Every NFL Team's 2018 Breakout Player Candidate
Someone always emerges.
Every year, every team has at least one breakout player. Usually several. And 2018 will be no different, because dozens of high-potential 20-something recent early-round draft picks have yet to make their marks.
Not all of them will pan out, but some will take that next step in 2018.
NFL offseason programs have pretty much wrapped up, and training camps loom on the other side of a six-week nap. That gives us a chance to step back and look at one player on each team who could explode in 2018.
Dealing only with players entering their second, third or (only in New England's case) fourth season, and only players who have yet to make the Pro Bowl at their current positions, here's a breakdown of 32 potential breakout stars.
Arizona Cardinals: S Budda Baker
The Arizona Cardinals will be counting on 2017 first-round pick Haason Reddick to put together a strong second season in 2018, but last year's second-rounder is actually riding a more promising trajectory.
Speed demon safety Budda Baker was already delivering as a top-end special-teamer before he started playing a major role on defense during the second half of his rookie campaign, and he came through as a regular with 45 solo tackles and a pair of forced fumbles in seven November/December starts.
The Cardinals then released Tyrann Mathieu in March, indicating that Baker would likely have a chance to replace Mathieu as the team's top cover man in the slot.
Watch for the instinctive, versatile 22-year-old to emerge as one of the game's shiniest young defensive players in 2018.
Atlanta Falcons: DE Takkarist McKinley
So many young Atlanta Falcons players have already broken out—we're looking at you, Deion Jones, Keanu Neal, Vic Beasley and Grady Jarrett—that the obvious candidate for 2018 is top 2017 draft pick Takkarist McKinley.
The big-motor defensive end didn't play enough to shine consistently as a rookie (he was on the field for just 38.2 percent of the team's defensive snaps), but he recorded five of his six sacks in his last nine regular-season games, then he added two mor ein the playoffs. He should receive more opportunities now that veteran pass-rusher Adrian Clayborn has left town.
Baltimore Ravens: WR Chris Moore
After catching just 13 of the 36 passes thrown his way and scoring only twice during his first season-and-a-half of professional football, Baltimore Ravens wide receiver Chris Moore finally started making a positive impact down the stretch in 2017.
The 2016 fourth-round pick caught 12 of his 18 targets for 152 yards and a pair of touchdowns during the final six weeks of his sophomore campaign, which could have him in position to break out as a 25-year-old in 2018.
With Michael Crabtree, Willie Snead and John Brown joining the fray, a Ravens passing game that ranked 29th in the NFL last season could use an explosive third year from the homegrown Moore. And there's a chance that happens, because he's been generating buzz in OTAs.
Buffalo Bills: DE Shaq Lawson
Buffalo Bills defensive end Shaq Lawson has fallen well short of expectations two years into his career. The 2016 first-round pick has registered just six sacks and 46 tackles in 21 of a possible 32 games.
If he doesn't take a large step forward in his third season, the No. 19 overall pick will start to be considered a bust. And he knows it.
Lawson told the Sports Xchange recently that he's approaching "every day like my job is on the line," while Bills head coach Sean McDermott added that "It's time that he steps up."
"Alright, it's the third year, I'm a former first-round pick, it's time for me to show why I got drafted in the first round," Lawson said, per Josh Reed of WIVB.com. "It's time to do my job and not let these Bills fans down and the coaches down."
An ankle injury ended the 23-year-old's sophomore season in early December, but he appears to be healthy again, and he should have plenty of opportunities opposite Jerry Hughes up front in 2018.
Carolina Panthers: RB Christian McCaffrey
While the Carolina Panthers are still waiting for recent early-round draft picks Shaq Thompson, Devin Funchess, Vernon Butler and James Bradberry to take off, the youngster with the highest ceiling on the roster is 2017 No. 8 overall pick Christian McCaffrey.
The pass-catching running back out of Stanford wasn't bad as a rookie. Only 13 NFL players caught more passes than him (80) and he averaged 4.7 yards per carry while scoring a handful of touchdowns in the second half of the season. He also had 117 yards on 12 touches in a playoff loss to the New Orleans Saints.
