimmage touchdowns, while earning his first career Pro Bowl nod. However, he benefited from several factors that are likely to prevent him from matching that output in the future.

He produced an impressive 32.5% breakaway run percentage in Mike McDaniel's offense, but that didn't translate to top-tier consistency. He only had two 100-rushing-yard games (121 against the Patriots in Week 2, 115 against the Panthers in Week 16), averaged 13.1 carries per broken tackle, and benefited from 547 of his yards coming before contact.

On top of that, Mostert scored four touchdowns and totaled 142 scrimmage yards in Miami's Week 3 drubbing of the Denver Broncos, when the Dolphins scored 70 points. Taking just that one game away leaves Mostert with a good season, but one that's markedly less impressive.

Three other changes are also likely to limit the Purdue product next season: De'Von Achane is back in the fold, guard Robert Hunt departed in free agency, and center Connor Williams remains unsigned. Achane was only available for 11 games and played just six snaps in Week 2 and three in Week 11, but he averaged a ludicrous 7.8 yards per carry and still finished his rookie season with 997 yards and 11 touchdowns from scrimmage.

Hunt and Williams' departures, meanwhile, will hurt Mostert where he was most effective. The 32-year-old runner racked up 206 yards rushing behind Hunt and Williams' A-gap, his most productive rushing direction, according to PFF.

It's difficult to imagine the veteran back approaching his 2023 numbers again when factoring in his age, week-to-week inconsistency, and the impacts of both Achane and Hunt on his production. However, Mostert's elite speed will still likely allow him to post several highlight-reel runs.

Verdict: FAKEOUT

2023 stats: 80 catches, 1,297 yards, 8 TDs

C.J. Stroud stole the headlines for the Houston Texans in 2023 with an outstanding rookie campaign, but Collins deserves just as many plaudits for his performances last season.

The receiver looked solid if unspectacular during his first two years, producing 70 catches for 927 yards and three touchdowns in 28 appearances. However, in one of the most stark statistical leaps by any player on these lists, Collins almost tripled his previous-best output while missing two games.

Going from Davis Mills - who ranked 26th and 29th in QBR in his two seasons - to a top-10 passer in Stroud was a major factor in Collins' sudden success. But the 25-year-old seems more like an elite playmaker previously held back by his supporting cast rather than a product of Stroud's talent.

Collins showcased an impressive ability to be both explosive and efficient. He ranked seventh in yards per catch (16.2) while also posting a success rate of 61.5% and a catch rate of 73.4%. Of the top 25 players in yards per catch, only three others - Brandon Aiyuk, George Kittle, and Khalil Shakir - exceeded 60% in success rate and 70% in catch rate. He also led all receivers in yards after contact (255) and broken tackles (16) while dropping just two passes all season.

Moreover, just four wideouts with 50-plus targets had a better catch rate than Collins, but none were close to his yards-per-catch mark. Here are the top 10 in catch rate:

There is an argument that Collins' success is unsustainable. Firstly, his week-to-week production was wildly inconsistent, as the receiver had 700 of his 1,297 yards in just four games and made five appearances with fewer than 40 yards. Secondly, Houston's acquisition of target-hoarder Stefon Diggs could dampen Collins' impact and hold back his development.

But Collins is five years younger than Diggs - who experienced a severe decline over the second half of his final season with the Buffalo Bills - and has more established chemistry with Stroud. We'd bet on Collins keeping his No. 1 role with the Texans, especially beyond 2024.


2023 stats: 71 catches, 761 yards, 5 TDs

After waiting in the shadow of Dalton Schultz in 2022, Ferguson was given the chance to take matters into his own hands in 2023 and nailed his audition. The former fourth-round pick ended the season as Dak Prescott's No. 2 target, hauling in 71 receptions for 761 yards and trailing only CeeDee Lamb in both categories.

While Ferguson was rightfully rewarded with a Pro Bowl invite for his play, there are some concerning aspects of his performance. For starters, Ferguson just wasn't very efficient. Out of 14 tight ends that received at least 80 targets last season, the Cowboys pass-catcher ranked 10th in yards per route run with 1.46, per PFF.

While some tight ends make their money as mismatches in man coverage or as security blankets in zone coverage, Ferguson's production in both was noteworthy, but he failed to stand out with a true trump card.

Out of all tight ends with at least 10 targets, Ferguson placed ninth in yards per reception in man coverage, per PFF. However, he was 26th of 28 qualifiers in average depth of target. His yards per route run was good enough for eighth, which was boosted due to his 161 yards after the catch, second most among tight ends. His four drops when facing man coverage were also the worst among tight ends.

Against zone, the Cowboys tight end ranked 16th in yards per reception and 17th in yards per route run.

The 25-year-old enjoyed a productive season. There's no taking that away from him. He may even go on to post identical seasons in the future thanks to his rapport with Prescott. But when examining whether he will make the leap into the upper echelon of tight ends, the numbers suggest it's unlikely.

Verdict: FAKEOUT

2023 stats: 81 catches, 825 yards, 3 TDs

McBride was one of the few bright spots for the Cardinals' offense in 2023. His 825 yards ranked seventh among all tight ends and led Arizona's receivers by a wide margin, with Hollywood Brown's 574 ranking second on the team.

The 24-year-old showcased strong and reliable hands, dropping just three passes all year. His 2.8% drop rate was first among all tight ends with 100 or more targets and sixth at the position among tight ends with 50 or more targets. The 6-foot-4, 246-pounder was effective in traffic, too, with a 73.3% contested catch rate, per PFF.

McBride's strong hands are complemented by an impressive ability to generate yardage on his own. His 439 yards after the catch ranked fifth at his position and his 8.1 receptions per broken tackle trailed only Dalton Schultz and Gerald Everett.

McBride was effective all over the field, too. He took 51.9% of his snaps from the slot, 40.2% as an inline tight end, and 6.4% lined out wide, per PFF. That versatility, combined with his effectiveness at every depth of the field, makes him a potent weapon.

While Marvin Harrison Jr.'s arrival will likely eat into McBride's target share, he'll also benefit from defenses prioritizing the rookie wideout and should feast as the Cardinals' 1B in the passing game.


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