With every new NFL season comes the next crop of players that are set to take the next step in the league.
Whether that means becoming one of the best at their position, a pro bowl caliber player, or simply one of the more critical/notable players on their respective team, these players are set to take their game to the next level this season.
7. Montravius Adams, DL, Green Bay Packers
The former 2017 third-round pick has yet to show on the field why he will break out in 2019, but it’s his off the fieldwork that gets him a nod here.
Before his rookie season starting in 2017, Adams suffered a stress fracture during training camp, effectively taking him out for the preseason.
Last season he didn’t come in at peak form either and didn’t play many snaps early in the season.
However, towards the end of last season he began playing more in games, he even made a start and recorded his first career sack in 2018, but what’s made the biggest difference for Adams, entering his third season, is how he approached the offseason.
Teammate Kenny Clark and Packer defensive coordination Mike Pettine have spoken highly of Clark during training camp and preseason.
Pettine noted how Clark is in the best shape he’s been in during his tenure with the Packers, and Clark praised Adams on how he has grown mentally.
Adams will get the chance right away this season to prove he’s ready to break out for the Packers, as he’s gotten first-team reps for most of the preseason, and especially after Packers general manager, Brian Gutekunst released veteran Mike Daniels.
Adams will have to prove himself this season but the pressure is not something he’s a stranger to, Adams had a great senior season at the University of Auburn where he showed to be the leader of a much improved defensive line.
He even earned First-team All-SEC honors that season in 2016, and now Adams gets his chance to prove he can help lead a defensive line, that is looking to improve from the last two seasons, at the NFL level.
6. Calvin Ridley, WR, Atlanta Falcons
The former 2018 first-round proved last season why he was one of the only two wide receivers picked in the first round the 2018 draft, and may show us why he should have been picked higher.
The Alabama product had an outstanding rookie season, totaling 64 catches for 821 yards and 10 touchdowns. He led all rookie receivers in those categories last season, and his 10 touchdowns also were the most by any Falcon pass-catcher, that includes a guy you may have heard of, Julio Jones.
When talking about development for a player, the team he gets drafted by is critical, Ridley was taken in a perfect situation and it showed last season.
Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan had a bounce-back year in 2018, with numbers very similar to his stats in 2016, when he won NFL MVP.
If Ryan continues this sort of play, that means Ridley will find himself getting plenty of chances to increase his own production.
Another factor that will help out Ridley has Julio Jones as a teammate. Not only will Ridley continue to learn from him but with Jones being someone many teams throw double coverage at, this will allow Ridley, who is an outstanding route runner to put himself in position to make plenty of big plays.
With the title of bonafide No.2 receiver spot being wide open, Ridley has a chance this season to solidify himself as the Falcons best receiver not named Julio Jones, and in the process become a big part of one of the most dangerous offenses in the league.
5. Tarik Cohen, RB, Chicago Bears
Tarik Cohen is no stranger to being doubted by critiques.
He only received one Division I offer coming out of high school, and prior to the 2017 NFL Draft, many projected him to go in the sixth round.
Now, two years later, Cohen will get the chance to be the lead back of a team that has aspirations, not just the playoffs, but winning the Super Bowl.
While Cohen had a decent rookie season in 2017, it was last year in 2018 where he truly began to show how electrifying he could be on a football field.
Splitting time with a now-former teammate, Jordan Howard, Cohen showed off his versatility early in the season. In Week 4 of the 2018 season, Cohen recorded seven catches for 121 yards.
Then, later on, that season in Week 13 of 2018, he became the first player with at least 30 rushing yards, 150 receiving yards, and a passing touchdown in a game, when he did so against the Giants.
He finished last season with 1,603 all-purpose yards and 9 total touchdowns.
Now in year three, with Jordan Howard traded during the offseason, Cohen gets to prove he can be a No.1 running back in the league.
With veterans on the offensive line like Cody Whitehair and Kyle Long to help run-block and the Bears having depth at the wide receiver spot this season, Cohen will get more carries running the ball, and with his speed being out there on more possessions, Cohens’ stats will rise, as will the Bears chances of winning games.
4. Mike Williams, WR, Chargers
Many were ready to quickly label Williams to be a bust after his rookie year in 2017, despite the fact that missed six games and wasn’t one hundred percent when he actually played.
2018 changed all of that for Williams as he bounced back by catching 10 touchdowns and showing improvements in his route-running and awareness on the field.
For years the Chargers needed to build up receiving depth to help Philip Rivers, especially when No.1 receiver Keenan Allen was getting hurt. Williams was part of this plan when the Chargers drafted him with the seventh pick in the 2017 draft.