But that came after McCaffrey averaged an abysmal 2.4 yards per carry while scoring just twice in the first eight games of the year. Maybe growing pains were a factor at the age of 21, so if he can pick up in 2018 where he left off in 2017, the former Heisman Trophy runner-up could become a star behind Cam Newton.
Chicago Bears: QB Mitchell Trubisky
The Chicago Bears absolutely must get a breakout from their 2017 top-10 pick, quarterback Mitchell Trubisky.
He completed fewer than 60 percent of his passes and averaged just 6.6 yards per attempt as the league's fifth-lowest-rated qualified passer in 2017. None of the four quarterbacks with lower qualified passer ratings—Trevor Siemian, Brett Hundley, C.J. Beathard and DeShone Kizer—are projected to start in 2018.
But top 2016 pick Jared Goff was even worse than that in his rookie year. And then Goff got a new offensive-minded head coach and several new weapons in the receiving corps, and he exploded with a Pro Bowl sophomore campaign.
Could Trubisky be this year's Goff? New coach Matt Nagy certainly brings new energy and a quarterback-whisperer reputation to town, while new weapons Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel and Trey Burton should make life a lot easier on the 2017 No. 2 overall selection.
Trubisky had just one college season as a starter under his belt entering the league, and he did show glimpses late in his rookie year. Watch for a potential major breakout in 2018.
Cincinnati Bengals: RB Joe Mixon
The Cincinnati Bengals need their top two selections from the 2017 draft to emerge as sophomore stars after both wide receiver John Ross and running back Joe Mixon struggled as rookies.
But there might actually be a little more rope for Ross, considering that he played just 17 snaps in 2017. This might feel like a rookie season following a redshirt year for the speedster out of Washington, and at least A.J. Green is still the top gun in Cincinnati's receiving corps, while Brandon LaFell and Tyler Boyd are there too
Mixon, though, is expected to take the reins as the lead dog in the backfield after a tough 2017 campaign. Among 48 backs who carried the ball at least 100 times last season, only six averaged fewer yards per attempt than Mixon (3.52). But he did average a strong 5.0 yards per rush during his final four games of the season, which could indicate he found a groove entering his first full offseason.
They're hoping so, because director of player personnel Duke Tubin told the media at the combine—per Geoff Hobson of the team's official website—that they expect the 21-year-old to be a leader in their backfield in 2018.
Cleveland Browns: DE Myles Garrett
It's not as though top pick Myles Garrett wasn't effective when he was on the field as a rookie in 2017, but the Cleveland Browns defensive end just wasn't out there enough as a result of a September ankle injury and an October concussion.
Garrett finished the year with seven sacks and 31 tackles despite starting just nine games and taking part in less than half of the team's defensive snaps.
But the 22-year-old is healthy now, and he believes he's primed to take on a much larger workload as a sophomore.
"The last game of the season, I was going most of the game," Garrett said in May, per Nate Ulrich of the Akron Beacon Journal. "I think I took five, maybe 10 plays off. That's my goal—to be on the field as much as possible, so I can make as big of an impact as possible."
The Browns need a lot of players to break out in order to turn it around after a zero-win season, but Garrett tops the list.
Dallas Cowboys: CB Chidobe Awuzie
The Dallas Cowboys will also be relying on several sophomores to break out in 2018, but their top 2017 pick, defensive end Taco Charlton, doesn't top the list. That's because Charlton was eased in as a rookie and will likely continue to play a limited, low-pressure role alongside Demarcus Lawrence and Tyrone Crawford.
Instead, second-year cornerback Chidobe Awuzie will be expected to emerge as the top cover man in place of departed veteran Orlando Scandrick.
The 60th overall pick out of Colorado missed six games due to a hamstring injury as a rookie, but when he was on the field, he surrendered just 7.0 yards per reception and just 0.69 yards per cover snap, both of which were the lowest rates ever recorded by a rookie corner, per Pro Football Focus. And it's possible he would have been better than that had his first NFL offseason not been spoiled by injuries.
If Awuzie and second-year, third-round corner Jourdan Lewis can continue to improve in 2018, the Cowboys defense could become a tremendous asset.
