Sometimes breaking can be good. Breaking that glass ceiling. Break dancing was all the rage in the 80’s. Break neck speeds can be exciting. But sometimes breaking can be bad. Breaking a condom. Breaking out with acne. Breaking your arm.
In this case though we’re talking about breaking out from their rookie seasons. Establishing themselves firmly into the NFL landscape. We’ve identified 25 second year NFL players who are looking to be super sophs. We’re not talking about the blue chippers, the Saquon Barkleys, the Quenton Nelsons, the Bradley Chubbs, or Sony Michels. Nope, no sir, you won’t find a single first round pick amongst them. But that’s why the NFL draft doesn’t stop after a single round.
So who are these guys whose names you maybe were just starting to learn last year, but by year’s end you may not be swooping their jerseys? Well, lets take a look:
- Jessie Bates III – Cincinnati Bengals The safety out of Wake Forrest made an impact in his rookie year as he intercepted 3 passes. Look for him to make the leap into the pro bowl conversation.
- Lorenzo Carter – New York Giants Much was made about the Giants various needs during the spring. Amongst them was a need to fortify their pass rush. He only produced 4 sacks as a rookie, but it would shock if his production in that area approached, or went into the double digits
- Nick Chubb – Cleveland Browns Like Carter, we have another Georgia Bulldog. In his rookie season he fended off Carlos Hyde. For an encore he’ll compete with Kareem Hunt once Hunt has served his suspension. The guess here is that while they’ll split carries to maintain freshness, it’ll be Chubb who is the lead back when it matters.
- Carlton Davis – Tampa Bay Buccaneers Brent Grimes is gone, Vernon Hargraves has been a disappointment as a former first round draft pick. As a result Davis was thrown into the fire. In his second year I expect him to be all the better for it and emerge in the Bucs’ secondary.
- Tre Flowers – Seattle Seahawks No, not that Trey Flowers. This one is the next in the distinguished line of corners that Pete Carroll has produced. (it makes the swings and misses Pete had with the Patriots all the more frustrating, Tebucky Jones anyone?) He may not be Richard Sherman, but he’ll make an impact in Seattle.
- Michael Gallup – Dallas Cowgirls With the return of Jason Witten, the signing of Randall Cobb, the trade for Amari Cooper, and the emergence of Michael Gallup it can’t be said that Jerry Jones hasn’t provided Dak Prescott with weapons to succeed. Its being said here that Gallup will emerge as a very component WR2 to compliment Cooper.
- Da’Shawn Hand – Detroit Lions Capable of sliding inside or setting the edge the former Alabama star has the skills and versatility to thrive in Matt Patricia’s system. The addition of Trey Flowers will only help the blossoming star. Expect Da’Shawn to have a hand in all the Lions victories for the next half decade.
- Will Hernandez – New York Giants The pitbull in giants clothing, this second year guard will emerge as a star in New York. Can’t expect Nate Solder to be any worse in his second year, and the addition of Kevin Zeitler will be a boon to the Giants’ O-Line, but it’ll be the improvement of Hernandez that will finally let the line not be the butt of many a jokes.
- Chris Herndon – New York Jets Expect Sam Darnold to continue to grow, and every young quarterback needs a solid tight end as his safety blanket. For Darnold that tight end is Chris Herndon. 500 yards and 4 touchdowns as a rookie is a nice start. Don’t be shocked to see a jump into the 800 and 7 range as a sophomore.
- Maurice Hurst – Oakland Raiders His draft stock plummeted due to a medical concern, the defensive tackle didn’t let that effect his play as a rookie. With the addition of Clelin Ferrell and Jonathan Hankins to the defensive line life if only going to get better for the son of former Patriots star for whom he is named after. As Mike Mayock looks to put a foundation in place for the impending move to Las Vegas, you can be sure Hurst is a major brick in that plan.
- Donte Jackson – Carolina Panthers In his second season you can expect Jackson to firmly cement himself as the best corner Carolina has seen since Josh Norman was patrolling the edges of the field. With 4 interceptions and 9 passes defensed in his initial campaign, Jackson acquitted himself well. Expect a leap this year to pro bowl levels.
- J.C. Jackson – New England Patriots Jackson went undrafted, and then as an undrafted rookie free agent made a major impact in a New England Patriots superbowl win. That story sound familiar Malcolm Butler fans? Let me let you in on a little secret, Jackson was better than Butler was as a rookie. The big physical corner worked his way into the corner rotation for New England, and by year’s end had cemented his status as a starter. In a deep and talented secondary, expect Jackson to emerge as a future star.
- Josh Jackson – Green Bay Packers The Packers used their first two picks in 2018 on corners. And while Jaire Alexander garnered the headlines last year, Jackson quietly had 10 passes defensed, though he failed to pick any off. If I had to select one player on this list poised to explode the most, it’d be Jackson. With an improved pass rush, I expect both Jackson and Alexander to have big years in a vastly improved Packers’ defense. Even though he had zero in 2018, I expect Jackson to compete for the league interception crown in 2019.
