Predicting Every NFL Team's Breakout Player for 2020

Gary Davenport@@IDPSharksNFL AnalystMay 11, 2020

Predicting Every NFL Team's Breakout Player for 2020

0 of 32

    Abbie Parr/Getty Images

    There's one thing that every team in the NFL wants in 2020.

    OK, so there are two things. One is a trip to Tampa and Super Bowl LV. The thing is, for more teams than not that just ain't a realistic desire.

    You know who you are.

    The other thing that all teams want is a breakout—for a young player on the roster to either meet the lofty expectations that come with a high draft pick or exceed the more modest ones that come later on.

    They want their young quarterback to assert himself as a quality NFL starter. They want their wide receiver prospect to catch double-digit touchdowns and/or top 1,000 yards. They want their highly touted edge-rusher to pile up a dozen sacks.

    Now, not every team will get what it wants in this regard in 2020. But every team has at least one player who has the right combination of talent and situation to explode into NFL prominence this year.

    With that in mind, here's a prediction for one breakout player from every NFL team.

    No more than 32 of them will be wrong…tops.

Arizona Cardinals: QB Kyler Murray

1 of 32

    Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

    We'll start with some low-hanging fruit.

    There are those who will argue that Kyler Murray has already broken out. The second-year quarterback of the Arizona Cardinals won Offensive Rookie of the Year honors in 2019 and became one of just three signal-callers in NFL history to pass for 3,000 yards and run for 500 yards as a rookie.

    But the bar for a breakout at the quarterback position is pretty high. To be a star under center, you have to be a superstar.

    Murray is well-positioned to be just that. The addition of DeAndre Hopkins was a huge boost to the Arizona passing game, and Kliff Kingsbury's offensive scheme lends itself well to big numbers from its quarterback.

    In each of the last two seasons, a second-year quarterback took the league by storm on his way to winning NFL MVP.

    It's not that hard to imagine Murray making it three years in a row.

Atlanta Falcons: CB A.J. Terrell

2 of 32

    David J. Phillip/Associated Press

    A.J. Terrell is about to be thrown into the deep end of the pool.

    With Desmond Trufant now in Detroit, cornerback was arguably the biggest offseason need for the Falcons. When Atlanta spent the 16th overall pick on Terrell, it sent a clear message that the Falcons think the 6'1" 195-pound Clemson standout is ready to contribute right away.

    When we last saw Terrell, he was getting roasted by LSU's Ja'Marr Chase in the CFP national title game. But Terrell told Will McFadden of the team's website that both wins and losses at his position get relegated to the history books quickly.

    "I know you're not going to win each rep but you should win more than your opponent, so that's the mindset and having short-term memory," Terrell said.

    Terrell is all but certainly going to start from the get-go in a division choked with superstar quarterbacks and wide receivers. If he wins more of those reps than he loses while facing quarterbacks like Drew Brees and Tom Brady, Terrell will be squarely in the mix for Defensive Rookie of the Year honors.

Baltimore Ravens: ILB Patrick Queen

3 of 32

    Danny Karnik/Associated Press

    A few players could fit the bill here for the Baltimore Ravens. Wide receiver Marquise Brown showed flashes of real potential in scoring seven touchdowns as a rookie. The team added a number of impact players in another excellent draft class in 2020.

    It's that draft class we're going to turn to. Specifically, the first player the Ravens selected.

    Patrick Queen of LSU wasn't even the most productive off-ball linebacker on his own team last year. But in piling up 85 tackles, 12 tackles for loss, three sacks and an interception in 2019, Queen showed off the sideline-to-sideline range that modern NFL teams covet. It's that range that got Queen drafted in the first round of April's draft.

    This breakout is all about opportunity. The inside linebacker spots were a glaring weak spot for the Ravens in the offseason—both Queen and fellow rookie Malik Harrison could open the season as full-time starters.

    If that is the case, Queen has an excellent chance of leading one of the AFC's top contenders in total tackles in 2020.

Buffalo Bills: DT Ed Oliver

4 of 32

    Lynne Sladky/Associated Press

    Ed Oliver is a young defensive tackle cut from the Aaron Donald mold. He's undersized at 6'1" and 287 pounds, but he more than makes up for it with an explosive first step off the snap.

