Every NFL Team's Most Promising Young Building Block

Maurice Moton@@MoeMotonFeatured ColumnistOctober 5, 2019

Every NFL Team's Most Promising Young Building Block

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    Every year, another crop of playmakers rise like cream to the top. While some of them experience a quick ascension, others take a year or two to translate their potential into production.

    While identifying every team's most promising young player, we established several criterions to separate established veterans and roster centerpieces from the upstart talents.

    Each selection has no more than four years of league experience and currently plays on their rookie deal even if they've been traded to a new team.

    In order to weed out decorated talents, players with Pro Bowl and All-Pro seasons are excluded. In addition, to avoid a list of no-brainer early first-rounders, top-10 overall picks have also been omitted.

    Finally, young players with bright futures have to show something tangible to make this list, specifically a solid year in a starting role or playing more than 50 percent of offensive or defensive snaps—this also applies to rookies.

    Using the criteria above, we'll highlight one of the faces of each team's future—someone who's yet to receive notable accolades but seems well on their way to a promising career.


Arizona Cardinals: LB Haason Reddick

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    Safety Budda Baker would've taken this spot, but he did earn an All-Pro honor on special teams as a rookie.

    Now playing under a third defensive coordinator, Haason Reddick continues to display his versatility as a defender who can pressure the pocket, stop the run and drop into coverage. He missed training camp practices because of a knee injury, which may explain why his impact hasn't shown up in each game, but the 25-year-old had a strong performance in Week 3.

    "His athleticism shows up week-in and week-out, and he continues to work hard and improve," coach Kliff Kingsbury told reporters

    In Arizona's last outing, Reddick recorded his first sack. Since Week 2, he's broke into the opponents' backfield with three tackles for loss and knocked down three passes. 

    If the Cardinals can find some stability on defense, Reddick should have a spot in the middle of the unit for the long term. In today's league, with spread offenses, teams need an inside linebacker who can handle multiple duties.

Atlanta Falcons: DE Takkarist McKinley

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    When assessing defensive ends and generally pass-rushers, sack numbers sometimes don't tell the full story—that's the case for Takkarist McKinley.

    In Week 2, McKinley constantly hounded quarterback Carson Wentz, but he didn't record a sack. According to Pro Football Focus, the 23-year-old made his presence felt, though.

    "Takkarist McKinley turned in one of the better single-game performances of his career against Philadelphia, picking up multiple pressures on the night," per the metrics site.

    Under head coach Dan Quinn's tutelage, the Falcons have struggled defensively through the first quarter of the season. However, McKinley still provides an impact beyond the box score. The UCLA product possesses the tools to lead the defensive line in sacks for years to come.

    With Vic Beasley in a contract year after two disappointing seasons, McKinley will likely see a rise in attention from offensive linemen, but he's equipped to win some of those battles. His power and quickness should help him in one-on-one situations at the point of attack.

Baltimore Ravens: QB Lamar Jackson

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    While it's too early to label Lamar Jackson a franchise quarterback, he's definitely progressing in the right direction.

    Jackson's performances have come back to earth after a strong start against the Cardinals and Miami Dolphins. Even so, he's shown notable improvements compared to his rookie campaign with the green light to throw downfield. The Louisville product has 18 completions for 20 or more yards, which ranks sixth overall.

    Jackson averages 33.5 pass attempts per contest, which is a good sign the coaching staff trusts him beyond his ability to run the football. Although he still has hiccups as a pocket passer, that's expected in his sophomore season as a starter. With that said, the 22-year-old has a 65 percent completion rate.

    Beyond the numbers, Jackson possesses dynamic playmaking ability, and he's able to challenge opponents with his arm and legs. As the second-year signal-caller learns to break down defenses, he should make strides against tougher competition.

Buffalo Bills: CB Levi Wallace

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    Tre'Davious White isn't the only cover man who deserves praise in Buffalo. Last year, Levi Wallace flashed in the second half of the season, and he's carried that momentum into the 2019 campaign.

