It’s 2:42 am. The perfect time to look at 2018 NFL breakout candidates.

Posted: January 22, 2018 in Football, New entries, NFL

Adam Shaheen, Bears Tight End – New Bears head coach Matt Nagy was brought in to ‘fix’ or develop young QB Mitch Trubisky. If Trubisky does improve in 2018 the Bears second largest benefactor looks to be tight end Adam Shaheen. A second round pick out of Ashland University, Shaheen was clearly brought in to develop an on field relationship with their young QB. Shaheen has caught twelve of the fourteen passes thrown his way and has three touchdowns in only twelve receptions. Shaheen has a hulking frame even for a tight end at 6’6″, 270 lbs. As Trubisky improves, their biggest target should see more action on the field and in the endzone.

Kevin Dodd, Titans OLB – Dodd, also a second round draft choice with high expectations looks to benefit from a coaching change. Dodd hasn’t burst onto the scene in Tennessee after struggling with injuries. Texans head coach Mike Vrabel, himself a former linebacker, spent time in Houston developing linebackers Whitney Mercilus and Jadeveon Clowney, two high level linebackers. Dodd possesses impressive size and height that incumbent starter Derrick Morgan doesn’t have. If Vrabel can mentor and teach Dodd like his former Texans players, Dodd has enormous potential to crack the starting lineup and create consistent pressure on opposing QBs.

Several running backs – Baltimore’s Alex Collins, Green Bay’s Jamaal Williams, Cincinnati’s Joe Mixon, Tennessee Titans’ Derrick Henry, Green Bay’s Aaron Jones, Miami’s Kenyon Drake, Minnesota’s Dalvin Cook, Indianapolis’s Marlon Mack.

Some of these players have essentially already broken out. Alex Collins completed more than a thousand yards from scrimmage but his team missed the playoffs and didn’t find the end-zone much. He’s more famous for his Irish dancing than his on-field accomplishments.

Jamaal Williams and Aaron Jones in Green Bay both played very well as rookies after Ty Montgomery went down with injury. I foresee them forming a DeAngelo Williams/Jonathan Stewart type (see 2008 Carolina Panthers) duo in Green Bay.

Cincinnati’s Joe Mixon finished with an ugly 3.5 yards per carry but finished his last four games looking pretty solid, including a 96 yard performance in a win against division rival Baltimore. Mixon will likely get even more carries next season and should be a solid fantasy pickup.

Derrick Henry is starting to supplant DeMarco Murray as the lead back in Tennessee. The Titans can tell DeMarco Murray to go take a hike this offseason coincidentally when he turns thirty. Henry’s saw more snaps as the season progressed and generally outperformed Murray in 2017. If Henry does gain the full time RB1 job, you can expect him to jump into the 1,200 rushing yard range next season.

Miami traded Jay Ajayi to Philadelphia and watched Kenyon Drake flourish as the next man up. The Dolphins organization looks like a hot mess right now, but Drake should be able hold down the running back role for the foreseeable future. Drake posted a respectable 80.9 score (out of 100) on profootballfocus.com’s website. Drake is a proven runner and receiver evidenced by his 2017 body of work post-Ajayi.

Dalvin Cook has more or less already broken out with a monster performance week one against the New Orleans Saints. He sustained an injury that left him on I/R. Not every player recovers from injuries well so I’d like to see him perform well over a sixteen game stretch before crowning him a fully ‘broken-out’ player.

Indianapolis’s Marlon Mack did the best he could this season. The Colts fielded one offensive lineman that graded out above 65/100 as a run-blocker this season (LT Anthony Castonzo). The 2006 NFC leading rusher Frank Gore is not under contract with Indy for 2018. If Gore does not return, Mack should see starter-number snaps in 2018. Mack’s pass-catching and running has been a spark of positivity on a Colts’ offense devoid of life outside of the occasional Jacoby Brissett mad dash.

Writing this has been exhausting and sometimes I wonder why I am alive.

Nick Foles, Philadelphia Eagles QB – Foles will get some offers after a stellar performance against the Vikings in the NFC title game and a Super Bowl berth. Foles could reunite with his former OC Pat Shurmur if the Giants don’t like what Eli gives them at QB. The Arizona Cardinals have a gaping hole at QB now that Carson Palmer has retired. Their starting passer right now is Blaine Gabbert. That’s not a joke. It’s really Gabbert. Foles clearly has talent and can serve as a bridge passer until a team like the Cardinals can develop a rookie like Mason Rudolph or wait to draft U. of Arizona QB Khalil Tate in 2019.

Caleb Brantley, Cleveland Browns DT – Brantley’s been a plus performer on a badly under-performing Browns defense. Brantley plays on a defensive line book-ended by uber-athlete Myles Garrett and the physically imposing Emmanuel Ogbah. Ogbah doesn’t have the pass rushing stats that Garrett has, but he’s effective against the run and even has several passes defended. Brantley’s been productive as a backup defensive tackle and could break out next year as Garrett and Ogbah improve. Young DT Danny Shelton can swallow up blockers for Brantley to find access to opposing QBs. Brantley has significant potential to form one of the league’s best front fours.

 

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