Every year there are a load of NFL players who burst onto the scene and become superstars. Most breakouts usually come from 2nd-year players, but a player can breakout at any age. The criteria to be considered a breakout candidate for this article is the player has to have played at least half a season and have not been a Pro Bowler in their career up to this point. Let’s dive into some offensive player candidates for a breakout year in 2020. A defensive player version of this article will come out shortly.
Kyler Murray, Arizona Cardinals
Kyler Murray is a prime breakout candidate this NFL season. The electric quarterback flashed as a rookie, taking home NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year honors in 2019, while passing for 3722 yards, 20 touchdowns, and 12 interceptions. Murray showed insane arm talent and athleticism in Kliff Kingsbury’s Air Raid offense that is suited perfectly for him. He is resemblant of a breakout player from 2019, MVP quarterback Lamar Jackson. Murray is a less talented runner, but a more talented passer than Jackson. He was bound to take the next step this season anyways, but throw in the addition of All-Pro wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins via a trade with the Texans, and Murray is not only a great breakout candidate, but an MVP candidate as well.
Sam Darnold, New York Jets
Sam Darnold is ultra-talented, but dealt with an awful situation last season. First off, Darnold had to learn his second offense in as many seasons in the NFL. Secondly, Darnold was diagnosed with mono right off the bat after a devastating Week 1 loss. It was an uphill battle from there as Darnold missed three games, all losses, and missed a lot of time to get comfortable in the new offense. It was tough to return in the middle of a sputtering season, where many other players were also injured. These included star linebacker C.J. Mosley and bright, young tight end Chris Herndon, among others. The Jets also had the 30th ranked offensive line in pass blocking, and 31st in run blocking, according to Football Outsiders. Despite all of this, Sam Darnold returned and finished with a winning record on the season, 7-6. With a revamped offense, especially the offensive line, and continuity in an offensive system, Sam Darnold looks ready to breakout this season.
Other players to watch:
Drew Lock, Denver Broncos
Baker Mayfield, Cleveland Browns
Miles Sanders, Philadelphia Eagles
Miles Sanders had a strong rookie season for the Eagles. He is a nice fit in Head Coach Doug Pederson’s scheme as he can run well and catch the ball out of the backfield. Sanders racked up an impressive 1327 yards from scrimmage in 2019, while splitting carries with Jordan Howard. With Howard departing in free agency, Sanders can expect more carries to go along with more experience and development. Sanders has elite burst and speed, making him very difficult to tackle in the open field. The loss of Pro Bowl offensive guard Brandon Brooks will hurt Philadelphia’s offensive line. However, it is still among the league’s best, with stars Jason Kelce and Lane Johnson anchoring it. Miles Sanders is poised for a breakout year in 2020, as the versatile running back gears up to take on a larger load for the Eagles.
Devin Singletary, Buffalo Bills
Devin Singletary had a solid rookie season for the Bills, splitting carries with Frank Gore. The Bills decided not to extend Gore, so he departed to join Buffalo’s division rival, the New York Jets. Singletary racked up a total of 775 rushing yards in 2019, while only playing 50% of Buffalo’s offensive snaps. As he takes on the clear-cut top running back role in 2020, his snap count is likely to grow, which will cause his yardage to go up as well. The Bills did draft running back Zack Moss in the 3rd-round of the 2020 NFL Draft, but he will backup Singletary, and not take significant touches away from him, unlike Gore did. Singletary was very efficient with the ball in his hands last season, rushing for 5.1 Yards Per Carry, good for 4th-best in the NFL among running backs. The Bills acquired premier wide receiver Stefon Diggs from a trade with the Vikings, which will enhance their offense. However, Buffalo is still a run-first team, built around a strong offensive line. Devin Singletary is a good candidate for a breakout season in 2020, with an increased role and strong offensive line.
Other players to watch:
David Montgomery, Chicago Bears
Ronald Jones II, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
D.K. Metcalf, Seattle Seahawks
D.K. Metcalf has insane physical tools, yet he somehow fell to Pick 64 of the 2019 NFL Draft. The Seahawks scooped him up, and reaped the benefits. Metcalf had a good rookie season in 2019, with 58 receptions, 900 receiving yards, and 7 touchdowns. That performance is just scratching the surface of his potential. Metcalf is 6’4″, 229 pounds, a monster for a wide receiver. In addition, he runs a 4.33 40-yard dash, which is absurd for his size. These tools, the size, strength, and speed, make him nearly impossible to cover. The best comparison to him is Calvin Johnson, known as Megatron, who also had wild physical traits. Johnson went down as one of the greatest wide receivers in the history of football. Metcalf’s quarterback is perennial MVP candidate Russell Wilson, who can throw the ball into any window. With Wilson, in the prime of his career, throwing him the ball, Metcalf will have every chance to shine in 2020. D.K. Metcalf is on the cusp of becoming one of the NFL’s best wide receivers, with crazy athleticism and talent.
