The 35 most intriguing players heading into the 2019 NFL season

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T15D23
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The 35 most intriguing players heading into the 2019 NFL season

Postby T15D23 » Thu Aug 01, 2019 6:35 pm

The 35 most intriguing players heading into the 2019 NFL season
Sheil Kapadia

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As of this writing, we are 35 days away from the Thursday night opener between the Green Bay Packers and Chicago Bears.

With that in mind, as a way to preview the months ahead, here’s an attempt at identifying the NFL’s 35 most intriguing players going into 2019.

Numbers are courtesy of SportRadar unless otherwise indicated.

35. Derwin James, S, Chargers — Versatility may be the most overused term in football, but it is legitimately relevant with James. According to the Football Outsiders Almanac, James led all defensive backs in QB hurries, had the fourth-most run tackles and ranked in the top 15 among safeties in pass coverage success rate. He’ll be just 23 at the start of the season and already has the tools to be one of the league’s most impactful defensive players.

34. Dwayne Haskins, QB, Washington — They’ve established themselves as one of the league’s most poorly run franchises, but process doesn’t always equal results. And the results in this year’s draft were not bad at all. The organization was able to land Haskins with the No. 15 overall pick in hopes that he can be the quarterback of the future. While Jay Gruden hasn’t yet named a starter, Haskins in all likelihood will play sooner rather than later. His development is one of the only things that makes this team relevant in 2019.

33. Eli Manning, QB, Giants — One of the interesting aspects of the Giants’ decision to trade Odell Beckham Jr. was that this offense wasn’t terrible last season. It ranked 13th in efficiency, ahead of teams like the Eagles and Bears. Now that ranking is virtually guaranteed to plummet, and the only question is: When will rookie Daniel Jones replace Manning? When Manning was benched in 2017, the organization got crushed by the local media for its perceived disrespect toward a Super Bowl hero. The reality is that players get replaced when they are no longer productive. That is (and has been) the case with Manning.

32. Jadeveon Clowney, DL/OLB, Texans — In most cases, smart teams use the franchise tag to buy time to eventually extend or trade their players. The Texans did neither with Clowney. He is expected to show up at some point before the regular season and play on the tag. Clowney has already established himself as a disruptive player (his 53 tackles for loss over the past three seasons are third most leaguewide) and is only 26 years old. He figures to make a lot of money — either in Houston or elsewhere — next season. But with a monster year, he could be in position to be one of the highest-paid defensive players in the NFL.

31. Nick Foles, QB, Jaguars — During the playoffs two years ago, Foles delivered a Super Bowl performance for the ages and showed that the highs with him can be very high. Last year, the Eagles went 4-1 with him as the starter down the stretch and advanced to the divisional round. Foles has never started more than 11 games in a season, and his supporting cast in Jacksonville won’t be as good as it was in Philadelphia. But the hope for the Jaguars is that a stingy defense and Foles can keep them competitive, and maybe the veteran QB can get hot in January.

30. Myles Garrett, DE, Browns — He was one of seven players last year who had 13 or more sacks to go along with at least 25 quarterback hits. Garrett is just 23 years old. Given the talent the Browns added up front (Olivier Vernon, Sheldon Richardson) in the offseason, he should see even more advantageous pass-rushing opportunities in his third season. Garrett is a legit Defensive Player of the Year candidate.

29. Marcus Mariota, QB, Titans — He ranked 27th out of 33 qualifying quarterbacks in adjusted net yards per attempt (ANY/A) last season. Three of the six guys below him were rookies. The Titans tried to load up on offense in the offseason by signing guard Rodger Saffold and WR Adam Humphries and drafting WR A.J. Brown. It’s Mariota’s fifth season and time for him to show he can make the players around him better.

28. Saquon Barkley, RB, Giants — In the Super Bowl era, two players have rushed for at least 1,300 yards, averaged at least 5.0 YPC and caught at least 90 passes: Barkley and LaDainian Tomlinson. Barkley did it as a 21-year-old rookie. Oh, and he had zero fumbles on 352 touches. The Giants have no choice but to feed Barkley in 2019, and he may end up being the one reason their fans have to tune in on Sundays.

