One player on every NFL team ready to make the leap in 2018
Minnesota Vikings – Dalvin Cook, RB
In four games as a rookie, Dalvin Cook flashed some brilliant potential, gaining 354 yards and scoring two touchdowns before tearing his ACL against the Detroit Lions. He was almost guaranteed to be in the Rookie of the Year conversation prior to his injury, so assuming he returns healthy in 2018, he’s an obvious candidate to make a huge leap this season, especially with Kirk Cousins taking over as the team’s quarterback. A 1,000-yard season seems like an obvious and near guaranteed projection.
New England Patriots – Malcolm Mitchell, WR
There was some belief entering the 2017 season that Malcolm Mitchell would see an increased role in the Patriots offense, but a knee injury cost him the entire year. Now, with the departures of Brandin Cooks (trade) and Danny Amendola (free agency), Mitchell is not only in line for a substantially increased role, but seems to have the full confidence of Bill Belichick and Tom Brady. And if we’ve learned anything about Brady and the Patriots, it’s that they can turn any wide receiver into an arguable superstar.
New Orleans Saints – Marcus Williams, S
Marcus Williams is, and likely forever will be, remembered for whiffing on a tackle of Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Stefon Diggs in the NFC Divisional Playoffs. Despite the unfortunate stain on Williams’ career, there’s far more to his story than a singular moment in time. As a rookie, Williams started 15 games and recorded four interceptions to go along with an impressive 86.8 Pro Football Focus grade. In 2018, and with a chip now on his shoulder, Williams should become an even more dominant cornerback.
New York Giants – Evan Engram, TE
Evan Engram had a relatively successful rookie campaign in 2017, hauling in 64 receptions for 722 yards and six touchdowns. However, he struggled a bit with blocking and experienced a brutal case of the drops (his nine drops led all tight ends), including two separate drive-killers on third down. But with a year under his belt, a healthy Odell Beckham Jr. and the addition of running back Saquon Barkley, Engram should see an increased number of favorable matchups in 2018.
New York Jets – Elijah McGuire, RB
The Jets may have both Isaiah Crowell and Bilal Powell on their 53-man roster, but second-year back Elijah McGuire has had an impressive offseason and could play a major role in 2018. He gained 315 yards on 88 carries, but it’s McGuire’s ability as a receiver out of the backfield that may separate him from the pack. He hauled in 17 receptions for 177 yards and one touchdowns, which is only a small slice of McGuire can do. Expect his role to increase as the season moves along.
Oakland Raiders – Gareon Conley, CB
Gareon Conley is an obvious choice for the Raiders after lingering shin injuries limited him to just two games during his rookie campaign. However, that shouldn’t be a lingering concern for Oakland or their fans as Conley started every game his final two seasons at Ohio State. Now returning healthy, Conley will finally have the opportunity to prove why he was highly-touted as a potentially elite cover corner with an impressive football IQ.
Philadelphia Eagles – Sidney Jones, CB
Sidney Jones, a second-round pick in 2017, suffered a torn Achilles prior to the regular season opener and wouldn’t return until the team’s finale. He was subsequently deactivated for their Super Bowl run, but 2018 will breed a new opportunity. With Patrick Robinson having left to join the New Orleans Saints, Philadelphia will need someone to step up and take control of the No. 1 role. Jones will battle with fellow sophomore cornerback Rasul Douglas and several others, but should assume control of the secondary for years to come.
Pittsburgh Steelers – Bud Dupree, LB
A 2015 first-round pick, Bud Dupree had carried high expectations entering the NFL, but a series of early-career injuries have limited his growth and production, and put his starting job repeatedly on the line. And while the Steelers did pick up his fifth-year option this offseason, there’s no guarantee Dupree returns in 2019, so he essentially enters a contract season. Either he’ll play well enough the Steelers keep him or he’ll hit the open market. Either way, it’s now or never for Dupree, who should improve upon his pass rushing numbers this coming season.
San Francisco 49ers – George Kittle, TE
During his rookie season, George Kittle hauled in 43 receptions for 515 yards and two touchdowns. However, he hit a bit of a rookie wall and saw his snap count decrease as the regular season came to a close, but that didn’t stop Kittle from flashing when his opportunities did come along. In a Week 17 victory over the Los Angeles Rams, Kittle put up the best numbers of his rookie campaign, catching for passes for 100 yards. That was just the tip of the iceberg for Kittle, who is poised to put up some big numbers in the 49ers’ offense this coming season.
Seattle Seahawks – Shaquill Griffin, CB
The Legion of Boom is no more and now the next generation of defensive backs must take hold in Seattle. And with Richard Sherman calling San Francisco home, it’s Shaquill Griffin, a 2017 third-round pick, who will step up and assume the starting role. Griffin appeared in 15 games last season with 11 starts, recording 59 tackles, 15 passes defensed, one sack and one interception. With a year under his belt and his brother, Shaquem Griffin, now also on the team, Shaquill should carve out a real name for himself in 2018.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Chris Godwin, WR
Some may find it odd to see Chris Godwin listed here considering the Buccaneers have Mike Evans, DeSean Jackson, Cameron Brate and O.J. Howard on their roster, but despite the crowded receiving options, the sophomore is poised to make a leap. As a rookie, Godwin hauled in 34 receptions for 525 yards and one touchdown, earning a 79.9 Pro Football Focus rating. In 2018, he should leap Adam Humphries as the third wide receiver and see more targets as Jackson’s career is likely winding down.
Tennessee Titans – Corey Davis, WR
Expectations were understandably high for Corey Davis after being selected fifth overall in the 2016 NFL Draft, but ankle and hamstring injuries stunted his growth. Davis finished his rookie campaign with just 34 receptions for 375 yards in 11 games. Still, one of the most productive FBS receivers in history isn’t just a fluke, and with Matt LaFleur now handling the Titans offense, Davis is poised to not just make a leap in 2018, but perhaps to establish himself as one of the AFC’s best wideouts.
Washington Redskins – Jonathan Allen, DE
Jonathan Allen was ready to establish himself as a force along the Redskins defensive line as a rookie, but eventually landed on injured reserve (IR) due to a Lisfranc injury. Ultimately, Allen was limited to just five games, recording 10 tackles and one sack. As a sophomore in 2018, Allen will once again attempt to establish himself as a force on the opposite end of Preston Smith. A unique athlete, Allen can rush the passer and set the edge, which will be tremendously beneficial for Washington this coming season.