2019 NFL Breakout Players: Here's a look at 10 who are poised for big things this season
Dalvin Cook could be in for a big season as the Vikings look to run the ball more
Looking ahead to the coming NFL season always make me want to consider potential breakout stars, players who I think might be on the verge of taking major steps forward in their games.
It's usually players who flashed as rookies later in the season after rough starts, which means they figured it out. Or it's a player who just needs to be healthy to show that star ability.
My list of 10 breakout players for 2019 includes a quarterback, two running backs, one wide receiver, two edge rushers, one interior lineman, two corners and a safety-corner hybrid.
I predict at least half of these players will find themselves in the Pro Bowl after the season. So dive in and look around and, of course, gripe about my picks – and let me know there are plenty of others who could have been on this list.
After spending some time with Cook last summer in training camp and watching him run, I expected him to bounce back from his torn ACL in 2017 with a big season. It didn't happen.
Cook rushed for 615 yards and missed five games with a hamstring injury. Early in the season, he didn't have the same pop in his running he had before the ACL. There were also offensive line issues.
Cook did average 4.6 yards per rush, which shows it wasn't a bad season, but just not the productive one that was expected. Now another year removed from the injury, with an offensive line that should be improved, I expect a big season from Cook. Coach Mike Zimmer wants to run the ball and Cook will be the guy who does it.
He might not get volume, but with those two on the field he will be able to use his speed for a lot of big plays. It wouldn't shock me to see him average 17 yards per catch with eight or nine touchdown catches.
Calloway had three of his five touchdown catches in the final six games of the season as a rookie in 2018, and he had three games in that stretch with five or more catches where he averaged over 17 yards per reception. Calloway is a big-time talent who was hurt in the draft by off-the-field stuff, but that talent showed up late in his rookie season and I expect it to be even more of a factor this season.
As a rookie fourth-round pick, he was impressive for the Lions on the inside in their defense. He had three sacks, although he missed the final three games with a knee injury.
His ability to push the pocket on passing downs was impressive. He's also good against the run. The Lions players raved about his ability after the season, and the tape shows why.
With a year in the offseason program, Hand has a chance to become a dominant inside player this season.
Fitzpatrick, the team's first-round pick in 2018, was used in a lot of spots as a rookie. He had five starts at safety and three at corner and three as the nickel back. That could be overwhelming for a rookie, but he seemed to relish it.
He played well in all spots, even getting a pick for a touchdown, but he appears to be a player who could settle in for a long, prosperous career at safety. New Dolphins coach Brian Flores comes from the Patriots, and he had a similar type of player in Devin McCourty, a former corner moved inside to safety. I would imagine that's the role Fitzpatrick will play for the Dolphins.
A college safety, he made the tough transition to starting corner as a rookie last season for the Seahawks – and he did it well. Flowers had some growing pains, but he settled into be a good cover player by the end of the season.
At 6-3, 200 pounds, he has the size the Seahawks love in their corners and it helps make him a willing player in the run game. With a year of seasoning, look for Flowers to take a major step forward this season.
It's all about health for Johnson. He suffered a leg injury in Week 11 and didn't play the rest of the way after an impressive start to his rookie season.
Johnson had a special day against Miami, rushing for 158 yards to burst onto the scene as a potential star runner. But he finished the season with 641 yards and three touchdowns because of the injury.
Johnson said he hit the rookie wall early last season, which is why a year in the offseason program will help. The Lions did sign C.J. Anderson as a free agent, which could hurt the number of touches Johnson gets, but it also could help lead to more explosive plays for him.
When the Lions drafted Johnson, I thought he was a steal in the second round. I think he will show that even more this season.
He started 11 games last season, missing three because of injury, and showed off his playmaking skills. He started the season inside as the nickel corner, but ended up outside as a top cover player.
If you watch his game against the Rams in Week 8, he was all over the field, knocking down passes and showing off his ability to play in coverage. In his second season, I think we will see more of those types of games from Alexander.
This is a league loaded with good corners. But I think he's on the verge of moving up closer to the top of any of the lists ranking corners.
After a slow start to his rookie season because of an ankle injury – which forced him to miss Week 1 – Landry flashed late in the season. He finished with 4.5 sacks, but had one in each of the team's final two games.
With veteran Brian Orakpo retiring and Derrick Morgan not brought back by the Titans, Landry is in line to be the team's next dominant pass rusher. They did sign veteran Cam Wake, but look for Landry to really take a step forward in 2019.
Carter was a part-time player for the Giants last season, but that role will increase greatly this season with the trade of Olivier Vernon. Carter had four sacks last season and flashed playmaking ability.
I would expect him to push for double-digit sack numbers this season as he settles in as a starter. He is also athletic enough in coverage to make plays. The one knock on him is team can run at him, but a year in the weight room will help him get stronger to handle that aspect of the game.
Carter could be the answer for the Giants as their next edge-rushing star.
What he did last year with a horrible supporting cast was impressive. Yes, I know the completion percentage was bad, but he had poor play from his receivers with a ton of drops. Allen's athletic ability surprised a lot of people, and we know he has the big arm.
With the improvements this team made on offense in the spring in free agency and in the draft, Allen's play will get better. For all those out there who considered him a draft reach, this is the year they will begin to regret those feelings.
Allen will be a big-time player in the league for a long time, and it will start this season.
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