4 NFL Players Who Will Break Out on New Teams in 2020
In the NFL, the cream rises to the top, but some players hit a ceiling with their first team because of limited roles, a poor schematic fit or a constant battle for reps.
Even though the grass isn't always greener with a new team, a fresh chapter can provide an opportunity for an underrated or underappreciated player to fully showcase his talents.
From the 2018 to 2019 campaigns, edge-rusher Za'Darius Smith went from a decent pass-rusher who played 67 percent of the Baltimore Ravens' defensive snaps to a Pro Bowler with his first double-digit sack season (13.5) in a full-time starting position with the Green Bay Packers.
Several players who moved to a new franchise this offseason are primed for leaps. We've selected and ranked four veterans who have yet to earn Pro Bowl or All-Pro recognition but are in the best position to break out with a new club.
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4. ILB Nick Kwiatkoski, Las Vegas Raiders
Through four seasons with the Chicago Bears, Nick Kwiatkoski started in 22 out of 57 games. Most recently, the linebacker appeared in a backup role behind Danny Trevathan and Roquan Smith.
Last season, Kwiatkoski provided intermediate coverage and pocket pressure while playing 48 percent of Chicago's defensive snaps. He logged three sacks, four pass breakups and an interception, and allowed a 59.5 percent completion rate.
In March, the Raiders signed Kwiatkoski to a three-year, $21 million deal, which indicates his role will get a significant bump. He's 11th among 4-3 linebackers in yearly salary, per Spotrac.
In a predraft press conference, general manager Mike Mayock said Kwiatkoski will wear the green dot on his helmet, meaning the coaching staff will trust the soon-to-be 27-year-old with the headset as the on-field extension to defensive coordinator Paul Guenther.
Based on his prospective position and responsibility, Kwiatkoski could develop into a quality three-down linebacker. Along with an increased workload, he can expand on his production.
Despite a limited role in Chicago, Kwiatkoski, along with edge-rusher Khalil Mack, led the team in tackles for loss (eight) last season. With his combination of quickness, short-area coverage and reliable tackling, the Raiders' new linebacker is primed for a breakout.
3. DT Javon Hargrave, Philadelphia Eagles
Last year, defensive tackle Grady Jarrett signed a four-year extension with the Atlanta Falcons. He had a Pro Bowl 2019 as one of the league's rising interior tackles. Javon Hargrave could develop in the same way.
Hargrave played nose tackle in the Pittsburgh Steelers' odd-man front. He held two gaps and pushed through initial blocks to thwart the run. The 6'2", 305-pounder also made his presence felt in the pass rush, registering 14.5 sacks to go along with 168 total tackles through four seasons.
With the Philadelphia Eagles, Hargrave will transition to an even-man front and line up next to five-time Pro Bowler and All-Pro defensive tackle Fletcher Cox.
Hargrave can take advantage of one-on-one situations and open looks at the quarterback with Cox commanding double-teams on the interior. The newcomer recorded 10.5 sacks over the last two seasons and could wreak havoc in a one-gap role.
Hargrave, 27, takes the third spot over Kwiatkoski, who will be on a learning curve with the radio in his helmet. The Eagles can simply unleash their new interior tackle, which is a scary thought for opposing offensive linemen.
2. TE Hayden Hurst, Atlanta Falcons
The Baltimore Ravens selected Hayden Hurst in the first round of the 2018 draft. As a rookie, he suffered a stress fracture in his foot and fell behind Mark Andrews on the depth chart. The South Carolina product recorded 43 receptions for 512 yards and three touchdowns in two years.
Despite Hurst's incremental improvements from his first to his second season, the Ravens traded him and a fourth-rounder to the Atlanta Falcons for second- and fifth-round picks.
For now, Hurst isn't in competition with an established veteran or early-round draft pick. The Falcons allowed tight end and second-leading pass-catcher Austin Hooper to walk during free agency, which gives the 26-year-old former Raven a chance to fill a void in the aerial attack.
Last season, Hurst caught 30 passes for 349 yards and two touchdowns, and had a 76.9 percent catch rate. When targeted, he showed reliable hands. He will also play alongside wideouts Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley. As opposing defenses focus on the two perimeter pass-catching threats, the 6'4", 260-pound tight end can attack the middle of the field.
Since 2011, the Falcons have fielded a top-10 passing offense. Hurst has a golden opportunity to put up big numbers with four-time Pro Bowler and All-Pro quarterback Matt Ryan at the helm.
Hurst takes the second spot because of his supporting cast in a high-powered passing attack.
1. WR Stefon Diggs, Buffalo Bills
It's almost unfair that wide receiver Stefon Diggs makes the list, but somehow he didn't earn a Pro Bowl invite despite logging back-to-back 1,000-plus-yard seasons. That's going to change soon.
Diggs isn't mentioned with the likes of Jones, DeAndre Hopkins and Michael Thomas, but he's among the second tier of wide receivers. The five-year veteran runs sharp routes, separates from defenders and beats coverage all over the field.
Last season, Diggs averaged 17.9 yards per catch and came into his own while wide receiver Adam Thielen nursed a hamstring injury for five of his six absences. The former led the Minnesota Vikings in receptions (63) and yards (1,130).
He's poised to fully break out in 2020.
The Vikings traded Diggs and a seventh-round selection to the Buffalo Bills for first-, fifth- and sixth-round picks along with a 2021 fourth-rounder. He gives his new team a No. 1 option.
In 2019, with the Bills, wideout John Brown recorded a career high in catches (72) and yards (1,060), but he hasn't progressed like Diggs has over the past few years. Since 2017, the latter has improved his receiving yard totals every season. He also has a much better catch rate for his career (68.4 percent compared to 52.9 percent).
Going into his third season, Buffalo quarterback Josh Allen isn't a refined signal-caller, so he doesn't compare to Minnesota's Kirk Cousins, but his strong arm can lead to huge plays. Diggs may routinely haul in 20-plus-yard receptions and rack up gaudy receiving numbers.
Among the top four players ready to break out on a new squad, Diggs has the best shot to become a first-time Pro Bowler. He may even garner mention as one of the top-10 players at his position.