Second Year NFL Players Primed for Successful Sophomore Seasons Part I
Not every first year player bursts on to the scene in the NFL and take the league by storm in the way that the New York Giants’ Saquon Barkley or the Cleveland Browns’ Baker Mayfield did in 2018. Many players make their biggest jumps and see significant increases in production from year one to year two. Here are some second-year players that flashed as rookies and could become household names in their sophomore seasons: • RB Kerryon Johnson: The second-round pick of the Detroit Lions in last year’s draft was giving the New York Giants’ Saquon Barkley and the Denver Broncos’ Phillip Lindsay a run for their money as the best rookie running back during the first half of last season. Through 10 games and seven starts, he amassed 641 yards on the ground, added another 213 receiving and scored four touchdowns before his first year was cut short by a knee injury. In week three he became the first Lions’ running back since 2013 to rush for 100 or more yards in a game when he rushed for 101 yards in the team’s 26-10 win over the New England Patriots. He averaged over five yards per carry as a rookie and has the potential to bring consistency to the Detroit’s rushing attack since Reggie Bush. • TE Mark Andrews: Despite being the 2017 recipient of John Mackey award, given to the top tight end in all of college football, he wasn’t the first player at his position to be taken in the 2018 draft and wasn’t even the first tight taken by his own team in the draft. The Baltimore Ravens selected him in the third round with the 86th overall pick after taking South Carolina tight end Hayden Hurst in the first round. However, Andrews would go on to become the most productive rookie tight end in 2018 and his 552 yards receiving was the most of all first-year players at the position. He was the only pass catcher whose production actually went up after the Ravens transitioned from a Joe Flacco led offense to a game plan centered around Lamar Jackson midway through the season following the team’s bye week. More than half of his yards (308) came off the arm of Jackson in the final seven weeks of the season as he became the quarterback’s most dependable targets. He is a threat to pick up huge gains down the seam of a defense and has the deceptive speed to pick up a lot yardage after the catch. He is going to get even better in the team’s tight end friendly offense in year two and beyond. • WR Cortland Sutton: The big-bodied possession receiver had a solid rookie season with 704 yards receiving on 42 catches and four touchdowns. He was one of most consistent pass catchers for the Denver Broncos last season as he appeared in and caught a pass in each of the team’s games last season. With Emanuel Sanders coming back from a torn Achilles tendon that he suffered late in the year, Sutton will be a popular target for new franchise quarterback Joe Flacco and especially early on in the year. He averaged 16.8 yards per reception, so the big play potential is evident and the strong arm Flacco will definitely air it out and give him opportunities to make plays all over the field. • RB Nick Chubb: Like Mayfield, the former Georgia Bulldog did not start the entire year for the Cleveland Browns but out produced the veteran that he replaced in the line up by a significant margin. He showed enough glimpses in his limited touches to begin the season that the team was traded starter Carlos Hyde to the Jacksonville Jaguars after just six weeks. Chubb rewarded their confidence in their 2018 second round pick by nearly rushing for 1,000 yards and totaling 1,145 yards from scrimmage. He is just as much of a threat out of the backfield as a receiver as he is receiving a handoff. Once Kareem Hunt returns from an eight-game suspension, the two will be arguably the best one-two punch running back duo in the league. • TE Chis Herndon: The New York Jets got a steal on day three of the 2018 draft when they selected the former Miami Hurricanes’ athletic tight end with the 107th overall pick in the fourth round. The mid-round gem recorded the most catches (39), the second most receiving yards (502) and tied for the most touchdown receptions (four) of any rookie tight end last season. He’s part of new age dynamic pass-catching tight ends that are in the mold of a big-bodied receiver but still has some underrated skills as a blocker. With Rob Gronkowski now retired, he becomes the best tight end the AFC East by default but has the potential to become one of the best in the league in the near future.