• Bailey Burns

2019/2020 NFL Breakout Players

Every NFL season, young players break out and change the outlook on their franchises future. Hoping to make a long lasting impact by flying under the radar, to becoming a star in the league. This article is your go to guide for the NFL's 32 most promising breakout players. There is no "criteria" for what defines a breakout player. With that being said, this list includes anyone from surprise rookies to veterans who maybe have not hit full stride yet. Scroll down to see who is the next star for your favorite team come 2019.

AFC South

Jacksonville Jaguars: DJ Chark (WR)

After totaling only 174 yards in his rookie season, DJ Chark will look to bounce back during his sophomore season. The new look Jaguars offense will only help Chark blossom into the deep threat receiver that he was drafted to be. Chark has a deadly combination of size and speed. At 6’4 with a 4.34 40 yard dash, DJ has the potential to be a weapon for Jacksonville this season. With Nick Foles now the signal caller in Duval, more opportunities should open up for Chark. New offense coordinator John DeFilippo has been known to take chances, and we should see those deep balls funnel towards DJ Chark in his 2019 breakout season. 

Confidence Level: Medium

Indianapolis Colts: Braden Smith (OT)

In a division with talented pass rushers everywhere, the Colts have to set their focus on protecting the quarterback. With Calais Campbell, JJ Watt, and many others looking to pressure the quarterback, Braden Smith will be one of the most important players for Indianapolis this season. At right tackle, Smith was thrown into the fire last season after a string of injuries ahead of him. Since entering the lineup in week 5, Braden Smith has been turning heads. PFF even rated Smith as the second most efficient rookie offensive lineman. Only allowing 28 pressures on 520 snaps in 2018.  However, Smith will be asked to do it for a full season this time, and his performance will highly reflect on his new quarterback, Jacoby Brissett.

Confidence Level: Medium

Houston Texans: Keke Coutee (WR)

The 2018 draft produced many receivers that helped their teams immediately last year. All of those players will look to increase their roles in 2019. A candidate who has a great chance to do just that is Keke Coutee. The second year slot receiver out of Texas Tech had a decent rookie year, posting 228 yards and a touchdown in just six games of action. An injury sidelined Coutee for a large portion of last season. However, Coutee returned for the first round playoff game against Indianapolis and shredded them for 11 catches and 110 yards. If Keke Coutee can stay healthy in 2019, he could be a serious weapon for DeShaun Watson. While playing alongside Deandre Hopkins, Coutee should get plenty of looks in his sophomore season.

Confidence Level: Medium

Tennessee Titans: Adoree' Jackson (CB)

The explosive play making corner from USC is now entering his third season in the league, after two seasons of not living up to the hype. This is the perfect opportunity for Jackson to take the next step while still playing behind Malcolm Butler and Logan Ryan. While not having to cover opposing teams number one wide outs, Jackson should be flying around the field making plays. Which we should see much more of in 2019, under his defensive minded head coach, Mike Vrabel. Watch out for the Titans secondary if Jackson can become the lockdown corner that most anticipated he would be. Adoree' Jackson can also be effective on special teams while returning punts. Jackson is a very versatile player that needs to find his role and thrive.

Confidence Level: Low

AFC North

Cleveland Browns: Larry Ogunjobi (DT)

It may be hard for some to believe, but the Cleveland Browns are relevant, and currently have one of the most talented rosters in the entire league. With so many young players on this squad, it can be tough to choose just one player to breakout. The Browns defensive line is full of promising players, especially Larry Ogunjobi who is entering his third season in the league and racked up 5.5 sacks in 2019. Ogunjobi has improved each season as a pro, and should take an ever bigger step this season while playing next to Myles Garrett. The 305 lbs defensive tackle has flashed at times but has lacked consistency. Larry Ogunjobu uses a unique combination of speed and power to pressure the quarterback and clog the run game. This Cleveland defense could be scary in 2019, especially if Ogunjobi can burst onto the scene and continue to improve. 

Confidence Level: Medium

Pittsburgh Steelers: Terrell Edmunds (S)

After a wild offseason for Pittsburgh, the Steelers are confident that their mix of veterans and young talented players will be a winning formula for the 2019 season. One of those young players is the safety from Virginia Tech in Terrell Edmunds. While starting 15 games last season as a rookie, Edmunds recorded 78 tackles and an interception. The 21 year old will have to improve in coverage, but has already proven himself as a run stopper. Edmunds played a tremendous second half last season, in weeks 10-17, posting a PFF grade of 71.6. If he can find a way to pick up where he left off last winter, Terrell Edmunds could be the next star for the Steel Curtain.

