NFL Backups Who Could Break Out Down the Stretch

Chris Roling@@Chris_RolingFeatured ColumnistDecember 7, 2019

NFL Backups Who Could Break Out Down the Stretch

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    Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

    The 2019 NFL season has already been an interesting one for backup players.

    In Tennessee, for example, Ryan Tannehill entered the season behind Marcus Mariota—now he's the starter with five wins to his name.

    Performance isn't the only reason backups get into games, of course. Necessity because of injuries and otherwise has and will continue to cause teams to throw reserves into action.

    The following players are backups with high upsides who figure to get good doses of action over the last month of the season for a variety of reasons. With enough playing time, they should turn some heads while shocking the opposition.

Derrius Guice, RB, Washington Redskins

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    Brian Blanco/Associated Press

    Derrius Guice is a backup—for now.

    The Washington Redskins got a big season from Adrian Peterson a year ago while Guice, then a rookie, missed the year with a knee injury. Guice entered this year in something of a split with the veteran before going down again.

    But Guice is back now, and it's easy to feel like he is only just getting started. Over four games, he hasn't carried the ball more than 10 times, yet in his last outing, he went for 129 yards and two touchdowns on 12.9 yards per carry.

    The 2018 second-round pick is clearly talented and just kicking into gear. Washington is already evaluating Dwayne Haskins under center and figures to only ramp up Guice's usage in all facets so he's got a full head of steam rolling into next season.

Darwin Thompson, RB, Kansas City Chiefs

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    Reed Hoffmann/Associated Press

    It always felt like a matter of time before the Kansas City Chiefs got more out of Darwin Thompson.

    That time seems to be now with Darrel Williams moving to injured reserve because of his hamstring and Damien Williams suffering a rib injury in Week 11.

    As bad as this might sound for the Chiefs, they have an Andy Reid-directed offense, which usually means good things for the backfield. And Thompson already flashed his talent in Week 13, putting up 44 yards and a score on just 11 carries.

    If it's the Thompson-LeSean McCoy show the rest of the way, the sixth-round pick figures to morph into a workhorse and have something of a breakout while the Chiefs cruise to the postseason.

Alexander Mattison, RB, Minnesota Vikings

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    Duane Burleson/Associated Press

    Alexander Mattison might roll into some unexpected work over the next four weeks as the regular season winds down for the Minnesota Vikings.

    Starter Dalvin Cook suffered a chest injury in Week 11, and while he's supposedly good to go, the lingering nature of it and the fact the team wants to make sure one of the league's best backs is good to go for the playoffs could mean a big chunk of time for Mattison.

    And Mattison is more than up to task. A third-round rookie, Mattison averages 4.8 yards per carry. Last week, he picked up 22 yards on four carries and also caught four passes for 51 yards. He's recorded north of 50 rushing yards five times while notching double-digit carries just three times.

    Given the circumstances and Minnesota's talent, Mattison could have one of the best four-game stretches of any back to close the season.

Gardner Minshew II, QB, Jacksonville Jaguars

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    Stephen B. Morton/Associated Press

    Minshew mania is back for the Jacksonville Jaguars, this time after the coaching staff pulled stater Nick Foles at halftime of Week 13.

    Gardner Minshew II didn't blow the doors off the building with his performance. But head coach Doug Marrone said he'll be the starter, and surely the team is hoping to recapture some of that early- and midseason Minshew magic.

    Minshew has completed 61.1 percent of his passes with 14 touchdowns against just five interceptions, so he'll clearly give the Jaguars the best chances at wins down the stretch. Foles is completing 65.8 percent of his passes but has three touchdowns to two interceptions and is 0-4.

    The mobility Minshew—who is 4-4 as the starter—brings alone is a good sign for the final four games. So is the monster breakout from DJ Chark Jr. at wideout, not to mention matchups against struggling teams such as the Los Angeles Chargers and Atlanta Falcons. A Minshew breakout would likely guarantee he's the guy going into next season.

Andy Isabella, WR, Arizona Cardinals

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    Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

    Whereas there are usually more running backs on a list like this in December given the violent nature of the position, the same does not apply to wideout.

    Luckily for Arizona Cardinals wideout Andy Isabella, the team is in evaluation mode, which should help backups get some shine.

    And shine Isabella has lately, including with an 88-yard touchdown four games ago. That one catch gave him a career high in yards and his first NFL touchdown.

    Isabella's playing time continues to increase as the season winds down—he had not played at least 30 percent of snaps in any game through Week 9 but has done so in each of the last three games—meaning his rapport with breakout rookie passer Kyler Murray should only continue to improve. It wouldn't be much of a shock if he put up a massive game or two as the offense-minded coaching staff identifies its core pieces for next year and beyond.

Jakobi Meyers, WR, New England Patriots

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    Winslow Townson/Associated Press

    New England Patriots wideout Jakobi Meyers was a fun story in the preseason, but he hadn't made a big splash in the regular season.

    That could be about to change.

    Meyers has seen seven or more targets in two consecutive games, totaling 120 yards on just seven catches. Put another way: Meyers went from 26 percent of the snaps in Week 11 to 76 percent in Week 12 and 70 percent in Week 13.

    Mohamed Sanu Sr. and Phillip Dorsett II might be close to or at full strength in the coming weeks. But if the Patriots want to take it easy on starters down the stretch, especially with the AFC's second seed at worst seemingly a good possibility, Meyers could be in line for a consistent clip of playing time. The preseason hype has started to translate.

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