Predicting Every NFL Team's 2018 Breakout Player
A breakout season can come in a few forms for budding NFL stars. But the end result is always the same: a dramatic jump in production.
First there's the young player who showed brief flashes of his ability in 2017, and can now turn that into sustained success. Cleveland Browns tight end David Njoku fits that description, as does Detroit Lions wide receiver Kenny Golladay.
There's also the sophomore who was already wildly successful in his first year. So successful that you may have mistaken that season for his breakout. But no, someone like Pittsburgh Steelers outside linebacker T.J. Watt is capable of even more at just 23 years old.
Finally, the classic injury rebound applies to many on the list that follows, as many potential stars shined in 2017 before the brutal nature of football struck. The Colts' Malik Hooker leads that group, with the Redskins' Jonathan Allen a close second.
Let's take a trip around the league and highlight every team's potential breakout player in 2018, starting with the man who will step into Tyrann Mathieu's shoes in the desert.
Arizona Cardinals: Budda Baker, Safety
There will be more opportunities in 2018 for Budda Baker to fly around the field and leave his mark (literally) as a hard-hitting safety for the Arizona Cardinals.
Baker, a second-round pick in 2017, was eased in to begin his first season before starting the final seven games. During that time, he forced two fumbles, recorded two games with 12 tackles and notched six passes defensed (he finished with seven overall).
The peak of Baker's 2017 season came in Week 16, when he recorded five defensive stops against the New York Giants, per Pro Football Focus.
He played a limited role as a rookie and was on the field for only 48.4 percent of the Cardinals' defensive snaps. His usage was already set to increase after that late-season effectiveness, and it'll spike even more now that he's the replacement for Tyrann Mathieu.
Atlanta Falcons: Takkarist McKinley, Defensive End
Atlanta Falcons defensive end Takkarist McKinley made a lot of living rooms dusty during the 2017 draft with a speech about his grandmother, which he delivered while carrying an enlarged photo of her.
It took a little while for the first-round pick to start making the pocket an uncomfortable place for opposing quarterbacks, but any learning curve and adjustment at the next level was brief. Around midseason, the former UCLA stud started to shine.
McKinley finished the 2017 regular season with six sacks, and five came over the Falcons' final 10 games. He sizzled the most in November and early December with four sacks in five games. He also forced two fumbles, and added another two sacks during the playoffs.
McKinley did all that while playing a mere 38.2 percent of the Falcons' defensive snaps, and now with Adrian Clayborn likely gone as a free agent, his playing time should increase significantly.
Baltimore Ravens: Tyus Bowser, Outside Linebacker
Baltimore Ravens outside linebacker Tyus Bowser will have an opportunity to rise up and earn more playing time in 2018. And the path ahead of him is an easy one after he impressed as a rookie in a limited role.
Bowser, a second-round pick in 2017, excelled as an edge defender for the Houston Cougars against both the run and pass. He finished his final collegiate season with 8.5 sacks and also recorded a run-stop percentage of 8.5, which ranked fifth among edge defenders in the 2017 draft class, per PFF.
A crowded Ravens depth chart left Bowser with few opportunities as a rookie. However, he still finished 2017 with three sacks and an interception while playing only 161 snaps.
He faces tough competition after Matt Judon recorded eight sacks in 2017. But Bowser should still be able to earn himself more playing time through his speed off the edge and comfort in coverage, especially after another full offseason of development.
Buffalo Bills: Shaq Lawson, Defensive End
Shaq Lawson has gone through so much bad injury luck over just two NFL seasons, it's almost as if he must have walked under a ladder while carrying a black cat named Thirteen.
The Buffalo Bills defensive end has missed 11 games already, first sitting out when a shoulder injury limited him as a rookie, and then his 2017 season ended early due to an ankle problem. His momentum has been stalled just as things were getting good each year. He recorded two sacks over the Bill's first three games of 2017, then was inactive Week 4 with a groin issue.