Denver Broncos: OT Garett Bolles
The Denver Broncos didn't get much out of their passing game in 2017, partly because they had one of the worst offensive lines in football. Now they've invested in a new potential franchise quarterback in Case Keenum. But in order for him to prove that his strong 2017 season wasn't an anomaly, Keenum will probably need stronger pass protection than Trevor Siemian, Brock Osweiler and Paxton Lynch received last year.
That starts with left tackle Garett Bolles, who played 98.1 percent of the team's offensive snaps as a rookie first-round pick in 2017 but was also the most penalized offensive tackle in the AFC during what he admits was a "rocky" maiden campaign.
"I made mistakes (last year) and I'm ready to fix those mistakes," Bolles said last week, per Ryan O'Halloran of the Denver Post. "I'm ready to show people why the Denver Broncos drafted me."
It could help that the undersized Utah product has put on about 10 pounds this offseason, according to Mike Klis of 9News.com.
Detroit Lions: WR Kenny Golladay
You could make an argument that Detroit Lions 2017 first-round pick Jarrad Davis already broke out when the linebacker recorded 96 tackles in 14 starts as a rookie. And you could also make an argument that 2017 second-round pick Teez Tabor might need another year to develop after practically red-shirting as a rookie cornerback.
That might leave second-year, third-round pick Kenny Golladay, who shined last spring and summer and is doing so again this offseason in an effort to bounce back from an injury-derailed rookie campaign.
The wide receiver caught pair of touchdowns in his first preseason game and then two more in his first regular-season affair last year. A hamstring injury cost him a good portion of that regular season, but the 6'4" Northern Illinois product has attracted plenty of buzz during OTAs.
"This guy could be so good, and he could be so good as soon as this year in the red zone," MLive's Kyle Meinke wrote last week. "He's just chewing up everybody right now in the end zone."
Golden Tate and Marvin Jones remain the top options in that passing game, but a healthy Golladay could push both of those guys in the fall.
Green Bay Packers: RB Aaron Jones
Second-year Green Bay Packers defensive backs Josh Jones and Kevin King will be expected to play larger roles in order to live up to Round 2 draft expectations in 2018, but those two weren't as tantalizing last year as fifth-round rookie running back Aaron Jones.
The Texas-El Paso product started just four games and carried the ball just 81 times in 2017, but his 5.5 yards-per-attempt average would have ranked second in the NFL if it qualified. That rate was almost two full yards per carry better than the team's lead back, Jamaal Williams, who was drafted one round ahead of Jones last April.
And in terms of DVOA (Defense-adjusted Value Over Average), Football Outsiders ranked the 23-year-old second among backs with at least 20 carries, behind only Offensive Rookie of the Year Alvin Kamara.
As long as potential off-field issues don't cost him, he appears ready to win the starting job from Williams and Ty Montgomery. Beyond that, a breakout isn't hard to imagine.
Houston Texans: Julie'n Davenport
Coming out of Division I-AA Bucknell, Houston Texans offensive tackle Julie'n Davenport was drafted in the fourth round because he's a physical marvel in terms of his size and athleticism. But there's little doubt that the 6'7", 320-pounder was a developmental project who would need time at the NFL level.
That might explain why he struggled as part of a bad Texans line when he was forced into the lineup as a rookie in 2017. But that baptism by fire might have put Davenport in a better position to excel in his second season, and there are indications he's taking a step forward this spring.
"Davenport has been using the offseason program, particularly the OTAs, to get more comfortable and to make an even stronger impression on his coaches and teammates," wrote John McClain of the Houston Chronicle last week.
A breakout sophomore season for Davenport on Deshaun Watson's blind side would help the Texans reemerge as contenders in 2018.
Indianapolis Colts: CB Quincy Wilson
Indianapolis Colts cornerback Quincy Wilson hardly saw the field until the final month of his rookie season last year, but then he played a large role in December and delivered with several strong performances. The second-round pick out of Florida was graded by PFF as one of the four best Colts players on the field in each of the final two games of the regular season.
