By Shaun Blundell (@Shaun_F10Y)
Every year a bunch of shiny new faces are selected by NFL teams to improve the fortunes of the franchise and replace aging veterans. Some have instant pay off (hello Baker Mayfield) whilst others take some time to come to fruition. Below I take a look at a number of players entering their 2nd season who are poised to make a significant leap from their performance levels of 12 months ago.
Sam Darnold, QB, New York Jets
Comp % – 57.7%, Yds – 2865, TD – 17, INT – 15, QBR – 77.6
There is no doubt Saquon Barkley is a huge talent but make no mistake about it the New York Jets had a huge present fall right into their laps last April when the New York Giants passed on Sam Darnold. As a rookie, the No. 3 overall pick last year had plenty of ups and downs but flashed the kind of potential which had many draft analysts calling him the best prospect in last years draft. The Jets have done a nice job inn adding protection up front on the offensive line, and add into the equation running back Le’Veon Bell then all of a sudden this whole offence has potential. If Darnold and new offensive minded head coach Adam Gase mesh well, the Jets could surprise quite a few teams this year.
Christian Kirk, WR, Arizona Cardinals
Targets – 68, Receptions – 43 (63.2%), Yards – 590, TD – 3
Arizona drafted Kirk in the second round out of Texas A&M last year, and he is primed to replace future hall of famer Larry Fitzgerald as Arizona’s no. 1 option in 2019. There is a tremendous buzz about what Kliff Kingsbury is going to bring to the Cardinals, certainly from an offensive perspective and Kirk could be set to be the main beneficiary. Proof will be in the pudding of course but with rumoured desires to be running 90 plus offensive plays per game and many in 5 wide receiver sets then opportunity should be plenty for Kirk. He is familiar with Kingsbury’s Air Raid system from his college days at Texas A&M, which also improves the confidence rating behind this selection.
James Washington, WR, Pittsburgh Steelers
Targets – 38, Receptions – 16 (42.1%), Yards – 217, TD – 1
Somebody has to take the targets that usually went the way of Antonio Brown, and although JuJu Smith-Schuster will put up big numbers, look out for Washington to make a nice leap in year 2. A second-round pick in 2018, Washington was expected to put up better numbers in his rookie year. Slated to be the starter opposite the aforementioned JuJu he will certainly get the opportunity especially considering that Big Ben throws as often as any quarterback in the league. He’l have Donte Moncrief to beat out in camp and throughout the preseason, but considering 2 other teams have already given up on him, that shouldn’t too hard to do.
Kerryon Johnson, RB, Detroit Lions
Rush: Attempts – 118, Yards – 641 (5.4ypc), TD – 3
Rec: Targets – 39, Receptions – 32 (82.1%), Yards – 213, TD – 1
The Detroit Lions running back was putting together a nice rookie season with over 850 all purpose yards before a knee injury cost him the last 6 games of the season. Not only does Johnson have obvious ability himself, when you add in the fact that the Lions released Theo Riddick, it’s fair to assume that Johnson could see his role expand to a 3 down back giving him even more opportunities to shine. He has the opportunity to become the focal point of the Lions offence assuming he can steer clear of injury this campaign. For those that are worried about CJ Anderson pulling off a LeGarrette Blount, with the amount the Lions want to run this year, Kerryon will still be knocking on the door of RB1 territory.
Tremaine Edmunds, LB, Buffalo Bills
INT – 2, Sacks – 2, Forced Fumbles – 2, Tackles – 121 (Solo 80, Assist 41)
Expectations were big for Tremaine Edmunds as a 20-year-old rookie drafted on the first round 16th overall by the Bills. Its fair to say he initially did not reach those expectations and got off to a slow start to the campaign. However, by the end of the season, the unbelievably athletic linebacker turned into the key cog in the Bills defence. He was named NFL defensive rookie of the month for December and If the former Virginia Tech star can keep improving, the Bills defense will be even better this season.
Justin Reid, DB, Houston Texans
INT – 3 (1 TD), Sacks – 0, Forced Fumbles – 1, Tackles – 88 (Solo 70, Assist 18)
Nobody questions the talent of the Houston Texans front 7, all the questions are aimed at the back end of the defence. The Texans may have found a gem in the third round of the 2018 draft when they selected Justin Reid from Stanford. He quietly put together a nice rookie campaign with 88 tackles, 10 pass break ups and 3 interceptions from 12 starts. With the honey badger being signed by Kansas City look for the Texans to maximise Reid’s versatility and for him to transcend into a real playmaker on the back end during his second full season.
Jaire Alexander, DB, Green Bay Packers
INT – 1, Sacks – 0.5, Forced Fumbles – 0, Tackles – 66 (Solo 61, Assist 5)
This is a classic example of a player benefitting from the addition of greater talent around him. Jaire Alexander began his NFL career with a strong rookie campaign. In 11 starts last season he made a significant impact for the Packers tallying 66 tackles, 1 interception, 11 passes defended, and 0.5 sacks. Green Bay added significant talent to its defence this offseason with 3 starters added via free agency and 2 first round selections booth on that side of the ball. That will benefit Alexander and the team’s secondary as a whole. The Packers finally seem to have realised that the defence needs to help out Aaron Rodgers and Alexander could well be the leading light on that side of the football.