Every NFL Team's Most Promising Young Building Block

Tyler Brooke@TylerDBrookeSenior Analyst IIOctober 9, 2020

Every NFL Team's Most Promising Young Building Block

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    Emilee Chinn/Associated Press

    While players like Tom Brady and Drew Brees near the end of their careers, the NFL is in great hands thanks to a new wave of talent.

    Almost every team in the league has at least one or two young players it can build around. Some teams are already poised for Super Bowl runs thanks to their young stars, while others are trying to rebuild around their best players still on rookie deals.

    Here, we'll look at the best building block for every franchise (with one notable exception). All of these players were drafted in 2018 or later, since anyone drafted in 2017 or earlier has already had a chance to establish themselves in the NFL. Production at the pro level certainly plays a factor on this list, but so does where they were drafted, and in some cases the importance of their position.

    The future is still bright for all of these players, even if there have been some bumps along the way. 

Arizona Cardinals: QB Kyler Murray

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    The Arizona Cardinals will be building around 2019 No. 1 overall pick Kyler Murray for the foreseeable future. They've already begun to get last season's Offensive Rookie of the Year some additional help.

    In March, the Cardinals sent a package including David Johnson and a second-round pick to the Houston Texans for All-Pro wideout DeAndre Hopkins. He rounded out a receiving corps that includes 2018 second-round pick Christian Kirk, 2019 second-round pick Andy Isabella and future Hall of Famer Larry Fitzgerald.

    A year after scoring 24 total touchdowns as a rookie, Murray has gotten off to an even stronger start in 2020. He's already thrown for 919 yards, seven touchdowns and five interceptions through four games, adding another 265 yards and four scores with his legs.

    The Cardinals need to invest more into their offensive line moving forward to better protect Murray, who was sacked a league-high 48 times last season. If they can find some long-term starters on the offensive line, Murray should be in position to develop into one of the NFL's best quarterbacks.

Atlanta Falcons: WR Calvin Ridley

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    John Bazemore/Associated Press

    After getting off to an 0-4 start, the Atlanta Falcons appear ready for a full rebuild. That could mean offloading long-term fixtures such as Matt Ryan or Julio Jones, but Atlanta should keep wide receiver Calvin Ridley around for the long haul.

    In 33 career games, Ridley has caught 148 passes for 2,036 yards and 21 touchdowns. Although he was shut out on Monday Night Football against the Green Bay Packers this past week, he had three straight 100-yard games and back-to-back games with two touchdowns to start the season.

    Other than Ridley's productive season, not much else has gone well for the Falcons. Their 0-4 start has included two brutal fourth-quarter collapses against the Dallas Cowboys and Chicago Bears, and head coach Dan Quinn is now firmly on the hot seat.

    This season may be a lost cause as far as a playoff run is concerned, but it's an opportunity for Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff to clean house and begin a real rebuild in Atlanta. Ridley is one of the few long-term keepers currently on the roster.

Baltimore Ravens: QB Lamar Jackson

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    The Baltimore Ravens deserve a ton of credit for building their offense to utilize quarterback Lamar Jackson's specific skill set. It's now time for Ravens general manager Eric DeCosta to put the finishing touches on the roster so they can compete for another Super Bowl.

    In his first year as Baltimore's full-time starter, Jackson led the Ravens to a 14-2 record while winning the NFL's Most Valuable Player award. However, the Tennessee Titans upset them in the divisional round, as Jackson wasn't able to overcome an early 14-0 deficit.

    Outside of a disappointing Monday Night Football loss to the Kansas City Chiefs, the Ravens have largely been in cruise control this season. Meanwhile, Jackson became the fastest player in NFL history to reach 5,000 career passing yards and 2,000 rushing yards.

    The Ravens already have a lot of talent on both offense and defense, but the front office must continue to find young players who can mesh well with what they're trying to do. As long as DeCosta can keep doing that and Jackson is under center, then the Ravens should be considered Super Bowl contenders for the foreseeable future. 

Buffalo Bills: QB Josh Allen

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    The Buffalo Bills are currently one of the few remaining unbeaten teams in the NFL, and quarterback Josh Allen is a big reason why.