He's notched six sacks over two seasons, a respectable total considering all the missed time. If Lawson can stay somewhat healthy, he will be a disruptive pass-rusher and prove that his 12.5 sacks and 24.5 tackles for a loss back in 2015 for Clemson can carry over into the NFL.
Carolina Panthers: Vernon Butler, Defensive Tackle
Vernon Butler hasn't done much yet for the Carolina Panthers, but he also hasn't had a chance.
Butler, the first-round defensive tackle selected in 2016, was sidetracked as a rookie for five games due to a high ankle sprain. Then he was behind Star Lotulelei on the Panthers' defensive tackle depth chart in 2017.
That should change quickly in 2018 with Lotulelei's departure creating a gaping hole up front for Butler to step into. Lotulelei leaves behind 586 snaps in 2017 that need to be replaced.
Butler will get his first extended opportunity to show that his three 40-plus tackle seasons at Louisiana Tech as a suffocating run stuffer can translate to NFL success.
Chicago Bears: Adam Shaheen, Tight End
Adam Shaheen was always going to need some time to grow and develop at the next level after the Chicago Bears made him a second-round pick out of Divsion II Ashland. And in 2018, their patience with the 6'5", 270-pound tight end could pay off quickly.
Shaheen was a large target at Ashland who galloped downfield, using his size and surprising speed to separate from coverage. His impressive athleticism and wide catch radius led to 867 receiving yards on 57 receptions with 16 touchdowns during his final collegiate season.
The steep jump up in competition meant Shaheen wasn't quite ready to be an immediate contributor as a rookie. However, he still showed off his effectiveness as a red-zone target with three touchdowns on only 12 catches.
Heading into 2018, he should climb the Bears' tight end depth chart with Zach Miller gone as a free agent. The Bears will have promising young players at core offensive positions, with Shaheen at tight end, Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen leading the backfield and Mitchell Trubisky at quarterback.
Ideally, they'll all grow together and eventually bring the Bears back to the playoffs for the first time since 2010.
Cincinnati Bengals: Jordan Willis, Defensive End
Jordan Willis is an explosive athlete who will get his chance to shine while setting the edge for the Cincinnati Bengals.
The defensive end had the second-best SPARQ score among edge defenders at the 2017 scouting combine behind only Myles Garrett, who was selected first overall by the Cleveland Browns. Willis had to wait until the third round to hear his name, mostly due to some concerns about his ability to contribute as a run defender early.
But his pass-rushing has never really been in question, even if he didn't get many opportunities as a rookie (one sack over 360 snaps). Willis finished his time at Kansas State with 11.5 sacks in 2016. Now his primary competition for playing time in Cincinnati is Michael Johnson, who's aging at 31 and ended 2017 with only five sacks.
Cleveland Browns: David Njoku, Tight End
The image of 220-pound David Njoku as a high school high-jump champion is really something. And it's real. He actually elevated that football body over a bar nearly seven feet off the ground.
His athleticism is beyond unique. In 2016, he was leaping over defenders for the Miami Hurricanes. That season, he caught 43 balls for 698 yards and scored eight times, which pushed him near the top of draft boards. Eventually, he was selected 29th overall by the Cleveland Browns.
It's tough for rookie tight ends to contribute early in the NFL, but Njoku navigated the learning curve while scoring four times and grabbing eight 20-plus-yard catches.
Njoku should take another bounding stride forward in 2018. He's a core member of a Browns offense suddenly looking more athletic following the addition of wide receiver Jarvis Landry.
Dallas Cowboys: Taco Charlton, Defensive End
Dallas Cowboys defensive end Taco Charlton was a disappointment initially in 2017. Then later, a light started to flicker, and toward the end of the season, there was hope that he could complete a formidable pass-rushing tandem with Demarcus Lawrence.
Charlton finished his rookie season with three sacks, two of which came over the Cowboys' final five games. Over that stretch, he also recorded seven of his 19 tackles. He did all that while being on the field for just 38.2 percent of the Cowboys' defensive snaps in a rotational role.
