2nd-Year Players with Most to Gain in NFL Offseason Workouts
We all know who the first-year studs were in the 2013 NFL draft class. Guys like Ziggy Ansah, Sheldon Richardson and DeAndre Hopkins are all players who lived up to the billing.
But with OTAs kicking off, there are a lot of second-year players who could be poised for a breakout.
Here are 10 players who could be in a position to make some noise—be they guys who can leap up roster spots, guys who can secure a starting job or even guys who can fend off a contender for his job.
There's a lot of time to go before we see the final rosters, but if these players can perform now, they could be in a position to put some great production together later.
Geno Smith, New York Jets
Right now the assumption is that Geno Smith winning the New York Jets starting quarterback job is fait accompli—it’s going to happen, and everyone had best get on board.
So why is he on a list of second-year players who could gain the most in workouts?
Simply because of the presence of Michael Vick.
While the Jets want Smith to succeed, they also want to win now. They will do everything they can to achieve both aims, but the latter is more vital than the former.
If Smith does not have good workouts, a good camp, a good preseason, then Vick will get the job.
So what does he have to gain? A solid hold on the starting position, maybe even for the long-term.
Mike Glennon, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Mike Glennon is in a similar position to Geno Smith, but in his case the team doesn’t seem to have his back.
Sure, the Buccaneers have been doing spin control with general manager Jason Licht lauding Glennon’s ability to fill the three specific traits of a franchise quarterback, per Roy Cummings of The Tampa Tribune, and new head coach Lovie Smith calling Glennon “the quarterback of the future” to TampaBay.com writer Greg Auman.
Of course, we don’t know what those offers were or if they were serious offers. The truth is, the team named Josh McCown its starting quarterback back in March, as reported by Auman again, and it can backpedal as much as it wants, but as ESPN’s Chris Mortenson reported on NFL Live a week ago (per FantasySP.com and Rotoworld), McCown is still the favorite by a wide margin.
But there are questions about McCown, who before he met Marc Trestman had a resume which was wholly unimpressive. Can he replicate his 2013 season outside of Trestman’s very quarterback-friendly system?
Meanwhile, Rotoworld’s Evan Silva points out that Glennon had a 59.8 percent completion rate and an 18-7 touchdown-to-interception ratio. Considering the turmoil which was the Buccaneers' last season, that’s pretty impressive.
As NFL.com’s Gregg Rosenthal said in response to Silva: “overall [he] didn’t play like a rookie.”
It’s really hard to buy into what the Tampa Bay coaching staff is selling about an open competition.
However, if it truly is, Glennon can win this battle.
Even if he doesn’t, he could make himself very valuable for other teams looking for a long-term answer at quarterback.
Sharrif Floyd, Minnesota Vikings
A first-round pick in 2013, Sharrif Floyd wasn’t on the field a ton, playing just 472 snaps according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), though he logged 2.5 sacks while rotating in and out of the defense behind Kevin Williams.
Williams currently remains a free agent, and without him to compete with, Floyd should lock down the starting defensive tackle spot next to nose tackle Linval Joseph. His competition is Tom Johnson—another rotational player and former Saint—and Kheeston Randall, a former 2012 pick for the Miami Dolphins who played with Cincinnati briefly last fall.
One thing head coach Mike Zimmer was good at in Cincinnati was maximizing his players. He didn’t always have the best guys with the Bengals, but he always found a way to field a solid defense.
Floyd has the opportunity to take Williams' space and play a lot more snaps. Williams played 733 according to PFF, third most on the defensive line. However, in order to do this, he needs to show improvement and consistency.
Otherwise, Zimmer won’t hesitate to rotate Floyd on and off the field.
Datone Jones, Green Bay Packers
The Green Bay Packers have needed an edge pass-rusher not named Clay Matthews for a long time now, and they drafted former UCLA defensive end Datone Jones for just that.
Jones played in 16 games last season but didn’t start one (per NFL.com). He totaled just seven tackles, though he did notch 3.5 sacks.
Some of that was a high ankle sprain which hampered him, but some of it was just an inability to transition to an NFL level of play.
The Packers expect a lot more from Jones this year.
“At the end of the day, Datone Jones needs to be on the field and playing,” head coach Mike McCarthy told the media back in February (per Vic Ketchman of Packers.com).
McCarthy also told ESPN Wisconsin’s Jason Wilde that he believes Jones “will be one of those second-year players who takes a huge jump."
Jones needs to become an every-down player. There’s room in the defense for him to prosper, and he can solidify a starting job starting in workouts.
Cordarrelle Patterson, Minnesota Vikings
It took a very long time for the Minnesota Vikings to get rookie wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson involved in the offense.
Of course, it’s a new playbook, and Turner’s offense is far more complicated and nuanced than the one Bill Musgrave ran last year.