    Wallace is tied with linebacker Lorenzo Alexander for a team-leading four pass breakups. Furthermore, he's a reliable tackler without help, logging 18 solo takedowns—tied with linebacker Matt Milano for second-most on the team.

    The Bills' cornerback tandem has stifled passing offenses through the first quarter of the season, including the New England Patriots' top-10 aerial attack. Despite a loss, Buffalo held its division rival to 16 points. In that contest, quarterback Tom Brady completed just 46 percent of his throws, threw an interception and finished without a touchdown.

    Opposite White, Wallace will likely see more targets, but he's certainly up for the task. In 2017, the Alabama product went undrafted and now looks like a cornerstone for one of the league's top defenses.

Carolina Panthers: CB Donte Jackson

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    At 5'10", 180 pounds, Donte Jackson brings a blend of blazing speed, sticky hands and field awareness on the perimeter. Despite sitting out Week 4 with a groin injury, he's a major contributor to the Carolina Panthers' top-ranked pass defense that's allowed four touchdowns in as many games. 

    In three contests, Jackson has registered 12 solo tackles, three pass deflections and two interceptions. The 23-year-old made a point to emphasize his ability to tackle.

    During the 2018 offseason, the Panthers opted to trade cornerback Daryl Worley, a slower, more physical perimeter defender, and selected Jackson in the second round of that year's draft. Immediately, the LSU product took on a starting role opposite James Bradberry.

    Since coming into the league, Jackson has logged six interceptions and 12 pass breakups. Perhaps his stature causes some doubt in matchups against bigger athletic wideouts, but he has the make-up speed and ball-tracking skills to recover on a double-move or jump a route to force takeaways.

Chicago Bears: RB David Montgomery

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    Despite their 3-1 record headed to London, the Chicago Bears have regressed offensively in comparison to the 2018 campaign.

    Last season, the Bears listed ninth in scoring with the 11th-ranked ground attack. This year, the offense currently ranks 28th and 25th in those categories, respectively.

    Quarterback Mitchell Trubisky, who suffered a shoulder injury in the last game, isn't the only player on offense who has struggled early this season. The front line has experienced issues with clearing running lanes, ranking 24th in adjusted line yards (3.85), per Football Outsiders. Still, rookie third-rounder David Montgomery has shown some promise. 

    Montgomery possesses the size (5'10", 222 lbs) and vision to burst through the line for chunk plays. He also broke six tackles in four contests. Although his pass-catching numbers don't stand out, the Iowa State product saw a handful of targets in the aerial attack. The rookie has hauled in eight receptions for 61 yards—three going for first downs.

    If the Bears' five-man group improves in run blocking, Montgomery should become a featured back who can carry the offense when the passing attack struggles to move the ball.

Cincinnati Bengals: DE Sam Hubbard

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    Underneath the Cincinnati Bengals' 28th-ranked scoring defense, Sam Hubbard has displayed great effort and results in the trenches. He captured head coach Zac Taylor's attention after Week 1. The lead skipper talked to reporters about the second-year pro's outing against the Seattle Seahawks.

    "He's exactly the type of player you love to coach and you love to be around. You're combining talent with a relentless effort, and that usually pays off. Some of the (defensive) fronts we presented yesterday put (our linemen) in some good one-on-one situations in the pass rush, and they were sound fundamentally in the run game. Sam just capitalized on a lot of the opportunities." 

    The Bengals will need to come up with some wins or strong collective defensive performances before Hubbard garners the praise he deserves within a unit that's struggling to slow down its opponents. However, his early contributions indicate he's primed for a fair amount of growth this season.

    As a rookie, Hubbard logged six sacks while lining up for 45 percent of defensive snaps. Now at 85.49 percent, he could come close to a double-digit sack season with two already on his 2019 resume. 

    In today's league, a defense can't have too many quality pass-rushers. If Hubbard continues to progress, he's a long-term keeper.

Cleveland Browns: RB Nick Chubb

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    In Week 4, Nick Chubb reintroduced himself to the NFL spotlight with 20 carries for 165 yards and three touchdowns against the Ravens. He doesn't flash in the headlines like quarterback Baker Mayfield, but the Georgia product has significant value in the offense. 

