The 2020 NFL regular season has reached the midway point and contenders are beginning to separate themselves from pretenders. And on a more individual basis, stars are beginning to separate themselves from the under-performers.
But there is somewhat of a middle ground.
There are some players who are performing well but still somehow avoiding the limelight. Here’s a quick look at five such players.
5. Jonathan Taylor, RB, Indianapolis Colts
A second-round pick of the Colts in April, Jonathan Taylor was somewhat of an afterthought entering the season. He was originally slated to serve as the backup to Marlon Mack, the team’s leading rusher in 2019, but a ruptured Achilles ended Mack’s season and changed the plans in Indianapolis. Taylor was thrust into the starting role and he’s done nothing but quietly excel. Through eight weeks, Taylor leads the Colts with 389 yards and three touchdowns on the ground and is on pace to finish just shy of the 900-yard mark. However, should Taylor’s workload increase over the second half of the season, we may see him finish in the top 15 (or even top 10) in rushing league-wide.
4. Michael Gallup, WR, Dallas Cowboys
The Cowboys’ offense is loaded with talent, especially at the wide receiver position, where Amari Cooper and CeeDee Lamb take up residence. But it’s actually Michael Gallup, their WR3, who leads Dallas in yards per reception (16.6) by a wide margin. He has six plays of 20-plus yards so far this season, which is even more impressive when you consider he has just 26 receptions — 20 of which have gone for a first down. Gallup is on pace to finish the year with 864 yards, two touchdowns and 40 first downs. Not bad for a guy who is clearly being overshadowed, overlooked, and should demand a trade.
3. Scotty Miller, WR, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
As a rookie sixth-round pick in 2019, Scotty Miller didn’t really factor in for the Buccaneers last year. He hauled in 13 receptions on 26 targets for 200 yards and scored one touchdown, which came in a late-season romp of the Detroit Lions. However, with Tom Brady now under center in Tampa Bay, Miller’s production is off the charts. Through eight weeks, “Scooter” is tied for third on the team with 25 receptions and leads the way with 400 yards and a per-catch average of 16.0. With so many weapons on Brady’s disposal, it speaks volumes about Miller that he’s established himself as the most productive of the bunch. And even with Antonio Brown soon arriving on the scene, ole Scooter isn’t likely to fall off the map any time soon.
2. Jamel Dean, CB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Buccaneers have not just one, but two players performing at an unexpectedly high level who remain under-the-radar for the time being. That’s likely to be short-lived however, as both the aforementioned Scotty Miller and Jamel Dean are playing exceptionally well. A third-round pick in 2019, Dean took a while to get his feet under him, but ultimately finished the season strong. In 2020, he’s come out on fire and is fifth among all cornerbacks with a Pro Football Focus grade of 81.2. Dean could be headed toward both a Pro Bowl and All-Pro nod.
1. Brian Burns, EDGE, Carolina Panthers
As a first-round rookie in 2019, Brian Burns established himself as a quality pass rusher, picking up 7.5 sacks on the season. However, he struggled against the run and was far from a solid tackler, which led some to believe that he might be a one-dimensional player. Burns clearly took that to heart and returned in 2020 improved across the board. Through eight games, Burns has already recorded 31 tackles and three stuffs, which are both career highs. And while he’s registered just three sacks to date, his Pro Football Focus grades show a vastly improved all-around player. Currently, he has an 84.4 overall grade, while his tackling grade is 71.3, up from 42.1 as a rookie. His run defense grade has almost improved from 55.2 to 63.4.
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We don’t quite know what NFL training camp will look like this year, but when it comes down to it, expect a lot of the same narratives to emerge as usual. Teammates will be battling each other for starting roles while coaches make difficult decisions about who has earned the right to start at key positions.
Which of these battles are worth keeping a close eye on? Here are five to watch this preseason.
Marlon Mack topped 1,000 yards rushing for the Indianapolis Colts last season, and it looks like he has a good chance of keeping his starting job.
In a conference call with the media on Monday, Colts coach Frank Reich hinted that Mack would start over rookie Jonathan Taylor. Reich did also indicate though that Taylor and Nyheim Hines would have prominent roles.
“There’s definitely inherent respect for the starter returning,” said Reich, per Kevin Bowen of 1070 The Fan. “And that’s the way I see this … I see it as a 1-1 [punch]. The way that the league has gone and the way role playing has been elevated in our league, it’s made it prominent. We used to say in San Diego that when we had Danny Woodhead. He was not our starter, he was our ‘role playing’ starter. He played such a significant role. He had 80 catches in a year.
“You look at a guy like Nyheim Hines,” Reich added. “We talk about Marlon and Jonathan, but what about Nyheim? He’s such a good third-down back that he’ll play a prominent [role]. In some ways, [Hines] is a starter. He’s a role-playing starter.”
The Colts used a second-round pick in this year’s draft on the first team All-American Taylor, leading many to believe that he could unseat Mack as the starter. But Mack had an excellent 2019 season, rushing for 1,091 yards and eight touchdowns despite missing multiple games with a hand injury.