27. Jared Goff, QB, Rams — The overall numbers have been great — 60 touchdowns and 19 interceptions in the past two seasons and the sixth best ANY/A in the league in 2018. But Goff looked bad in the Super Bowl, and there continue to be questions about the degree to which he is a product of Sean McVay’s scheme. Goff is 24, and there’s plenty of time to grow, but the Rams are trying to get that Lombardi Trophy while he is still on his rookie contract. Goff is eligible for a contract extension and at some point is expected to be on the books for more than $30 million per season.

26. Todd Gurley, RB, Rams — As the debate over running backs’ value rages on, the focus in Los Angeles going into this season is on Gurley’s knee. He signed a four-year, $57.5 million deal last summer and is only 25. But the Rams drafted RB Darrell Henderson in the third round, and Gurley carried just 14 times for 45 yards in the Rams’ last two playoff games. It’d be a shame if we’ve already seen the peak of Gurley’s career, but that seems like at least a possibility.

25. Jameis Winston, QB, Bucs — His 3.7 percent interception rate last year was third worst in the league. The Bucs are 21-33 in games that Winston’s started and have not made the postseason since 2007. Tampa has finished last in the NFC South in seven of the last eight seasons. Winston now gets to work with QB whisperer Bruce Arians, and he has a nice supporting cast around him. If he can’t take significant steps forward in 2019, it’s completely reasonable to wonder if Winston will ever get there.

24. Earl Thomas, S, Ravens — In Seattle’s single high safety scheme, Thomas was tasked with taking away two routes above all else: posts and seams. He did so brilliantly, acting as the Seahawks’ last line of defense and consistently preventing big plays downfield. At 30 years old, he now gets to show off his talents and instincts in a different scheme. Thomas has missed 19 games over the past three seasons, but if he can stay healthy, the Ravens secondary has a chance to be special.

23. Josh Rosen, QB, Dolphins — Given the circumstances last year — a terrible offensive line and a coaching staff that didn’t give him any kind of an edge — and the reality of how hard it is to play quarterback as a rookie, it’d be foolish to read too much into Rosen’s first season. He now gets a fresh start in Miami, but the circumstances might not be much better. At this point, it’s unclear whether he’ll even start over Ryan Fitzpatrick. The Dolphins have made it clear that they want to build for the future and expect to find a QB in the 2020 draft. It seems like the only thing that could potentially change that plan is Rosen making a massive leap in his second season.

22. Josh Allen, QB, Bills — What we learned last season is that anything can happen when the ball is in Allen’s hands. He can stiff-arm a defensive lineman, run through contact and pick up 23 yards on a scramble. Or he can drop back, try to escape pressure and sail the ball 10 feet out of bounds. The Bills’ hopes for a playoff berth depend on Allen’s ability to improve his accuracy. He completed just 52.8 percent of his attempts, and according to Next Gen Stats, only Blake Bortles and C.J. Beathard were less accurate last season. Allen has a better supporting cast this year. He doesn’t need to complete 70 percent of his passes. If the Bills can run the ball, rely on Allen’s play-making ability and be more efficient on downfield attempts, that might be enough, given how good they are on defense.

21. Dak Prescott, QB, Cowboys — As of this writing, he’s yet to receive a new contract. Prescott does plenty of things well. He’s durable, accurate, avoids interceptions and is a good leader. But he’s also shown some limitations — specifically in getting the ball downfield and producing explosive plays. Will a new offensive coordinator in Kellen Moore and a full offseason with Amari Cooper maximize Prescott’s strengths? If so, the price to keep him will become even more expensive than it already is.

20. Deshaun Watson, QB, Texans — Over the past two seasons, Watson has a better completion percentage than Tom Brady and Philip Rivers and has averaged more yards per attempt than Drew Brees and Matt Ryan. Cam Newton and Russell Wilson are the only quarterbacks who have rushed for more yards during that span. Watson will turn just 24 years old in September. He’s already a star and may have to put his team on his back for the Texans to have a successful season.

19. Andrew Luck, QB, Colts — Luck and Frank Reich are one of the best QB/coach combos in the NFL. According to the Football Outsiders Almanac, only the Chiefs were more efficient on offense from Weeks 7 to 17 last year. Indianapolis built an offense that focused on reducing the number of hits Luck took, and the Colts found their way after a slow start in 2018. Assuming the calf injury is not a huge issue, expectations should be high in 2019. This is a Super Bowl-caliber roster, and an MVP-caliber season that ends in Miami in February is in play for Luck.