    The Bills made Oliver the ninth overall pick in the 2019 draft, and the young 3-technique had his moments as a rookie, finishing the year with 43 total tackles and five sacks.

    That was just a tease of things to come with Oliver.

    It's hardly unexpected that Oliver got off to a slow start in the NFL. At the University of Houston, Oliver was more often than not miscast as a two-gap lineman who lined up directly over an offensive lineman. He even spent time as a zero-technique nose tackle, which is a complete waste of his disruptive talents.

    Oliver needed time to learn to play the one-gap role he's much better suited for. And as the season wore on last year, you could tell he was becoming more comfortable—four of his five sacks came after Buffalo's Week 10 bye.

Carolina Panthers: Edge Brian Burns

5 of 32

    Ben Margot/Associated Press

    Like many of the young players listed in this piece, Carolina Panthers edge-rusher Brian Burns had a respectable rookie season in the NFL. The 6'5" 250-pounder tallied 7.5 sacks and 23 pressures in 478 snaps in 2019.

    But the 16th overall pick in last year's draft is going to be asked to do much more in 2020. As a rookie, Burns was a complementary pass-rusher. But with Mario Addison now in Buffalo, Burns is going to be tasked with leading one of the most impressive position groups on the team.

    He won't have to do it all himself—the Panthers have a potentially imposing duo of defensive tackles in Kawann Short and rookie Derrick Brown and a pair of capable strong-side ends in veteran Stephen Weatherly and rookie Yetur Gross-Matos.

    If those players can stop opponents from keying on Burns, he has the athleticism and quickness off the edge to win plenty of one-on-one battles and pile up a dozen sacks or more in his second season.

Chicago Bears: RB David Montgomery

6 of 32

    Andy Clayton-King/Associated Press

    On one hand, David Montgomery had a relatively solid first season for the Chicago Bears in 2019. The 5'10", 222-pound third-round pick topped 1,000 total yards, caught 25 passes and found the end zone seven times.

    But Montgomery also averaged just 3.7 yards per carry as a rookie. That's not going to get it done in 2020.

    The Bears have a new quarterback in town in Nick Foles and a pair of new tight ends in veteran Jimmy Graham and rookie Cole Kmet, but this still remains a team with an underwhelming cadre of wide receivers. For the Bears to have success, they need to run the ball. And while Tarik Cohen is still in town, when it comes to the between-the-tackles work it's all on Montgomery in 2020.

    We've seen Montgomery play the role of workhorse before—he topped 250 carries during each of his last two seasons at Iowa State. If the Bears are going to even sniff a playoff spot this season, it's going to take 1,200 yards on the ground from Montgomery—a number that would make fantasy football enthusiasts elated.

Cincinnati Bengals: OT Jonah Williams

7 of 32

    John Minchillo/Associated Press

    No, I didn't list Joe Burrow as Cincinnati's breakout player. Can we please get through one article without talking about how dreamy Cincy's franchise savior is?

    Besides, if Burrow is going to enjoy real success as a rookie, it's going to take vast improvement from a Bengals O-line that struggled in a big way a year ago.

    That's where offensive tackle Jonah Williams comes in.

    Williams' rookie season in 2019 was over before it started—a shoulder injury dating back to his time at Alabama forced surgery that landed him on injured reserve.

    However, all indications are that Williams' rehab is progressing well, and the 6'4", 302-pounder is expected to open the season covering Burrow's backside on the left edge of the line.

    Williams was widely regarded as the most pro-ready tackle in the class of 2019—his technique, footwork and fundamentals were the best of last year's bunch. Given that, there's no reason to think he won't perform at a high level.

    And that should help Burrow do the same.

Cleveland Browns: OT Jedrick Wills Jr.

8 of 32

    Vasha Hunt/Associated Press

    Is there an echo in here?

    In more than a few respects, Jedrick Wills Jr. is a carbon copy of Jonah Williams. Both young tackles played at the University of Alabama. Both have the sort of fundamentals and technique that you usually see in tackles who have been in the NFL a few years.