    Similar to the first half of the 2018 campaign, the Browns have experienced issues with pass protection, ranking 24th in the category, per Football Outsiders. Mayfield seems flustered in the pocket, at times scrambling to evade pressure and tossing passes into tight coverage. The second-year signal-caller has thrown six interceptions this season. 

    Instead of forcing passes downfield, Mayfield can hand off to Chubb, who's averaging an impressive 5.2 yards per carry for his career. He's not a flashy ball-carrier, but the 23-year-old adds a physical presence on offense with the willingness to stand in for a block or leak out of the backfield as a pass-catcher. Chubb has 14 receptions for 99 yards.

    In order to keep Mayfield out of a pass-rusher's crosshairs and balance the offense, head coach Freddie Kitchens should continue to feature Chubb in select matchups.

Dallas Cowboys: CB Chidobe Awuzie

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    During the past offseason, the Dallas Cowboys extended defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence, linebacker Jaylon Smith and running back Ezekiel Elliott. Quarterback Dak Prescott and wideout Amari Cooper continue to wait in line for their first big paydays.

    With possibly five lucrative extensions in two years, the Cowboys will have to save elsewhere. Perhaps Pro Bowl cornerback Byron Jones signs with another team following his 2019 contract year.

    If so, the Cowboys can turn to Chidobe Awuzie as their top cover man in the secondary. Through four weeks, he is tied with safety Jeff Heath in pass breakups and picked off his first pass on a deflection in the last outing. 

    Awuzie has three interceptions in 29 career contests, but he's a solid defender who can challenge the opposing team's best wide receiver with physicality and sticky coverage. In the long term, the 24-year-old could be a cheaper, comparable option to Jones as the building block at cornerback.

Denver Broncos: WR Courtland Sutton

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    Lost in the Denver Broncos' 0-4 start and 26th-ranked scoring offense, wideout Courtland Sutton looks impressive in his sophomore term. He leads the team in receiving yards (309) with a 71 percent catch rate. More importantly, the SMU product has moved the chains in crucial moments with 18 first-down catches.

    Because of their slow start, the Broncos could entertain the thought of moving wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders in his contract year for draft capital near the deadline. That would leave Sutton in a position to see a majority of targets in the passing game.

    If Sanders stays in Denver, Sutton can win his one-on-one matchups against the opponent's No. 2 cover man. The 6'4", 216-pound wide receiver can serve as a reliable big-body target for quarterback Joe Flacco or his eventual successor.

    Perhaps Sutton can provide the aerial attack with consistent production similar to Demaryius Thomas during his nine-year tenure with the team.

Detroit Lions: WR Kenny Golladay

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    In Week 4, the Detroit Lions came up short against the Kansas City Chiefs, but Kenny Golladay put his best on display down the stretch. He showed a little toe-drag swag in the fourth quarter to put his team in the lead. 

    As a high-volume target wide receiver (36), Golladay must improve his catch rate (52.8), though he's still in the early stages of development. With a slight boost in reception frequency, the Northern Illinois product will have plenty of opportunities to post big numbers. 

    When assessing his rapport with quarterback Matthew Stafford, Golladay doesn't see a ceiling for their joint production going forward, per MLive.com's Benjamin Raven.

    "Just making plays, really, that's all. I'm just fortunate enough where I can make those plays in a game like this," Golladay said. "The sky is the limit (for the Stafford-Golladay duo). We're both getting better with the connection."

    With Stafford entrenched as the franchise centerpiece, the Lions have a quarterback-wide receiver tandem that's yet to scratch the surface of their commutative potential in the aerial attack.

Green Bay Packers: RB Aaron Jones

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    Because of Matt LaFleur's background, it's fair to expect a shift in the Green Bay Packers offense in favor of the ground attack, specifically Aaron Jones. The team's lead skipper served as an offensive coordinator on head coach Sean McVay's staff in Los Angeles. Running back Todd Gurley was the focal point in that offense. 

