Each NFL team’s breakout player for 2018
Green Bay Packers — Davante Adams, WR
Adams was very much a known commodity before this season, and nearly had a 1,000-yard receiving season in 2016. Despite this, he’s never quite been Aaron Rodgers’ undisputed favorite target. He is now. At 1,022 yards, he’s achieved his first career 1,000-yard season. He also has 10 touchdowns and is on his way to a career-high mark (12 in 2016 is his tops). Always good, Adams has finally moved into the ranks of the elite.
Houston Texans — Benardrick McKinney, LB
McKinney is finally being recognized as one of the very best inside linebackers in the league. A second season with 100 total tackles looks to be within his reach as he continues to contribute all over the field, with a couple of passes defended and a sack and a half to go with his impressive tackle tally. He’s overshadowed by star pass rushers J.J. Watt and Jadeveon Clowney in the Houston defense, but he’s every bit as vital to their success.
Indianapolis Colts — Eric Ebron, TE
A former 10th overall pick, Ebron was regarded as a disappointment in Detroit, where he was plagued by dropped passes and never lived up to expectations. A change in scenery appears to be exactly what he needed, as he’s now thriving in the Indianapolis offense. He’s forged a great connection with Andrew Luck, and his 11 touchdown catches are way past his previous career best of five. He’s turned into an absolute red zone monster, and Luck seems to love throwing to him.
Jacksonville Jaguars — T.J. Yeldon, RB
Thanks to Leonard Fournette’s recurring injury problems, Yeldon has gotten plenty of reps this year. He may not be as good a pure back as Fournette, but he’s very much a quality offensive weapon. He’s become a contributor out of the backfield in both the passing and rushing games, with 385 rushing yards to go along with 423 receiving yards and four touchdown receptions. 1,000 all-purpose yards looks to be an achievable goal if the Jags give him some more playing time.
Kansas City Chiefs — Patrick Mahomes, QB
Mahomes went from not starting last season to a potential MVP candidate in this one, and the Chiefs have handled him and his development absolutely perfectly. He’s won nine of his 11 starts, leads the league with 37 touchdown passes, and has mostly taken care of the ball, too with 10 interceptions. In other words, he’s been one of the NFL’s best quarterbacks, and possibly the breakout star of the entire season.
Los Angeles Chargers — Derwin James, S
Injury cost James pretty much his entire final season at Florida State and dropped him to 17th in April’s NFL Draft. The Chargers are the ones reaping the benefits of his misfortune. James has quickly established himself as a do-everything defender in his rookie year with Los Angeles, and the stats bear that out. He has 78 total tackles, nine passes defended, 3.5 sacks, and two interceptions. That’s making an impact in every single department, and he looks like a future star.
Los Angeles Rams — Robert Woods, WR
Woods was a decent receiver in Buffalo, but never looked like a number one. His move to the Rams and Sean McVay’s elite offense has been just what his career needed. He’s at 904 receiving yards, very much on pace for the first 1,000-yard season of his career. Though he only has four touchdown catches, he may see more opportunities now that Cooper Kupp’s season is unfortunately over. Woods is now a key part of an elite passing attack, and looks like much more than he ever was with the Bills.
Miami Dolphins — Xavien Howard, CB
In only his third NFL season, Howard has quickly and quietly developed into one of the league’s elite young cornerbacks. He has 10 passes defended and 5 interceptions in 11 games as he often deals with the opponent’s top receiving threat, usually successfully. Impressively, four of his picks have come in two games — two off Derek Carr and two off Andrew Luck. His rise has been quick, but the Dolphins have something special here.
Minnesota Vikings — Danielle Hunter, DE
Hunter’s second NFL season saw him collect 12.5 sacks, but he dropped down to seven last year. With Everson Griffen’s off-field issues coming to the forefront, Hunter has become the leader of the Minnesota defensive line, and is having something of a second breakout in the process. He’s at 11.5 sacks and looks sure to surpass that previous best, and his 15 quarterback hits demonstrates that he gets into the backfield with regularity. His 16 tackles for a loss are a career-best as well.