The real NFL games are upon us. After months and months of anticipation, the 2023 season kicks off Thursday night, giving all 32 teams a chance to rewrite -- or build upon -- their stories in the hunt for a Lombardi Trophy.
We already know many of the big names who figure to be instrumental to this season, from Patrick Mahomes to Josh Allen to AFC newcomer Aaron Rodgers. But what about the breakout candidates lurking in the shadows?
Here are 10 of our favorite bets to make a big leap in 2023:
10. Broncos WR Jerry Jeudy
Injuries and inconsistencies have prevented the former No. 15 overall pick from emerging as an elite weapon through three seasons, but we've probably lost sight, from a national perspective, of how talented this Alabama route technician still is. Just 24 and widely written off as a potential trade chip in 2022, consider he's also spent the last three years catching passes from some combo of Drew Lock, Teddy Bridgewater, Brett Rypien and a yucky version of Russell Wilson. With Sean Payton in tow, hopefully reverting Wilson at least partially to Seattle form, Jeudy's got the tools to finally be a justified go-to.
9. Seahawks OT Charles Cross
Raise your hand if you remember the Mississippi State product went No. 9 overall in 2022. Cross is coming off a relatively quiet debut as Seattle's full-time left tackle, which is mostly a testament to his transition from college ball. Despite some noted early struggles with penalties and run-blocking, all indications are he progressed as 2022 went on, ending the year as a reliable blind-side bodyguard for breakout QB Geno Smith. Supplemented by even more weapons this year, he's a candidate to become the next Andrew Thomas -- a young, mostly overlooked first-round tackle who suddenly becomes one of the game's best.
8. Jaguars OLB Travon Walker
The polarizing No. 1 pick of the 2022 draft, Walker was always going to have an unpolished debut, the way he exited Georgia as more of a project than proven prospect. But he flashed late as Jacksonville made its playoff push, logging three QB hits, a tackle for loss and a pass deflection in two postseason matchups. This summer, Jaguars coaches suggested he finally "learned how to pass rush," which doesn't bode well for AFC South rivals. On a young, ascending team, Walker's got a chance to be a real disruptor.
7. Bears RB Khalil Herbert
Previously restricted to change-of-pace duties behind David Montgomery, the third-year Virginia Tech product has been begging -- with his play -- for an expanded role since entering the NFL. The Bears added big man D'Onta Foreman on a cheap deal to help offset Montgomery's exit, but Herbert offers the most juice in their backfield for the third straight year. Alongside electric QB Justin Fields, his opportunities to gash defenses should only increase a year after he averaged almost 6 yards per carry.
6. Steelers WR George Pickens
If you can take anything to the bank when it comes to NFL matters, it's that Pittsburgh will produce the next big thing at receiver. Pickens is an acrobatic freak whose sideline grabs have as much spunk as his personality, and while his QB figures to spread the ball around -- Diontae Johnson, Pat Freiermuth and even Allen Robinson should command key targets -- there isn't anyone with his game-shifting upside on the Steelers offense. No one will be shocked if he ends his second year as the alpha of his position group.
5. Commanders WR Jahan Dotson
Terry McLaurin is the downfield leader of Washington's WR corps, but there might not be a bigger developing bond between QB and pass catcher than that of Dotson with new Commanders starter Sam Howell. The second-year Penn State product was as Washington's new QB1 by early summer, and the two can't stop connecting whenever they take a practice or preseason field together. After an explosive 12-game flash as a rookie, Dotson could quickly become the go-to outlet in D.C.
4. Chiefs WR Skyy Moore
The Patrick Mahomes-Andy Reid pairing is the driving force in Kansas City, making almost every non-Travis Kelce pass catcher an interchangeable candidate to break out. (Kadarius Toney has the best traits, provided he can stay healthy. And Richie James is another sleeper, coming off an underrated Giants stretch.) Moore has the slipperiness to do it all for Reid, however, whether it be Wildcat carries or deep shots. After a year in the system, he's a logical candidate to fill most of JuJu Smith-Schuster's volume.
3. Bills RB James Cook
His brother, Dalvin, got more headlines this offseason, bouncing from the Vikings to the all-star Jets. But the younger Cook is perhaps even better positioned to succeed, working next to the supersized Josh Allen after a very efficient rookie year (5.7 yards per carry). With Devin Singletary gone, he's slated for a full-time gig, albeit with Damien Harris and Latavius Murray in tow to shoulder the grunt work that might otherwise wear him down. On a Bills offense that's always shooting for the stars, don't be surprised if he's a multipurpose machine come playoff time.
2. Steelers QB Kenny Pickett
At this point, Pickett's breakout is almost an expectation rather than a prediction. But there's reason for it: despite ugly numbers playing spoiler for an old-school Steelers team as a rookie, the hometown kid grew in gusto and crunch-time precision as 2022 wore on. Now he's got an improved and underrated setup to help, with outlets both explosive (Jaylen Warren, George Pickens) and physical (Najee Harris, Pat Freiermuth), not to mention an ever-feisty defense. His stat line may still end up solid more than spectacular, but he's got the makings of a scrappy winner -- totally fitting for the position in Steel City.
1. Packers QB Jordan Love
Even for a guy replacing a future Hall of Famer, following almost exactly the blueprint of Aaron Rodgers' step-in for Brett Favre, it sure feels like Love is something of an afterthought at a position chock-full of young stars. Or maybe it's just that he's an unknown, which is true. But the former first-rounder has one incredibly important -- and unteachable -- weapon at his disposal: a laser arm. Couple it with the veteran touch he showcased on preseason passes, the three years of learning behind Rodgers, the seamless transition into emergency QB1 duties last season, and all the ingredients are there for a surprisingly strong debut as a full-timer. Hiccups are inevitable, and his supporting cast is young, but let's not forget coach Matt LaFleur has the backs and the wherewithal to power a ground game. Throw in an explosive Christian Watson, and it shouldn't be shocking if Love guides an NFC North push.