Confidence Level: Medium

Cincinnati Bengals: Sam Hubbard (DE)

In 2018, Sam Hubbard played a small role for the Bengals, but made the most of his few opportunities. Tallying 6 sacks while only playing 45% of the teams defensive snaps. All signs are now pointing to Hubbard becoming a starter for the new look Bengals in 2019. The pass rushing sensation out of Ohio State has shown serious flashes of greatness. If Hubbard puts it all together this season, he could be looking at a double digit sack season.

Confidence Level: Medium

Baltimore Ravens: Mark Andrews (TE)

If the Ravens truly believe Lamar Jackson is the answer at quarterback, they must continue to add weapons around him. During the past two drafts, they have done exactly that. Adding two pass catchers from the University of Oklahoma in Marquise Brown and Mark Andrews. Andrews is primed for a big year after already posting 500+ yards receiving in his rookie season. Although Hayden Hurst will also get some playing time at tight end, Andrews is the clear starter. Andrews numbers skyrocketed once Jackson took over for Flacco midway through 2018. With an improving aerial attack in Baltimore, expect Mark Andrews to become one of Lamar Jackson's favorite target in 2019.

Confidence Level: High

AFC East

New York Jets: Jordan Jenkins (OLB)

Jordan Jenkins has spent his three year career in New York, and has contributed every season. Last year, Jenkins logged a team high 7 sacks and was an important piece to the Jets defense. However, Jenkins has yet to become a household name among linebackers across the league. With the possibility of Jenkins dropping down to end during pass rushing downs in 2019, we could easily see his sack total increase yet again. The now veteran from Georgia will have to be a leader for the 2019 New York Jets, as the linebacking core has taken a huge hit this offseason. With Avery Williamson (ILB) tearing his ACL in camp, the Jets then signed Brandon Copeland who was then dinged with a four game PED suspension. Jordan Jenkins is going to have to play a huge role for New York, especially early in the 2019 season.

Confidence Level: Medium

Miami Dolphins: Mike Gesicki (TE)

The 6’6 tight end out of Penn State was poised for a strong rookie season after being drafted 42nd overall by the Miami Dolphins last year. Disappointingly, the Dolphins offense never really clicked, and Mike Gesicki suffered because of it. Only catching 22 passes for 202 yards in 2018. No matter who wins the quarterback battle between Rosen and Fitzpatrick, Gesicki's production should go up. With an aging Dwayne Allen being Gesicki’s only competition at his position, expect Gesicki to be on the field down the stretch for Miami. If Miami wants to compete at all this season, they are going to need young players like Mike Gesicki to step up and make plays. 

Confidence Level: Low

New England Patriots: J.C. Jackson (CB)

The franchise that is known for turning undrafted players into stars may have just done it again. The 2nd year cornerback out of Maryland is poised for a big year with New England. After failing to hear his name called in the 2018 draft, Jackson was soon claimed by the Patriots. During his rookie season, he played 13 games while recording 24 tackles and 3 INT’s, and according to PFF, allowed a passer rating of 42.0 which was the lowest allowed rating in the entire league. J.C. Jackson will become a household name in the secondary this season, while playing next to Stephon Gilmore. Confidence has already been instilled into Jackson by the coaching staff, as he played in several huge games as a rookie. Expect that experience to pay off in his sophomore campaign.

Confidence Level: High

Buffalo Bills: Robert Foster (WR)

In an offense with very few playmakers surrounding the quarterback, it’s up to young players like Robert Foster to take charge and provide Josh Allen with a serious outside threat. Although Robert Foster did show some promise during his rookie season (2018), it’s gonna take a lot more if the Bills want to have a productive offense. While tallying 541 yards with a 61% catch rate and 3 TD’s last season, Foster was a reliable option down the stretch for Buffalo. During free agency, Buffalo brought in Cole Beasley and John Brown. These guys will both attribute to the offense in 2019. However, the Bills are still searching for someone to step up as a WR1. Expect Robert Foster to breakout and lead Buffalo in several receiving categories. 