    The third-year QB is making a strong argument for this year's Most Valuable Player award through a quarter of the season. He has thrown for 1,326 yards, 12 touchdowns and only one interception while completing 70.9 percent of his passes, and he has added 83 yards and three touchdowns on the ground.

    The 2018 first-round pick has established himself as the Bills' long-term answer at quarterback, which has allowed the front office to be more aggressive in building the offense around him. This offseason, Buffalo traded its 2020 first-, fifth- and sixth-round picks along with a 2021 fourth-rounder to the Minnesota Vikings for receiver Stefon Diggs and a 2020 seventh-round pick.

    The Bills also signed free-agent receivers Cole Beasley and John Brown and drafted running backs Devin Singletary and Zach Moss over the past two seasons, giving Allen all of the weapons he needs to be successful. That plan is working out so far, with the Bills offense scoring over 30 points per game.

    Allen has come a long way in three seasons, and the Bills just have to keep building around the 24-year-old to turn into a legitimate Super Bowl contender.  

Carolina Panthers: Edge Brian Burns

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    With a new head coach in Matt Rhule, the Carolina Panthers are in the middle of a rebuild on both sides of the ball. The defense currently has a handful of talented young players, but talented pass-rusher Brian Burns should be the focal point moving forward.

    The No. 16 overall pick in the 2019 draft showed real pass-rushing potential as a rookie, racking up 7.5 sacks and a fumble recovery returned for a touchdown. He's been quieter in 2020, but he's still showing explosiveness off the snap, and he picked up his first sack of the season in Week 3 against the Los Angeles Chargers.

    Burns may not have the stats to garner national attention yet, but it's rare to find his speed off the edge in a young pass-rusher. Carolina is already prioritizing bolstering his supporting cast, with the team using its first-round pick and both second-rounders this year on defensive tackle Derrick Brown, safety Jeremy Chinn and defensive end Yetur Gross-Matos.

    New defensive coordinator Phil Snow joined Rhule in Carolina after coaching with him at Baylor. Snow has a lot of young players at his disposal, and he'll be finding new and creative ways to use Burns to put pressure on opposing quarterbacks over the next few seasons.

Cincinnati Bengals: QB Joe Burrow

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    Cincinnati Bengals rookie quarterback Joe Burrow got his first career win Sunday, taking down the Jacksonville Jaguars. Although the Bengals are only 1-2-1, the No. 1 overall pick looks like a future star.

    Burrow has thrown for 1,121 yards, six touchdowns and two interceptions, adding a rushing touchdown back in Week 1 against the Los Angeles Chargers. His poise has been even more impressive than his statistics, as he shakes off turnovers or bad plays and continues to lead his offense down the field.

    However, the Bengals are having a serious issue giving Burrow time in the pocket before he's being swarmed by pass-rushers. He's already been sacked 15 times in four games, including a brutal eight-sack day in the Week 3 tie against the Philadelphia Eagles.

    Burrow was sacked only once in Sunday's win, but the offensive line is a legitimate concern so far.

    The good news is that Burrow has talented weapons to throw to, including Tyler Boyd, Tee Higgins and A.J. Green. The Bengals front office now needs to be more aggressive about adding offensive linemen who can keep Burrow upright, or else they could be risking his long-term health and safety.

Chicago Bears: OL James Daniels

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    As the Chicago Bears consider their long-term options at quarterback, they will also need to continue investing in their offensive line to protect whomever is under center. Fortunately, center James Daniels looks like a keeper moving forward.

    The Bears selected Daniels with a second-round pick in the 2018 draft, and he has established himself as a full-time starter over the past three seasons. His ability to play wherever he's been asked to line up, whether at left guard, center or right guard, has stood out.

    This season, Daniels seems to have settled in as the team's left guard. He told Nathan Smith of the team's website that he added 15 pounds this offseason, which he credited with helping him become a more reliable blocker without making him feel sluggish. 

    While the Bears will likely continue reshuffling their offensive line over the next few years, Daniels has earned the right to be a long-term starter.