After dealing with his own injuries as a rookie, Williams showed in 2018 why he was worth a top-10 pick. No game showed off how important he is to the team than the Week 15 game against the Chiefs.
In that game, he caught seven passes for 76 yards and two touchdowns. He also got a 19-yard rushing touchdown and caught the game-winning two-point conversion to help the Chargers come back and beat the Chiefs in that game.
Entering 2019 the Chargers receiving depth chart is wide open as guys like Travis Benjamin and Hunter Henry will look to bounce back from 2018.
Meaning Williams is likely the No.2 guy heading into the season and if he continues to build off of last season where he showed to be a touchdown threat for the Chargers, he could find himself as a potential pro-bowler for the first time in his career.
3. Minkah Fitzpatrick, CB/S, Miami Dolphins
Players that can play multiple positions in sports have become more valuable in recent years, and Minkah Fitzpatrick is one of those players.
Coming out of Alabama, a lot was made of his ability to play corner and safety, as well as maybe even linebacker in some packages.
Fitzpatrick had a solid rookie season as he totaled 80 tackles, nine pass deflections, and two interceptions, one of which he returned for a touchdown.
However, the Dolphins as a whole had a down year, and while the numbers were fine, Fitzpatrick could have performed better.
Now heading into 2019 with a new coach, Fitzpatrick can hit a reset button and can focus on making sure he puts his skills to use on the field.
The biggest thing going in his favor is the fact that the Dolphins hired a defensive-minded head coach in Brian Flores. The Dolphins are also in a rebuild and are emphasizing their emphasis on their younger players to help bring them back, and Fitzpatrick is one of those guys.
The former two-time college football national champion knows what it’s like to be the key piece on a team that wants to win, and he seems ready to take the responsibility.
Let’s not forget the intangibles he has, since college Fitzpatrick has shown a knack to get interceptions, and has shown he is skilled in coverage. It’s natural that some rookie defensive backs don’t produce right away but with time some become exceptional.
Fitzpatricks’ knack for getting to the ball plus working with a more defense-oriented coach will be huge pluses for him. Add in his metrics at being 6’1 and fast, and you have a player poised to show the first sign as to why he’s one of the best in the league, at any position one picks to play him at.
2. David Njoku, TE, Cleveland Browns
In an era where field-stretching tight ends are becoming the new norm, David Njoku fit that mold.
The physically gifted Njoku had a familiar experience when he was in college, his redshirt freshman year was a learning experience for him before he broke out with eight touchdowns the next season.
The NFL has been a similar experience because the Browns haven’t been the most stable organization in recent years, at least until last season.
Now Njoku will get to reap the rewards of his patience.
The Browns have a new head coach in Freddie Kitchens who has plenty of offensive experience and helped them finish 5-3 after they started 2-5-1.
Aiding him is second-year quarterback Baker Mayfield who set the rookie passing touchdown record and is also looking to ascend to be one of the elite quarterbacks in the game.
Not only that but the wide receiving core includes Odell Beckham Jr and Jarvis Landry, who will garner plenty of attention which will allow Njoku to get one on one coverages against players that he can exploit.
The Browns are set to have a season that could help change the direction of the franchise for years to come, and Njoku is set to contribute heavily to this season.
1. Malik Hooker, S, Indianapolis Colts
If there is one positive that Colts fans can take from this week, it’s remembering they have one of the best young safeties in the NFL who is set to have a huge 2019.
This might confuse some because too many, Hooker had a breakout season last year.
While he did play in 13 games, six more than in his rookie season, and had a solid season he didn’t have a break through season. He collected fewer interceptions this past season and had less deflected passes despite both himself and the Colts performing well after the slow start.
Not only is Hooker on the list because his stats could take another step, but it’s the fact that he hasn’t played at a hundred percent in the league quite yet.
Hooker came into his rookie season recovering from surgeries but still played well before missing more time.
Hooker came into his rookie season recovering from surgeries but still played well before missing more time.
Last year he only missed three games but he also had to adjust to Frank Reich, as it was only the first season with Reich as head coach.
Now fully healed from his previous injuries, doing well in camp, and more acclimated to the schemes that Reich likes to use, Hooker can go out and show why he has the skills to become one of the best safeties in the league.
The Colts defense improved throughout all of last season and currently looks the best that is has in years. Hooker being apart of last years’ defense that made strides show that he can help impact the team.
Acknowledging that plus his health and growing comfort in the defense, Hooker is in the ideal spot to turn 2019 into not just a great year for the Colts, but an elite year for him