But now Wilson is healthy and free of Chuck Pagano's handcuffs. And new head coach Frank Reich will likely give him a chance to be the team's No. 1 corner, especially with top 2017 performer Rashaan Melvin gone.
The 21-year-old is a playmaker with the size and physicality to cover anyone, and it wouldn't be surprising to see him hold his own with any of the game's top outside receivers in 2018.
Jacksonville Jaguars: LB Myles Jack
Now three years removed from the devastating knee injury that sank his draft stock in 2016, Myles Jack appears ready to bust out.
The Jacksonville Jaguars linebacker hardly saw the field as he was eased back from that injury as a rookie second-round pick in 2016, but he looked superb as a regular on the strong side in 2017 and is now ready to take over for the retired Paul Posluszny in the middle linebacker spot.
Still only 22, look for the UCLA product to crush it.
John Oehser of the team's official website wrote last month that "confidence is high around the Jaguars the third-year veteran is ready for the move," while adding that Jack "has the feel of a player on the verge of a breakout season."
So we're not alone.
Kansas City Chiefs: QB Patrick Mahomes II
The Kansas City Chiefs are betting that quarterback Patrick Mahomes II will break out in his sophomore season. Otherwise, they wouldn't have traded 2017's highest-rated passer, Alex Smith, to the Washington Redskins.
Then again, if they didn't believe that the cannon-armed Texas Tech product was going to become good quickly, they wouldn't have sacrificed two first-round picks for him in 2017. Mahomes certainly has a special skill set, and his big 2017 preseason (completion rate of 63 percent, four touchdowns to zero interceptions, 109.3 passer rating) only helped build hype.
Now he'll take over a Chiefs offense that is loaded with weapons like Tyreek Hill, Kareem Hunt, Travis Kelce and Sammy Watkins.
He's only 22 years old and could encounter growing pains, but the likelihood is high that Mahomes puts up huge numbers in his first full season as an NFL quarterback.
Los Angeles Chargers: WR Mike Williams
Because he lit up the ACC with 98 catches and 11 touchdowns as a junior in 2016, there were naturally sky-high expectations for wide receiver Mike Williams when the Los Angeles Chargers drafted the incredible Clemson product seventh overall in 2017.
But Williams was forced to play catchup after suffering a back injury in rookie minicamp. As a result, he caught fewer than half the passes thrown his way and failed to score a touchdown in 10 regular-season games, only one of which he started. But Williams is healthy this offseason, and it looks as though he'll have a chance to beat out Tyrell Williams to win a starting job opposite Keenan Allen.
"I see a lot of potential," said Allen of Mike Williams last month, per ESPN.com's Eric D. Williams. "Last year, he had a lot of potential as well, but I could tell he put in a little bit more work this offseason. I think he's ready to go."
If so, watch for big things from a 23-year-old who has a catch radius the size of the stadium his team is temporarily calling home.
Los Angeles Rams: S John Johnson III
Few key or semi-key players on the Los Angeles Rams roster have yet to break out, because the entire team pretty much broke out together in 2017. But safety John Johnson III remains relatively under the radar, even though the 2017 third-round pick performed extremely well as part of Wade Phillips' defense last season.
Johnson was graded by PFF as the 10th-best rookie in the league in 2017, with William Moy noting that "his 24.3 percent forced incompletion percentage rank[ed] sixth out of the 50 safeties who spent at least 400 snaps in coverage in 2017."
With a full offseason under his belt and more support than ever on defense, Johnson could be in for an even stronger second season as a starter from the get-go. That makes him a slightly better breakout candidate than second-year tight end Gerald Everett, who will still have to slay Tyler Higbee in order to win the starting job.
Miami Dolphins: DE Charles Harris
It won't be easy for second-year Miami Dolphins defensive end Charles Harris to steal large quantities of snaps from veterans Cameron Wake and Robert Quinn, especially with William Hayes and Andre Branch also part of the rotation on the edge in South Florida.
But the 2017 first-round pick came on late last year, recording a team-high eight quarterback pressures (per PFF) on 27 pass-rushing snaps in Week 15 against the Bills before following that up with a sack and the third-best defensive PFF grade on the team in Week 16 against the Chiefs.
