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Monday, December 9, 2019

Each NFL team’s breakout player for 2018

James Conner

NFL players don’t walk onto the field as rookies and immediately become stars. They have to prove their worth on the field. Some have to bounce from team to team, and some were never even expected to be stars in the first place. Everyone gets there a different way, and every story is unique.

The 2018 NFL season has seen its share of breakout players. Some are rookies who were highly-anticipated but had to prove it on the field, while some were players once feared to be busts but finally put it together. Others were never expected to be anything more than squad players or roster filler, but have shown themselves to be capable of a whole lot more.

Here is each team’s biggest breakout player from the 2018 season.

Arizona Cardinals — Christian Kirk, WR

The rookie was only a second-round pick, but Kirk has offered the Cardinals some hope that their offense has a future beyond just Josh Rosen. Though he’s still searching for his first 100-yard game, he has several solid outings to his name, and has caught 3 touchdowns. He’s quickly become one of Rosen’s favorite targets and has racked up 536 yards receiving. He could end up in the 800-yard range when his season is over — a very solid rookie campaign.

Atlanta Falcons — Damontae Kazee, DB

Kazee has moved into a starting role for Atlanta this season and responded in a big way. The second-year safety has a league-leading six interceptions, establishing him as one of the league’s premier young ballhawks. Add in eight passes defended and a forced fumble and you have a safety who can really mess with the opposing team’s offensive gameplan. He just has to restrain himself a bit more at times, but he’s on his way to big things.

Baltimore Ravens — Za’Darius Smith, LB

The Ravens have another strong pass rusher, which is just what they needed. After a 5.5-sack rookie year in 2015, Smith hadn’t made the same impact until 2018, when he’s already matched that previous career-high and did so in just nine games. He also has 13 quarterback hits, just three shy of matching his career-best set last year. Only 26, Smith still has a lot of room to progress, and a bigger role could be in his future.

Buffalo Bills — Tremaine Edmunds, LB

Edmunds was a tackling machine at Virginia Tech, and that skill has very much translated to the NFL. The Bills look to have a steal in the rookie linebacker, who has 78 total tackles in 10 games so far to start his NFL career. Bigger plays may be in his future — he only has one sack, but has forced two fumbles — but his ability to read and impact the game at such a young age is not in any question. He has a big future ahead of him.

Carolina Panthers — Mario Addison, DE

It’s rare that anyone in the NFL really breaks out after their 30th birthday, but that’s exactly what Addison has done. He had 11 sacks last year and 7.5 sacks this season. His season has ensured that his sack totals are not viewed as a fluke, and has established him as one of the NFL’s leading defensive linemen. Add in a pair of forced fumbles and 9 quarterback hits and you have a big part of why Carolina has been so good.

Chicago Bears — Trey Burton, TE

No matter what else he does in his NFL career, Burton will forever be remembered as the guy who threw a Super Bowl touchdown pass to Nick Foles on the now-iconic Philly Special play. That’s all well and good, but it won’t pay the bills forever. Now with Chicago, Burton is reminding everyone that he’s also a pretty good tight end. His 448 receiving yards are a career best, and his five touchdowns match his total from last year. Mitchell Trubisky seems to like throwing to him, too.

Cincinnati Bengals — Tyler Boyd, WR

Boyd’s third NFL season is already his best. Through 11 games, he’s posted a career-high 841 yards and six touchdowns, and only A.J. Green has been targeted more by Andy Dalton this season. With Green going down to injury, Boyd’s role may be set to increase, really setting himself up for a big finish to year three. His emergence has given the Bengals a big alternative option to Green, and that’s going to come in very handy now.

Cleveland Browns — Nick Chubb, RB

The Browns knew they were getting a good running back in Chubb when they chose him in the second round of April’s draft, but he had an injury history from his time at Georgia. They eased him in initially, but by October, he had made himself impossible to ignore, and the Browns opened up a starting spot for him. He’s responded with a series of huge games and already has 663 yards and six touchdowns. He also has two receiving touchdowns. A 1,000-yard rookie campaign looks to be in his future.

Dallas Cowboys — Byron Jones, CB

After moving Jones around the secondary, the Cowboys finally settled on him as a cornerback, and the move looks to be paying off big time. The fourth-year defender has developed into a quality cornerback who can play a big role in erasing the opponent’s top offensive target. He only has 10 passes defended, but teams aren’t really testing him much anymore. If he could start to pick off some passes, we’re looking at an elite talent.

Denver Broncos — Phillip Lindsay, RB

He may not have gotten the most ink during the preseason, but Lindsay has well and truly seized the unsettled situation in Denver’s backfield to become their number one ballcarrier. He has 780 yards so far in his rookie season, with six rushing touchdowns. He’s also proven himself a weapon in the passing game, with 24 catches for 187 yards and a touchdown. The Broncos finally seem to be giving him a bulk of the carries, and it’s paying off for them.

Detroit Lions — Kerryon Johnson, RB

The Lions’ run game has been infamously inept for the better part of the last five seasons, but they look to have something to work with in the rookie out of Auburn. Johnson became the Lions’ first 100-yard rusher in a single game since 2013 in Week 3, and did it again four weeks later. He has 641 rushing yards overall and four total touchdowns as he’s also a force in the passing game. Only a knee injury has slowed him down.

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