    And both will play major roles for NFL teams in the state of Ohio in 2020.

    After a miserable 2019 season that included struggles at the tackle position, the Browns made big changes at that spot in the offseason. Veteran Jack Conklin will be tasked with holding down the right side after joining the team in free agency. And Wills will ostensibly flip to the left side after playing right tackle for left-handed signal caller Tua Tagovailoa in Tuscaloosa last year.

    The Browns have no shortage of offensive firepower, but for Baker Mayfield to bounce back this year, he needs better blocking ahead of him.

    Wills is the type of NFL-ready prospect who should make an immediate impact.

    And if he does, fans in Cleveland who worshipped Joe Thomas will gladly embrace him.

Dallas Cowboys: WR CeeDee Lamb

9 of 32

    Sue Ogrocki/Associated Press

    Shaun McDowell coached CeeDee Lamb in high school. Per Jon Machota of The Athletic, McDowell thinks that the Dallas Cowboys got the steal of the first round in 2020 when they selected the former Oklahoma star.

    "It ain't going to be long for him to adjust (to the pro game) because he's going to dive into the playbook, he's going to compete every day at practice. I think he'll have a great opportunity to be a Rookie of the Year type of guy when he takes care of his business."

    It's pretty easy to agree with McDowell's assessment.

    It's not just a matter of talent—although Lamb showed off plenty of that as a walking highlight reel in Norman. Or work ethic.

    Among this year's rookie wideouts, Lamb hit the situation jackpot. He has an elite quarterback throwing him the ball in Dak Prescott and two proven options ahead of him in Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup.

    There's going to be plenty of single coverage. Plenty of chances for Lamb to get open over the top.

    And plenty more of those highlight-reel plays.

Denver Broncos: QB Drew Lock

10 of 32

    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    The Kansas City Chiefs are the gold standard of offense in not just the AFC West but the NFL as a whole. While speaking with James Palmer of the NFL Network, Denver Broncos quarterback Drew Lock said he thinks his team is capable of the same offensive fireworks as their AFC West rivals.

    "We got a lot of work to be the Kansas City Chiefs," Lock said. "But with the weapons in place, there is potential to be that."

    There's plenty of firepower at Lock's disposal. Fresh off a breakout 2019 season, Courtland Sutton has a new running mate in rookie Jerry Jeudy. The Broncos have an athletic tight end in 2019 first-rounder Noah Fant. And after adding Melvin Gordon II to a backfield that includes Phillip Lindsay and Royce Freeman, Denver has maybe the deepest backfield stable in the league.

    The stage is set for Lock to do more than just build on his 4-1 finish to the 2019 season. It's set for him to guide the Broncos to postseason contention and become a star in the making under center.

Detroit Lions: RB D'Andre Swift

11 of 32

    John Amis/Associated Press

    After winning just three games last year (and only one after October 1), the Detroit Lions want very badly to forget that the 2019 season ever happened. This team is in dire need of firepower on both sides of the ball.

    Detroit found some with the 35th overall pick of the 2020 draft.

    Georgia's D'Andre Swift was the No. 1 running back on more than a few predraft big boards—including that of Bleacher Report's Matt Miller. The 5'8" 212-pounder is a do-it-all back as adept at catching the ball out of the backfield as he is grinding out yardage between the tackles.

    The Lions have a talented back on the roster in Kerryon Johnson, but he's had all kinds of trouble staying healthy—he's missed at least half a dozen games in both of his professional seasons.

    If Swift gets the opportunity to be Detroit's featured back—and recent history indicates that he will—he won't let it go.

Green Bay Packers: WR Allen Lazard

12 of 32

    Bill Kostroun/Associated Press

    The Green Bay Packers had one of the more eyebrow-raising drafts in the league this year. It wasn't just the trade up to select Utah State quarterback Jordan Love in Round 1. The Packers also didn't do anything to address a wideout corps that is one big question mark behind Davante Adams.

    That would appear to be a vote of confidence in youngster Allen Lazard, who came on down the stretch last year. Zach Kruse of Packers Wire believes it's Lazard who has the best odds to emerge as the team's No. 2 receiver in 2020.