Cleveland Browns: OT Jedrick Wills Jr.

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    After opening the season with a blowout loss to the Baltimore Ravens, the Cleveland Browns have quietly reeled off three straight wins. Although they lost running back Nick Chubb to an MCL sprain Sunday, the offense is otherwise humming, in part thanks to left tackle Jedrick Wills Jr.

    The Browns took Wills with the No. 10 overall pick in April's draft, and he's looked every bit like a long-term answer at the position so far.

    Thanks to some strong blocking from Wills and the rest of the offensive line, the Browns ran for a jaw-dropping 307 yards in the win over the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday, averaging 7.7 yards per rushing attempt. Wills stood out on film at Alabama for his ability to drive back defenders in the running game, and that's showing up again at the NFL level.

    Cleveland already had a lot of talented playmakers on offense, but it had been lacking a true left tackle to anchor the offensive line. With Wills doing more than just holding his own so far, the Browns appear to finally have their long-term replacement for future Hall of Fame offensive tackle Joe Thomas. 

Dallas Cowboys: WR CeeDee Lamb

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    The Dallas Cowboys have all kinds of weapons for quarterback Dak Prescott. However, rookie wide receiver CeeDee Lamb could be the best of the bunch in the next few years.

    Lamb was the team's first-round pick this year, and under new head coach Mike McCarthy, the former Oklahoma Sooner has gotten to make plays early and often in the Cowboys offense. He had his breakout game this past Sunday, catching five passes for 79 yards and a pair of touchdowns in the loss to the Cleveland Browns.

    Even with Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup also in the fold, Lamb has gotten plenty of attention from Prescott. He's averaging more than seven targets per game, but after his big performance against the Browns, he might get an uptick going forward. 

    There are plenty of questions about Prescott's future in Dallas as the two sides have yet to reach a long-term deal. However, the emergence of Lamb could entice Prescott to stay with the Cowboys so he can put up some big numbers in 2021 and beyond. 

Denver Broncos: Edge Bradley Chubb

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    Although quarterback Drew Lock looks like the Denver Broncos' future at quarterback, the team needs to start thinking about the future of its defense as top-tier players continue to depart or get older. Fortunately, the Broncos already have one promising young piece on that side of the ball in edge-rusher Bradley Chubb.

    The Broncos took Chubb with the No. 5 overall pick in the 2018 draft, and he had a breakout rookie season, racking up 12 sacks and 21 quarterback hits. Expectations were high for him heading into the 2019 season, but a torn ACL ended his year after just four games. 

    It hasn't happened immediately, but Chubb looks like he's returning to his pre-injury form after a big showing on Thursday Night Football against the New York Jets in Week 4. After not registering a sack in his first three games, he racked up 2.5 sacks and five QB hits against the Jets.

    The 24-year-old looks like a mainstay on Denver's defense, and he's a great complement to former Super Bowl MVP Von Miller. Although Miller is currently out because of an ankle injury, the Broncos pass-rusher hasn't ruled out a return in 2020. 

    After investing in weapons for Lock this past offseason such as rookie receivers Jerry Jeudy and KJ Hamler, look for the Broncos to start building around Chubb with other defensive players in 2021.

Detroit Lions: CB Jeff Okudah

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    Rookie cornerbacks are typically exposed early and often in their NFL careers, and Detroit Lions rookie Jeff Okudah has been no exception. However, a young cornerback as physically gifted as Okudah is the exact type of player the Detroit Lions should try to build their defense around.

    The Lions selected Okudah with the No. 3 overall pick in April after trading away Pro Bowl cornerback Darius Slay the month prior. After missing Detroit's Week 1 loss to the Chicago Bears, he made his NFL debut the following Sunday against the Green Bay Packers, where he was tasked with covering Davante Adams.

    Okudah struggled in the Week 2 loss, but was able to snag his first career interception in Week 3 against the Arizona Cardinals. He's given up 15 completions on 20 targets thus far, but Lions defensive coordinator Cory Undlin feels like Okudah is "trending in the right direction." 

