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Five breakout candidates for 2016

DE Kony Ealy
2015 stats: 31 tackles, 5 sacks, 28 QB pressures

Why he's poised to break out: Ealy's regular season stat line indicated progress, but it was his Super Bowl performance that has everyone excited about his future. With three sacks and an interception against the Broncos, the former second-round pick showed how good he can be on the sport's biggest stage. Entering his third season as a starter for the first time, Ealy appears fully capable of flourishing in the expanded role.

WR Devin Funchess
2015 stats: 31 catches, 473 receiving yards and 5 TDs

Why he's poised to break out: In the second half of his rookie reason, things started to click for Funchess. He recorded all five of his touchdowns in the last nine games, emerging as a legitimate red zone threat. Funchess was full of confidence during OTAs and minicamp, prompting head coach Ron Rivera to say he's "light years ahead" of where he was as a rookie. Competition for targets will be stiff with tight end Greg Olsen and wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin on the field, but Funchess can be another big-time threat.

LB Shaq Thompson
2015 stats: 61 tackles, 1 sack, 4 passes defensed

Why he's poised to break out: Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis may be the NFL's best linebacker duo, but Thompson's talent shouldn't be ignored. As a rookie, the first-round pick delivered some of the hardest hits we witnessed all year. He was also a difference-maker in coverage, as we saw against Arizona wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald in the NFC Championship. Look for more impact plays from Thompson in Year Two.

RB Cameron Artis-Payne
2015 stats: 45 rushes for 183 yards and 1 TD, 5 catches for 58 yards

Why he's poised to break out: With Pro Bowler Jonathan Stewart as the feature back, no one anticipates huge numbers from Artis-Payne in 2016. But he looks like a player who could lighten the load Stewart carries. With a year under his belt, the former fifth-round pick should be more comfortable in the offense and better suited to contribute.

S Tre Boston
2015 stats: 19 tackles, 1 pass defensed

Why he's poised to break out: For the past two years, Boston has waited patiently for opportunities behind veteran Roman Harper. Now Harper is back in New Orleans, and Boston is ready to take over as the starter. The former fourth-round pick has been a playmaker when he gets on the field, recording interceptions in each of the previous two postseasons. If he stays assignment-sound, Boston should have plenty of opportunities to shine behind Carolina's disruptive front seven.

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