Charlton started to generate more pressure on his few opportunities and showed the pass-rushing strength that led to 10 sacks during his final year at Michigan. More snaps should be on the way for him in 2018, as long as he pushes Tyrone Crawford aside, who is entering his age-28 season after only four sacks in 2017.
Denver Broncos: Carlos Henderson, Wide Receiver
Carlos Henderson's rookie season was over before it started when the dynamic slot receiver tore a thumb ligament and landed on injured reserve. That robbed the Denver Broncos of an immediate infusion of offense. And it deprived us of being entertained by a slippery open-field weapon.
Henderson forced 48 missed tackles for Louisiana Tech in 2016, per PFF. That nearly doubled the next closest receiver.
He can generate chunk yardage on his own and turn short catches into long gains. That's what he did often on his way to 1,668 yards from scrimmage and 21 touchdowns in 2016.
The Broncos had a mediocre passing offense in 2017 that averaged only 208.3 yards per game (20th). Much of that was tied to poor quarterback play, but getting another playmaker to contribute and ease the burden on wide receivers Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders will certainly help.
Detroit Lions: Kenny Golladay, Wide Receiver
Receiver Kenny Golladay's rookie season for the Detroit Lions can be broken up into three parts.
First, the spash of two touchdowns in his preseason debut and two more in Week 1.
Then, his early momentum was derailed by a hamstring injury that cost him five games.
Finally, the third act of his first season, when he salvaged a quality year. He managed to finish with 477 receiving yards (a fine total over only 11 games) on 28 catches with three touchdowns.
Golladay has rare speed at his size (6'4", 218 pounds). He ran the 40-yard dash in 4.50 seconds at the 2017 combine. He's also a precise route-runner and can elevate with ease to win jump balls. He has all the tools to be a high-volume target in the near future.
Green Bay Packers: Kevin King, Cornerback
The Green Bay Packers traded Damarious Randall to the Cleveland Browns, and they're likely about to lose Davon House in free agency.
That means the two cornerbacks who played the most snaps on their defense in 2017 will be gone, leaving a hole to fill in the secondary. It's a problem the Packers were already prepared for after selecting Kevin King with the 33rd pick in 2017.
The presence of King made at least one of Randall and House expendable. King didn't play much as a rookie due to the packed depth chart ahead of him. He was on the field for only 36.1 percent of the Packers' defensive snaps before his season ended early because of a shoulder issue.
But his talent ceiling is high after he shined for the Washington Huskies in college, when he recorded six interceptions and 22 passes defensed. He also didn't allow a touchdown in 2016, per PFF.
Houston Texans: D'Onta Foreman, Running Back
The Houston Texans wanted a burner and a home-run swinger in their backfield as a complementary option next to Lamar Miller, so they used their third-round pick in the 2017 draft on D'Onta Foreman, the Texas Longhorns running back who is unfairly fast at his size (6'0" and 235 lbs, with a 4.45 40-yard dash).
Foreman finished second in the nation with 2,028 rushing yards during his final collegiate season. He did that while averaging 6.3 yards per carry and scoring 15 times.
NFL defenses discovered how painful it can be to try to contain Foreman whenhe posted 411 yards from scrimmage on just 84 touches as a rookie before tearing his Achilles in Week 11.
Foreman's standing on the depth chart heading into 2018 may have improved, even as he watched from the sideline. In his absence, Miller sputtered to a 3.7 yards-per-carry average. He's looking like a free-agency flop, while Foreman could emerge in 2018 as a Day 2 draft gem and the Texans' next starting running back, assuming his recovery from an Achilles tear goes well. General manager Brian Gaine addressed the injury during his Scouting Combine press conference and said he's optimistic Foreman will be ready for Week 1.
Indianapolis Colts: Malik Hooker, Safety
You can argue that Indianapolis Colts safety Malik Hooker already had his breakout during a 2017 season shortened to only seven games because of a torn ACL and MCL.
But what we saw briefly in 2017 will likely just be the appetizer. The main course over a full season could lead to an obvious conclusion: Hooker is the NFL's next great ball-hawking safety, with a rare blend of coverage instincts and smooth hands.