Patterson has the opportunity to really grab that No. 2 position in workouts and completely bury Jarius Wright and Jerome Simpson on the depth chart.
It’s possible that with a good enough camp Patterson could even end up with more targets than Greg Jennings.
To do that though, he’s going to have to show improved route running, consistent hands and find a way to catch some passes past 10 yards off the line of scrimmage—where almost two-thirds of his catches came according to Pro Football Focus via the Star Tribune’s Matt Vensel.
Still, Patterson seems poised for a big leap, and that could include not only a massive increase in targets, but a more featured role. It all starts with continued good workouts.
Johnathan Franklin, Green Bay Packers
Even before he was placed on injured reserve with neck and concussion injuries, as relayed at the time by Wes Hodkiewicz of PackersNews.com, Franklin was struggling. Two fumbles in the first four games of the year meant Franklin was going to watch a lot of football on the sidelines, and when fellow rookie Eddie Lacy’s production exploded, that was pretty much it for Franklin.
According to the most current depth chart at Ourlads, Franklin is the No. 4 back behind not just Lacy, but James Starks and DuJuan Harris.
The Packers still have hope for the former fourth-round pick, who GM Ted Thompson said “didn’t have a disappointing season,” per the Journal-Sentinel’s Bob McGinn.
Last season, Franklin was unable to leap over James Starks for a backup role, but this year he has the chance to leapfrog both Starks and Harris. He has to show a lot in workouts now to make that happen though.
Justin Hunter, Tennessee Titans
With Kenny Britt now off the team, there is room for some new talent to emerge. The front-runners for targets are Kendall Wright and Nate Washington, but there is room for a 6’4”, 208-pound guy when the other two receivers are 5’7” (Kendall Hunter) and 6’1” (Washington).
Hunter could be a very useful red-zone target after only having been targeted there four times, per Footballguys.com, in 2013.
Among some things he has to work on include an issue with drops (a problem in college), field awareness (several times he ran short on a route when he needed a first down) and overall effort, which was found wanting at times in 2013.
If he can show he has improved in those areas, there is no reason he couldn’t become a very important part of the Titans offense.
Giovani Bernard, Cincinnati Bengals
I was a big fan of Giovani Bernard before last season started and really thought that by midseason he would be the main back. That didn’t happen, as despite being less effective, BenJarvus Green-Ellis carried the ball 50 more times than Bernard did.
It certainly seems as if he’s already got Green-Ellis beat, but there is another back in town who Bernard will want to outperform in workouts: rookie Jeremy Hill.
Hill, a second-round draft pick from this year's draft, is currently ranked as the No. 2 back on the roster per Ourlads. More than likely, he’ll start out as a short-yardage back, but if Hill looks good enough in workouts, he could push Bernard.
After all, Hue Jackson is the new offensive coordinator, and he has no loyalty to the last coach’s guys.
Bernard then is not just finishing Green-Ellis off once and for all but potentially holding off a rookie contender for the title of top running back for the Bengals.
Robert Woods, Buffalo Bills
With first-round pick Sammy Watkins locked into one receiver spot, Robert Woods should have the inside track to the second.
However, even though Stevie Johnson has been moved to San Francisco, per ESPN’s Adam Schefter, Woods will still need a strong camp to lock the position down.
While he outplayed fellow second-year receiver Marquise Goodwin in 2013, Goodwin is a deep threat receiver who could overtake Woods if the latter is inconsistent or struggles in workouts and training camp.
On top of that, the team acquired Mike Williams from Tampa Bay, as reported by ESPN’s Jeff Walker. Now, Williams is coming off a poor 2013 and a terrible offseason, but not long ago he was a very promising receiver. If he were to recapture his form, Williams could overtake Woods for the No. 2 spot.
Woods has to build on a promising 2013, and that starts in OTAs.
Arthur Brown, Baltimore Ravens
Now that the Baltimore Ravens have drafted C.J. Mosley, the team is looking to relegate second-year player Arthur Brown to nickel linebacker.
It’s a role he filled last year, but back in January, the team thought he could be its chief middle linebacker, per Jeff Zrebiec of The Baltimore Sun, and as recently as late April, he was considered a three-down linebacker, per The Baltimore Sun's Aaron Wilson.
Mosley, given his high draft slot, is going to get every chance to win one of the inside linebacker jobs. Daryl Smith, having just signed a four-year deal, per ESPN’s Adam Schefter, is a good bet for the other inside linebacker spot.
But again, the Ravens clearly feel as though Brown could be a three-down linebacker. If he were to come in and crush the OTAs and carry that momentum into camp, he could steal a larger share of the snaps.
It’s not insane to think he could position himself to steal either Mosley or Smith’s spot.
It will take a huge effort though, and he has to hit the ground running in workouts.