    Lions fans may feel frustrated about Okudah's early-season struggles. But as he gets more comfortable and gains some confidence, he'll become a staple in Detroit's secondary.

Green Bay Packers: CB Jaire Alexander

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    The Green Bay Packers may give up a lot of points, but they have a handful of talented players on defense who are capable of making game-changing splash plays. Cornerback Jaire Alexander is one such example.

    Now in his third NFL season, Alexander has been a staple of the Packers defense since he was a rookie. In 33 career games played, he's picked up 143 combined tackles, four interceptions, 30 pass breakups and even a sack for a safety in the 2020 opener against the Minnesota Vikings.

    Alexander shows a lot of promise both in coverage and by making aggressive plays on ball-carriers. However, the Packers defense still struggles with preventing points, which New Orleans Saints running back Alvin Kamara demonstrated with an electric touchdown run in Week 3.

    While the Packers need to get better at slowing down opposing offenses, young players like Alexander will continue to be part of their long-term plans. 

Houston Texans: ???

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    Quarterback Deshaun Watson is the Houston Texans' centerpiece, but the organization shouldn't be too excited about anyone drafted in 2018 or later. That's a huge indictment of former head coach and general manager Bill O'Brien, who was relieved of his duties Monday.

    The 0-4 Texans are already looking like a team that should be fighting for a top draft pick. Unfortunately, O'Brien was so focused on the short term that Houston doesn't have a first- or second-round pick in the 2021 draft, which makes tanking essentially pointless. 

    The Texans did sign Watson to a four-year, $156 million extension this offseason that keeps him under contract through the 2025 season. However, it's a lot harder to build around a talented quarterback when you're shipping off elite players like DeAndre Hopkins and trading away top draft picks.

    The Texans need a real general manager and head coach at the helm. Given how poorly they've played this year, it's probably best not to give one guy both jobs again. 

Indianapolis Colts: OL Quenton Nelson

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    Indianapolis Colts general manager Chris Ballard was able to find two gems in the 2018 NFL draft in Quenton Nelson and Darius Leonard. While both players have extremely bright futures, Nelson is the one who's more directly involved in the team's philosophy on his side of the ball.

    Entering his third NFL season, Nelson is already a two-time Pro Bowler and two-time first-team All-Pro. While offensive linemen tend to be overlooked, Nelson has made such an impact that his peers voted him as a top-30 player heading into the 2020 season. 

    With Nelson on the offensive line, the Colts have developed an identity as a run-heavy offense. The team even created an unofficial "run the damn ball" motto last season that has changed the perception of the franchise going forward.

    The future in Indianapolis is bright with Nelson on the offensive line, especially with a talented trio of running backs in Jonathan Taylor, Nyheim Hines and Jordan Wilkins. The Colts need to find an eventual replacement for 38-year-old quarterback Philip Rivers, but whoever takes over under center will have the comfort of knowing Nelson will be blocking for him. 

Jacksonville Jaguars: Edge Josh Allen

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    The Jacksonville Jaguars defense looks vastly different than it did a few years ago. Gone are standouts like Jalen Ramsey, Yannick Ngakoue and Calais Campbell, but the Jaguars seem to have a long-term plan by building around younger players like pass-rusher Josh Allen.

    Although he didn't receive the national attention that San Francisco 49ers rookie Nick Bosa did in 2019, Allen had a great first year with the Jaguars, picking up 10.5 sacks and two forced fumbles. He's picked up the pace again in the past few weeks, picking up a sack of each of Jacksonville's last two games.

    Allen should be a foundational defensive piece in Jacksonville moving forward, and the Jaguars will continue investing in new defensive players to replace guys like Campbell and Ramsey. During the 2020 draft, they spent a pair of first-round picks on cornerback C.J. Henderson and linebacker K'Lavon Chaisson.

    Sitting at 1-3, the Jaguars might have another early first-round pick in 2021, and they'll likely be spending the rest of this season evaluating what they should do in the offseason. On the bright side, it looks like they already have their premier pass-rusher of the future in Allen. 