    Last year, in Tennessee, LaFleur handled primary play-calling duties for an offense that ranked ninth in total carries and 31st in pass attempts.

    Of course, we can't compare Marcus Mariota to Aaron Rodgers. Nevertheless, the Packers offense doesn't feature many established pass-catching options with years of experience playing alongside the starting signal-caller.

    Wideout Davante Adams has solid chemistry with Rodgers. Younger wide receivers like Geronimo Allison, Marquez Valdes-Scantling and Jake Kumerow continue to build an on-field bond with the two-time All-Pro quarterback. In the meantime, the Packers will likely lean on Jones to smooth over rough offensive stretches. 

    Thus far, Jones has logged 59 carries for 195 yards and four touchdowns. While his yards-per-carry average may raise some concerns, he'll have more opportunities to show workhorse qualities with Jamaal Williams dealing with a concussion and Adams likely limited with turf toe.

Houston Texans: LB Zach Cunningham

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    We often overlook off-ball linebackers because they're not racking up sacks at a high rate, but the Houston Texans have a solid playmaker in the middle of their defense.

    After a Week 2 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars, head coach Bill O'Brien made sure to acknowledge an underrated player at an underappreciated position, per Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle

    "He played a great football game," O'Brien said. "He was all over the place. I haven't even met with the coaching staff, but I assume he will probably get a game ball. If he doesn't, I'll give him one."

    Going into Week 5, Cunningham is tied with safety Justin Reid for a team-leading 33 total tackles. More importantly, he's showing up in the opponent's backfield with four tackles for loss. 

    The Texans rewarded Benardrick McKinney with a five-year, $50 million extension last year. Cunningham could be next in line during the 2020 offseason.

Indianapolis Colts: RB Marlon Mack

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    Following quarterback Andrew Luck's retirement, the Indianapolis Colts may rely on the ground attack while Jacoby Brissett finds his comfort zone under center. The club ranks 21st in pass attempts and tied for 10th in carries.

    Running back Marlon Mack handled a heavy load in the season opener, logging 25 rush attempts for 174 yards and a touchdown. Despite durability concerns, he can move the chains—24 of his runs have gone for first downs. The third-year pro also averages 4.7 yards per carry this year.

    Head coach Frank Reich will probably continue to mix Nyheim Hines and Jordan Wilkins into the rushing offense. Mack possesses the power and quickness to become the driving force behind a strong ground attack.

    Hines serves as the primary pass-catching tailback, but Mack has the ability to challenge linebackers and safeties in a receiving role as well. For his career, he's caught 42 passes for 354 yards and two touchdowns. The South Florida product is the most complete tailback on the depth chart.

Jacksonville Jaguars: WR DJ Chark Jr.

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    While everyone gushes over quarterback Gardner Minshew II, DJ Chark Jr. has performed at the level of a lead wideout. He lists 13th in receiving yards with three touchdowns and a 73.1 percent catch rate.

    With wideout Marqise Lee gradually recovering from a torn ACL and Dede Westbrook's relatively quiet start, Chark emerged as a go-to pass-catching option. He secured touchdown receptions in three consecutive games to start the year. Averaging 16.9 yards per reception, the LSU product adds a big-play element to the offense.

    Assuming Chark continues to develop, he'll provide balance to the Jaguars offense. The unit wouldn't have to rely on running back Leonard Fournette with his shaky injury history, pounding the football 25-plus times between the tackles. Whether it's Nick Foles or Minshew under center, the quarterback will have an over-the-top receiving option to keep defenses honest in coverage.

Kansas City Chiefs: DT Chris Jones

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    The Chiefs didn't come to an agreement on an extension for defensive tackle Chris Jones, who skipped organized team activities and minicamp practices to push for a new deal.

    If Jones can avoid playing out a year on the franchise tag, he's due for a lucrative contract. The 25-year-old finished third in sacks (15.5) last year, logging one in 11 consecutive contests. 

