NFL Watchlist: 5 players set for a breakout season in 2019

Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, we know about them. Odell, Julio and Saquon, they're big names too, but who'll be knocking on the door of superstardom in 2019?


You need to stop telling people that the Cleveland Browns are going to win the Super Bowl because they signed Odell Beckham and company.

The entire world knows how good these players are, and they’re also very much aware of how to defend them in most instances because they’ve been performiing at a high level for some time.Teams that typically overachieve see production an relatively unexposed commodities – taking the Colts and Darius Leonard for example. Nobody saw that coming, but yet here we are.

We’re not going to introduce you to Patrick Mahomes – no, here’s five players who aren’t superstars as of yet, who will take the next step and threaten the cover of Madden next summer.

PHILADELPHIA, PA – AUGUST 22: Jordan Howard #24 of the Philadelphia Eagles looks on prior to the preseason game against the Baltimore Ravens at Lincoln Financial Field on August 22, 2019 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)

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Jordan Howard (Philadelphia Eagles)

Howard is the best-known playmaker on this list and for good reason. His numbers at Chicago weren’t poor by any stretch – he had two thousand-yard seasons but did see a decline in production year on year from his rookie campaign.

However, Chicago used a lot of heavy sets. They put a lot of extra blockers in to protect Trubisky, and would often run draws or power concepts off that formation. Howard isn’t, and neve was, that kind of runner. I suspect this to be the case going forward as he was gotten rid of for a sixth-round pick.

Chicago’s loss is Philly’s gain – and what a gain it is.

Running a zone blocking scheme behind Jason Kelce is everything Howard needs and more. Pull blocks, outside runs and pistol formations will see him walk to his rookie season numbers and likely even surpass. Tarik Cohen he may be not, but he’s more than adequate in a passing game that relies on mismatches now.

He provides one.

FOXBORO, MA – DECEMBER 24: A New England Patriots helmet during the first half of the game between the New England Patriots and the Buffalo Bills at Gillette Stadium on December 24, 2017 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

N’Keal Harry (New England Patriots)

Me, on draft night, around pick 16:

“N’Keal Harry is the best receiver in this entire class. Once he doesn’t fall to the Patriots, I think we’re fine in the AFC. He’s got wicked straight-line speed, can run the route tree, is 6-foot-4, 225lbs and a surefire Pro Bowler in his debut season.

“There’s no way he falls the whole way to New England at 32, because NFL teams aren’t stupid enough to just hand them another mismatch so soon after Gronkowski retires. Nobody is that stupid. Think of the collective good.

“I mean, can you imagine handing Tom Brady as big an advantage AGAIN?

“Thankfully, it won’t happen and Bill and Mr. Kraft won’t be lifting Vince Lombardi again in February.”

With the thirty-second pick in the 2019 NFL Draft, the New England Patriots selected N’Keal Harry; wide receiver, Arizona State.

F*** it.

BALTIMORE, MARYLAND – JANUARY 06: Melvin Gordon #28 of the Los Angeles Chargers celebrates with Derek Watt #34 after scoring a one yard touchdown against the Baltimore Ravens during the fourth quarter in the AFC Wild Card Playoff game at M&T Bank Stadium on January 06, 2019 in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)

Austin Ekeler (Los Angeles Chargers)

The Melvin Gordon holdout is a tough one. On one hand, he’s a tackle-breaking machine. But those machines don’t count for much if they stop working 20% of the time, and Gordon needs to go a long way to proving he can play 16-plus games a season before he can command that kind of payrise.

Another reason he can’t is Austin Ekeler. My Lord. He’s half Gordon’s size, twice as strong, faster and a better receiver. He can hit gaps that Gordon can’t and while his numbers will naturally drop as he steps into first-and-ten situations rather than second-and-two scenarios, he’s more than enough to make up for the loss of the Pro Bowler. Gordon’s holdout may be the most over-publicised storyline of the season. The Chargers should trade him.

TAMPA, FL – OCTOBER 21: O.J. Howard #80 and Jameis Winston #3 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers celebrate after a touchdown in the third quarter against the Cleveland Browns on October 21, 2018 at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida. The Buccaneers won 26-23 in overtime. (Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images)

O.J. Howard (Tampa Bay Buccaneers)

O.J. Howard was a top-ten draft pick. O.J. Howard deserved to be a top-ten draft pick. As of right now, there are no players in the entire league that can cover him one-on-one.

For some reason, he’s only been targeted 60 times through his first two years in the league, resulting in less than 1,000 yards.

Thank God Bruce Arians is coming into Tampa Bay because I’m not sure I could sit and watch a talent like this be wasted. At Alabama, there was no stopping him.

In the NFL, as a blocker, he’s on the same level as some top offensive linemen. He’s got superb range, has a motor like no other player at the position – and he fits into almost any formation grouping.

Can someone please, please throw him the ball and stop him run-blocking on every single snap?

Thank you.

Dec 4, 2017; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown (84) reacts as he walks off the field after defeating the Cincinnati Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

Devin Bush (Pittsburgh Steelers)

Prior to the draft, there were two linebackers everyone was intrigued by. Both were potentially top-ten picks, and the drop to the next tier of linebackers was substantial.

The Pittsburgh Steelers are one of the most widely-supported NFL teams in Europe, mainly because of their success, but also because o their aggressive, tone-setting mentality on defence over the last decade. That kind of went away when Troy Polamalu and Ryan Shazier left.

Now, that tone is on its way back with Devin Bush, who, for my money, is better than Devin White, the other linebacker, who went five spots ahead of him.

Not only will he perform well, but he’ll actually get the attention his performances deserve because he’s at a team who always get a lion’s share of league coverage.

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