Kansas City Chiefs: RB Clyde Edwards-Helaire

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    Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

    The Kansas City Chiefs have invested a ton of money in their passing game and hav Super Bowl MVP Patrick Mahomes locked up for the next decade, but one of their best young building blocks is a running back.

    The Chiefs used the No. 32 overall pick in this year's draft on Clyde Edwards-Helaire, who immediately established himself as their starter when Damien Williams opted out of the 2020 season. During his NFL debut against the Houston Texans in Week 1, the LSU product rushed for 138 yards and a touchdown.

    Since then, Edwards-Helaire has continued to be a big part of the offense, with an added emphasis on catching passes out of the backfield. Adding him as a pass-catching weapon has made it even more difficult for opposing defenses to key in on tight end Travis Kelce and wideouts Tyreek Hill and Sammy Watkins.

    As the Chiefs try to defend their Super Bowl title, having a more balanced offensive attack will make them even more dangerous. Edwards-Helaire will be a big part of that going forward.

Las Vegas Raiders: Edge Maxx Crosby

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    The Las Vegas Raiders have gone through a number of changes in the past few years, from moving to a new city to hiring a new head coach and general manager. Fortunately, all of that change has led to an infusion of young talent.

    While there are a lot of young building blocks on the roster, defensive end Maxx Crosby might be the team's best success story through the draft.

    The Raiders selected Crosby with a fourth-round pick in 2019, and he turned a lot of heads as a rookie by consistently generating pressure on opposing quarterbacks while racking up 10 sacks and four forced fumbles. While he was quieter at the start of the 2020 season, Crosby has picked things back up with three sacks over the last two games against the New England Patriots and Buffalo Bills.

    Although Crosby is still developing into a more well-rounded player, his abilities as a pass-rusher have already made him a draft-day steal. The Raiders continue to invest in their defense in the draft and free agency, but Crosby might be their long-term answer at one of the defensive end spots.

Los Angeles Chargers: QB Justin Herbert

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    The Los Angeles Chargers selected quarterback Justin Herbert with the No. 6 overall pick in this year's draft, but they planned to sit him behind veteran journeyman Tyrod Taylor while he acclimated to the NFL.

    However, Taylor suffered a punctured lung right before the Chargers' Week 2 game against the Kansas City Chiefs, which forced Herbert into action against the defending Super Bowl champions.

    Herbert has now started three straight games for the Chargers and has played at a while level. While they're 0-3 in those games, he's completed 72.0 percent of his passes for 931 yards, five touchdowns and three interceptions. 

    Herbert had the best game of his young career Sunday against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Not only did he complete 20 of his 25 pass attempts, but he showed off his arm strength multiple times on deep throws that helped keep the Chargers in the game.

    The Chargers are already falling behind in the AFC playoff race, but their future is starting to look a lot brighter because of how well Herbert is playing. 

Los Angeles Rams: RB Darrell Henderson Jr.

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    The Los Angeles Rams parted ways with running back Todd Gurley this offseason, and while we have only seen flashes of Darrell Henderson Jr., he will likely be a big part of the offense moving forward.

    The Rams took Henderson in the third round of the 2019 NFL draft after he was a consensus All-American in his final season at Memphis. He's had only 468 yards from scrimmage in 17 career games, but more than half of that has come this season. 

    With injuries to other running backs on the roster, Henderson has been able to take on a larger role in the Rams offense and has thrived given the opportunity. He had back-to-back games with over 100 yards from scrimmage and a touchdown against the Philadelphia Eagles and Buffalo Bills, and he is making a strong case to Sean McVay that he deserves to be the team's No. 1 running back. 

    When rookie running back Cam Akers returns, Henderson's workload could dip. However, given what we've seen from Henderson this year, the Rams should strongly consider making him a focal point in the offense in 2020 and beyond.

Miami Dolphins: QB Tua Tagovailoa

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    Although we have yet to see him throw an NFL pass, rookie quarterback Tua Tagovailoa is going to be the future of the Miami Dolphins franchise.