    "[Lazard is the] most viable candidate to be the No. 2 receiver, given the confidence gained from his breakout 2019 season, the ability to win from every receiver spot and the trust formed with the quarterback," Kruse said. "Not explosive but looks capable of handling high volume of targets. Also, he's a physical player who not only loves blocking but is an asset doing it."

    Playing opposite Adams means lot of single coverage, which could set the stage for a Lazard breakout.

Houston Texans: WR Will Fuller V

13 of 32

    Peter G. Aiken/Getty Images

    The Houston Texans have had themselves an offseason.

    Fans of the Texans have had some time now to talk themselves into the idea that swapping out DeAndre Hopkins for Brandin Cooks wasn't a massive downgrade. And that David Johnson will stay healthy and capture his superstar form from a few years ago in Arizona.

    While they're at it, here's another one. Cooks isn't going to lead the Texans in receiving yards in 2020—Will Fuller V is.

    Health is always a major caveat for Fuller—he's missed at least five games in three of four NFL seasons. But his talent and ability to burn defenses vertically is undeniable. So is his chemistry with Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson.

    This abbreviated offseason isn't going to afford Cooks and Watson much time to get to know each other. Fuller is going to be Watson's go-to-guy—a go-to guy who just so happens to also be in a contract year.

    Cooks isn't gonna make fans forget about Hopkins in 2020.

    A healthy Fuller could be another story.

Indianapolis Colts: WR Michael Pittman Jr.

14 of 32

    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    The Indianapolis Colts made a number of big changes on offense this year. There's a new quarterback in town in Philip Rivers. Indy also used a pair of picks early on Day 2 to add to the weapons at Rivers' disposal.

    Both of those rookies have breakout potential. Jonathan Taylor was one of the most productive running backs in college football history. But there's a capable pro ahead of Taylor on the depth chart (at least for now) in Marlon Mack and a solid pass-catching back in Nyheim Hines. It may take a while for Taylor to assert himself.

    Wide receiver Michael Pittman Jr. has a clearer path to making an early dent. As Kevin Hickey wrote for Colts Wire, head coach Frank Reich said he sees Pittman serving as the team's "X" receiver from the get-go. Having T.Y. Hilton to draw coverage away from him certainly won't hurt. And as the team's new quarterback, Rivers has no pre-existing relationships with the veteran wideouts on the roster.

    Pittman has a realistic chance to be the No. 1 rookie receiver in the NFL in 2020.

Jacksonville Jaguars: Edge Josh Allen

15 of 32

    Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press

    A pretty good argument can be made that Josh Allen already broke out as a rookie with the Jacksonville Jaguars. The first-round pick out of the University of Kentucky amassed 44 tackles and led the Jags with 10.5 sacks.

    But Allen is not even the most well-known Josh Allen in the NFL—and if he's going to overtake the young quarterback of the Buffalo Bills for that honor, he will have to take things up another notch in his second season.

    The opportunity should be there for Allen in 2020. His 10.5 sacks last year came in 634 snaps. With Calais Campbell's 818 snaps now in Baltimore, that number for Allen should increase by a fair margin this year.

    Additionally, while batterymate Yannick Ngakoue might not want to be in Jacksonville this year, he is—at least for now. And so long as Ngakoue is playing opposite Allen, it makes it that much more difficult for opponents to key on Allen.

    If Allen can maintain his per-snap effectiveness from a year ago, he could be in the mix to lead the league in sacks this season.

Kansas City Chiefs: RB Clyde Edwards-Helaire

16 of 32

    Mike Stewart/Associated Press

    It's not that hard to imagine just about any young skill-position player for the Kansas City Chiefs enjoying a breakout season. When Patrick Mahomes is running the show, you're already halfway home.

    Wide receiver Mecole Hardman deserves some consideration after he averaged over 20 yards a catch with six scores in 2019—especially since the Chiefs reportedly want to get Hardman more involved in the offense in 2020.

    But instead, the call goes to an even newer arrival—rookie first-round pick Clyde Edwards-Helaire.

    It's not a matter of talent, although Edwards-Helaire has plenty. The 5'7" 207-pounder topped 1,400 yards on the ground in 2019 and set an LSU record for a running back with 55 catches.

