Standout Sophomores – Our Second-Year Players to Watch

Week one of the 2018 NFL Season gets underway this week and we’re so very excited that gridiron action is back! It has been an extremely eventful off-season, with major free agent signings and trade deals going down even through last week. Could anyone possibly have guessed that Khalil Mack would start the season in a Chicago Bears Uniform?!!

Before the 2018 NFL season unfolds, we wanted to offer our take on six second-year players who all had great rookie seasons and appear poised to be standouts entering their second season in the league. For the sake of simplicity, we’ll focus on offensive skill position players in fantasy sports style format, featuring one quarterback, two running backs, two wide receivers and a tight end.

Deshaun Watson, QB, Houston Texans

This kid was absolutely electric in the first half of the 2017 season, garnering early consideration for the league’s MVP award. Unfortunately for Houston Texans fans, a torn ACL sidelined Watson for the second half of the season, wiping out what could have potentially been a rookie season like none we had eer seen before.

Through seven games (6 starts), Watson threw for 1699 yards and 19 touchdowns, while throwing eight picks. His versatility also left defenses scrambling to catch up, as he added 269 yards and two touchdowns on the ground.  A healthy Watson and a strong defense should position the Texans to be a playoff contender in 2018, elevating Watson’s stock among the game’s best quarterbacks and reaffirming that the magic we saw in early in the 2017 season was just a small taste of what is to come for many years.

ConsiderationsPatrick Mahomes, Mitchell Trubisky

 

Kareem Hunt, RB, Kansas City Chiefs
Alvin Kamara, RB, New Orleans Saints

Kareem Hunt’s put up big numbers in 2017 – leading the league in rushing and earning a Pro Bowl as a result. Hunt lit the NFL on fire through the first five weeks in 2017 before returning to earth and posting several ho-hum performances. A strong push at the end of the season led him to finish the season with 1327 yards and eight touchdowns. Even though he hauled in 53 receptions as well, he spent this off season working with quarterbacks on route running and catching. If those efforts pay off, we could see a huge season from the second year back.

Alvin Kamara and the New Orleans Saints offense were a match made in heaven in 2017, leading Kamara to be named the 2017 AP offensive rookie of the year. Saints QB Drew Brees airs it out often, and the versatile Kamara was yet another weapon in Bree’s arsenal, hauling down 81 catches for 826 yards and five touchdowns. When they did run the ball, Kamara was effective, averaging 6.1 yards per rush, finishing the season with 728 yards and 8 TD’s. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, and we expect to see a lot more of the same in 2018.

ConsiderationsLeonard Fournette

 

JuJu Smith-Schuster, WR, Pittsburgh Steelers

Cooper Kupp, WR, Los Angeles Rams

Of the 2017 class, no rookie was more personable than JuJu Smith-Schuster. Starting the season as the Steelers 6th receiver, his explosive on field talent quickly moved him up the depth chart as he finished the season with 58 catches for 917 yards and seven touchdowns. Schuster will line up opposite of arguably the best receiver in the game Antonio Brown in 2018, which should provide him plenty of open looks. As long as he stays focused and keep his Fortnite addiction in check, Juju has all the talent to be a top-20 receiver in 2018.

One of the biggest surprises of the 2017 rookie class was Cooper Kupp, a third round pick out of Eastern Washington University.  Kupp emerged as a serious target for Jared Goff, hauling in 62 balls for 869 yards. With the Rams on the rise, Kupp will continue to shine as the team’s juggernaut offense will simply run over defenses in 2018. Expect to see the first of what could be many 1,000 yard seasons for him, which should make at least one fellow Eastern Washington University alumni and COMC employee very happy.

 

Evan Engram, New York Giants

By all accounts, Evan Engram probably should have had the standout rookie season that he had in 2017. The New York Giants were ravaged by injuries, with Odell Beckham Jr. and Brandon Marshall missing much of the season. This paved the way for a 64 reception, 722-yard, six touchdown performance from the Giant’s 23rd overall pick in 2017. A healthy team, coupled with rookie running back Saquon Barkley should allow Engram to slide into the offense as an outlet for Eli Manning. Engram showed us in 2017 that he has all the tools to succeed, but the question remains if he’ll get his share of looks in 2018.

Considerations: O.J. Howard

What do you think? Did we get it right? Did we sleep on your favorite under-the-radar rookie? Let us know in the comments below which second-year player you think is poised for a big 2018!

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