10 NFL players who could make a big impact down the stretch
The 2018 NFL season is coming up on the final quarter stretch and in most cases, nothing is settled. Divisions are close, playoff races are tight, and injuries around the league have really begun to shake things up.
It’s now make-or-break time for players and teams, and as the saying goes, big players make big plays in big games. So who might those big players be? Here’s a look at 10 players who could have a big impact down the stretch.
10. Colt McCoy, QB, Washington Redskins
33 years to the day that Lawrence Taylor broke Joe Theismann’s leg, players watched helplessly as Alex Smith suffered a gruesomely similar injury. His season is now over, and the reigns of the NFC East-leading Redskins have been handed over to Colt McCoy. He played relatively well in a Week 11 loss to the Houston Texans and will now lead the show moving forward, which is a role he hasn’t played in many years. The luxury McCoy brings to the table beyond his starting experience is his intimate familiarity with Washington’s offense and the skill position players surrounding him. And just as Nick Foles did a season ago, perhaps McCoy can channel some backup magic and lead the Redskins to the playoffs.
9. Blake Bortles, QB, Jacksonville Jaguars
The Jaguars are losers of six in a row and at risk of missing the playoffs after being considered a potential Super Bowl contender when the season began. Blake Bortles previously suffered the consequences for that, finding himself benched in a late October game for his poor play. Since then however, Bortles has gone to great lengths to limit his turnovers and, in the process, has been putting up some big numbers despite the team’s losses. Down the stretch, Bortles will have the opportunity to play hero, possibly turning around a lost season en route to the playoffs. And if he can channel some of his 2017 magic and improve his yards per attempt, he may not only save Jacksonville’s season, but his job as well.
8. Eli Apple, CB, New Orleans Saints
The Saints are on fire, arguably the best team in the NFL entering Week 12, but they’re not without weaknesses. Chief among them is their struggling secondary, allowing nearly 300 yards through the air per game. Of course, with the Saints scoring so many points, teams are forced to play catch up and that generally comes through the air. Still, a weakness is a weakness, and that’s where the recently acquired Eli Apple comes in. After struggling in his first couple of games with the Saints, Apple has slowly begun to settle in as he learns the scheme and language. New Orleans believes Apple is their missing piece and will play a major role down the stretch.
7. Deion Jones, LB, Atlanta Falcons
For the better part of two years, Deion Jones has been the heartbeat of the Falcons’ defense, but that came to a halt this year as the linebacker has appeared in just one game due to injury. In Week 11, Jones was out again, but he appears poised to return in Week 12. And Atlanta could not be happier to welcome him back as their defense has been inconsistent at best in his absence. They are allowing nearly 420 total yards per game and have struggled with missed tackles. Not only will Jones provide a sure-tackler against the run, but he also brings quality in coverage, helping to minimize what opponents do out of the backfield and the use of tight ends over the middle.
6. Keke Coutee, WR, Houston Texans
After losing wide receiver Will Fuller for the season due to a torn ACL, the Texans brought in Demaryius Thomas for help. Instead, it’s been Keke Coutee making a big impact. Coutee led the team with five receptions for 77 yards in a 23-21 win over the Washington Redskins and established himself as a legitimate weapon alongside DeAndre Hopkins. The fourth-round rookie will undoubtedly make some mistakes along the way, but it seems as if the Texans can continuously churn out productive wide receivers. And if Houston wants to continue their winning ways, a lot of that will fall onto the shoulder of Coutee.
5. Josh Reynolds, WR, Los Angeles Rams
The Rams have established themselves as one of the most explosive offenses in football this season, but took a major hit with the loss of wide receiver Cooper Kupp to a torn ACL. Kupp was considered one of the best slot receivers in the NFL, so his replacement will have big shoes to fill. Enter second-year receiver Josh Reynolds, who will now be thrust into a key role for a team with Super Bowl aspirations. Reynolds has played his reserve role well, but is no stranger to success and big numbers. In 2014, Reynolds scored 13 touchdowns, which broke the Texas A&M record previously held by Mike Evans and Jeff Fuller. On Monday night alone, he had 6 catches for 80 yards and a score.
4. Lorenzo Carter, LB, New York Giants
Through the first half of the season, the Giants played it safe with Lorenzo Carter, their third-round pick from the 2018 NFL Draft. He was eased in, often serving as a reserve to Kareem Martin and others, but has seen his role slowly increase as he became more well-versed in the NFL game. Coming out of the bye week, Carter had his best game as a rookie, recording seven tackles, three stuffs and a quarterback hit against the San Francisco 49ers. In Week 11, he again played mistake-free football against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Whether or not the Giants miraculously turn their season around and make a late run, Carter will take center stage on defense and get an opportunity to secure a starting role for 2019 due in large part to his athleticism, speed and all-around ability.
3. Nick Chubb, RB, Cleveland Browns
The winds of change are once again blowing in Cleveland, and with Carlos Hyde now residing in Jacksonville, it’s become the Nick Chubb show for the Browns. He took over as the team’s starter in Week 7 and slowly saw his number of carries increase. And while it took Chubb a few weeks to adjust to the workhorse role, he exploded in Week 11 against the Atlanta Falcons, gaining 176 yards on 20 carries. Expect his number of carries to continue hovering around 20-25, which in turn, takes pressure off of quarterback Baker Mayfield. Expect the Browns to continue riding Chubb.
2. Anthony Miller, WR, Chicago Bears
The Bears have slowly been trying to get Anthony Miller more involved offensively, and you can expect that trend to continue down the stretch. With Mitchell Trubisky throwing the ball well and rounding in shape, he’ll need a more reliable target over the final games. Allen Robinson isn’t making a difference along the perimeter and Taylor Gabriel isn’t a complete receiver, so Miller, the team’s second-round pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, could soon become the No. 1 guy in Chicago. On the season, Miller has recorded 26 receptions for 357 yards and five touchdowns, but has seen his numbers of targets increase steadily over the past few weeks.
1. Kenyan Drake, RB, Miami Dolphins
The Dolphins may have the ageless Frank Gore leading the way, but perhaps it’s time they finally start carving out a more substantial role for Kenyan Drake on offense. Drake currently leads the team with a 4.6 average per carry, and he’s a more significant threat out of the backfield than Gore. And after starting the season off hot, the Dolphins have fallen to .500 and two games behind the division-leading New England Patriots. With his explosive nature, Drake will be key in any potential playoff run by Miami.