    No, this is about fit. Edwards-Helaire's skill set (including that ability to catch the rock out of the backfield) is tailor-made for what the Chiefs like to do on offense.

    Kansas City didn't make Edwards-Helaire the first running back selected so he could watch from the sidelines.

    If a non-quarterback is going to win Offensive Rookie of the Year, then Edwards-Helaire has to be the front-runner.

Las Vegas Raiders: WR Hunter Renfrow

17 of 32

    Kelvin Kuo/Associated Press

    The Las Vegas Raiders made a significant investment in the wide receiver position in the 2020 NFL draft—general manager Mike Mayock spent a first-round pick on Alabama's Henry Ruggs III and used a third-round pick on South Carolina's Bryan Edwards.

    However, it's one of the team's holdovers who will emerge as Derek Carr's go-to target at the position in 2020.

    Hunter Renfrow already experienced a mini-breakout of sorts a year ago for the Raiders. No wide receiver on the Raiders roster received more targets than Renfrow's 71 in 2019, and the fifth-round pick topped 100 receiving yards with a touchdown in each of his last two games.

    With Ruggs keeping defenses honest down the field and tight end Darren Waller drawing the majority of attention underneath, there will be no shortage of opportunities for Renfrow to do damage from the slot.

    The youngster has already shown he can take advantage of those opportunities. If he can stay healthy, Renfrow should sail past 1,000 receiving yards in 2020.

Los Angeles Chargers: ILB Kenneth Murray

18 of 32

    Sue Ogrocki/Associated Press

    Frankly, the Los Angeles Chargers don't necessarily want rookie inside linebacker Kenneth Murray to have a huge first season. If Murray piles up gaudy tackle totals in 2020, it probably means that the Chargers defense is spending a lot of time on the field—quite possibly because the L.A. offense, um, isn't.

    However, from a talent standpoint, Murray is more than capable of joining players like Darius Leonard, Roquan Smith and Leighton Vander Esch as off-ball linebackers who shine in their first season.

    At 6'2" and 241 pounds, Murray is a prototypical inside linebacker. But he's more than just a two-down thumper. With 4.52 speed, Murray can roam from sideline to sideline and hold his own in coverage.

    The Chargers have been searching for a young linebacker to lead that position group for several years. Given that they traded up to select Murray with the 23rd overall pick this year, it would appear they believe they've found their man in Murray.

    He should see a heavy snap count immediately.

Los Angeles Rams: RB Cam Akers

19 of 32

    John Raoux/Associated Press

    With Todd Gurley now toting the rock for the Atlanta Falcons, there's a big hole atop the depth chart at running back for the Rams. As Stu Jackson of the team's website reported, rookie Cam Akers thinks he's more than capable of filling it.

    "I think I bring a three-down, four-down back if necessary," Akers said. "I'm somebody who can come in and be a game-changer, be everything this team and the fans need me to be and everything they're expecting me to be."

    It's not a given that Akers will open the season as Los Angeles' lead back. Malcolm Brown is coming off the best season of his career, and the Rams took Darrell Henderson in the third round in 2019.

    But Brown's "career year" was a whopping 255 rushing yards, and Henderson's first pro season wasn't especially impressive. The Rams thought enough of Akers to make him the team's first draft pick this year, and we've already seen what a talented tailback can do in Sean McVay's offense.

Miami Dolphins: QB Tua Tagovailoa

20 of 32

    Rogelio V. Solis/Associated Press

    A few young players could be breakout candidates for the Miami Dolphins. Edge-rusher Shaq Lawson has been afforded yet another chance to show he was worth the first-round pick spent on him in 2016. Running back Matt Breida is being given an opportunity to show he can be a featured back in the NFL.

    But the Miami Dolphins will be all about one thing this season: Tua Watch 2020.

    Granted, this call depends on Tagovailoa's surgically reconstructed hip being in as good of shape as his camp insists it is. But if Tagovailoa is able to participate in training camp and looks healthy, the Dolphins will run out of reasons not to start the fifth overall pick in the 2020 draft before Halloween.

