By: Brennen Krikorian
Heading into the 2019 NFL season, there has been a lot of change throughout the league, as there is every year. With everything from coaching staff changes, player retirements/coming out of retirement (Jason Witten), big time draft picks, and superstars finding new homes, there is no telling how this year will turn out. With all that being said, who doesn’t love predictions. Here are some players that I love entering this season, along with some who I don’t see living up to expectations.
Andrew Luck (IND)
2018 Stats: 67.3% completion percentage/4,593 yards/39 TD/15 INT/69.6 QBR
Prior to the 2018 season, it seemed as if the league had given up on the former Stanford prodigy and number one overall pick in 2012. Through various injuries and self-stated lack of motivation, Andrew Luck began to seriously question his future in the league. However, last season was a complete turnaround both physically and mentally. The Colts quarterback threw for 4,593 yards and 39 touchdowns, which were both good enough to rank within the top five in the NFL. With a strong backfield, offensive line, a decent receiving corps, and a defense well-capable of preserving a lead, the 2019 season looks even brighter for the Indianapolis star.
Jimmy Garoppolo (SF)
2018 Stats: 59.6% completion percentage/718 yards/5 TD/3 INT/27.5 QBR
When talking about Jimmy Garoppolo, it is pretty much impossible to take the 2018 campaign into account. The 27-year-old only played in three games before tearing his ACL and being sidelined for the remainder of the season. While some players make an ACL return look easy, (Adrian Peterson, Tom Brady, etc.) there are a lot of question marks that come with Garoppolo’s return. The 49ers front office was aware of those question marks this off-season and made the necessary changes to develop a Garoppolo-friendly offense. They crafted a deep backfield consisting of Jerick McKinnon, Matt Breida, and Tevin Coleman to take some of the pressure off the young quarterback early in the season. In addition, the breakout seasons of George Kittle and Dante Pettis give Garoppolo a couple of reliable downfield options. Above all, it can’t be forgotten that coach Kyle Shanahan is incredible at maximizing a quarterback’s potential. These skills were brought to light during his tenure as offensive coordinator for the Atlanta Falcons, helping Matt Ryan secure an MVP award in 2016. Overall, despite the injury concerns entering the season, it seems like Garoppolo is in a prime position for a strong season and an early favorite for Comeback Player of the Year.
Honorable Mentions: Deshaun Watson (HOU), Patrick Mahomes (KC), and Kirk Cousins (MIN)
Ben Roethlisberger (PIT)
2018 Stats: 67% completion percentage/5,129 yards 34 TD/16 INT/69.6 QBR
Although it seems like age hasn’t been a factor for some quarterbacks such as Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers, the same can’t be said for Ben Roethlisberger. Roethlisberger is entering his 16th season and has lost his two best players in Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell. While the Steelers still have young stars in Juju Smith-Schuster and James Conner, the roster doesn’t seem deep enough to allow Roethlisberger to maintain the excellence he once had earlier in his career. Another major issue he faces is his inability to escape the pocket, which has caused him to throw far too many interceptions throughout his career. With all of these negatives, it is highly unlikely that the veteran quarterback can continue to be effective in this league.
Derek Carr (OAK)
2018 Stats: 68.9% completion percentage/4,049 yards/19 TD/10 INT/46.5 QBR
After the 2016 season in which he led the Raiders to a 12-4 record, it seemed as if Derek Carr would be a future superstar. The past two seasons have told a different story though. This upcoming season will be the biggest test of his career thus far. With the hiring of quarterback guru Jon Gruden last season and the addition of Antonio Brown this year, it seems like management has done all it possibly can to revitalize Carr’s career. Even with these additions, the Raiders still face the toughest schedule in the NFL, (based on opponent’s 2018 win percentage) so it is more likely that we see a below average season out of Carr as opposed to the comeback Oakland fans are hoping for.
Honorable Mentions: Eli Manning (NYG), Josh Rosen (MIA), Ryan Fitzpatrick (MIA), Jameis Winston (TB)
Kerryon Johnson (DET)
2018 Stats: 118 ATT/641 Yards/3 TD/1 FUM
In a modern-day league where it is more common to have a committee backfield rather than a single workhorse, there is a strong chance that Kerryon Johnson could take over a committee of C.J. Anderson and Zach Zenner in Detroit. In his rookie season, the 22-year-old Auburn star quietly had the second highest yards per attempt (5.4) among qualified running backs (at least 6.25 attempts per team’s games played). With the departures of Theo Riddick and LeGarrette Blount, Johnson is in an excellent position to develop into a three-down back and a rising star in 2019 under head coach Matt Patricia.
Joe Mixon (CIN)
2018 Stats: 237 ATT/1,168 yards/8 TD/0 FUM
Joe Mixon is bound to have an electric season simply by default. He is currently the top option in the run game on a team that is full of injury-prone wide receivers and a quarterback who has often shown he is unable to succeed. Andy Dalton will be looking to give Mixon the ball every chance he gets, whether that be via the run or short pass. With all the negatives that surround the Bengals, the third-year man out of Oklahoma may just be one of their only positives.
Honorable Mentions: Aaron Jones (GB), Christian McCaffery (CAR), Saquon Barkley (NYG)
David Johnson (ARI)
2018 Stats: 258 ATT/940 Yards/7 TD/2 FUM
Prior to the 2017 season in which he tore his ACL, David Johnson looked like he would be the best running back, if not the best player, in the NFL. In his 2016 breakout season, Johnson ran for over 1,200 yards and put up 16 touchdowns. However, recovering from the ACL injury will not be the most prevalent hardship he faces this season. The biggest obstacle for Johnson is the two-headed college monster of Kyler Murray and Kliff Kingsbury. Murray is a rookie sensation looking to show off what he can do at any point during the season. Meanwhile, Kingsbury is looking to bring his West Coast styled offense into the NFL, a system that features five wide receivers at times. This leaves Johnson as the odd man out and prevents him from getting back to the superstar level that we saw just a few years ago. While it isn’t impossible to get back to his 2016 self, the odds are definitely stacked against him.