And according to Jason Lieser of the Palm Beach Post, statistics tracked by the organization indicated the 23-year-old "was among the best on the team in causing opponents to commit holding penalties, batting down balls at the line of scrimmage and registering quarterback hurries."
So there are certainly signs that Harris is primed to explode in his sophomore season.
Minnesota Vikings: WR Laquon Treadwell
Second-year Minnesota Vikings running back Dalvin Cook is just too obvious here, because Cook was producing at a Pro Bowl level before his rookie season came to an end four weeks into the year. The 2017 second-round pick already broke out within a small sample, whereas the Vikes are hoping that the third year's a charm for 2016 first-round wide receiver Laquon Treadwell.
Treadwell caught just one pass in limited action as a rookie and then hauled in only 20 throws over the course of a second consecutive touchdown-free campaign in 2017. But injuries were a factor in both of those seasons, and Treadwell was already fighting a bit of an uphill battle when he joined a deep receiving corps at the age of 21.
He's (barely) 23 now, but at least he's healthy and has gone through the NFL wringer. And it appears they're giving him a chance to develop a rapport with new quarterback Kirk Cousins, as the Mississippi product has been working with the first-team offense as a No. 3 receiver at OTAs, according to Andrew Krammer of the Star Tribune.
If he doesn't break out in 2018, it might never happen.
New England Patriots: DT Danny Shelton
You may have noticed that the New England Patriots have made a habit of acquiring players who have either underperformed or failed to really stand out elsewhere and get the absolute best out of them in Foxborough.
You get the feeling that Danny Shelton is next.
The Pats traded a third-round pick to the Browns in exchange for Shelton and a fifth-round pick in March, and there's little reason to think he can't supplant Lawrence Guy as a starting defensive tackle next to Malcom Brown.
Shelton's career hasn't taken off yet, but he's a 24-year-old No. 12 overall pick with a tremendous combination of size and athleticism. He's been a steady contributor to a bad team, but he does have a Pro Bowl-level ceiling. He's already a strong run-defender, but now he'll almost certainly be coached up as a pass-rusher in New England.
Look for him to excel under Bill Belichick.
New Orleans Saints: DT Sheldon Rankins
Basically every New Orleans Saints rookie broke out in 2017, but the team's top 2016 draft pick is still awaiting his coming-out party.
Will this be the year for defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins?
The 2016 No. 12 overall pick made a much bigger impact as a 16-game starter in 2017 than he did as a rookie reserve in 2016, but his sack total actually dropped from four to two despite the fact he got more work on the edge.
It wasn't as though he wasn't creating pressure, though, which is why Rankins knows he has to become a better finisher.
"Now, it's all about improving, whether it's just finishing plays,” Rankins said recently, per Herbie Teope of NFL.com. "I had a lot of pressures, a lot of quarterback hits, but now it's time to turn those into sacks. A lot of tackles around the line of scrimmage, but now it's time to turn those into (tackles for loss). It's time to be a leader for this defense.”
Sophomores Alvin Kamara, Marshon Lattimore and Ryan Ramczyk all already look like stars. So if the Saints are going to take a big step forward in 2018, it would help if third-year early-round picks Rankins, Vonn Bell and David Onyemata took their games to the next level. And it starts with the big 24-year-old Louisville product.
New York Giants: CB Eli Apple
Selected two spots ahead of Sheldon Rankins in 2016 was New York Giants cornerback Eli Apple, who also has failed to live up to expectations two years into his career. But while Rankins was at least dependable as as a sophomore in New Orleans, Apple's 2017 season was a mess.
On the field, the Ohio State product started just seven games and missed five entirely while failing to produce a single takeaway. Off the field, he was called a cancer by cohort Landon Collins and was hit with a suspension for conduct detrimental to the team.
But Apple is still only 22. He entered the league relatively raw for a Buckeye, but he's got every trait required to be a shutdown corner. And there are signs he's coming around as he prepares for his third season.
ESPN.com's Jordan Raanan noted last week that Apple has experienced "a spring of redemption" that has included multiple "splash plays" at OTAs, and even Collins has heaped praise on the 2016 No. 10 overall selection.