    This isn't to say that Tagovailoa will be the Week 1 starter at quarterback. But he doesn't have to be. If he plays half as well as he did at Alabama, Tagovailoa is going to take South Florida (and the NFL as a whole) by storm.

    Besides…aren't the Dolphins overdue to catch a break?

Minnesota Vikings: CB Mike Hughes

21 of 32

    Andy Clayton-King/Associated Press

    Some breakouts are borne of opportunity. Others come from necessity.

    Minnesota Vikings cornerback Mike Hughes falls into that second category.

    After making the postseason last year and winning a playoff game, the Vikings lost their top three cornerbacks in the offseason. The team added a talented youngster in Round 1 of the draft in TCU's Jeff Gladney, but more often than not, it takes rookies some time to acclimate at that position.

    That leaves Hughes, who himself was a first-round pick in 2018, to serve as the No. 1 cornerback for a Vikings team with Super Bowl aspirations.

    Hughes has shown flashes of star power at times—in his first career game he returned an errant Jimmy Garoppolo pass for a touchdown. But he suffered an ACL tear in 2018 and a neck injury last year that caused him to miss Minnesota's playoff games.

    If the Vikings are going to play deep into January this season, Minnesota needs a healthy Hughes to play like the stud he was at the University of Central Florida.

New England Patriots: QB Jarrett Stidham

22 of 32

    Julio Cortez/Associated Press

    The New England Patriots are in uncharted territory. The last time the team opened a season without Tom Brady on the roster, Bill Clinton was the president of the United States.

    It's been a while.

    However, as Mollie Walker reported for the New York Post, Patriots head coach Bill Belichick remains confident that second-year pro Jarrett Stidham will be ready to lead the Pats into battle against the Miami Dolphins in Week 1.

    "Stid worked really hard last year," Belichick said on NFL Network. "He was our backup quarterback the entire season, and I know he's working hard in the offseason. I know he's made a lot of progress in terms of understanding our offense and understanding opponent defenses like all players do from year one to year two. I'm sure he will get out there and be ready to go, be prepared, compete hard, and we'll see where it takes us."

    It's a surprising amount of loyalty toward a Day 3 pick who has attempted all of four passes in the NFL. But we are talking about the most successful franchise of the 21st century and a head coach with six Super Bowl rings.

    That rates them the benefit of the doubt—at least for now.

New Orleans Saints: Edge Marcus Davenport

23 of 32

    Gerald Herbert/Associated Press

    Over his first two seasons in the NFL, New Orleans Saints edge-rusher Marcus Davenport hasn't lived up to his draft status. This was a player the Saints wanted so badly they traded their first-round pick in 2019 to move up in 2018 and select him 14th overall.

    But Davenport's 10.5 sacks over his first two seasons shouldn't come as a huge shock. After all, we're talking about a player making the jump from tiny UTSA to the National Football League.

    That's not a hop—it's a leap.

    But to his credit, there were indications last year that the light bulb was coming on. Over his last three games in 2019, Davenport amassed eight tackles and three sacks.

    This is the year for Davenport. The Saints are a leading Super Bowl contender in the NFC. Playing opposite a star in Cameron Jordan should mean plenty of single-teams in 2020.

    The ingredients are all there for a coming-out party.

    All Davenport has to do is get after it.

New York Giants: QB Daniel Jones

24 of 32

    Vera Nieuwenhuis/Associated Press

    As Michael Eisen reported for the team's website, new Giants head coach Joe Judge has been impressed by how second-year signal-caller Daniel Jones has carried himself in this oddest of offseasons.

    "We're going to have different leaders," Judge said. "Daniel has to take on a role by the nature of his position. He's done a phenomenal job of setting the tone with the way he's working right now, and that's the biggest part of it. You can't be a leader if you're not effective at your job and you don't work hard for the team. Those are the two important things."

    Judge will be that much more impressed if Jones can play with more consistency in 2020.

    The young quarterback from Duke had his moments as a rookie—from his remarkable comeback against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to a five-touchdown effort against the Washington Redskins in Week 16. But there were some clunkers, as well—Jones had a pair of three-interception games in losses to the Patriots and Packers.

    If Jones can cut down on those mistakes this year, his status as the starter under center in the Big Apple just about guarantees stardom.