Melvin Gordon (LAC)
2018 Stats: 175 ATT/885 Yards/10 TD/0 FUM
Ever since getting drafted in 2015, it is undeniable that Melvin Gordon has been one of the best dual threat running backs in football. His ability to open up the field and force defenders to cover him on both the pass and run game is a talent that few players possess. Despite being a well-rounded offensive weapon, the former Wisconsin standout might be on track to have a poor year. At the moment, he is holding out in search of a long-term contract that the Chargers are not willing to give him. According to many, this holdout is believed to continue throughout the summer and into the season. We recently learned that it may even result in a trade involving the running back to another team that is willing to pay the desired amount for his extension. With a player that is used as often as Gordon is, it is going to be tough for him to jump straight into the action after not working out with his team during the preseason. Barring a change of events and a new deal, it will be difficult for Gordon to be an impact right away.
Honorable Mentions: LeSean McCoy (BUF), Dalvin Cook (MIN), Doug Martin (OAK)
D.J. Moore (CAR)
2018 Stats: 55 REC/788 Yards/2 TD
Following a really strong rookie year, D.J. Moore is now the number one receiver for the Panthers. His speed and versatility make him a perfect option for Cam Newton, whose injured shoulder will prevent him from throwing the deep ball. While the touchdowns may not be there yet, he spreads the field and allows other playmakers to get open. His presence will give Newton another solid target alongside Christian McCaffery.
Dede Westbrook (JAX)
2018 Stats: 66 REC/717 Yards/5 TD
Despite being a member of one of the deepest wide receiver groups in the NFL, containing players such as Keelan Cole, Marqise Lee (PUP list), and Terrelle Pryor, Westbrook has a chance to be the top target. He has shown glimpses of stardom but has been held to average performances due to the lack of quarterback skill on his team. With the addition of Super Bowl MVP Nick Foles, the former Heisman candidate has a chance to break out this year. Westbrook also has the benefit of playing under Jaguars executive Tom Coughlin, who during his coaching days was heavily praised for his ability to coach wide receivers (Victor Cruz, Mario Manningham, Odell Beckham Jr., etc.). If Foles is able to prove himself in Jacksonville, he may be able to bring Westbrook to the next level.
Honorable Mentions: Tyler Lockett (SEA), T.Y. Hilton (IND), Corey Davis (TEN)
Davante Adams (GB)
2018 Stats: 111 REC/1386 Yards/13 TD
Davante Adams is an odd case on the hate list because of how much better he is than his teammates. Aside from Adams, Aaron Rodgers options lie with an aging Jimmy Graham, who is well past his prime, and a plethora of young, inexperienced receivers. Opposing defenses will be doubling Adams in every game he plays, making new head coach Matt Lafleur’s job even harder than it already is. Granted, Adams will still get his touches purely because of his talent, but his extra efforts to get open will definitely take a toll on him throughout the course of the season.
A.J. Green (CIN)
2018 Stats: 46 REC/694 Yards/6 TD
During his nine seasons in the NFL, A.J. Green has been widely regarded as the best deep ball threat in the game. His size and athleticism give him a favorable chance to win every jump ball he goes up for. Unfortunately, he isn’t able to win the jump balls if he isn’t on the field for them. According to sportsinjurypredictor.com, Green has a 3.2% chance of suffering an injury per game, which is high risk for a team’s top option. Health continues to be a problem for Green as he will be out for six to eight weeks after injuring his knee during the first week of practices. If healthy, A.J. Green is as good as anyone, but he is rarely at 100%, making him a continuous concern.
Honorable Mentions: Mohamed Sanu (ATL), Golden Tate (NYG), and Jordy Nelson (OAK)
Evan Engram (NYG)
2018 Stats: 45 REC/577 Yards/1 TD
Evan Engram is one of the most unique players in football. Simply stated, he is an athletic wide receiver trapped in a tight end’s body. He ran a 4.42 40-yard dash in the combine two years ago, making him the fastest tight end in the league. While his blocking is still developing, he is an incredible red zone option and play-action threat. With Odell Beckham Jr. now teaming up with Baker Mayfield in Cleveland, and wide receivers Golden Tate and Sterling Shepard sidelined due to injuries, Engram is a viable number one option for passing plays. With Eli Manning’s talent deteriorating day by day, Engram looks to be his saving grace and hopefully give the QB a trustworthy option to throw to.
Honorable Mentions: George Kittle (SF), O.J. Howard (TB) and Vance McDonald (PIT)
Greg Olsen (CAR)
2018 Stats: 27 REC/291 Yards/4 TD
For Cam Newton’s entire career, Greg Olsen has been his go-to target. He is a prototypical tight end who, at 6’5” 255 pounds, can both block and catch at any point in the game. Unfortunately, after 12 seasons, his body is starting to physically worsen. He isn’t able to stay on the field for long periods of time and is sidelined seemingly every other week. While he is still one of the great tight ends in the game, it seems like Olsen is forcing himself to keep playing simply because of how much worse the Panthers are without him.
Honorable Mentions: Jason Witten (DAL), Delanie Walker (TEN), Jimmy Graham (GB)
Cover photo via: Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
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