Confidence Level: High

AFC West

Kansas City Chiefs: Juan Thornhill (S)

The post Eric Berry era has begun in Kansas City. To sure up the tail end of the secondary, the Chiefs made a couple of crucial moves this offseason. Bringing Tyraan Mathieu in via free agency and selecting Juan Thornhill in the second round of this years draft. Thornhill is going to have an immediate impact for Kansas City after starting three years at the University of Virginia. An extremely aggressive player that has potential to be a big hitting ballhawk early in his career. Thornhill is the perfect fit for Steve Spagnuolo’s 4-3 defense. According to reports out of training camp, Thornhill is expected to start alongside fellow safety Matheui. With new faces all over the defense side of the ball for Kansas City, expect the safety to have a significant rookie season. 

Confidence Level: Medium

Denver Broncos: Dalton Risner (G)

During a busy offseason for Denver, they signed Joe Flacco in attempt to sure up the quarterback position and drafted to patch up the offensive line. With the 41st overall pick, the Broncos selected Dalton Risner out of Kansas State. Risner is a massive guard that looks to be a plug and play guy for a Broncos team that is trying to get back to their winning ways. With not only the addition of Risner, but also tackle Ja'Wuan James, the Broncos should do a nice job of protecting Joe Flacco. Expect Dalton Risner to be an every snap guy for Denver and create holes for their young running backs to run through.

Confidence Level: High

Oakland Raiders: Arden Key (DE)

The former third round pick out of LSU must have a better year if the Raiders want to actually pressure the quarterback. After deciding to trade Khalil Mack last season, there was little to no pressure applied on opposing quarterbacks. Oakland was last in the entire league in 2018 with an embarrassing total of 13 sacks in 16 games. The next worst in the NFL was New England with 30 total sacks, which shows how atrocious the d-line actually was last season. Arden Key accounted for just one of those sacks, but did total 25 tackles. 2019 has to be the year in which Key grows into the player most thought he would be. Expect his numbers to increase while getting more snaps after a full season under his belt. Arden might just be the "key" to the Raiders defense this season.

Confidence Level: Low

Los Angeles Chargers: Austin Ekeler (RB)

With the continued holdout of Melvin Gordon, the best option for a breakout candidate in Los Angeles has to be the undrafted running back from Western Colorado. The Chargers are preparing for life without their star running back in 2019. However, Austin Ekeler has already proven himself to be a quality pass catching back and has played in many big games. Although, to take over a starting role would be asking a lot of Ekeler, who is normally used as a third down back. If Melvin Gordon does end up sitting this season out, someone will have to step up, and Ekeler should be the favorite to take over the starting position. Although a little under sized, Ekeler can still be effective in this league, as he has already proven. Now he will have to do it while taking on a larger load. Carries could possibly be split between fellow back Justin Jackson. Regardless, the opportunity for Austin Ekeler is there.

Confidence Level: High

NFC South

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Justin Evans (S)

The third year safety out of Texas A&M has had an up and down start to his NFL career. While dealing with several nagging injuries, Davis has provided the Buccaneers with exceptional play on the backend their defense. However, Davis struggles to stay on the field and lacks consistency. If Davis can convert his short stints of play into a 16 game season, we may be looking at an All-Pro. Bottom line is, when Justin Evans is on the field, the Buccaneers have a top tier safety. As a rookie, Evans intercepted 3 passes in just 9 games. In 2018, Evans played 10 games and recorded 59 tackles. The talent and instincts are there for the Bucs safety. If injuries don’t continue to plague his career, Justin Evans could be an elite piece of that Tampa Bay secondary.

Confidence Level: Medium

Atlanta Falcons: Brian Hill (RB)

It’s been a wild ride for Brian Hill to start his NFL career. After being drafted and then cut by the Atlanta Falcons in 2017, Hill was soon picked up by Cincinnati. Somehow, Hill has found himself back in Atlanta for the 2019 season and has been turning heads in camp. The departure of Tevin Coleman can only help Hill’s usage. If Atlanta decides to give Hill an opportunity this regular season, expect him to make the best of it. Hill can also be effective as a pass catcher, and ultimately his versatility should earn him a spot in the backfield behind Devonta Freeman. Expect Hill to burst onto the scene in 2019, and start a promising career running the football.