    The Dolphins selected Tagovailoa with the fifth overall pick in this year's draft even though he suffered a serious hip injury in his final season at Alabama. They have been patient in letting Tagovailoa get acclimated with the NFL while he rehabs from the injury, but they're starting to feel the pressure to play him.

    Starting quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick is an established veteran, but he's gotten the team off to a 1-3 start while throwing five interceptions and only four touchdowns. The 37-year-old acknowledged this week that his job security is a "week-to-week proposition" and that he's "keeping the seat warm" for Tagovailoa.

    The playoffs may be a long shot this season, but the Dolphins' long-term focus will be on protecting their young quarterback. They used three draft picks in the first four rounds this year on offensive linemen, showing their commitment to ensuring they can keep Tagovailoa upright once he sets foot on the field.

    Regardless of when Tagovailoa makes his debut, Miami is already hard at work building its roster around him. 

Minnesota Vikings: WR Justin Jefferson

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    The Minnesota Vikings finished with a pathetic 95 passing yards in a blowout Week 2 loss to the Indianapolis Colts. However, the emergence of rookie wide receiver Justin Jefferson in recent weeks has him looking like the long-term replacement for Stefon Diggs.

    After a quiet start to his first NFL season, Jefferson went off in Week 3 against the Tennessee Titans, catching seven passes for 175 yards, including a 71-yard touchdown for his first career score. He had another strong outing Sunday against Houston Texans, hauling in four receptions for 103 yards.

    Jefferson has helped open up the field for quarterback Kirk Cousins, and he's taking pressure off Adam Thielen, who hauled in eight catches for 114 yards and a touchdown in the win over Houston.

    The big-play potential Jefferson showcased in college with the LSU Tigers is now carrying over into the NFL. The Vikings now have another dynamic one-two punch at wide receiver, which will allow the front office to focus on other offensive areas of need over the next few years.

New England Patriots: WR N'Keal Harry

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    The New England Patriots mostly have established veterans on their roster, while few young players have broken out over the past few years. However, wide receiver N'Keal Harry is starting to emerge as a good partner to veteran Julian Edelman.

    Harry caught only 12 passes for 105 yards and two touchdowns as a rookie last season, as injuries limited him to seven games. However, he's established more of a connection with new quarterback Cam Newton this season, as he's already hauled in 18 catches for 166 yards and a score.

    The 34-year-old Edelman will retire one day, and the Patriots will need to continue bolstering their receiving depth chart in the meantime. It appears as though they already have one promising young weapon in Harry to build around moving forward, though.

New Orleans Saints: C Erik McCoy

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    The Drew Brees era in New Orleans is starting to wind down. As the Saints begin preparing for life without their future Hall of Fame quarterback, center Erik McCoy will at least ensure the offensive line remains in great shape.

    The Saints took McCoy in the second round of the 2019 draft to solidify the center position on their line. They already had long-term building blocks such as Terron Armstead and Ryan Ramczyk, but the interior of the unit needed some help.

    McCoy immediately took over as the full-time starter at center since being drafted, and he's allowed zero sacks on 259 snaps this season, per Pro Football Focus. While offensive linemen rarely make highlight reels, McCoy went viral for his downfield blocking that helped spring Alvin Kamara free for a crucial touchdown against the Green Bay Packers in Week 3.

    The Saints' offensive line is in good shape for the long run, which will make it a lot easier to build out the rest of the offense for whomever takes over for Brees under center down the road.

New York Giants: RB Saquon Barkley

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    Losing star running back Saquon Barkley to a torn ACL in Week 2 was a huge blow for the New York Giants. As the Giants struggle to win games in 2020, they'll spend the next few offseasons improving the offense to put Barkley in the best position to shine. 

    The Giants selected Barkley with the No. 2 overall pick in 2018, and he's been a workhorse ever since. He was the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year, and over his first two years in the league, he amassed 2,310 rushing yards, 17 rushing touchdowns, 1,159 receiving yards and six more touchdowns through the air.

    As a weapon in both the running and passing games, Barkley was expected to be a big part of the Giants offense again in 2020. Although his knee injury ended his season prematurely, there's a good chance that he'll be ready to play for the 2021 season, given the recovery period for running backs in recent years.