18. Le’Veon Bell, RB, Jets — The last time he played, Bell ranked 24th in yards per carry (4.02). He was 11th in rushing DVOA and 13th out of 35 backs in success rate. After a year off, he now gets to write the next chapter in his career and attempt to re-establish himself as one of the best backs in the league. Perhaps where Bell will most help the Jets is the passing game. He’s had 75 or more receptions three times.

17. Joe Flacco, QB, Broncos — Over the last three seasons, he has averaged 6.2 YPA and 5.6 net yards per pass play. Those marks rank 41st and 36th, respectively, among 45 qualifying quarterbacks. Flacco gets a change of scenery in Denver where John Elway is hoping the veteran can recapture some magic at age 34 and get the Broncos back to the playoffs for the first time since 2015.

16. Ben Roethlisberger, QB, Steelers — There have been different versions of the Steelers’ offense during Roethlisberger’s 15-year career. Last year, efficiency was the focus as he completed 67.0 percent of his passes, got rid of the ball quickly (2.55 seconds on average) and was sacked on just 3.4 percent of his dropbacks (third fewest). Roethlisberger is 37 but played at a high level in 2018. Now he’ll try to prove that the Steelers’ offense can still be efficient without Antonio Brown.

15. Russell Wilson, QB, Seahawks — The team that ran the ball more often (52.8 percent of the time) than any other last season and then inked its starting quarterback to the richest deal ($35 million per year) in NFL history. Now what? The Seahawks lack talent on defense, meaning they’ll likely have to put up points to return to the playoffs. Will Pete Carroll adjust his philosophy if he needs to? Or will the Seahawks be left wondering whether they wasted another year of Wilson’s prime?

14. Kirk Cousins, QB, Vikings — They signed him to an $84 million deal, and in Cousins’ first year, Mike Zimmer fired offensive coordinator John DeFilippo in part because he thought the Vikings should be running the ball more (note: the Vikings ranked 28th in rushing efficiency last season). The one thing Cousins had going for him last year was accuracy. Per Next Gen Stats, he was the third-most accurate quarterback in the NFL. With the addition of Gary Kubiak as an offensive adviser, I think Cousins and the Vikings have a great shot to win the NFC North. But in Year 2 of a three-year deal, pressure is on the QB to prove he was worth the investment.

13. Cam Newton, QB, Panthers — At +6000, he may be my favorite longshot MVP pick. Newton couldn’t get the ball downfield last year because of a shoulder injury, and the Panthers’ offense still was an above-average unit. If Newton can show over the next month that the shoulder is right, Carolina has a chance to be a surprise team in the NFC.

12. Tom Brady, QB, Patriots — He turns 42 on Saturday, and what Brady is attempting to do is unprecedented. No QB in the Super Bowl era has started more than 10 games at age 42 or older. Only four — Warren Moon, Vinny Testaverde, Steve DeBerg and Doug Flutie — have started more than one. Last year, Brady finished eighth in ANY/A, sixth in QBR and seventh in DVOA. The Super Bowl was ugly, but in the two previous playoff games, the Patriots scored 78 points and he passed for 691 yards. Entering the final year of his deal and playing without Rob Gronkowski, what will this version of Brady look like?

11. Patrick Mahomes, QB, Chiefs — At this time last year, Mahomes had one NFL start under his belt. Now he’s the most valuable asset in the league, and in 2019 we get to see what he has planned for an encore. There is likely to be regression with his 8.6 touchdown percentage, and maybe Mahomes will throw a few more interceptions, but he remains one of the most exciting players in the NFL.

10. Antonio Brown, WR, Raiders — The volatile superstar will be in the spotlight from the start of Hard Knocks to the last game of the season. There’s no doubting Brown’s talent or production, but how will he react if the Raiders’ offense struggles and he’s not getting the ball? What kind of relationship will he have with Jon Gruden and Derek Carr? I maintain that this was a trade worth making for Oakland, but it’s going to be fascinating to see how the different personalities in that organization mesh.

9. Jimmy Garoppolo, QB, 49ers — Last year at this time the 49ers were a trendy sleeper pick in the NFC. Now the debate is whether Garoppolo is definitely a significant upgrade over Nick Mullens. Kyle Shanahan knows how to scheme receivers open and produce explosive plays. He’ll put Garoppolo in position to succeed. And the 49ers loaded up on defense in the offseason. It’s time for Garoppolo to prove he was worth that $137.5 million contract and put San Francisco in position to compete for a playoff berth.