Confidence Level: Low

New Orleans Saints: Marcus Davenport (DE)

As a rookie in 2018, Davenport got off to a quick start. Totaling four sacks in his first eight games, the pass rusher out of UTSA was providing much needed help on the defensive side of the ball for New Orleans. What looked to be a great rookie season, was then cut short due to a toe injury that sidelined Davenport for the final eight games. While Davenport still must adapt to the speed of the NFL, it is clear that he is the starting pass rusher opposite of Pro Bowler Jordan Cameron. In order for the Saints to get over the hump, their defense must improve. It starts with pressuring the quarterback, and Marcus Davenport will do just that in 2019.

Confidence Level: Medium

Carolina Panthers: DJ Moore (WR)

I hate to beat this drum too many times, but this 2018 wide receiver class is just so talented, and DJ Moore might just be the most intriguing player of that group. Moore played a solid role for Carolina in his rookie season, catching only two touchdowns. However, Moore did recorded 788 yards. In 2019, with a healthy Cam Newton, Moore is poised for a 1,000 yard season. DJ is an elite route runner with blazing speed, and will be put on display for the Panthers soon. With the departure of former #1 wide receiver Devin Funchess, it’s hard not to believe that Moore is now the main target for Cam Newton.

Confidence Level: High

NFC North

Detroit Lions: Da’Shawn Hand (DL)

Although the Lions have struggled in recent years, they have been loading their roster with young talent. Headlined by second year running back Kerryon Johnson and rookie tight end TJ Hockenson. On the opposite side of the ball lies a quarterbacks worse nightmare in Da’Shawn Hand. The 300 lbs defensive tackle recorded 20 quarterback hurries last season, but only played in 56% of the teams snaps. In 2019, Hand is expected to see more action, and will make the most of his opportunities. The relentless pass rushers numbers will definitely increase in his sophomore season, it just depends by how much.

Confidence Level: High

Green Bay Packers: Za’Darius Smith (OLB)

The Packers inked Za'darius Smith to a four year, $66 million contract this offseason in hopes to sure up the core of their defense. While Smith is now being paid as a top tier linebacker in the league, he is not yet known as one. After playing four seasons in Baltimore, Smith is now ready to play a bigger role in Green Bay. Baltimore seemed to limit the amount of snaps Smith played last season, most likely due to the amount of talent at the linebacker position. This year, expect Green Bay to count on Za'darius Smith for heavy usage. With more reps and snaps coming in 2019, Smith will breakout as a leader for an improving Packers defense.

Confidence Level: High

Minnesota Vikings: Chad Beebe (WR)

There’s just something about those undrafted receivers, and the Vikings continue to find diamonds in the rough. We all know how Adam Thielen’s career has gone after going undrafted in 2013. Now, in 2019, Chad Beebe will look to have a similar effect on Minnesota’s offense. Beebe went undrafted last year out of Northern Illinois University, and was soon scooped up by the Vikings. Beebe spent his first 8 weeks in the league on the practice squad before being activated. He appeared in three games in 2018, but was nursing a hamstring injury. Apparently, Beebe has had a great offseason and is now fully healthy. With the third wide receiver spot wide open in Minnesota, don’t be surprised if Chad Beebe gets his chance.

Confidence Level: Low

Chicago Bears: Allen Robinson (WR)

Entering his sixth season in the league, Allen Robinson is pretty experienced to be considered a breakout candidate. However, Robinson flashed as a young player, and has struggled to regain the success he had in recent years. Due to a change of scenery and an ACL injury, Robinson has not been himself as a Chicago Bear. The relationship with Mitch Trubisky was not there in year one, as both players seemed to miss time when the other one was healthy. In 2019, Robinson is the clear cut #1 receiver for an offense that will look to improve yet again. Expect Allen Robinson to get back on track with his first 1,000 yard season since 2015.

Confidence Level: High

NFC East

Dallas Cowboys: Michael Gallup (WR)

Here we go again, yet another wide receiver from the 2018 class that is set for a huge sophomore season. With the departure of Cole Beasley from Dallas, it only seems right that Gallup steps right up and double his targets from last season. Gallup was no slouch during his rookie year, catching 33 passes for 507 yards. According to airyards.com Michael Gallup had his most efficient catch rate (above league average) when targeted between 21-34 yards downfield. Just more proof that Gallup is a legit deep threat for quarterback Dak Prescott. Overall, Gallup possess an incredible route tree that keep cornerbacks guessing. Expect a big time season for the second year guy out of Colorado State while playing next to Amari Cooper.

