It is never too early to start looking ahead at the 2019 NFL season. Teams in the league can drastically alter their championship aspiration in as quickly as a few months as the offseason brings free agency and the draft. However, rather than attempting to showcase any prognostication prowess, today we will focus on a trio of players. With the current season nearing an end, today we take a look at a quarterback, wide receiver, and defender who are poised to breakout in 2019 and move up to the upper echelon of their respective positions.
To be considered as a breakout candidate, the player must meet the following criteria:
- Must not have been previously received an award for his play (Pro Bowl, All Pro, DPOY, All Rookie Team, etc..)
- No older than 30 years old
- Player must have completed one season of service time by the end of the current 2018 season
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The list of candidates based on the criteria is vast, but only three players make the list. Picking one for each of the three groups was a difficult task as many were deserving. Keep in mind that these are players that have shown signs of significant talent and who are primed to make both a leap in production and recognition.
Breakout Quarterback: Sam Darnold – New York Jets
The rookie quarterback’s first NFL pass resulted in an interception return for a touchdown. From there he went on to throw two touchdowns with a 76.19% completion rate. It was quite the debut for the former USC Trojan. Darnold has had an up and down season since the season opener. What has hurt Darnold is a lack of play-making ability around him on offense. The Jets’ leading rusher, Isaiah Crowell, is averaging roughly 50 yards a game on just 11 carries. New York’s top receiver is Robbie Anderson with just 492 yards on the season.
The smart thing for New York would be to focus on the ground game and keep Darnold at around 20-25 attempts per game. Darnold’s most efficient games this season have come when throwing the football under 30 times. In four games he has a seven to three touchdown to interception ratio. In the other six games, Darnold has thrown just five touchdowns to 12 interceptions. Watching the rookie shows he has the talent and ability to be a successful quarterback.
The issue will be the Jets continuing to build around him. New York has the draft capital to make a splash and bring in talent to help Darnold and the offense. The quarterback is talented enough to make significant strides if a bit more talent can be added. Darnold was arguably the best quarterback to be NFL ready in the 2018 class. He has shown many glimpses of being ready to take this team to the next level. Expect a major leap forward for Darnold and the Jets offense in 2019.
Breakout Wide Receiver: Keke Coutee – Houston Texans
Simply put, Coutee is a threat with the football in his hands. The former Texas Tech wide receiver ran a 4.43 in the 40 yard dash. In his last year in college he finished with 93 receptions for 1,429 yards and 10 touchdowns. He also averaged 31.5 yards on kick returns. Coutee’s speed and production spurred the Texans to select the receiver in the fourth round of last April’s draft.
Coutee is not yet an accomplished route runner but he shows the ability to get open underneath against nickel and dime coverage. He has the speed to scare the secondary and has used that to help get open on curls and out routes. The rookie has been hampered by injuries this season but is averaging just under five receptions a game and nearly 10 yards per catch.
The Texans have DeAndre Hopkins as their number one receiver and Will Fuller seems like the obvious number two. Fuller’s recovery time from his season ending knee injury will be something to consider for the beginning of next season. Coutee is likely the third/slot receiver in the offense as he is the best suited for the role. A full offseason to get stronger and build more familiarity with the offense and quarterback Deshaun Watson will only help Coutee for next season. It is not a stretch to think that Coutee could be the next top slot receiver in the NFL by the end of the 2019 season.
Breakout Defender: Harold Landry – Tennessee Titans
Landry has been a situational player for the Titans in 2018. Selected in the second round in April’s NFL Draft, the former Boston College pass rusher has needed some time to adjust to his new role at outside linebacker in the Titans 3-4 alignment. Landry has yet to start a game this season but has played 431 snaps on defense, or 51.3% of possible snaps, the fourth highest for a linebacker on the roster. Harold has also played around 43% of special teams snaps. The playing time has allowed the rookie to get accustomed to the speed and physicality near the line of scrimmage.
Landry missed the opening game but has played in each of the next 12 contests, totalling 36 tackles with 2.5 sacks and three tackles for loss. While the numbers do not jump out, Landry has been a disruptive force in the pass rush with eight hits on the quarterback, grading at a 71.0 by Pro Football Focus, higher than fellow rookie Bradley Chubb (OLB/DE – Denver). For comparison, Chubb has 12 sacks and 46 total tackles this season. Part of the reason for the lower numbers is the scheme used by the Titans. It requires Landry to be more active in coverage and run defense as opposed to outright rushing the passer.
Tennessee traded up and were ecstatic to pick up the former Boston College pass rusher. They have been rewarded with a talented contributor on defense and one who is quickly learning a new position in the NFL. Landry has a lot of room to grow but has already proved he was worth the capital invested in him. He will get more comfortable through the rest of the season. Landry is poised to be the best pass rusher in a Titans jersey since Jevon Kearse.
The NFL has a deep selection of talented newcomers when looking at breakout candidates. It is no surprise that teams are able to bring in rookie and second year players and get immediate contributions at nearly every position. While projecting performance over time remains more of an art rather than a science, it isn’t difficult to see the NFL is in good hands with the current group of youngsters making their mark around the league. Who are some of your breakout candidates for next season?
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