John Ross, Cincinnati Bengals
John Ross has been viewed by the public as a huge bust since being taken with the 9th-overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft. After breaking the 40-yard dash record with a time of 4.22 seconds at the 2017 NFL Combine, Ross has clearly failed to live up to lofty expectations. However, Ross was productive when on the field last season, which flew under the radar. Ross totaled 28 receptions, 506 receiving yards, and 3 touchdowns on the 2019 campaign, while only appearing in 8 games. The reason he missed half the season was a life-threatening shoulder injury. Despite the lasting effects of the injury, he was still on pace for a 1000-yard season, had he played all 16 games. It was easily the best season of his career, even with the tough circumstances. Ross is lightning in a bottle when on the field, where he should be this season, as he enters Training Camp fully healthy. Cincinnati selected star LSU quarterback Joe Burrow with the first overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, who should help lift the entire Bengals offense, especially Ross. If John Ross can stay healthy in 2020, everything is set up for a breakout season.
Other players to watch:
Parris Campbell, Indianapolis Colts
Marquise Brown, Baltimore Ravens
Hayden Hurst, Atlanta Falcons
Hayden Hurst had a solid year in 2019 as part of the Ravens’ deep tight end group. Hurst was traded to the Falcons this offseason for a 2020 second-round pick, and will finally have his chance as a starting tight end. The first rounder from 2018 has largely been viewed as a draft reach at this point in his career. He was an extremely old prospect coming out of college at 25 years old. However, Hurst has the chance to become one of the NFL’s best tight ends. Hurst hauled in 30 receptions for 349 receiving yards and 2 touchdowns in 2019. He did this despite only playing 41% of Baltimore’s offensive snaps. The talent was clearly there, his usage rate was simply too low last season. He likely could have had a big year last season if he had the amount of targets of Baltimore’s budding star tight end Mark Andrews. In a potent passing attack in Atlanta, Hurst should blow up with his starting role. Hayden Hurst has a massive opportunity to have a breakout year in 2020, and potentially gain a Pro Bowl berth.
Noah Fant, Denver Broncos
Noah Fant is an electric tight end who is built like a wide receiver at 6’4″ with a 4.50 40-yard dash time. Fant displayed lots of potential throughout his 2019 rookie year. He reeled in 40 receptions, 562 receiving yards, and 3 touchdowns. The Broncos have built a loaded group of skill position players for quarterback Drew Lock, and they expect the offense to be among the league’s best. Fant should be in the thick of all of it, as he develops into an elite tight end. With his gained experience, Fant looks more than capable for the common sophomore leap. Fant was a first rounder in 2019, but there is clearly a chip on his shoulder as he was the second tight end drafted out of Iowa, with teammate T.J. Hockenson going eight overall to the Lions. Fant fell to Pick 20, but he looked like the better prospect in 2019, and he should continue that in the scary Broncos offense in 2020. Noah Fant seems like a strong breakout and Pro Bowl candidate this season as he looks to take a big leap in a loaded offense.
Other players to watch:
Chris Herndon, New York Jets
Irv Smith Jr., Minnesota Vikings
Dalton Risner, Denver Broncos
Dalton Risner is another young Bronco who should play a big role in the improved offense. However, he plays a much less exciting position than Lock and Fant do. Left guard is not flashy, but Risner will be vital for Denver’s offense this season. Risner had a good 2019 rookie season, allowing only 3 sacks. His play was admirable for the circumstances he was thrown into. Risner had to transition to guard after not playing it in college, which is hard for a rookie playing at the highest level for the first time. An ankle injury in the middle of the season also set him back. Before the injury, PFF ranked Risner as the 7th-best left guard in the NFL. That is extremely impressive for a rookie learning a new position and adjusting to the NFL experience. Despite the injury, he still started all 16 games. The Broncos offensive line around Risner should improve with the additions/health of Graham Glasgow, Ja’Wuan James, and Lloyd Cushenberry. This should help Risner’s play, as the offensive line is a cohesive unit. With experience, health, and a high-level offense, Dalton Risner is set up for a breakout 2020 season and potentially an All-Pro leap.
Tytus Howard, Houston Texans
Tytus Howard was bound for a rough transition to the NFL coming out of Alabama State University. The competition is not comparable by any means. However, the transition was not as bad as advertised in the 8 games Howard started in 2019. In those games, Howard was only responsible for 2 sacks on scrambling quarterback Deshaun Watson. Watson often moves out of the pocket, so 2 sacks for one of his offensive tackles is certainly not bad, despite Howard only playing half the season. It is clear Howard is nowhere near his ceiling yet. With development and experience, Howard will get much more used to the competition, which will greatly improve his play. More playing time and offseason work should help Tytus Howard breakout in the 2020 season.
Other players to watch:
Garrett Bradbury, Minnesota Vikings
Mason Cole, Arizona Cardinals
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