"He's just out here making plays," Collins said, per Raanan. "That's not the only play. He's doing his thing. I'm happy for him. He's growing up, doing his thing and playing great ball."
Might be worth buying some of that stock this summer.
New York Jets: S Jamal Adams
Safety Jamal Adams wasn't a disappointment as a 16-game starter during his rookie season with the New York Jets, but the No. 6 overall pick didn't record a single interception and forced just one fumble to go along with two early-season sacks.
The Jets undoubtedly would like to see the 22-year-old become a bigger playmaker in his sophomore season.
And he's working to take that next step. Brian Costello of the New York Post reported in May that the LSU product has lost half a dozen pounds while spending much of his first full offseason focusing on diet and nutrition.
Jets head coach Todd Bowles likes what he sees.
"He’s been running around like he was last year," Bowles said, per Costello. "From a mental standpoint, his eyes are better and he’s focused on the little things. From that standpoint, I see him getting better."
It would be hard not to see that.
Oakland Raiders: S Karl Joseph
Two good-not-great seasons into his career, 2016 No. 14 overall pick Karl Joseph "hasn't even scratched the surface" of what he can do in this league.
His words, not ours.
That's what the Oakland Raiders safety told Scott Bair of NBC Sports Bay Area last week. And while that's just a talented young man expressing confidence in himself, he might be bang-on.
Joseph intercepted five passes in just four games as a senior at West Virginia, but he's yet to flash that playmaking ability at the NFL level (he has two interceptions and one forced fumble in 27 games, 24 of which he's started). And while he was still coming off a major knee injury as a rookie, he rarely stood out in his second season, either.
If he can make a big leap in Year 3, a Raiders secondary that has been desperate for a game-changer might finally be able to lend Khalil Mack and the rest of the front seven some much-needed support.
Philadelphia Eagles: RB Corey Clement
Undrafted rookie running back Corey Clement played a larger-than-expected role in the Philadelphia Eagles offense last season, even after the team acquired Pro Bowl back Jay Ajayi midway through the season.
The Wisconsin product averaged 5.1 yards per carry while also contributing as a receiver during the final 10 games of the season, and he hauled in four passes for 100 yards and a touchdown in Philadelphia's Super Bowl LII victory over the Patriots.
And while Ajayi remains the lead dog in that backfield, LeGarrette Blount's departure could pave the way for Clement to get more work as a sophomore in 2018. Look for the Eagles to get the ball in the 23-year-old's hands frequently as a third-down/change-of-pace back and for him to deliver throughout the year.
Pittsburgh Steelers: LB T.J. Watt
No team presented more breakout options for this article than the Pittsburgh Steelers, and you only have to look at the defense. Recent first-rounders Bud Dupree, Artie Burns and T.J. Watt all have high ceilings and room to grow, as do fellow early-round defenders Sean Davis, Javon Hargrave and Cameron Sutton.
But Watt stands out after a big rookie season that could have been even bigger had a groin injury not slowed him down when he was hot early on.
In his very first NFL game, Watt had two sacks, an interception, five tackles and a batted pass. He then got hurt in Week 2 and was never quite the same after returning in October, but he still finished the year with seven sacks and 52 tackles.
We already know the 23-year-old has the bloodlines, and he's got plenty of support within that deep defense. If he can stay healthy, it wouldn't be surprising to see him put together a Pro Bowl-caliber sophomore season.
San Francisco 49ers: CB Ahkello Witherspoon
The first San Francisco 49ers breakout candidate that probably comes to most minds is defensive end Solomon Thomas, but the 2017 No. 3 overall pick struggled quite a bit as a rookie and could continue to face challenges at a new position in 2018.
Instead, keep an eye on second-year cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon, who shined while intercepting a pair of passes in 12 games as a rookie third-round pick in 2017.
The 23-year-old didn't debut until the second month of his rookie year but was a solid starter by Halloween. According to PFF, he surrendered a passer rating of just 66.4 between Weeks 13 and 16, and he didn't allow a touchdown in coverage in December.