- Kerryon Johnson – Detroit Lions Having witnessed Johnson gash the Patriots defense live I came away impressed. Especially when it was the first Lions running back to post a 100 yard game in what felt like 40 years. Even though post season star CJ Anderson was brought it, expect Johnson to continue to emerge as a work horse back who should eclipse 1000 yards.
- Arden Key – Oakland Raiders One sack in his rookie year was not what the Raiders brass was looking for as they had an awful pass rush following the trade of Khalil Mack. With an overall improvement of the defensive line, and defense overall really, you can expect Key’s pass rush skills to be better displayed. I’m not expecting a jump into double digits, but if he racked up 8 sacks in his sophomore year, it wouldn’t be a surprise.
- Christian Kirk – Arizona Cardinals Already bullish on Kirk’s future even before the Cardinals off season moves, we’re now giddy about what 2019 could bring in Arizona’s new air raid offense. With Larry Fitzgerald getting ready to ride off into the sunset, Kirk should emerge as the new leader of the pack that will include small shifty Andy Isabella, and big tight end sized Hakeem Butler. Capable of playing in the slot or on the outside, Kirk’s skills and versatility will allow him the be used all over, and in doing so he should emerge this year as a star in this league.
- Harold Landry – Tennessee Titans The Boston College Eagle edge rusher fell into the second round of the draft last year, and managed to only eek out 4.5 sacks for the season. With a year under his belt, expect him to emerge to fill the void left by Brian Orakpo in the Titan’s pass rush. A double digit performance as a sophomore isn’t out of the question.
- Isaiah Oliver – Atlanta Falcons Move over Desmond Trufant, the Falcons 2018 second round pick is ready to emerge as the Falcons’ top corner back. The 6’1 corner only had the single interception as a rookie, he steadily improved his play and upgraded his confidence as the season wore on. With a full offseason to process what he had learned, expect Oliver to emerge in 2019.
- Dante Pettis – San Francisco 49ers With an expected return to health of Jimmy Garoppolo, an improved, deeper backfield, and more weapons added during the draft the San Fran offense should be more in line with what they expected when Kyle Shanahan was given the keys to the kingdom. At the forefront of that will be the emergence of Pettis. The young wide receiver should emerge as option #1 when Jimmy G drops back. A 1000 yard season wouldn’t shock any in the Bay area.
- Jaylen Samuels – Pittsburgh Steelers I was absolutely convinced that Samuels would emerge last year for Pittsburgh by year’s end, and I was right. I was just wrong in what role. I felt he would emerge as an H-Back/Tight End hybrid in the mold of Keith Byers, or Charles Clay. Instead he made his mark when John Connor was out with injury. This year I think he solidifies his spot in the Steelers backfield rotation as their 3rd down back.
- Tre’Quan Smith – New Orleans Saints Smith jumped to the forefront early as he was a star of training camp and pre-season matches. He sputtered a bit though when the games meant something, gaining a bit more than 400 yards for the season. While a thousand yard season may be a stretch, even in the Saints high powered offense, you should still look for him to emerge as a capable #2 to Michael Thomas. A status that should see him in the 800-900 yard range.
- Equanimeous St. Brown – Green Bay Packers Much talk was made about the Packers needing to add weapons for Aaron Rodgers this off season. Instead they went out an drastically improved the defense. What was lost in the conversation is how much draft capital the Packers had invested at the wide receiver position in 2018. They used a 4th, 5th, and 6th round pick on a wide receiver last year. And at the receiver position a guy breaking out as a rookie is the exception, not the rule. Of the rookies drafted last year, its expected here that St. Brown emerges as the sidekick to Davante Adams. He only had 328 yards as a rookie, and didn’t find the endzone. Expect a huge leap into the 800 yard range and 7-9 touchdowns.
- Courtland Sutton – Denver Broncos The receiver had an exceptional rookie campaign amassing just over 700 yards in the air. As Emmanuel Sanders gets older it should be expected that Sutton moves into the WR1 spot for Denver this year. And with that comes the expectation of a 1000 yard season, an expectation that should be easily met by Sutton.
- Jordan Thomas – Houston Texans The 6’6” behometh tight end only managed 20 receptions as a rookie, but 4 of them came in the end zone. While Will Fuller IV and DeAndre Hopkins will get the lions shares of the receptions, you can expect that once they’re in the red zone that Thomas is one of the first guys DeShaun Watson finds. I don’t expect huge receiving yard numbers, but if he managed to approach 10 touchdowns I wouldn’t faint from shock.
- Kenny Young – Baltimore Ravens The former 4th round pick out of UCLA showed flashes as a rookie, and while his skills may not be THE reason the Ravens let future hall of famer Terrell Suggs walk, it certainly made their decision a bit easier. He only had 2.5 sacks rushing the passer as a rookie. Expect him to be the focus of more than one offensive coordinator as he emerges as a disruptive force on the end.
- Written by Jason Sullivan
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