Those two skills resulted in his three interceptions in less than half a season as a rookie in 2017. He was already starting to be feared in coverage, as Hooker saw just eight balls thrown his way on 249 cover snaps, per PFF. That shutdown presence mirrors his standout play in college for Ohio State, when Hooker allowed just 0.58 yards per cover snap.
The Colts desperately need Hooker to return at full health after their secondary limped through the rest of the season.
Jacksonville Jaguars: Keelan Cole, Wide Receiver
There's an opportunity to ascend the Jacksonville Jaguars' wide receiver depth chart with Allen Robinson's departure. A second hole could also be created if the Jaguars decide Allen Hurns isn't worth the $6.9 million he's scheduled to make in 2018. As Ryan O'Halloran of the Florida Times-Union reported, his release is still a possibility.
The Jaguars let Robinson walk and could do the same with Hurns, in part because of confidence in their depth at the position. That includes Keelan Cole, the surprising rookie in 2017 who soared near the end of the season.
The Jaguars needed to lean on Cole after injuries piled up among their other top receivers. He responded with 393 receiving yards over a key three-game stretch in December, and 748 yards overall, a solid total for his first season after going undrafted.
Without Robinson around, there's an opening for a deep threat, and Cole certainly has the wheels for that role.
Kansas City Chiefs: Kendall Fuller, Cornerback
The Kansas City Chiefs roster has gone through a dramatic change, especially on the defensive side.
Gone are outside linebacker Tamba Hali and middle linebacker Derrick Johnson, two long-time veteran pillars. They released safety Ron Parker, too and most notably, they traded two-time Pro Bowl cornerback Marcus Peters.
The Peters move was surprising at first, since he's one of the league's best playmaking corners and has snatched 19 interceptions over only 45 career regular-season games. But Peters became expendable after the Chiefs acquired cornerback Kendall Fuller as the key piece in the Alex Smith trade with Washington.
Fuller, a third-round pick in 2016, took a step forward during his second NFL season by recording 10 passes defensed and four interceptions. He's a versatile corner who has experience playing both outside and in the slot, and excelled in the latter role in 2017, per PFF. That's when he allowed a league-low passer rating in coverage from the slot of just 55.0.
Los Angeles Chargers: Mike Williams, Wide Receiver
It doesn't take long to remember why wide receiver Mike Williams was deemed worthy of the seventh pick in the 2017 draft. The Los Angeles Chargers were looking for a large target with a wide catch radius who could offer more support for veteran quarterback Philip Rivers.
Williams has all those boxes checked off at 6'4" and 218 pounds, and he demonstrated the ability to use that large body to keep defenders on his back while reeling in balls in traffic. He created separation through his physicality for Clemson, which led to 1,361 yards on 98 catches in 2016 and 11 touchdowns.
That whole package can still make Williams a quality NFL receiver, and a key weapon for Rivers. Williams missed six games in 2017 with a herniated disc and finished with only 11 receptions on 23 targets.
He'll look to established himself as a deep threat opposite Keenan Allen after catching 51.9 percent of his 20-plus-yard targets in 2016, per PFF, which ranked sixth in the nation.
Los Angeles Rams: Gerald Everett, Tight End
The 2017 draft was overflowing with talented tight ends and featured five selections at the position among the top 50 picks. The Los Angeles Rams were in on that shopping spree when they made Gerald Everett the 44th overall pick.
Everett wasn't the exception to the general rule that rookie tight ends struggle. He finished his first NFL season with only 16 catches for 244 yards.
But he still had four 20-plus yard receptions despite that minimal workload. That included gains for 44, 39 and 69 yards, showing his deep downfield ability and speed after the catch.
Everett earned his high draft slot with those skills and an impressive combine showing that included a 37.5-inch vertical and 126-inch broad jump. That natural athleticism should translate to a swift uptick in production after another offseason of development.