Now, he'll have a chance to stand out from day one opposite Richard Sherman, which should be fun to witness.
Seattle Seahawks: CB Shaquill Griffin
It could be a hell of a year for the Griffin family in St. Petersburg, Florida. One of their sons, Shaquem Griffin, will have a strong shot at making the Seattle Seahawks as a rookie fifth-round pick. Meanwhile, Shaquem's twin, Shaquill Griffin, looks poised to break out in his second season with Seattle.
With Richard Sherman, Jeremy Lane and DeShawn Shead all dealing with injuries, Shaquill played more snaps than any cornerback on the Seahawks roster in 2017, and he performed extremely well while making 11 starts and 15 appearances. The third-round pick recorded 15 passes defensed, 58 tackles, an interception and a sack as a rookie.
And with Sherman, Shead and Lane all off the roster, he'll likely have a chance to become the top corner on the team from the outset in 2018. He's been filling Sherman's former role at OTAs, according to Bob Condotta of the Seattle Times, and he appears to be excelling.
"He has been really comfortably involved with everything," Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll said last week, per John Boyle of the team's official website. "He just looks like he's a veteran. He grew a ton out of last season. Remember, we didn't have a lot of problems with him last year. There was not an inconsistency to him, there was not the rookie wall, there was none of that kind of stuff. He just kept cruising all the way through and had a really consistent first season, and he has just kind of picked up where he left off."
I hope Tangie and Terry Griffin are ready.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: TE O.J. Howard
Tampa Bay Buccaneers tight end O.J. Howard needed some time to get acclimated to the NFL as a rookie in 2017. The first-round pick out of Alabama topped 20 receiving yards in just two of his first nine games, but then he started to make an impact.
Howard registered 12 of his 26 catches and 205 of his 432 receiving yards in his final five games before a mid-December ankle injury ended his rookie season prematurely. During that stretch, he caught 70.6 percent of the passes thrown his way while averaging 17.1 yards per reception.
That made him the only player in the NFL with at least 10 receptions, a catch percentage of 70 or higher and a yards-per-catch average of 17 or higher during that late-season stretch (a total of 139 other players had at least 10 receptions during that period).
The 23-year-old also scored three of his six touchdowns in that five-game run. The man just makes plays, and he's healthy again.
It all bodes well for a big sophomore campaign.
Tennessee Titans: RB Derrick Henry
Tennessee Titans running back Derrick Henry has started just four games in his two NFL seasons, but the 2016 second-round pick has accumulated 1,507 yards from scrimmage while scoring 11 touchdowns and averaging 4.3 yards per carry in those two campaigns.
He hasn't lost a single fumble on 310 touches.
That might partially explain why the Titans moved on from veteran back DeMarco Murray in the offseason, although Henry will still have to fight for reps with the arrival of free-agent addition Dion Lewis.
Still, look for Henry's role to increase. He was clearly a backup at the start of last season, but new offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur told the media last week—per Paul Kuharsky—that he views Henry and Lewis as "1A and 1B" in the backfield.
Henry and Murray were a lot more similar than Henry and Lewis, which should enable the Titans to find plenty of opportunities for both of them. And when that happens, watch for the 24-year-old Alabama product to take off.
Washington Redskins: WR Josh Doctson
Six of the 35 passes Washington Redskins wide receiver Josh Doctson caught last year were touchdowns, which is at least a sign the 2016 first-round pick still possesses the playmaking ability that helped him score 25 times during his final two years at TCU.
Achilles issues cost Doctson the vast majority of his rookie season, making it easier to excuse the fact he caught only 44.9 percent of the passes thrown his way as a sophomore in 2017. Four of those receptions gained 30-plus yards, and two of his six touchdowns came on deep completions of 48-plus yards from quarterback Kirk Cousins.
If the 25-year-old continues to do that while becoming more consistent and reliable in 2018, he'll finally begin to live up to the expectations the Redskins had for him when they took him 22nd overall two years ago.
The good news—as Michael Phillips of the Richmond Times-Dispatch points out—is Doctson is feeling more confident this spring than in past offseasons, and that has manifested itself at OTAs.