In any case, Taylor’s speed (and Hines’ change-of-pace ability for that matter) is a good complement to Mack’s explosiveness, which is an encouraging development for the Colts in an offseason that has been full of them.
The NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year award can be tough to predict. It’s based as much on opportunity as anything else; if you don’t play as a rookie, you’re obviously not going to excel. Add in the uncertainty of predicting how a first-year player will adapt to the league, and it can be a bit of a crapshoot.
Still, we can make some educated guesses based on opportunity and ability. With that in mind, here are our five early favorites for 2020 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year.
Standout Wisconsin running back Jonathan Taylor left Saturday’s game and was treated in the medical tent early in the second quarter.
While there was no obvious play where Taylor got hurt, Fox cameras caught him walking with a slight limp on the sideline. A few moments later, he was seen heading to the medical tent, and was replaced by a committee of Garrett Groshek and Nakia Watson for the team’s first drive of the second quarter.
Fox reporter Jenny Taft said Taylor was being treated for cramps and was being given fluids. He was considered questionable to return. He was having a mammoth day before leaving the game, having gone for 143 yards and two touchdowns in the first quarter.
Taylor’s Michigan counterpart also seemed to be dealing with some sort of physical issue during the game.
We’re starting to get into the business end of the college football season, with conference championship games a little more than a month away. That means it’s not too early to start thinking of awards, including the Heisman Trophy, the sport’s most prestigious.
Even in late October, we have a pretty solid idea of who has a good chance of being invited to New York for the Heisman ceremony and ultimately winning the trophy. Here are the ten leading candidates as things stand.
10) Trevor Lawrence, QB, Clemsom
Lawrence doesn’t quite have the elite stat line you look for in a Heisman contender, but he has a pretty favorable schedule coming up and a very real opportunity to lead the Tigers to an unbeaten record headed into bowl season. Those two factors alone mean his performances are worth watching. The freshman has thrown for 1,176 yards and 12 touchdowns to just two interceptions and looks like a budding star. Even if 2018 proves too soon for Lawrence, it’s easy to see him seriously contending for the Heisman in a year or two.
It may be early, but we know who’s starting to stand out among college football’s elite players. They may not necessarily be household names, and they may not ultimately be Heisman contenders, but they’re absolutely stuffing the stat sheet and doing big things for their teams on both sides of the ball.
Here are ten college football players who have stood out so far in 2018.
Kyler Murray, QB, Oklahoma
Maybe Murray is going pro in the wrong sport. With 863 passing yards, eight touchdowns, and one interception, he’s certainly looked the part of a star Oklahoma quarterback. He also adds a dual threat, with 169 yards rushing and two touchdowns so far. He’s been so good that he had one rival coach wishing he’d gone pro a year early. He’s looking like a promising early-season Heisman candidate through three games.
The college football season is upon us, which should have fans pumped across the country. Though it will take a while to get a sense for the best 25 teams in the country, we do have our preseason top 25 entering the first full slate of games. Those teams will be relying on some key players all season. Here is a look at the most important player for each of the preseason’s top 25 teams.
1) Alabama — Tua Tagovailoa, QB
After taking over the second half of the national championship game, Tagovailoa showed what he can do. He is mobile, fearless, and has a big arm. He can give Alabama the kind of big-play ability at quarterback they haven’t seen for a while — possibly ever. He has no shortage of talent around him, much of it NFL-level, and he has already demonstrated skill and poise in the most pressure-filled situation. Expect him to have a solid year at minimum.
Though we’re still months away from the start of the 2018 college football season, spring games and practices are a nice reminder that it’s not too early to begin considering who could contend for the Heisman Trophy. There will be no repeat winner with Baker Mayfield headed to the NFL, and the field looks to be wide open with no clear favorite — and a lot of young upstarts who could potentially vie for the famous trophy.
Here are ten leading candidates. It could be a very good year for running backs.
1) Bryce Love, Stanford
The 2017 runner-up could well end up taking the prize in 2018. He finished second in the nation with 2,118 rushing yards, plus 19 touchdowns. He surprised some by deciding against entering the NFL Draft, but the decision made him a favorite for next year’s Heisman. Stanford returns most of its offense. The big concern for Love is whether he’ll remain healthy considering he battled an ankle injury all season last year. If so, that could result in a huge season for the Cardinal star.
Georgia defensive tackle Jonathan Taylor was kicked off the team Wednesday about three hours after he bonded out of jail for a felony assault/family violence charge.
According to police, Taylor, a redshirt sophomore, allegedly “choked and struck his girlfriend several times with a closed fist after an argument in a Georgia residence hall room early Tuesday morning.”
The police report says the girlfriend told police she was physically assaulted by Taylor.
According to the Savannah Morning News, the police report said the victim had “visible scratches and red marks to her neck and bruises on her arm and leg.” The reporting officer wrote he determined that Taylor “had offensively used his hands to choke her and had also struck her several times with a closed fist.”
Taylor was arrested by school police and held overnight until bonding out. He met with Georgia coach Mark Richt soon thereafter, and his dismissal from the program was later announced.
Taylor was also arrested in March for misdemeanor theft charges. He is the third Georgia defensive player kicked off the team this offseason.