Every year, you get a handful of players who deliver on their promise and turn previously decent careers into great seasons. This is a list of several guys that I believe will drastically improve from their 2017 seasons and break out in the NFL this year.
Only one is a Falcons player, because the Falcons don’t have a ton of obvious breakout candidates outside of their rookies. I think you’ll agree with my choice, though.
Robert Nkemdiche, DT, Arizona Cardinals
This a guy who has worked with pass-rush magician Chuck Smith and shows some sparks of greatness. I am fully aware that his 2017 production wasn’t great, but believe me when I say this: Nkemdiche will produce double digit sacks this year. I can feel his potential and I can’t wait to come back to this in a year when he’s cashed in a great year for an otherwise mediocre Cardinals team.
Jerick McKinnon, RB, San Francisco 49ers
Kyle Shanahan has a history of improving his running backs immensely. McKinnon works extremely well with Shanahan’s “21” set and is set to earn a number of snaps in San Francisco. McKinnon is known to be efficient in both the run and the pass game and although he was partnering with Latavius Murray and Dalvin Cook in Minnesota, he still produced. Believe it or not, this guy, to me, reminds me of Devonta Freeman…and Tevin Coleman. Funny how he ended up with Kyle Shanahan, former Falcons offensive coordinator, and a man who knows exactly how to use his talents.
Carl Lawson, ROLB, Cincinnati Bengals
I love Lawson, and to me, he is becoming one of the best pass rushers in the game. I love studying the art of pass rush, and this kid is special. His pass rushing productivity was better, on a per snap basis, than guys like Calais Campbell and Von Miller. Bengals defensive line coach Jacob Burney has experience leading guys like Geno Atkins and Carlos Dunlap to Pro Bowl seasons. Carl Lawson, in my opinion, could prove to be a carbon copy of Houston Texans linebacker Whitney Mercilus who is a tremendous pass rusher in his own right.
Mitch Trubisky, QB, Chicago Bears
As Chicago added several receiving threats and a new head coach in Matt Nagy over the off season, Trubisky is set to have a breakout season. According reports from reporters plugged in to the Bears beat, Trubisky is clicking with his new offense. With the new weapons and new additions to the offensive line, including rookie James Daniels, Trubisky should have the pieces he needs to succeed.
Myles Jack, LB, Jacksonville Jaguars
Throughout the season, Jack was being tested at different positions but then officially became the MIKE backer for Jacksonville. In the postseason, Jack showed sparks of being elite and gave us a preview of what’s to come. His ability to defend against both the run game and the pass game will be paramount for the 2018 season. Jack is only 22 years old and figures to have elit seasons ahead of him.
Jimmy Garoppolo, QB, San Francisco 49ers
I mentioned this in my awards article a couple posts back, and I still believe this is the year he proves he was worth the trade for San Francisco. I have no doubt Shanahan and Rich Scangarello, who both worked for the Falcons previously, will fully transform Jimmy into the elite quarterback they traded for.
Derek Barnett, DE, Philadelphia Eagles
Now that Vinny Curry is no longer on the team, this opens up an opportunity for Barnett to shine. The 14th pick in 2017 draft will have plenty of one-on-one opportunities in passing downs, as he should have less attention than veteran Brandon Graham. Barnett could very well have a double digit sack total this year if everything breaks right, especially with his offensive line.
Grady Jarrett, DT, Atlanta Falcons
Our own Grady Jarrett here is a no brainer. This kid is 25 and hasn’t come close to his prime, yet still produces. In DQ’s scheme, he wants Grady to be an athletic, dominant run-stuffer, in which he is. Grady was 9th in 2017 run stuff totals, behind guys like Chandler Jones, CJ Mosley, Bobby Wagner and Jadeveon Clowney. Grady’s 87.1 ranking on Pro Football Focus is something that is wrongly rarely mentioned, but he’s a talent with growing recognition. If he becomes a more consistent pass rusher, as he might in 2018, he’ll be dominant.
Marqise Lee, WR, Jacksonville Jaguars
Now that Lee is the first stringer for the Jags, and is finally not shadowing both Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns, I expect Lee’s stats to skyrocket, or at least from what they have been the last two years, even if the Jaguar depth chart is a bit more crowded than it once was.
Derrick Henry, RB, Tennessee Titans
I am extremely confident in this pick because Henry, statistically, is one of the most elusive running backs in the league despite his size.
Now that Demarco Murray is no longer a Titan, Henry will receive more reps and will produce at a high level. Henry’s elusiveness rating at 4.09 was 0.43 points higher than the league minimum. To put this into context, realize that Todd Gurley, Ezekiel Elliot, Kareem Hunt, Jordan Howard, Jay Ajayi and Mark Ingram, just to name a few, were in that range with Henry. I like his chances of breaking out in a major way for an improved Tennessee offense.
I may be wrong, but I am confident in these players having great seasons in 2018. They’ve all got the talent and the opportunities to make this a great year.
What do you guys think about these possible breakout players?