New York Jets: QB Sam Darnold

25 of 32

    Adrian Kraus/Associated Press

    The 2019 season started in disastrous fashion for both the New York Jets and quarterback Sam Darnold—by the time Darnold recovered from the mono that cost him a month, New York's season was already effectively over.

    Still, per Steve Serby of the New York Post, Darnold thinks there were things he could build on from that disappointing second season.

    "There's definitely room to grow," Darnold said. "Throughout the back half of the season, I thought I improved on a lot of things. I felt I got more consistent and was able to get more comfortable with the offense, so I think there's obviously room to be better for this next year. For myself, I'm just trying to be as consistent as possible and play at a high level."

    During the Jets' 6-2 run to close out the 2019 season, Darnold had 13 touchdown passes against just four interceptions. And the Jets took major steps to upgrade both the offensive line around Darnold and the weapons around him in the offseason.

    Darnold's in the best position to succeed since being drafted third overall in 2018.

    Now he just has to take advantage of it.

Philadelphia Eagles: Edge Derek Barnett

26 of 32

    Al Pereira/Getty Images

    With just 14 sacks over his first three NFL seasons, Derek Barnett has been a statistical disappointment since being drafted 14th overall back in 2017. But as Mike Kaye wrote recently for, there was never any real doubt that Philly would pick up his fifth-year option for 2021.

    "The coaching staff raves about the former first-round pick at every opportunity," he said. "While Barnett's numbers aren't terrific, his overall status in the locker room is clearly high. With Brandon Graham potentially entering his last season with the team, Barnett could gain an even bigger role moving forward."

    Now it's time for Barnett to repay that confidence by racking up his first 10-sack season.

    The talent has shown through in spurts—Barnett brought down Daniel Jones twice in last year's regular-season finale. And there's talent around him on the defensive line, whether it's Graham or defensive tackle Fletcher Cox.

    As is so often the case with young edge-rushers, the difference between last year's up-and-down 6.5-sack effort and a breakout season of double digits in that category is just a matter of being more consistent.

Pittsburgh Steelers: WR Chase Claypool

27 of 32

    Dylan Buell/Getty Images

    The Pittsburgh Steelers are kind of a tough call in regard to breakout players. The defense is loaded with proven players from the line all the way back to safety. Pittsburgh's struggles last year had a lot less to do with holes on the roster than a season-ending injury to one very important player.

    However, there's one area that stands out where the Steelers need someone to step up in 2020—at wide receiver opposite JuJu Smith-Schuster.

    And in the second round of this year's draft, the Steelers got a young pass-catcher who could be set to make an immediate impact for the team.

    As Pittsburgh GM Kevin Colbert told Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk, Chase Claypool of Notre Dame brings something to the Steelers offense that was missing last year.

    "He's a 6'4", 230-pound receiver that can get deep, and quite honestly we didn't have that threat last year. We didn't have that tall receiver that can just outrun coverage," he said. "We've always had that in the past with Nate Washington, Mike Wallace or Martavis Bryant. Again, that was very attractive to us in the long term. In the short term we know Chase will be a special teams contributor right out of the gate."

    If Claypool can develop a quick rapport with Ben Roethlisberger, he's going to outproduce some wideouts who were drafted ahead of him.

San Francisco 49ers: WR Brandon Aiyuk

28 of 32

    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    The San Francisco 49ers aren't a team that's breathlessly waiting for players to break out. Quite a few of them already broke out during last season's run to the NFC title.

    But there are a couple of rookies who will be counted on to play key roles in 2020. On defense, tackle Javon Kinlaw will be asked to fill the void left by the departure of DeForest Buckner. And on offense, it will fall to Brandon Aiyuk to step into the hole created by the loss of Emmanuel Sanders.

    You could certainly do worse as situations go to start your professional career. Aiyuk will be playing for one of the league's best teams. The 49ers led the NFC in rushing last year, averaging over 144 yards per game. And with tight end George Kittle and wideout Deebo Samuel on the team, Aiyuk won't be tasked with having to carry the passing attack.

    What he will be asked to do is use his size (6'0", 205 lbs) and speed to help give the Niners more pop down the field. Aiyuk isn't going to lead the 49ers in receptions. Or yardage.