Miami Dolphins: Raekwon McMillan, Linebacker
The Miami Dolphins used their second-round pick on linebacker Raekwon McMillan in 2017 to address a run defense that had floundered the previous season. In 2016, the Dolphins allowed 140.4 rushing yards per game (30th) and 4.8 per carry (tied for 31st).
So of course McMillan then went and tore his ACL during the Dolphins' first preseason game and immediately wiped out his rookie season. The Dolphins turned to veteran linebacker Lawrence Timmons, who's gone now after being released in a cap-saving move, once again leaving McMillan as the hopeful savior.
He has that in him as long as the knee responds well. And as Adam Beasley of the Miami Herald reported recently, the first test will come during OTAs when McMillan is expected to be on the field.
The 22-year-old posted back-to-back seasons with 100-plus tackles at Ohio State to finish his collegiate career. His best year for the Buckeyes came in 2015 when he ranked fifth in the nation with 52 run stops, per PFF.
He has the instincts and physicality to be a swarming presence against the run. Now he just needs to stay healthy.
Minnesota Vikings: Trae Waynes, Cornerback
There is no one path to NFL success. Just ask Minnesota Vikings cornerback Trae Waynes.
The 11th pick in 2015 was descending toward draft-bust territory in 2016. That's when he was PFF's 72nd-ranked cornerback.
But first-round picks are given plenty of rope, and despite his struggles, Waynes started a full season for the first time in 2017 and gave the Vikings what they were expecting back in 2015.
Waynes became a key piece of the league's second-ranked pass defense and finished the season with two interceptions and 11 passes defensed. But his true breakout might still be on the way, as Waynes' 21.8 passer rating allowed in man coverage, again per PFF, shows the 25-year-old can be trusted by himself to seal off half the field.
New England Patriots: Deatrich Wise Jr., Defensive End
The New England Patriots defense struggled at times throughout the 2017 season to generate consistent pressure. By the end of the year, the unit's sack total was a perfectly fine 42, though that was achieved without one dominant pass-rusher leading the way.
Deatrich Wise Jr., who was a fourth-round rookie in 2017, chipped in with five sacks, an impressive total considering both his Day 3 draft status and rotational role that resulted in the 23-year-old seeing the field on only 51.2 percent of the Patriots' defensive snaps.
He flashed upside frequently throughout his first NFL season despite that limited playing time, most notably when he recorded five quarterback hits, a sack and two tackles for loss during a Week 2 win over the New Orleans Saints.
With more opportunities, the young pass-rusher will develop faster and perhaps rediscover his 2015 form while with the Arkansas Razorbacks, when Wise produced 10 sacks, 12 quarterback hits and 21 hurries.
New Orleans Saints: Ken Crawley, Cornerback
Somehow, Ken Crawley lasted seven rounds without hearing his name during the 2016 draft. So the New Orleans Saints gladly scooped him up as an undrafted free agent. Now after just two seasons it appears they have a high-end starter on their roster.
In 2017, his first season as a starting cornerback for the Saints, Crawley recorded 17 passes defensed. That ranked among the league's top 15 and only three behind Jalen Ramsey, the Jaguars' standout cornerback.
Crawley also excelled where it mattered most by allowing only 16.7 percent of the red-zone throws into his coverage to be caught, per PFF. The next step for him will be to finish plays and create turnovers.
New York Giants: Sterling Shepard, Wide Receiver
Sterling Shepard had a semi-breakout year as a rookie in 2016 when he scored eight touchdowns. Then 2017 was a hot mess.
He was cursed by constant injuries. First, his preparation during training camp was disrupted by an ankle sprain. That turned out to be minor at the time, then he re-injured it during the regular season. Shepard missed five games due to ankle, migraine, hamstring and neck issues.
Yet when he was on the field, Shepard could still sporadically shine. He produced three games with 130-plus receiving yards during his second NFL season, leading to the clear conclusion that if he could stay even somewhat healthy, the former Oklahoma stud would be capable of climbing to another tier among NFL receivers.
He'll get an opportunity for a third-year breakout, especially if an aging and slowing Brandon Marshall is released by the Giants.
