Following the first waves of free agency, there will be a lot of focus on the new faces in new places come fall. While well renown players like Antonio Brown and Odell Beckham are expected to ball out with their new teams there are some ascending players that most common fans don’t know about that aren’t household names just yet but are expected to make a name for themselves in the 2019 season.
Here is a list of players on both sides of the ball that could garner a lot more attention and even make their first Pro Bowl if they can continue their upward trajectory toward prominence:
• LB Patrick Onwuasor: After CJ Mosely departed in free agency and signed a record-breaking deal with the New York Jets, Ravens’ Head Coach John Harbaugh said that he expects many of the team’s young defenders to step at the annual league meetings in Arizona last week. The player nicknamed “Peanut”, hadn’t played linebacker until he first got to the league three years ago, prior to that he played receiver and safety at Arizona and Portland State.
The undrafted free agent that made the final cut for the team's 53 man roster back in 2016 will now be expected to carry over his strong finish to last season into 2019 and beyond. He was one of the brightest stars down the stretch for the league’s No.1 ranked defense last season in tandem with Mosley and will most likely be the signal caller that sets up the defenses that creative coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale calls during games.
• CB Marlon Humphrey: The former Alabama star has been on a steady rise ever since the Ravens took him with the 16th overall pick in the 2017 draft. He has been splitting time as part of a talented trio of corners with veterans Jimmy Smith and Brandon Carr.
His role is expected to expand in his third year as he is quietly building a reputation as an ascending young talent that is on his way to elite status with his tight man coverage skills and his ability to tackle in the open field. His 15 pass breakups, several of which came in clutch situations, show his knack for separating receivers from the ball. Humphrey even showed off his improving ball kills at the end of last year, finishing the season with two interceptions in the final three games of the regular season.
• WR Geronimo Allison: Now that Randall Cobb is with the Cowboys, he’ll be able to assume a larger role in the Packers offense going forward after showing flashes in limited action when Cobb was out of the lineup. He is a versatile receiver that can run routes from the slot a well as outside. Allison was on pace for a career year in 2018 before a groin injury cut his season short. He surpassed his previous career high in receiving yards with 303 yards on 20 catches for two touchdowns in just five games.
• DT Michael Pierce: The hulking defensive tackle is another member of a young and hungry Ravens’ defense that looks to defend their title as the league’s No.1 overall defense and repeat as AFC North division champions. He has been the other half of the arguably the best run stuffing tandem in the league over the past three seasons with Pro Bowler Brandon Williams. They have combined to form a nearly impenetrable wall in the middle of Baltimore’s defense and Pierce has seen his snap count increase each year he has been in the league since making the team as an undrafted free agent in 2016.
• WR Chris Godwin: After breaking out in his sophomore campaign in 2018 with 842 yards receiving and seven touchdowns on 59 catches despite being apart of a loaded receiving core. With Desean Jackson back in Philly after being traded to the Eagles and with Adam Humphries’ departure in free agency to Tennessee, Godwin and Pro Bowler Mike Evans could form one of the most dangerous receiving tandems in the league for years to come.
• LB Jaylon Smith: He suffered a catastrophic knee in the last game of his collegiate career at Notre Dame, which cost him his entire rookie season as well as his sure-fire top-five pick status in the 2016 draft. He wound up getting taken by the Dallas Cowboys at the top of the second round with the 34th overall pick.
Smith appeared in 16 games and started six during his second year in 2017 and finished with solid production considering the intense rehab he had to go through just to be able to practice again. He broke out last season coming in second on team in tackles with 121, appeared and started all 16 regular season games as well as the two playoff games and formed one of the best linebacker duos in the league with the team’s 2018 first round pick and leading tackler Leighton Vander Esch. Heading into a contract year, the ferocious sideline-to-sideline linebacker could cash in big by resigning with Dallas or signing with another team in the 2020 offseason.
• WR Tyler Boyd: The Cincinnati Bengals’ wideout bounced back from his sophomore slump in 2017 to register his first 1,000 season in 2018 with seven-time Pro Bowler AJ Green out most of the year with a toe injury. He finished the year with career highs in receiving yards (1,028), touchdowns (seven) and catches (76) in 14 games on a career-high 108 targets. If both he and Green can be healthy at the same time, they could become a formidable tandem.
• RB Marlon Mack: Just like his team did, second year running back of the Indianapolis Colts recovered from a slow start to the 2018 season and would finish strong as a key piece to the team’s late playoff push. Mack nearly doubled his production from his rookie year with 1,011 yards from scrimmage and his 908 rushing yards was almost triple the number of yards he gained on the ground in the previous season. He received a ringing endorsement from Head Coach Frank Reich and the front office this offseason as the unquestioned starter heading into his third year. If he continues to ramp up his production at the rate that he finished last year, he could become a household name in no time.
• WR Kenny Golladay: Even before the Detroit Lions traded Golden Tate to the Philadelphia Eagles prior to the trade deadline last season, the second year wide receiver had already supplanted the veteran as quarterback Matthew Stafford’s favorite target in the team’s offense. Golladay more than doubled his production from his rookie year and led the team in receiving yards (1,063), catches (70) and receiving touchdowns (seven).
He excels at coming down with contested catches and his large catch radius makes him a threat to haul in passes down the field as well as in the red zone. He will be heading into the 2019 season as Detroit's No.1 receiver. If they can get him a complimentary pass catcher to lineup across from him, he could flourish even more with less attention being dedicated to his side of the field.
• RB Davlin Cook: He had a solid sophomore season after coming back from tearing his ACL four games into his rookie year in 2017 for the Minnesota Vikings. He played 11 games last year and finished with nearly 1,000 yards from scrimmage, 615 on the ground and 305 as a receiver out of the backfield.
Cook is an explosive runner that can run downhill between the tackles and possesses the agility and breakaway speed to bounce a run to the outside and take it the distance. He can assert himself as one of the elites at the running back position if he can fully recover from his second torn ACL and stay healthy.