    The Chiefs can ink Jones to a long-term deal as a strong complement to defensive end Frank Clark, who's on the outside. The duo would provide the front line with one of the best inside-outside pass-rushing combinations in the league. 

    Furthermore, Kansas City's pass defense remains a work in progress (20th). Jones' ability to speed up a quarterback's ticking clock in the pocket certainly helps defenders on the back end. When a signal-caller has less time to set his feet and throw, he's usually prone to errant or off-target passes.

Los Angeles Chargers: RB Austin Ekeler

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    Through the first quarter of the season, we saw why the Los Angeles Chargers didn't budge amid a contract impasse with running back Melvin Gordon III. Austin Ekeler can handle dual responsibilities as a ball-carrier and pass-catcher as well. 

    Gordon ended his holdout, and he'll likely see a significant workload in the upcoming matchup with the Broncos. Nevertheless, we shouldn't expect Ekeler's touches to completely evaporate. The third-year tailback averages 3.9 yards per carry and caught 24 passes for 270 yards and three touchdowns. 

    If Gordon finds a big payday elsewhere, Ekeler can step into the lead running back role on a full-time basis in the next season and beyond. He fits into the mold of today's versatile running back who can handle 15 carries and also see five to eight targets in the passing attack during a game. 

    Since Ekeler will become a restricted free agent in 2020, the Chargers can match offers to keep him on the roster. He's a reliable component to the offense who should come at a manageable price.

Los Angeles Rams: WR Cooper Kupp

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    Typically, we expect a player to perform at optimal levels a year after returning from a torn ACL. Of course, everyone heals at a different pace, but apparently, Cooper Kupp operates on another level.

    Last November, Kupp tore his ACL. He didn't start the year with a reduced snap count, lining up for 89 percent of offensive plays in Week 1. The 26-year-old has eclipsed 100 receiving yards in each of the last four outings. 

    Kupp has picked up where he left off before his knee injury and leads the league in receiving yards (505).

    Because the Los Angeles Rams have toned down running back Todd Gurley's workload, quarterback Jared Goff will feel more pressure to move the ball through the air.

    Kupp has secured at least 66 percent of pass targets in all three of his seasons. Currently, at 69.6 percent, he's a reliable receiving option for a quarterback who's adjusting to a pass-heavy offense.

Miami Dolphins: WR Preston Williams

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    Through four weeks, the Dolphins have been outscored 163-26, so it's difficult to see any promise in the players on the roster, but we can isolate Preston Williams' solid play as a starter.

    Williams didn't receive an invite to this year's NFL Scouting Combine because of a domestic violence arrest. He went undrafted and worked his way through the ranks to a prominent role. The Colorado State product had a strong showing at training camp and caught four passes for 97 yards in the first preseason game.

    Williams has recorded at least four receptions in each of the last three regular-season contests. He's developed a rapport with quarterback Josh Rosen, who also worked with the backups during the summer. The connection between the two isn't perfect, but the undrafted rookie has reeled in 15 out of 30 targets for 201 yards and a touchdown. 

    Williams seems determined to blossom into a playmaker, per Safid Deen of the Miami Herald.

    "Undrafted, first round — I never doubted my talent and what I can do," Williams said. "I had a chip [on my shoulder] that gave me drive; but at the same time, I still felt like I could still compete in the league and be one of the No. 1 receivers one day."

    The Dolphins may never see 2015 first-round wideout DeVante Parker develop into a consistent contributor, but the organization seems to have a potential lead at the position in Williams.

Minnesota Vikings: RB Dalvin Cook

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    The Minnesota Vikings offense has gone through a notable shift from last year's pass-heavy unit to a group that leans on the ground attack.

    In 2018, the Vikings listed sixth in pass attempts. Through four weeks, the club ranks last in the category, but Dalvin Cook looks phenomenal in the workhorse role. He's averaging 17.8 carries per contest and 5.8 yards per tote on the ground. 

    Cook lists second in yards (410), and he's tied with Ravens running back Mark Ingram II in rushing touchdowns. 