New York Jets: Robby Anderson, Wide Receiver
Robby Anderson is well positioned for a third-year leap. He's already proven himself as an emerging deep threat with his 941 receiving yards and seven touchdowns in 2017. Now he can rise even further, and has the potential for an 1,100-plus-yard season with double-digit touchdowns.
All seven of Anderson's touchdowns came on 20-plus-yard passes in 2017, per PFF, which shows he's already put himself among the league's deep-ball specialists. Quarterback Josh McCown has been re-signed by the Jets to renew his connection with Anderson at least temporarily. McCown could be pushed aside at some point in 2018 by the Jets' future at quarterback if they invest a high draft pick in the position. Or by the recently signed Teddy Bridgewater.
Either way, from both a talent and team perspective, the arrow is pointing up for Anderson. Unfortunately, he's going in a different direction away from the field.
Early in the offseason, Anderson was arrested for a troubling incident that started with a speeding charge, and ended with Anderson reportedly threatening to sexually assault the arresting officer's wife. He could face a suspension that would limit how much the 24-year-old can build on his successful 2017 season.
Oakland Raiders: Gareon Conley, Cornerback
Oakland Raiders cornerback Gareon Conley had his rookie season wiped out due to a recurring shin injury that restricted him to only 92 snaps. Now he'll be thrust into a critical role as the centerpiece of a remade defensive backfield.
Gone are cornerbacks Sean Smith and David Amerson, leaving behind a combined 988 snaps to replace in 2018. Conley was drafted as a first-round pick to be the anchor of Oakland's secondary, and he'll assume that title right away.
Conley has both the size (6'0" and 195 lbs) and ball skills to excel immediately as a No. 1 cornerback who's relied on to shut down the league's top receivers. He showed that skill in college with four interceptions for Ohio State in 2016, a season when Conley also allowed just 14 receptions for 159 yards. That led to a passer rating in coverage of 14.0, per PFF, the best in the nation.
Philadelphia Eagles: Derek Barnett, Defensive End
Philadelphia Eagles defensive end Derek Barnett caused plenty of havoc and pain in 2017.
The highlight of his rookie season came during the NFC Championship Game against the Minnesota Vikings, an eventual blowout that was still close when Barnett forced a red-zone fumble late in the second quarter. That took points off the board for the Vikings, and then the Eagles struck quickly with a touchdown to take a 24-7 halftime lead.
That gained Barnett recognition on a national stage. But although the fumble was the pinnacle of his first NFL season, the 14th-overall pick in 2017 had already done plenty before that moment, all at the tender age of 21.
The Eagles have an incredibly deep group of pass-rushers, and as a result, Barnett had to make the most out of what he was given. He finished the 2017 regular season with five sacks while playing only 41.2 percent of the Eagles' defensive snaps.
His role should expand in 2018, leading to a spike in production.
Pittsburgh Steelers: T.J. Watt, Outside Linebacker
It seems unfair to think T.J. Watt hasn't reached his ceiling yet, and that he can only go up from a standout rookie season.
But that's where we are with the Pittsburgh Steelers outside linebacker who did a bit of everything in his first NFL season, and did it all exceedingly well.
Watt finished 2017 with seven sacks and 52 tackles. He also displayed quality coverage instincts with his seven passes defensed and an interception. None of that was surprising after he rocketed up prospect rankings with 11.5 sacks during his final year with the Wisconsin Badgers.
His 2017 brilliance came in a season in which he missed two games with a biceps injury after exiting early in Week 2 and sitting out the following week. If the baseline for his performance is the stat line he produced over a slightly shortened rookie season, then we likely haven't seen Watt's true breakout yet, which is pretty scary stuff.
San Francisco 49ers: Marquise Goodwin, Wide Receiver
Maybe Marquise Goodwin is a late bloomer. Maybe the wide receiver was never really given the right opportunity before joining the San Francisco 49ers. Or maybe being paired with quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo has a way of breathing life into your career.
