Five breakout stars in 2014

The NFL season is almost complete, with only Week 17 standing in the way of either the postseason or offseason, depending what decal you wear on your helmet.

It has been a year full of terrific rookies and out-of-nowhere performances. Things like that always add to the fun of season, even when your team is particularly terrible. At least you have that one player which makes you nudge to the edge of the seat and enjoy even a few plays each weekend.

Let’s look at the top five breakout players of 2014:

5. T.Y. Hilton

Hilton was already known as a solid receiver for the Indianapolis Colts, but this year he took hold of the nation’s attention. Hilton ranks fifth in receiving yardage with 1,345 despite missing the Week 16 contest against the Dallas Cowboys. Hilton was the No. 2 receiver on Indianapolis behind Reggie Wayne until this year. With Wayne’s career coming to a close, Hilton is now the go-to star for Andrew Luck.

4. Aaron Donald

Another Aaron on defense in the NFC West. Donald, the 13th overall pick of the 2014 draft, has become a force on the St. Louis Rams’ interior, notching 40 tackles and eight sacks, ranking fifth of all defensive tackles. Next to Robert Quinn and in front of James Laurinaitis, Donald helps to form one of the best defensive fronts in the NFL. Donald reminds many of a young Warren Sapp. He has the brute strength to bench-press a guard and get into the backfield, but enough shake to beat a lineman for a quick sack.

3. Le’veon Bell

Bell was a really nice player as a rookie for the Pittsburgh Steelers, but he took it up a notch in 2014. The running back out of Michigan State has become a star for Mike Tomlin’s team, racking up a league-leading 2,115 yards from scrimmage. Bell is second in the NFL with 1,341 rushing yards on 4.8 yards per carry while ranking behind only Antonio Brown on the Steelers with 77 catches and 774 yards. Along with Jamaal Charles, DeMarco Murray and LeSean McCoy, Bell is the most complete back in the game.

2. Khalil Mack

Mack isn’t getting a ton of national attention because he plays for the horrid Oakland Raiders. Still, a true football fan realizes Mack’s excellence. Mack has racked up four sacks, including three in the last trio of games. More impressively, Mack has amassed 73 tackles from the outside linebacker position and 13 tackles for loss, a team-high. When the Raiders add some playmakers around Mack, he’ll prove a steal at the fifth-overall pick.

1. Odell Beckham Jr.

Without question, the top spot goes to this New York Giants receiver. Beckham has been unbelievable, catching 79 passes for 1,120 yards and 11 touchdowns in 11 games. The former LSU star ranks 13th in receiving yards and first among rookies, showing Big Blue fans they have a star going forward. Beckham has gotten better by the week, notching six games of 100+ yards in his last eight, including each of the last three.

About Matt Verderame

Matt Verderame, 26, is a New Yorker who went to school at the frozen tundra of SUNY Oswego. After graduating, Verderame has worked for Gannett and SB Nation among other ventures.