8. Kyler Murray, QB, Cardinals — Nobody knows exactly what this Murray/Kliff Kingsbury offense is going to look like. Will the Cardinals lead the NFL in passing attempts? Will they be primarily a 10 personnel (one RB, no tight ends, four wide receivers) team? How much will they use tempo? Reports out of Arizona indicate they’re building off concepts that Murray used in college. Whether they’ll have success right away or not is up for debate, but the Cardinals will be a fascinating team to keep an eye on early in the season.

7. Sam Darnold, QB, Jets — The coaching, scheme and supporting cast did him no favors last season. What I liked most about what Darnold showed as a rookie was that he was aggressive despite the difficult circumstances. What I didn’t like was that he had the third-worst adjusted interception rate in the NFL. In Darnold’s second season, he’ll have Bell and an improved supporting cast. With the Giants likely facing irrelevancy, Darnold has a chance to dominate the football conversation in New York this fall.

6. Mitch Trubisky, QB, Bears — It’s fair to wonder if Trubisky would be viewed differently had Cody Parkey made that 43-yard field goal in the wild-card round last season. Did he light it up in that game? No. But Trubisky went 13 for 20 for 198 yards in the second half of that playoff loss to the Eagles. He threw a touchdown pass to give the Bears the lead with 9:04 left before the defense faltered and Parkey’s kick was blocked. Looking ahead to this season, it’s likely the Bears see at least some regression on defense. That means their path to overall improvement may rest on the offense and on Trubisky. There aren’t many quarterbacks in the league who have more riding on this season.

5. Carson Wentz, QB, Eagles — Consider the ups and downs of the last two seasons. In 2017, Wentz was a legit MVP candidate before he suffered a knee injury and had to watch Foles lead the Eagles to the franchise’s first Super Bowl title. Last season, Wentz struggled through a back injury and was sidelined again as Foles rallied the team to the divisional round. This offseason, Wentz received a $128 million contract, and GM Howie Roseman has surrounded him with a tremendous supporting cast. The pieces are in place for him to get back to MVP form, but Wentz has to show he can stay healthy and play better than he did in 2018.

4. Baker Mayfield, QB, Browns — Sometimes success doesn’t happen incrementally. It arrives quicker than anyone expects. Many observers believe the Browns hype is overblown and they’re not legit contenders. I disagree. Mayfield was one of the better quarterbacks in the league last season after Freddie Kitchens took over the offense. Now he’s got Odell Beckham Jr. to throw to and there’s impressive talent throughout the roster. I know you’re scared Browns fans, but it’s real this time. There’s no need to temper expectations.

3. Lamar Jackson, QB, Ravens — As most of the league continues its shift toward passing, the Ravens are going all in with offensive coordinator Greg Roman and trying to build around Jackson and a diverse rushing attack. The fumbles (12 last year) are concerning, as is the potential risk for injury given how often Jackson will have the ball in his hands. But different is fun, and I’m excited to see how this experiment plays out. With Flacco in recent years, the Ravens didn’t have any juice. With Jackson — regardless of whether they’re successful — now they do.

2. Odell Beckham Jr., WR, Browns — During a three-year stretch from 2014 to 2016, Beckham ranked third in receiving yards (4,122) behind Julio Jones and Antonio Brown and tied for first with 35 receiving touchdowns. He is now going from a quarterback who couldn’t get him the ball even when he was wide open to one who will chuck it up to him even when he might have a defender nearby. By Week 3, Beckham is going to be the happiest player in the league. And by the end of the season, he’ll again be in the conversation about the best receiver in the NFL.

1. Aaron Rodgers, QB, Packers — Something feels off about the Packers having gotten to the Super Bowl just once in 11 seasons with Rodgers as the starter. Over the past four seasons, among the 52 quarterbacks who have thrown at least 300 passes, Rodgers ranks 30th in net yards per pass play (6.1) and 24th in YPA (7.1). Now at 35, Rodgers will look to salvage the final chapter of his career with new coach Matt LaFleur. A wide range of outcomes is in play. Maybe this partnership proves to be just what Rodgers needs, he has a great season, and the Packers win the NFC North. Or maybe the marriage turns out to be a complete disaster, and the Packers miss out on the playoffs for the third straight year.
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