It's probably a combination of all three for Goodwin, who will turn 28 years old midway through the 2018 season. In 2017, the former Olympian showed he's more than just a gadget home run threat, and now the true explosion could come in 2018 during a full season with Garoppolo as his quarterback.
The two developed a connection quickly throughout Garoppolo's five starts in 2017, leading to two 100-plus yard receiving games for Goodwin during that stretch, as well as three games with six-plus catches.
Overall, Goodwin caught 56 balls for 962 yards in 2017, shattering his previous career single-season highs of 29 receptions and 431 yards.
Seattle Seahawks: Shaquill Griffin, Cornerback
The Seattle Seahawks are about to go through a rebuilding season. And like any rebuild, it could get painful fast.
However, one area where they shouldn't feel much agony at is cornerback. Sure, franchise icon Richard Sherman is gone, and Byron Maxwell is a free agent, too. But the Seahawks were already well into the grooming process with another young cornerback, and he's now prepared to take over the top job.
Seattle used a third-round pick in 2017 to select Shaquill Griffin, a 6'0" and 194-pound corner out of UCF who has the NFL size to win battles with his physicality. He also has the foot speed and quickness to match up well on the outside, and showed off those skills over 11 starts in 2017 (15 games overall).
He finished the season with 15 passes defensed and an interception. That came after he completed his collegiate career by allowing a completion percentage in coverage of just 39.7, per PFF, which ranked seventh in the nation during the 2016 season.
Griffin has the look and style of a physically overwhelming Seahawks cornerback. And he's only just begun the process of working toward the peak of his talent.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Chris Godwin, Wide Receiver
Toward the end of his rookie season, Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Chris Godwin gave us a small taste of what's likely to come in 2018, and it was delicious.
Godwin was buried on the depth chart for much of his first year. Over the Buccaneers' first 12 games, he saw four-plus targets just once. But over during the final two weeks of the season, he went off for 209 yards on 10 catches.
The third-round pick has the size (6'1" and 209 lbs) to win battles in traffic, and the speed (4.42 seconds in the 40-yard dash) to get deep in a hurry too. Those skills and his late-season surge should earn him more playing time and the chance for a breakout in 2018, likely after he establishes himself as the Buccaneers' primary slot receiver.
Tennessee Titans: Corey Davis, Wide Receiver
Tennessee Titans wide receiver Corey Davis is yet another promising young player whose rookie season was derailed by injury. He missed five games with a hamstring problem, which set his development back. Then he was brought along slowly and played just 50.6 percent of the Titans' offensive snaps.
That stung for the Titans, a team that drafted Davis with the fifth pick in 2017 to reshape the offense after with quarterback Marcus Mariota, who's still young and growing.
Once Davis was healthy and featured prominently, we were given a sample of what could be coming from that duo.
Davis was heavily targeted in Week 16 against the Los Angeles Rams, resulting in six catches for 91 yards, with the bulk of that production coming on a chunk gain of 37 yards. In the playoffs, Davis showed off an ability to separate first with speed, then by using his long frame (6'3" and 209 lbs) before relying on smooth hands for a one-handed touchdown grab against the New England Patriots.
That package of skill and size led to three straight seasons with 1,400-plus receiving yards for Western Michigan in college, a stretch when Davis also finished in the top 10 in receiving yards per route run each year, per PFF.
Washington Redskins: Jonathan Allen, Defensive End
We end with yet another injury bounce-back candidate. This time it's Washington defensive end Jonathan Allen, whose rookie season was shortened to just five games because of the dreaded Lisfranc injury.
That particular brand of foot ailment can linger and become downright maddening. Which is why, during what became a lost season, Washington eventually shut down its 2017 first-round pick, ending his comeback attempt after Allen was placed on short-term injured reserve.
He was highly effective during his five games though, when he recorded a sack and 16 pressures. That pressure total still led all rookie interior pass-rushers in mid November, per PFF, a month after Allen played his final game of 2017.
After an offseason to both recover and develop, Allen should be causing plenty of chaos again, just as he did for Alabama with 22.5 sacks over his final two years playing college football.