32 Potential 2nd-Year Stars in the NFL
Once training camp is in full swing, the focus for almost every team will be on the rookies. Of course, this isn't anything out of the ordinary; the rookies are the "unproven talent" of the squad, and for some teams, they're the only players that are keeping them from the brink of disaster. However, what about the rookies from last season? Most fans have already forgotten about those 4th and 5th round picks that they were so high on in 2013. Now, those guys have had one year to adjust to the pros, and now they're ready to actually make a difference. So, without further ado, here are 32 2nd-year players that just might breakout for their respected teams and become household names.
Arizona Cardinals- Jonathan Cooper, G (1st Round)
Cooper, the 7th overall pick in the draft, came into Arizona with a lot of promise and potential due to his large frame and mobility as an offensive guard. Unfortunately, Cooper broke his leg in August and missed the entire 2013 season. The Cardinals expect him to be 100% for the regular season, and if that's the case, he would be nice addition to an already-impressive offense, which includes Wide Receiver Larry Fitzgerald and Running Back Andre Ellington.
Atlanta Falcons- Robert Alford, CB (2nd Round)
Alford had a decent rookie year, racking up 40 tackles and 2 interceptions. After Atlanta had an extremely disappointing season in 2013, they expect guys like Alford to pick up the slack and return to being a major threat in the NFC.
Baltimore Ravens- Brandon Williams, DT (3rd Round)
Baltimore loves to put their defensive draft picks to good use, and Brandon Williams could be the next man on that list. Although he only played seven games and earned just one sack in 2013, I considered him to be a value in the third round, and if he plays at his full potential, it will be interesting to watch him play side-by-side Haloti Ngata.
Buffalo Bills- Marquise Goodwin, WR (3rd Round)
Goodwin was able to climb up the third round after running a 4.27 40-yard dash at the Combine, which was the fastest in 2013. Although the Bills drafted fellow receiver Sammy Watkins in the first round and traded for Mike Williams, Head Coach Doug Marrone has insisted that Goodwin could play a bigger role, according to The Buffalo News:
"Marquise Goodwin -- and I've talked to (Offensive Coordinator) Coach Hackett about this -- we have to get him in there more."
- Doug Marrone, Buffalo Bills
Carolina Panthers- Kenjon Barner, RB (6th Round)
Barner was an absolute offensive and special teams weapon while at Oregon, and although he saw very limited time with the Panthers, there's certainly still hope for him. I can see him potentially becoming an effective kick and punt returner, and if they're feeling really adventurous, they could even use him in a Wildcat formation.
Chicago Bears- Jon Bostic, LB (2nd Round)
Bostic was a beast in the preseason, and although he did alright with 56 tackles in his rookie season, I believe that this former Florida Gator could be even better. Chicago has experimented with a few guys at middle linebacker this past season, but Bostic may be the true replacement for Brian Urlacher.
Cincinnati Bengals- Tyler Eifert, TE (1st Round)
I contemplated with choosing either Eifert or DE Margus Hunt for the Bengals, but from the way tight ends like Jimmy Graham and Vernon Davis have been able to play in this day in age, Eifert's ceiling is extremely high. For now, he'll be competing for attention with Jermaine Gresham, but if he breaks out like Graham did in his second season, Eifert won't have anybody to worry about for a very long time.
Cleveland Browns- Barkevious Mingo, LB (1st Round)
Besides Mingo, Cleveland had a very poor 2013 draft. However, that's not to say "Kiki" Mingo had a great rookie season. Still, being the 6th overall pick, there's obvious potential, and with defensive guru Mike Pettine as his new head coach, he could be utilized in more effective ways than before.
Dallas Cowboys- Joseph Randle, RB (5th Round)
Starting Running Back DeMarco Murray is in his contract year, and with the value of the halfback in free fall, it's very likely that Randle could have an increased role next season and become the starter in 2015. In fact, he started two games last season in place of an injured Murray and become a hot commodity in fantasy football, so don't be surprised if he surfaces again in 2014.
Denver Broncos- Montee Ball, RB (2nd Round)
To me, this was an easy choice. After playing second fiddle to Knowshon Moreno during Denver's playoff push, Ball has a clear path to becoming Peyton Manning's "backfield buddy" next season. He's already had a ton of experience carrying the ball for four years in Wisconsin's pro-style offense, so should be able to run the ball as well as a veteran should.
Detroit Lions- Larry Warford, G (3rd Round)
I can remember watching the NFL Draft last year and asking myself, "How in the world did Larry Warford fall to the third round?" Sure, offense guard isn't the sexiest position, but when you get a good one, it can be an incredible addition to your offense. Detroit put Warford to good use in 2013, starting him in all 16 games. I wouldn't be shocked at all if he earns a Pro Bowl nod in 2014.
Green Bay Packers- Datone Jones, DE (1st Round)
"At the end of the day, Datone Jones needs to be on the field and playing."