    The Giants have made it clear that they want to keep adding to their offense to lighten Barkley's workload in the long run. They used their first-round picks the last two years on quarterback Daniel Jones and offensive tackle Andrew Thomas, doing what they can to make the offense a legitimate force in the NFC East.

    Barkley faces a long road to recovery, but the franchise can keep building a suitable offense around him in the meantime.

New York Jets: LT Mekhi Becton

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    Little is going right for the New York Jets right now. But as they begin to look toward the 2021 offseason, they've at least found one long-term starter in rookie left tackle Mekhi Becton.

    The Jets selected the 6'7", 364-pounder with the No. 11 overall pick this year. Along with his size, Becton stood out on film at Louisville because of his relentless motor and desire to drive defenders into the ground.

    While the Jets offense has struggled this season, Becton has stood out on multiple occasions with his blocking. Unfortunately, he has been dealing with a shoulder injury, and there was controversy surrounding the team's decision to let him play through it this past week against the Broncos.

    Becton appeared to re-injure that shoulder in the loss, leading many to wonder why the Jets would risk the long-term health of one of their young stars in a season that's already a lost cause. Regardless, they won't have to worry about finding another left tackle any time soon, so they can instead focus on finding other offensive pieces in the coming years. 

Philadelphia Eagles: RB Miles Sanders

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    As the Philadelphia Eagles grapple with long-term decisions at quarterback, tight end and wide receiver, their running back position seems to be in good shape with Miles Sanders in the backfield.

    Sanders was the successor to Saquon Barkley at Penn State, and he played well enough for the Eagles to select him with a second-round pick in 2019. It didn't take long for him to find his footing as a rookie, logging 1,327 yards from scrimmage to go with six total touchdowns.

    Sanders missed the Week 1 opener against the Washington Football Team with a lower body injury, but he's been a large part of the offense since making his season debut in Week 2. He's already racked up 51 carries for 236 yards and a touchdown along with nine catches for 78 yards.

    Looking further in the future, Sanders seems like one of the Eagles' only skill-position players whose job is secure. Tight end Zach Ertz is negotiating a contract extension, quarterback Carson Wentz now has a second-round pick in Jalen Hurts putting pressure on him, and the wide receiver position remains injury-ravaged, including rookie Jalen Reagor.

    A lot could look different with this Eagles offense in a few years, but expect Sanders to be a mainstay in the backfield.

Pittsburgh Steelers: S Minkah Fitzpatrick

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    The Pittsburgh Steelers already have a ton of young talent that they're building around on both sides of the ball. That does not include the quarterback position, but the team's successor to Ben Roethlisberger may not even be on the roster yet.

    On defense, the Steelers should keep building their secondary around safety Minkah Fitzpatrick. They gave up their 2020 first-round pick to trade for Fitzpatrick last season, which suggests he's a big part of the franchise's plans going forward. 

    Fitzpatrick got off to a red-hot start with the Steelers last season, and he finished with 57 combined tackles, five interceptions, nine pass deflections and two defensive touchdowns in 14 games in Pittsburgh. He hasn't made as much of a splash yet this season, as he has yet to register a forced turnover.

    Despite that, Fitzpatrick has the versatility to play as either a deep safety in coverage or inside the box to help stop the run. It would behoove the Steelers to find young cornerbacks to eventually replace the likes of Joe Haden and Steven Nelson to help free up Fitzpatrick.

    Three so-so games in 2020 won't define Fitzpatrick's entire career. Continuing to build the secondary around him should help him make more splash plays moving forward.

San Francisco 49ers: Edge Nick Bosa

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    The San Francisco 49ers have already dealt with a number of injuries this year, but the biggest blow might be the loss of young pass-rusher Nick Bosa, who tore his ACL in the Week 2 win over the New York Jets.

    Bosa, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2019 draft, won Defensive Rookie of the Year last season after piling up nine sacks, an interception and a forced fumble. He was part of a dominant defensive line that helped take the 49ers to Super Bowl LIV.

