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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Josh Allen – Quarterback
6’5” 238 lbs
2nd year pro – University of Wyoming
2018 statistics – Passing: 2074 yards, 10 touchdowns, 12 interceptions, 52.8% completion percentage. Rushing: 89 rushing attempts, 631 yards, 8 touchdowns, 12 games played (11 started)
When I first scouted Josh Allen as a quarterback coming out of Wyoming, I was not a fan. I doubted that he would find success at the pro level, and thought Buffalo had missed with the No. 7 pick in the draft. After witnessing the first 11 starts of his career, it looks like I was wrong. Allen played with incredible poise and confidence as a rookie. He made some great throws, often pushing the ball down the field for big gains. He was impressive as a runner as well, gaining over 600 yards on the ground.
Despite the early production, Allen wasn’t perfect. He threw more interceptions than touchdowns and had a low completion percentage. Going into year 2, those are some areas where he will need to improve. The good news is that Buffalo has surrounded him with weapons to do so.
The Bills went out and signed receivers Cole Beasley and John Brown. Brown is a speedster who should make big plays downfield for the Bills, while Beasley will be a great target on 3rd down. They also have young talent at receiver. Those young players should continue to develop as they mature. Allen has as much arm talent as any quarterback in this league. He also plays with a toughness that can rally players in the locker room. With a full offseason to grow as a passer, and new weapons in the huddle, expect Allen to have a breakout season in 2019. I predict Allen will combine for over 3500 total yards next season.
Minkah Fitzpatrick – Safety/Defensive back
6’1” 207 lbs
2nd year pro – University of Alabama
2018 statistics – 80 tackles (51 solo), 2 interceptions (1 returned for a touchdown), 9 passes deflected, 16 games played (11 games started)
Minkah Fitzpatrick was one of the most versatile safeties in college football during his time at Alabama. Fitzpatrick lined up at safety, outside corner, slot corner, and sometimes linebacker. His versatility impressed the Dolphins, as they selected him with the 11th overall pick in the 2018 draft. Fitzpatrick’s rookie year included a lot of the same responsibilities, as he started games at both corner and safety for Miami. Fitzpatrick is an incredibly smart player, and athletic enough to compete at almost any position on a defense.
Coaches love having players like Fitzpatrick, because it allows them to get creative with defensive play calling. With the increase of spread offenses at the pro level, coaches are using safeties at almost any position on a defense. Dolphins new Head Coach, Brian Flores, spent the last 7 years as a defensive coach for the New England Patriots. The Patriots are known to use defensive lineups with multiple safeties. I believe Flores will use Fitzpatrick as a defensive weapon, deploying him all over the field to confuse offenses. I have high expectations for Fitzpatrick this year, and predict that he will lead the Dolphins in forced turnovers this season.
New York Jets
Sam Darnold – Quarterback
6’3” 225 lbs
2nd year pro – University of Southern California
2018 statistics – 2865 yards passing, 17 touchdowns, 15 interceptions, 57.7% completion percentage, 13 games started
Quarterbacks from USC have had some less than stellar careers in the NFL. Mark Sanchez, Matt Barkley, and Matt Leinart are all considered underachievers at the pro level in one way or another. The stereotypes behind USC quarterbacks caused Jets fans to be apprehensive when the team selected Darnold with the No. 3 selection in the NFL Draft. After an inspiring rookie season, Darnold appears to be ready to flip those stereotypes on their head.
Darnold played very well for a rookie quarterback. The Jets offense struggled as a whole, but Darnold finished strong in the last few weeks of the season. This offseason, the Jets went out and added a lot of talent on the offensive side of the ball. Running back Le’Veon Bell signed a $52 million dollar deal to head to New York. After having an entire year off, Bell should be fresh and ready to perform at an elite level once again. The Jets also added speedy wide receiver Jamison Crowder, who should bring explosiveness to their offense.
Darnold is a smart quarterback, and throws the football with precision and timing. The added weapons around him should make his job a lot easier in 2019. I think we will see Darnold and the Jets surprise a lot of people this upcoming season. My prediction for Darnold is at least 30 passing touchdowns in 2019.
New England Patriots
Damien Harris – Running back
5’10” 214 lbs
Rookie Season – University of Alabama
3070 career rushing yards, 23 career rushing touchdowns at Alabama. Second All-SEC in 2018. 2 time college football champion (2015, 2017)
The New England Patriots went through a minor identity change on offense this past season. The discussion around the Patriots has always been about Brady, and his ability to orchestrate their offense. Brady has clearly had the most illustrious career of any quarterback in NFL history, but he also just turned 42 years old. The Patriots are running the ball more as Brady ages, and they are running it at a high level.
Last season, the Patriots had the 3rd most rushing attempts of any team in the NFL. Running back Sony Michel was the catalyst for their running game, leading the team in rushing yards. The Patriots added another strong runner in the 2019 draft. Alabama running back Damien Harris was selected by New England in the 3rd round of the draft. Harris was a complete back during his four years at Bama, and was a major contributor to their two championships in 2015 and 2017.
With the addition of Harris, I think the Patriots are going to continue their shift towards a run heavy offense. Harris is a versatile back with the ability to run between the tackles or on the perimeter. He also caught the ball out of the backfield well for Alabama. Harris is a very similar player to Sony Michel, and I believe they will be a dangerous combination in the backfield. Michel may lead New England in rushing attempts and yards, but I believe Harris will lead the Pats in rushing touchdowns this season.