-Mike McCarthy, per Packers.com
Eddie Lacy's Pro Bowl-caliber rookie performance certainly made fans forget that Jones, not Lacy, was the team's first round pick. However, many of you might know that Dom Caper's defense is not very simple, so Jones needed a little bit of time to adjust. However, just as McCarthy said above, he needs to be playing and effective, and if he is, it could add another weapon to a defense that already has Clay Matthews and Sam Shields.
Houston Texans- D.J. Swearinger, S (2nd Round)
With safeties like Eric Berry and Earl Thomas becoming more popular around the league, the position itself has risen dramatically in stock. Although Swearinger didn't have an eye-opening rookie season, his role will most likely increase with the new addition of DC Romeo Crennel. It also doesn't hurt that Houston drafted Jadeveon Clowney with the first overall pick of the 2014 Draft.
Indianapolis Colts- Bjoern Werner, OLB (1st Round)
Indianapolis drafted Werner to complement Robert Mathis in Chuck Pagano's defense, but he was slow to pick up on the new position while Erik Walden filled his spot effectively. With only 2.5 sacks in his rookie year, Werner still has the same potential they drafted him with, so keep an eye on this big German.
Jacksonville Jaguars- Ace Sanders, WR (4th Round)
Sanders made headlines this offseason when he said that Jacksonville's WRs will be "wa-a-a-a-y better" in 2014, but the real question will be if Sanders will be part of that group. He actually did very well for his first season, catching 51 balls for 484 yards in an offense that probably should've been playing on Friday nights than on Sundays (if you're catching my drift). I swear, this pun wasn't meant to be intended, but he might be better fit as a return "ace". Nevertheless, I don't think we've heard the last of Ace Sanders.
Kansas City Chiefs- Travis Kelce, TE (3rd Round)
Kelce was only able to see the field in one game in 2013, but the Chiefs haven't had a great tight ever since Tony Gonzalez left, so it's definitely up for competition. Kansas City GM John Dorsey even said he's impressed how Kelce stretches the field, stating that he "adds another element to the passing game". If the Chiefs want to have continued success and be able to compete with the division rival Denver Broncos, they might need someone like Kelce to step up in the offense.
Miami Dolphins- Dion Jordan, DE (1st Round)
The Dolphins spent a pretty penny to trade up for Dion Jordan, but as of right now, it seems that they may have overspent. With only two sacks in an upsetting first year, Jordan needs to have a better second season, or else he could be traded. However, keep in mind that he's playing opposite of Pro Bowler Cameron Wake, so the potential for performance is still there. If he struggles early, though, he may be a candidate to change jerseys by the trade deadline.
Minnesota Vikings- Gerald Hodges, OLB (4th Round)
The Vikings stole the spotlight of the 2013 Draft with their three first round picks, and they might have earned some value with Hodges in the 4th round. Although he was played mostly special teams last season, he has the character and the drive to please Mike Zimmer's coaching staff and drive him up the depth chart. With Jared Allen and Kevin Williams no longer on the team, Minnesota will be looking for players to step up on defense, and I think Hodges can be one of them.
New England Patriots- Jamie Collins, OLB (2nd Round)
Collins saw considerable time in 2013, earning 43 tackles and one sack, which came in the playoffs. If you haven't figured it out yet, Bill Belichick is one of the best in the NFL at drafting, and there's no doubt that Collins could someday be proof to that statement. On top of that, Bill has drafted and coached some very good outside linebackers, like Willie McGinest, Mike Vrabel, and Chandler Jones.
New Orleans Saints- Kenny Stills, WR (5th Round)
If you've been keeping track of the Saints offense, then you know that the loss of Darren Sproles could definitely hurt them in the backfield. However, with Stills, 2014 1st round pick Brandin Cooks, and (hopefully) Jimmy Graham, New Orleans could have as deadly of an offense as they did in 2009 when they won Super Bowl XLIV. Oh, and they have some guy named Drew Brees at quarterback.
New York Giants- Johnathan Hankins, DT (2nd Round)
Hankins was a player in the 2013 Draft that could've been a 1st-round pick, but just so happened to fall in the Giants' lap in the second. He didn't get much playing time, but the Giants are one of those teams that are able to develop defensive lineman efficiently (Justin Tuck, Jason Pierre-Paul, Barry Cofield). If New York has enough patience, Hankins could be the next man on that list.
New York Jets- Dee Milliner, CB (1st Round)
I can still hear Mel Kiper describing Milliner, saying "he's got great speed, could be the next Darrelle Revis". That's a ton of pressure, especially for someone that is the direct replacement for Revis. Luckily, Defensive Rookie of the Year Sheldon Richardson took off some of that pressure, so 2014 may be the year that Rex Ryan is able to polish his young cornerback.
Oakland Raiders- D.J. Hayden, CB (1st Round)
Hayden has been plagued with injuries in the past couple years, including a season-ending groin injury in 2013 and a "life-threatening" heart issue while in college at Houston. However, let's not forget that Hayden has shown enough talent and potential to be selected 12th overall by Oakland. Even though the Raiders haven't drafted historically well, Hayden still can pan out as long as he can stay on the field.