    The Ohio State product appeared poised to take another leap in 2020, as the Niners traded fellow defensive lineman DeForest Buckner to the Indianapolis Colts this offseason. They used the first-round pick they received in exchange to select Javon Kinlaw as Buckner's replacement.

    The 49ers don't have too many glaring holes at the moment, but things can change quickly in the NFL. Still, a healthy Bosa in 2021 should help the 49ers reclaim the title of the league's most dominant defensive line. 

Seattle Seahawks: WR DK Metcalf

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    Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson is having an MVP-caliber start to the season, and one of the big reasons why is the emergence of second-year wide receiver DK Metcalf.

    The Seahawks took Metcalf, who was a physically imposing receiver in college, in the second round of the 2019 draft. He slowly eased into his role as a rookie, but he still put up some big numbers with 900 yards and seven touchdowns on 58 receptions.

    This season, Metcalf is establishing himself as one of the most dominant receivers in the league. His 403 receiving yards are tied for the most in the NFL, and he's the outright league leader with an absurd 25.2 yards per catch. He's also scored three touchdowns, and he would have had a fourth against the Dallas Cowboys had he not fumbled at the goal line.

    The Seahawks have another talented receiver in Tyler Lockett, but if Metcalf continues to make explosive plays, he could develop into one of the league's best wideouts.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: S Antoine Winfield Jr.

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    Mark LoMoglio/Associated Press

    He has played in only four games so far, but Tampa Bay Buccaneers rookie Antoine Winfield Jr. already looks like a top-tier safety who could be playing for the franchise for a long time.

    The Minnesota product is the son of NFL veteran Antoine Winfield, and he's already showing flashes like his dad. Through his first four games, Winfield racked up 25 combined tackles, two sacks, two pass deflections and a forced fumble, which helped him earn NFL Rookie of the Month honors. 

    Despite his smaller stature at 5'9" and 203 pounds, Winfield's tremendous range and instincts allow him to make plays all over the field. The Buccaneers secondary is filled with a lot of younger starters, but Winfield is quickly looking like the leader of that unit.

    Tampa Bay is looking to make a Super Bowl run with Tom Brady, but once the future Hall of Fame quarterback leaves, young players like Winfield will still be there to lead the team.

Tennessee Titans: WR A.J. Brown

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    George Walker IV/Associated Press

    The Tennessee Titans were one of the NFL's Cinderella stories in 2019, making it all the way to the AFC Championship Game before falling to the Kansas City Chiefs. The passing game was a large reason for the team's success last year, and then-rookie wide receiver A.J. Brown was a big part of that.

    After the Titans took him in the second round of the 2019 draft, Brown quickly established a connection with quarterback Ryan Tannehill. He finished the season averaging an impressive 20.2 yards per reception, amassing 1,051 yards and nine total touchdowns.

    Brown has gotten off to a much quieter start this season. He caught five passes for 39 yards in the win over the Denver Broncos in Week 1, but a bone bruise in his knee has kept him sidelined ever since.

    Brown should return soon, and he appears to be part of the Titans' long-term plans on offense. Tannehill is locked up through the 2023 season, so the main focus will be finding other weapons to pair with Brown to ensure defenses don't key in solely on him in the passing game.

    Derrick Henry is still the focal point of the Titans offense, but they should build their passing offense around Brown.

Washington Football Team: Edge Chase Young

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    Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

    We've only seen Washington Football Team rookie edge-rusher Chase Young for two full games, but we've already seen all that we need to. The No. 2 overall pick in this year's NFL draft looks like a future star.

    Young made an immediate impact in his NFL debut against the Philadelphia Eagles, picking up 1.5 sacks and a forced fumble in the comeback victory. The next week, he added another sack against the Arizona Cardinals. 

    Young looked like he might make a run at this year's sack title, but he suffered a groin injury in Week 3 that forced him to miss this past week's contest against the Baltimore Ravens. 

    The fact that Young made such a quick impact without a preseason bodes well for his NFL career. Washington fans may be bummed that he's missed time over the past two weeks, but he will be one of the best players on the roster once he's healthy.


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