Confidence Level: Medium

Washington Redskins: Jonathan Allen (DE)

The Washington Redskins defense has quickly been noted as “Alabama North”, after signing and drafting multiple players who played under Nick Saban. With the young core of Landon Collins, Reuben Foster, Jonathan Allen, and Da’ron Payne who all played for the Crimson Tide, the Redskins have an impressive young defensive core. Although, it was extremely tough to pick just one of these players to burst onto the scene, the answer is Jonathan Allen. The 24 year old is a nightmare for opposing quarterbacks. Allen, who recorded 8 sacks in 2018, is looking to take that next step. If Washington wants to be competitive this season, the defense will have to be their backbone. With an offense that features a question mark at the quarterback position and a lack of playmakers. Jonathan Allen should emerge as the leader of what should be a very good defense in 2019.

Confidence Level: High

New York Giants: Sterling Shepard (WR)

Yes, you probably could argue that Sterling Shepard has already broken out. However, now that Shepard is out of the shadow of Odell Beckham Jr., a career season in now in the works. Shepard, who is yet to tally a 1,000 yard season in his young career, will look to lead the Giants in all receiving categories this year. With Golden Tate serving a four game PED suspension, the targets will be at an all time high for Sterling Shepard this fall. The Giants offense struggled mightily last season while leaning on rookie running back Saquon Barkley. An aerial attack is a must in 2019 for New York, as opposing defense will be keying in on Barkley. If steady quarterback play can be present in 2019, Shepard will be the top target in New York.

Confidence Level: High

Philadelphia Eagles: Miles Sanders (RB)

After taking over for Saquon Barkley last year at Penn State, Miles Sanders picked up right where Barkley left off. Sanders rushed for just under 1,300 yards and had 9 touchdowns. Now, after being drafted by Philadelphia 53rd overall this April, Sanders will try to bring that same impact to an NFL offense. Although, the Eagles did bring in Jordan Howard this offseason, Miles Sanders should still be a nice addition to this offense. Sanders will be a perfect compliment to the downhill power back in Jordan Howard. The rookie is a very elusive back, and will provide a nice change of pace in the Eagles backfield. Expect, a quality rookie season for Sanders, as the Eagles look to make their way back to the Super Bowl.

Confidence Level: Medium

NFC West

Arizona Cardinals: Byron Murphy (CB)

It takes a pretty special player to make a breakout player list as a rookie, and that is exactly what Byron Murphy is. The first pick of the second round in this years draft is prepared for a big role with Arizona in 2019. Arizona will absolutely need the young corner to grow up fast. The Cardinals secondary has been depleted this offseason. They are opening their season while dealing with two long term absences. As Patrick Peterson is serving a six game suspension, and Robert Alford has been placed on the IR. The 21 year old rookie will have plenty of opportunities early this fall to show what he can do. Expect Murphy to find his groove early and give the Cardinals quality play until their veterans return.

Confidence Level: Low

San Francisco 49ers: Fred Warner (LB)

Fred Warner was one of very few bright spots on a 49ers team that had a disappointing

2018 season. As a rookie, Warner recorded 124 tackles, which was 12th in the entire league. Now, with a full season under his belt, and talent added around him, Warner could be looking at a pro bowl season in 2019. Adding a veteran like Kwon Alexander can only help Warner improve as a player. Expect the play making linebacker to put up even better numbers in 2019 with a chance to make an all-pro team.

Confidence Level: High

Seattle Seahawks: Malik Turner (WR)

An already unexperienced wide receiving core in Seattle is dealing with some adversity to open the season. D.K Metcalf and David Moore are both dealing with injuries. This leaves Russell Wilson with very limited weapons at his exposure. The question many people are asking in Seattle is, who is going to make plays alongside Tyler Lockett? The answer is Malik Turner, a second year player from Illinois. Turner is a speedster who can go and make a play down the field. With a revolving door of wide receivers in Seattle, expect Malik Turner to turn some heads this season, while providing the Seahawks with a reliable option early in 2019.

Confidence Level: Low

Los Angeles Rams: Gerald Everett (TE)

Sean McVay's impressive offense will look to take yet another step forward in 2019. If Los Angeles wants to improve, they will need some actual production out of their tight ends. Gerald Everett is the prime candidate to produce from that position this year. Everett will look to build on what was an efficient second half of last season. After seeing four targets just once through the first eight games of 2018, Everett saw four or more targets in five games of the last nine weeks. If Everett can pick up where he left off, and provide Los Angeles timely catches in 2019, the Rams might just find themselves as the top offense in the NFL.

Confidence Level: Medium