    Despite signing quarterback Kirk Cousins to a three-year, $84 million guaranteed contract during the 2018 offseason, the Vikings don't seem to trust him moving the ball through the air. As a result, Cook has become the focal point of the offense. 

    Assuming this trend continues, Cook's production may compare to running back Todd Gurley's numbers between the 2017-18 campaigns as the most important component within the offense.

New England Patriots: CB J.C. Jackson

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    J.C. Jackson isn't a designated starter, but he's played 55.04 percent of defensive snaps. He's also a playmaker in multiple roles. In Week 4 against the Bills, the second-year cornerback logged two interceptions, a pair of pass deflections and blocked a punt in 40 combined plays between defense and special teams duties.

    Patriots safety Devin McCourty showered Jackson with praise, per WEEI's Andy Hart.

    "They have to make up some type of award to give J.C. I don't know if it's special teams, defensive player of the week, but they need to give some type of combo I think. He's another guy, when he gets on the field somehow he makes a play. From last year and all the way into this year, so it was great to see him go out there and make those plays today." 

    As McCourty points out, Jackson's Week 4 performance isn't a fluke. Last year, he recorded 22 solo tackles, three interceptions and six pass breakups while playing just 37.87 percent of defensive snaps. The 23-year-old has developed a track record for positioning himself in the right place to change the complexion of games. 

    Jackson has only suited up for 17 contests, but he's clearly an impact player who's a ball magnet.

New Orleans Saints: RT Ryan Ramczyk

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    Thanks in large part to Ryan Ramczyk, Texans defensive end J.J. Watt had a first-time experience in the season opener. He finished the game without a tackle or sack.

    Of course, Ramczyk didn't handle Watt alone, but he can claim significant credit lining up opposite the three-time Defensive Player of the Year. He briefly discussed the matchup with reporters following the New Orleans Saints' 30-28 victory. 

    "Obviously it was a huge challenge," Ramczyk said. "I was pleased with my performance and not only my performance but the guys around me who helped shut JJ down for the night."

    With elite pass-rushers lining on both sides of the line, Ramczyk will continue to battle against some of the best on the right side. In Week 5, he'll see Shaquil Barrett, who leads the league in sacks (nine).

    Ramczyk has lined up at left and right tackle with the Saints. During his 2017 rookie campaign, he manned the blind side for three of the first four weeks. His ability to play in either spot gives this team long-term flexibility in pass protection for the quarterback.

New York Giants: TE Evan Engram

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    Although more tight ends have emerged in receiver roles in recent seasons, Evan Engram doesn't garner enough buzz as one of the rising talents at the position. 

    Over the past few years, Engram has stood in Odell Beckham Jr.'s shadow in the New York Giants' pass-catching pecking order. With the superstar wideout in Cleveland, the third-year tight end ranks ninth leaguewide in receiving yards (331) with two touchdowns and a 73 percent catch rate

    Even with the quarterback switch from Eli Manning to rookie first-rounder Daniel Jones, Engram logged 100-yard games with both signal-callers. He ran a 4.42-second 40-yard time at the 2017 NFL Scouting Combine and plays with enough size (6'3", 240 lbs) to become a matchup nightmare for linebackers and safeties. 

    Jones will have wide receivers Golden Tate and Sterling Shepard for multiple years, but Engram can be the offense's chain-mover and go-to guy in the passing game.

New York Jets: S Marcus Maye

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    In 2017, the New York Jets had an early glimpse of a young safety duo that could become one of the best in the league. Last year, Jamal Adams earned a Pro Bowl invite. Marcus Maye spent most of the season on the sideline with foot, thumb and shoulder injuries.

    In 25 contests, Maye has six pass deflections, three interceptions and a 104-yard touchdown return off a pick. Because of injuries, he's been unable to generate buzz like Adams, but his confidence hasn't wavered, per Zach Braziller of the New York Post

    "He deserves everything he's gotten, but I feel I belong right there with all [the best safeties]," Maye said. "I just have to go out and prove it, play to the best of my ability."