Philadelphia Eagles- Bennie Logan, DT (3rd Round)
Philly drafted Logan to specifically play the nose tackle in their new 3-4 defense. He finished off the year with 27 tackles and two sacks, not bad for a third round rookie playing the nose. Also, keep in mind that Logan played college at LSU, an SEC team that has developed many great defenders recently. In 2014, Logan should be able to have the opportunity of starting week one of the regular season.
Pittsburgh Steelers- Markus Wheaton, WR (3rd Round)
Pittsburgh's wide receiver corps has changed dramatically in the last few years, losing play makers like Hines Ward, Mike Wallace, and Emmanuel Sanders. Although they still have Pro Bowler Antonio Brown, Wheaton will most likely play a role similar to what Sanders did in 2013. Although he was largely hyped in last season's training camp, Wheaton struggled to adjust in Todd Haley's offense, catching only 6 passes in 12 games. With one year under his belt, Wheaton could jump into the starting lineup opposite of Brown and become one of Ben Roethlisberger's top receivers.
San Diego Chargers- D.J. Fluker, OT (1st Round)
Overall, the San Diego Chargers had a great draft, adding ILB Manti Te'o, Wide Receiver Keenan Allen, and 1st round pick D.J. Fluker. Fluker's first year came with mixed reviews, but everyone certainly believes that there's room for improvement. In fact, Fluker's goal for 2014 is to make the Pro Bowl, and in order to achieve that, he has decided to start boxing.
“I’ve had no prior experience boxing. This is my first time doing anything like this, and I really think it’s going to help me a lot. It’s a lot of footwork and mechanics, but I think it’s really going to help late in the season, especially with my stamina.”
- D.J. Fluker, per Chargers.com
We've seen players in the past take up other sports in order to improve on the field, and I think that boxing really could help Fluker in his second season, especially with his mechanics.
San Francisco 49ers- Marcus Lattimore, RB (4th Round)
Former General Manager and NFL Network's Charley Casserly called him "the best back in the draft". That's hard to dispute based on his production at South Carolina, but he shredded his knee in a freak injury against Tennessee in 2012. After sitting on the bench for an entire season, it's possible that San Francisco could get Lattimore sometime back in the middle of the season at full strength. Even though he's in a crowded backfield with Frank Gore, Kendall Hunter, and rookie Carlos Hyde, don't think for a second that Jim Harbaugh won't give Lattimore a chance to show what he's got in the NFL.
Seattle Seahawks- Jesse Williams, DT (5th Round)
Although Williams will be receiving a Super Bowl ring, he didn't play a single snap in 2013 due to a season-ending knee injury in August. If he's able to go in 2014, he could have a large role due to starter Red Bryant signing with the Jacksonville Jaguars. Like Bennie Logan, Williams was an SEC defensive lineman, which means that he's already faced many pro-ready players and could make an immediate impact once he's cleared to play.
St. Louis Rams- T.J. McDonald, S (3rd Round)
T.J. McDonald, the son of former All-Pro Tim McDonald, wasn't able to gain traction his rookie year due to an injury that kept him out for 8 weeks. However, Head Coach Jeff Fisher has very high hopes for McDonald in his sophomore year in the NFL, saying:
“When T.J. got going early in the season before the injury, you didn’t look at T.J. and see a rookie, You saw someone that played like an experienced player. With that being said, Year 2 is completely different. He understands, he’s in great shape right now. (Defensive Coordinator) Gregg (Williams)’s going to be able to do a lot of things with him on defense."
- Jeff Fisher, per ESPN.com
As I said before, the safety position is more popular in the league than ever because it's very hard to find someone like Troy Polamalu that can do everything that is asked of him. Could McDonald be one of those safeties? It's hard to say, but I would definitely remember his name just in case he breaks out this year.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers- Mike James, RB (6th Round)
Fans and fantasy owners alike all turned their heads toward Mike James in week nine when he rushed for 158 yards against the Seattle Seahawks defense. Unfortunately, in the week after that, James broke his ankle and was placed on injured reserve. In 2014, he'll have to play backup to starter Doug Martin and possibly compete for reps with Bobby Rainey, the back that ended up replacing him midseason. However, if he shows the same kind of toughness and skill that he had against Seattle, expect James to have more games where he'll catch national attention.
Tennessee Titans- Brian Schwenke, C (4th Round)
Even though the Titans had an unstable quarterback situation in 2013, Schwenke was a positive note in their offense, starting all nine games that we was able to play. After offseason ankle surgery, Schwenke should be ready to go for the regular season, and I think that he could become one of the best centers in the league, similar the Jets' Nick Mangold and the Seahawks' Max Unger.
Washington Redskins- Bacarri Rambo, S (6th Round)
Besides having one of the best names in football, Rambo has already made himself known as one of the best young tackling safeties in the NFC. Rambo slipped to the Redskins in the 6th round after failing multiple drug tests, something that the NFL seems to be clamping down on. As long as Rambo stays out of trouble, he could develop into a really nice strong safety for Washington and become one of the best values of this draft.