Each NFL team’s potential breakout player
New York Giants — Sterling Shepard, WR
Shepard went from being one of the highly-touted young receiving talents in the game after a solid rookie season to a big disappointment in 2017. He played in just 11 games due to a number of injuries and saw his touchdown receptions drop from eight to two. He’s a very good bounceback candidate — the talent is still there, and expectations will be lower for the Giants this year. Don’t be surprised if he takes advantage of those factors.
New York Jets — Isaiah Crowell, RB
It’s tough to excel in Cleveland. Crowell came close — he ran for a combined 1,805 yards over the past two seasons, in which he was a resilient starter for a team that went a combined 1-31. Now with the Jets, he’ll be in a featured role. He should get more than the two touchdowns he had last season, and he stands a real chance of reaching the 1,000-yard plateau for the first time in the NFL.
Oakland Raiders — Gareon Conley, CB
Injuries limited Oakland’s 2017 first-round pick to just two games in 2017, but expectations are up for the cornerback as he assumes what will likely be a big role in the Raider secondary. He was a very good player at Ohio State and showed a lot of promise in the brief glimpse the Raiders got of him before he went down. Jon Gruden will want to see Conley mature quickly, and if he does, he could blossom into an indispensable player rapidly.
Philadelphia Eagles — Sidney Jones, CB
The Eagles knew they were taking a risk when they picked Jones in the second round of the 2017 draft. He’d torn his Achilles at his pro day, dropping him from a potential first round pick directly into their laps. That may well pay off for them. Jones is very talented, and Patrick Robinson’s departure should open up a job for him. If he plays up to his first-round talent, he could become highly regarded quickly.
Pittsburgh Steelers — Bud Dupree, LB
Dupree is an immense disappointment to the Steelers, as he should probably be more productive than he actually has been. A gifted athlete, he collected six sacks last season, but he’s capable of even more. It may be now-or-never for the Kentucky product, but we’re betting he’ll finally live up to the talent and could challenge for a double-digit sack season in 2018.
San Francisco 49ers — Jerick McKinnon, RB
McKinnon is a running back, but the kind who emphasizes pass-catching. That versatility made him a perfect fit for Kyle Shanahan, who signed him away from the Minnesota Vikings and will likely give him a big role in the San Francisco offense. Jimmy Garoppolo looks the real deal. In McKinnon, he’ll have an all-purpose weapon who can run and, more importantly, has the capability to be an explosive receiver. His yards from scrimmage total could be immense.
Seattle Seahawks — Shaq Griffin, CB
Shaquem Griffin’s story will get a ton of attention, and rightly so, but it’s his twin brother who will likely have the bigger impact for Seattle in 2018. After a solid rookie season, Shaquill Griffin will likely have greater responsibility after Richard Sherman’s departure. He looked up to it in 2017: 50 tackles, a sack, and an interception. He’s ready to start and should become a reliable option quickly.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers — Chris Godwin, WR
O.J. Howard deserves a mention here, but it’s worth noting what Godwin did late in the season when the Buccaneers gave him a chance to be a functional part of the offense. After spending the first half of the season as a non-factor, Godwin saw his role increase, and he picked up 295 yards receiving in the last four games of the year. It culminated in a season finale in which he caught seven passes for 111 yards and a touchdown. He’s very much one to watch.
Tennessee Titans — Corey Davis, WR
Another post-hype first round pick who saw his rookie season underwhelm due to a combination of injury and adjustment, Davis should be ready to break out in 2018. He’s still waiting on his first NFL touchdown, but his 375 receiving yards are a small taste of what is likely to come. If Marcus Mariota improves and he stays healthy, the sky is the limit for Davis.
Washington Redskins — Josh Doctson, WR
Washington’s first round pick in 2016 has been hampered by injury in 2016 and simple disappointment in 2017. The skillset remains there, and the flashes of talent are as well, but the production is still behind. The good news is that the team seems committed to giving him another chance and his six touchdowns give him something to build on. Building a rapport with Alex Smith will be a huge factor in whether Doctson can take the long-awaited step forward.