    The Jets defense has struggled without a decent offensive attack—thanks in part to quarterback Sam Darnold's absence due to mononucleosis. Nevertheless, Maye has appeared healthy in all three games, logging 10 solo tackles and two pass breakups. If he remains available to play, the 26-year-old could revert to his 2016, early 2017 form.

Oakland Raiders: RB Josh Jacobs

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    Josh Jacobs didn't handle the majority load at Alabama in any of his three terms. However, the Oakland Raiders have fed him through the first four weeks. In his first game, he carried the ball 23 times for 85 yards and two touchdowns.

    The Silver and Black fell behind early in games against the Chiefs and Vikings, which may explain why Jacobs recorded 12 and 10 rush attempts in those games. Yet, he became a closer last week. The Indianapolis Colts couldn't stop him down the stretch—that allowed the Raiders to milk the clock en route to a 31-24 victory. 

    Despite his inexperience, Jacobs has probably earned the coaching staff's trust in a short period. He's yet to fumble and didn't shrink in a crucial moment. The 21-year-old can put games away in case the team's 24th-ranked scoring defense struggles to force three-and-outs down the stretch. 

    With a lead, Carr can hand off to Jacobs and watch him work between the tackles and grind out extra yardage at the end of his runs. If head coach Jon Gruden designs more plays to isolate him in space, the rookie running back would resemble a do-it-all playmaker at the position.

Philadelphia Eagles: RB Miles Sanders

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    After a slow start, Miles Sanders has progressed over the last two outings. In Week 3, he caught two passes for 40 and 33 yards against the Lions. The Penn State product has averaged 4.1 and 6.6 yards per carry over the past two games.

    Despite sharing touches with running backs Jordan Howard and Darren Sproles, Sanders leads the team in yards from scrimmage (262). Because he's a natural pass-catcher, expect him to see more touches than Howard going forward. 

    Howard scored on a touchdown reception and gashed the Packers on the ground last week, but Sanders has natural hands as a receiver and brings a home-run element to the rushing offense because of his explosiveness. 

    In addition to his dual-threat capabilities out of the backfield, Sanders has returned seven kicks for 183 yards—a valuable aspect to his game in terms of field positioning for the offense.

Pittsburgh Steelers: S Minkah Fitzpatrick

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    After losing quarterback Ben Roethlisberger for the season because of an elbow injury, the Pittsburgh Steelers traded a first-round pick, which may become a top-10 selection in 2020, for defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick.

    The Steelers' transaction confused some people. Why not keep the pick and possibly trade it in case a team wants to move up for a quarterback? It seems the front office pounced on an opportunity to acquire a player who's capable of strengthening the pass defense. Secondly, free safety Sean Davis landed on injured reserve with a shoulder injury.

    The Steelers' aggressive move for Fitzpatrick already tells you what they think of him. He's going to play a part in their future. 

    In Miami, the coaching staff moved Fitzpatrick to various spots on defense, which is a tough task for a rookie. Without a defined position, he still logged 80 tackles, nine pass breakups and two interceptions. 

    The Steelers could further develop Fitzpatrick's skill set with a narrow focus on his position. As a pure safety with all of his potential, he could become a Pro Bowl player under defensive coordinator Keith Butler.

San Francisco 49ers: CB Ahkello Witherspoon

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    Coming into the season, Ahkello Witherspoon had to answer questions about a subpar sophomore season, and he did so in the season opener against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

    In addition to three pass breakups, Witherspoon picked off quarterback Jameis Winston and scored on a 25-yard return. He continued to flash in coverage, using his length and ball-tracking skills before suffering a foot sprain in Week 3.

    Witherspoon will miss a month of action, but based on a small sample, he's back on the right track. The 6'2", 195-pound cover man should continue to lock down the No. 2 cornerback spot opposite Richard Sherman.

    Sherman only has one year left on his deal and turns 32 years old in March. So, the 49ers need a young cornerback to stabilize their secondary for the long-term future. At least for now, Witherspoon looks like the guy to step into that role.