    But yards per catch is another story.

Seattle Seahawks: S Quandre Diggs

29 of 32

    Steven Ryan/Getty Images

    At 27, Quandre Diggs is one of the older players on this list—the 2020 season will mark his sixth in the NFL. He's long been thought of as a capable NFL starter, but not a player one would consider to be a difference-maker.

    That could change in 2020.

    The days of the "Legion of Boom" secondary are long gone in Seattle—Kam Chancellor and Brandon Browner are out of football, and Richard Sherman and Earl Thomas have moved on to the San Francisco 49ers and Baltimore Ravens, respectively. What was once an area of strength for the Seahawks is now a question mark.

    What hasn't changed in Seattle is the expectations. This team wants to be playing in Tampa in February. And for that to happen in a stacked NFC, someone's going to have to step up as the leader of the defensive backfield.

    Now that Diggs has a full offseason in Seattle under his belt, he should be ready to do just that. His ability to play all over the secondary is highly coveted in today's NFL, and Diggs has shown that he can do a little of everything at a high level.

    Diggs is a better player than he's given credit for in most circles.

    That credit's coming, though.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: S Antoine Winfield Jr.

30 of 32

    Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

    There hasn't been a more talked-about team in the NFL this offseason than the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The hullabaloo surrounding the arrival of Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski has been hellaciously hearty.

    The Buccaneers have a strong roster in many respects—including the NFL's best run defense in 2019. But the defensive backfield is a question mark—especially at safety.

    That's a question that is about to be answered—emphatically.

    Like his namesake, Antoine Winfield Jr. is a bit on the small side at 5'9" and 203 pounds. But just like with his All-Pro father, it doesn't seem to bother Winfield one bit. He has his father's tenaciousness against the run. A real affinity for making big plays—seven interceptions a year ago at Minnesota. And he's talented enough to play a number of roles on the back end.

    It's no secret that Chase Young of the Washington Redskins is the favorite to win Defensive Rookie of the Year honors. But it wouldn't be the least bit surprising if Winfield is squarely in the discussion when the 2020 season comes to an end.

    Long story short, this kid can play.

Tennessee Titans: DT Jeffery Simmons

31 of 32

    Julio Cortez/Associated Press

    Per Turron Davenport of ESPN, the Tennessee Titans are counting on bigger and better things from a healthy Jeffery Simmons in his second NFL season.

    "Simply having Simmons playing as a rookie was a win for the Titans after he tore his ACL during training before the draft," he said. "Simmons had an impact from the moment he took the field with his first career sack in Week 7 against the Chargers. He finished with two sacks and 32 tackles, including four tackles for loss, but Simmons' impact went beyond the stat sheet. Simmons' ability to collapse the pocket from the interior and impact the quarterback helped create turnovers. The departure of defensive lineman Jurrell Casey will lead to a bigger role for Simmons this season."

    Had Simmons not suffered that ACL tear last year, the 6'4", 305-pounder likely would have been a top-10 pick.

    And given that he showed few ill effects last year from that injury, it's reasonable to expect him to be that much more disruptive in 2020.

Washington Redskins: EDGE Chase Young

32 of 32

    Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

    It was tempting to place second-year quarterback Dwayne Haskins here as the biggest breakout for the Washington Redskins in 2020. The team certainly hopes he will be—how much success Washington enjoys in 2020 will depend largely on how well the team's young signal-caller progresses in his second NFL season.

    But Haskins making a big year-two leap is far from a sure thing.

    Chase Young doing damage as a rookie is another story.

    Ohio State has become a factory for high-end defensive talent in recent years—three out of the last four Defensive Rookies of the Year played collegiately in Columbus. And as scary as Joey and Nick Bosa have been to date in the NFL, Young might be an even better prospect—his quickness and bend off the edge is otherworldly.

    Not only is Young an outrageously talented player, but he's going to be lining up on a defensive front in the nation's capital that includes four more first-round picks.

    It would take 15 sacks this season for Young to break Jevon Kearse's rookie record.

    Don't rule it out.


The latest in the sports world, emailed daily.