Breakout players emerge every season. A new coaching staff, new schemes, or rehab from an injury, are a few valid reasons to see major improvement in an athlete. I will be giving you 32 names to watch for the 2019 NFL season. One player per team.
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Jesse Bates – Safety
6’2″ 201 lbs
2nd year pro – Wake Forest University
2018 Statistics – 111 tackles (73 solo), 3 interceptions (1 returned for a TD), 7 passes deflected, 16 games started
The 2nd round pick out of Wake Forest earned his stripes early for the Cincinnati Bengals last season. Jesse Bates is a big, versatile free safety who proved he was a tackling machine in his first season. Bates recorded 111 tackles for the Bengals, preventing plenty of touchdowns along the way. He also excelled in coverage with 7 pass deflections.
I noticed that Bates played with a lot of freedom for a free safety. He is extremely aggressive, often leaving his deep middle coverage to lurk routes underneath. Despite his aggressiveness, Bates has a great feel for how plays develop and does not leave his teammates out to dry when they are expecting coverage over the top. I expect Bates to improve even more next season, recording more interceptions and making more highlight plays. I believe Bates will enter the conversation as a true star safety in the NFL, after this year.
Nick Chubb – Running back
5’10” 227 lbs
2nd year pro – University of Georgia
2018 Statistics – 192 rushing attempts, 996 yards, 8 touchdowns, 5.2 yards per carry, 9 games started
Nick Chubb is poised for one of the biggest breakout seasons that a running back has had in a long time. Chubb’s rookie season got off to a slow start. The running back was seemingly third on the depth chart for the first six weeks of the season. Things changed for Chubb after running back Carlos Hyde was traded to the Jacksonville Jaguars in October of 2018. That trade was the start of something special for this Georgia Bulldog alum.
Chubb was fantastic in the 9 games he started for the Browns, averaging an impressive 5.2 yards per carry. He is a powerful, north and south runner, with great vision for finding the right holes to run through. With a full season ahead of him, get ready for Chubb to emerge as a star running back in this league.
Let’s also remember the big time wide receiver the Browns picked up this offseason. The addition of Odell Beckham Jr. changes the entire dynamic of this offense. Defenses will think twice before stacking the box against Chubb, or they’ll be watching Odell dance in the end zone after a touchdown. This Browns offense will be tough to stop this season, and there may be no bigger beneficiary than running back Nick Chubb.
Lamar Jackson – Quarterback
6’2” 212 lbs
2nd year pro. University of Louisville
2018 statistics – Passing: 1201 yards, 6 touchdowns, 3 interceptions, 58.2% completion percentage. Rushing: 147 rushing attempts, 695 yards, 5 touchdowns, 7 games started
Lamar Jackson took over as the full-time starter for the Ravens following their bye week in 2018. The Ravens fully embraced Lamar’s athletic ability as a runner, and made drastic changes to their offense. Pistol formations, read option run plays, and RPO’s (run-pass options) instantly became a staple in the Ravens offense. With a stout defense on the other side of the ball, Lamar lead the Ravens to a 6-1 record and a playoff berth.
While watching Lamar orchestrate the Ravens offense in a college football style scheme was entertaining and successful, I don’t think it is built for long term success. Lamar had double digit rushing attempts in every game he started, and had over 20 rushing attempts in two separate games. Expecting Lamar to maintain that level of rushing attempts over an entire season seems like a dangerous formula for the longevity of his career.
The Ravens offensive coordinator for this season is Greg Roman. Roman was the O-coordinator for the 2012 San Francisco 49ers (that lost in the Super Bowl to the Ravens) with Colin Kaepernick at quarterback. If anybody knows how to sustain a pro-style offense with a running QB, it’s Roman. I have faith that Roman will come up with a plan that maximizes Lamar’s skill set, but will still protect him and allow him to grow as a passer. I predict Lamar will throw around 22 touchdowns and look more confident from the pocket. I’m expecting big things out of Baltimore this year.
James Washington – Wide Receiver
5’11” 214 lbs
2nd year pro – Oklahoma State University
2018 Statistics – 16 receptions (38 targets), 217 yards, 1 touchdown, 6 games started
There are a lot of different opinions out there when discussing the departure of wide receiver Antonio Brown. The truth of the matter is, the Steelers traded away their best offensive weapon. Brown’s production will not be easily replaced, but the good news is that the Steelers have young talent on the roster at that position.
I think James Washington will win the position battle for the No. 2 receiver spot. Washington was one of my favorite 2018 draft prospects at wide receiver. While not incredibly big or athletic, Washington has a knack for making contested catches and creating plenty of yards after the catch. Washington definitely struggled in his first year with Pittsburgh. The young receiver was called out by Ben Rothlesberger following a crucial drop against Denver in Week 12. I think Washington has put those early struggles behind him, and is prepared to be a major contributor in 2019. Let’s see if he can do his part to help the Steelers get back into the playoffs.