Seattle Seahawks: DT Jarran Reed

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    Out of sight, out of mind. The league suspended Jarran Reed for six games because of a personal conduct violation. Don't forget about his breakout sophomore season, though. In 2018, he logged 10.5 sacks, 12 tackles for loss and hit the quarterback 24 times.

    The Seahawks will see a significant boost in their pass rush when Reed suits up for action in Week 7 against the Ravens. The 26-year-old will return wearing a new number (91) after giving up No. 90 to Jadeveon Clowney, but we'll quickly recognize him winning matchups against interior linemen in the trenches. 

    With Clowney on the edge and playing well, Reed should have opportunities to win on the inside. He isn't just a defender who racks up sacks. In three seasons, the Alabama product has 129 tackles, which include 70 solo takedowns. 

    Reed's return gives the defensive line a foundational block capable of staying on the field for all three downs. 

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: WR Chris Godwin

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    Coming off his best game as a pro, Chris Godwin looks more like 1A rather than a No. 2 alongside wide receiver Mike Evans in the starting lineup.

    In Week 4, Godwin snagged 12 out of 14 targets for 172 yards and two touchdowns against the Rams. Los Angeles' secondary didn't have an answer for him, and Winston went to the third-year wideout to gouge his opponent's pass defense. 

    In the past, Godwin has experienced issues with drops, but he registered a 76.5 percent catch rate through the first quarter of the season.

    Beyond his pass-catching skills, Godwin isn't shy about opening lanes for his teammates. Head coach Bruce Arians talked to reporters about the wideout's willingness to block downfield.

    "Chris – that's his role. That's why I love when a guy has the breakout games of [12] catches or whatever for 170 yards, because he's doing all that grimy work. You throw him screen passes in the red zone, not just because they're good at it [but] because they deserve it. He blocked Clay Matthews better than our tight ends did a couple of times."

    With the popularity of fantasy football, we often overlook the profile of a complete wide receiver, which includes solid blocking on the perimeter. With Evans and Godwin, the Buccaneers have a solid pair who can finish with 100 receiving yards or put linebackers and safeties on their backs.

Tennessee Titans: RB Derrick Henry

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    Although quarterback Marcus Mariota threw the ball with efficiency during the last outing, completing 18 of 27 passes for 227 yards and three touchdowns, the Tennessee Titans will win and lose with the success or failure of the ground attack in most contests.

    In recent years, and through four weeks this season, Mariota has gone through waves of high production and ineffective stretches in the pocket. Running back Derrick Henry is on pace for a career-high in rushing yards and 12 touchdowns. 

    At this point in his career, Henry isn't a smooth pass-catcher. He had a costly drop on a screen pass against the Jaguars in Week 3, but the 25-year-old averages 4.5 yards per carry for his career as a bulldozing ball-carrier. 

    Now averaging 19.5 carries per contest, Henry has a taste of the workhorse role. On the ground, the fourth-year running back has shown the ability to handle extra totes. The Alabama product moves like a locomotive, and he's tough to bring down on initial contact.

    The Titans' passing game doesn't have to rank top 10 if Henry continues to advance the ball four to five yards on each rush attempt. He'll continue to play a huge role within the offense.

Washington Redskins: WR Terry McLaurin

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    Even with the Redskins' slow start, Terry McLaurin's pro career jumped off quickly. He recorded a touchdown reception in three consecutive contests before sitting out Week 4 against the Bears with a hamstring injury.

    McLaurin formed an immediate rapport with Case Keenum, though the rookie wideout may return to action with a new signal-caller under center. Head coach Jay Gruden said the team didn't have a Week 5 plan for the quarterback spot, which seems disastrous or untrue.

    The Redskins benched Keenum for Dwayne Haskins in the last outing. If the rookie signal-caller starts his first game against the Patriots, we could see an Ohio State connection between him and McLaurin on Sunday.

    McLaurin caught 35 passes for 701 yards and 11 touchdowns with Haskins under center in their last collegiate year together. Eventually, the pair will connect as key players in the Redskins' passing offense. As two rookies, their early growth could keep this aerial attack afloat and viable in the coming seasons.