For all the excitement surrounding rookies when they enter the NFL, it’s rare to see them make an immediate impact on the field. It takes time for players to learn the playbook, adapt to life out of college and adjust to the speed of the professional game — even for superstars such as reigning Most Valuable Player Lamar Jackson.
As the NFL works toward opening training camps amid the coronavirus pandemic, here’s a look at the offensive players picked in the 2019 draft who could take a big step forward this season:
Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray
After Patrick Mahomes and Lamar Jackson turned into MVP winners in their second seasons, many are expecting Murray to make a similar jump. The former No. 1 overall pick won Offensive Rookie of the Year honors after totaling 4,266 yards from scrimmage (3,722 passing, 544 rushing) and scoring 24 touchdowns (20 passing, four rushing), and he should put up even better numbers this year after the Cardinals acquired star receiver DeAndre Hopkins from the Houston Texans. Arizona also brought back veteran receiver Larry Fitzgerald and running back Kenyan Drake, giving Murray everything he needs to take off in Year 2 leading coach Kliff Kingsbury’s offense.
Lock might have been the biggest winner of the offseason. The Broncos not only improved their offensive line, signing guard Graham Glasgow and drafting interior linemen Lloyd Cushenberry III and Netane Muti, but surrounded Lock with an enticing group of playmakers. Denver drafted wide receivers Jerry Jeudy and K.J. Hamler with their first two picks and later added athletic tight end Albert Okwuegbunam to go with Pro Bowl receiver Courtland Sutton and budding tight end Noah Fant. Lock is in position to be one of the league’s most productive quarterbacks thanks to the work done this offseason by general manager John Elway.
Patriots quarterback Jarett Stidham
As ESPN’s Bill Barnwell pointed out, Stidham is expected to be just the second quarterback in NFL history who was drafted after the 100th pick and started zero games as a rookie to start Week 1 the following season, joining the Broncos’ Trevor Siemian. Stidham, a fourth-round pick, attempted just four passes last season, including an interception. But the Patriots didn’t draft a quarterback in April and neglected to sign or trade for an established veteran, only giving journeyman Brian Hoyer a one-year deal. Stidham was a sought-after four-star recruit in Texas who played well as a freshman at Baylor in 2015 before transferring to Auburn, where he failed to live up to high expectations but still threw 36 touchdown passes in two seasons. He brings mobility to the position, something the Patriots haven’t had with Tom Brady, and could surprise under the tutelage of future Hall of Fame coach Bill Belichick.
Redskins quarterback Dwayne Haskins Jr.
The former Ohio State star had an up-and-down rookie season, completing 58.6% of his passes for 1,365 yards with seven touchdowns and seven interceptions. Washington lacked playmakers outside of rookie sensation Terry McLaurin last season, so the Redskins drafted running back/receiver Antonio Gibson and receiver Antonio Gandy-Golden and brought in LSU tight end Thaddeus Moss as an undrafted free agent. Washington still has plenty of holes, especially on the offensive line, but Haskins has the talent to be an above-average starter.
Giants quarterback Daniel Jones
The Giants’ selection of Jones at No. 6 overall in 2019 was widely criticized, but the former Duke standout showed potential as a rookie with 24 touchdowns passes in 12 starts. His major weakness was turnovers, throwing 12 interceptions and fumbling a league-high 18 times. The Giants have some offensive weapons in running back Saquon Barkley, receivers Sterling Shephard, Golden Tate and Darius Slayton and tight end Evan Engram, and they upgraded their offensive line with the selection of Georgia tackle Andrew Thomas at No. 4 overall. If Jones can limit his turnovers, he can be an effective player.
Rams running back Darrell Henderson
Henderson battled injuries and was buried on the depth chart during his rookie season, rushing for just 147 yards and averaging 3.8 yards per carry. But with Todd Gurley released, Henderson, a third-round pick, has a chance to earn more carries this year. He’ll have to beat out 2020 second-round pick Cam Akers, but the opportunity is there to be the lead ball-carrier in an offense that helped turn Gurley into a star.
The only way for Pollard to truly break out is for starter Ezekiel Elliott to get hurt, but the former Memphis star can still be one of the league’s most efficient runners. A fourth-round pick, Pollard quietly rushed for 5.3 yards per carry and had 12 runs of 10 yards or more as a rookie. A slightly increased workload could result in a big season in an offense that’s shaping up to be among the league’s best.
Eagles running back Miles Sanders
Sanders was slowed by injuries as a rookie, but he still had just over 1,300 yards from scrimmage and six touchdowns. With the Eagles offense back to full strength with receivers DeSean Jackson, Alshon Jeffrey and rookie Jalen Reagor, Sanders has a good chance to improve on his rookie numbers, especially if he’s more involved in the passing game.
Bears running back David Montgomery
A third-round pick who the Bears traded up to get, Montgomery rushed for 889 yards and six touchdowns and added 25 catches for 185 yards and a score as a rookie. He’s likely to be the lead ball-carrier since Tarik Cohen has yet to carry the ball more than 100 times in a season and the Bears didn’t draft or sign a running back in free agency. While Montgomery averaged just 3.7 yards per carry last season, he’ll get most of the opportunities in the red zone and could emerge as a more productive player.
Ravens wide receiver Marquise Brown
Brown showed flashes of potential in his rookie season, catching 46 passes for 584 yards and seven touchdowns, but he wasn’t able to reach his top-end speed while dealing with a nagging foot injury. Expected to be fully healthy this season, as shown by his recent workout videos, Brown has a good chance to be the Ravens’ first 1,000-yard receiver since Mike Wallace in 2016. With all the time he’s spent training with quarterback Lamar Jackson in Florida this offseason, Brown’s budding chemistry with the reigning MVP should help him become a dangerous weapon in the passing game.
Ravens wide receiver Miles Boykin
Boykin struggled to find his way last season, catching just 13 passes for 198 yards and three touchdowns. But with an emphasis on getting his mind to catch up with his body and developing more chemistry with Jackson this offseason, he says that he’s “capable of a lot more” in his second season. With draft picks Devin Duvernay and James Proche more suited for the slot, the Ravens will be counting on Boykin to take a step forward as an outside receiver.
Johnson led the Steelers in targets and receptions as a third-round pick last season, catching 59 passes for 650 yards and five touchdowns. In fact, he led all first-year players in receptions, and did so playing with Mason Rudolph and Devlin Hodges, who rated among the worst quarterbacks in the league last season. With veteran quarterback Ben Roethlisberger coming back and an expected return to full health for Johnson after offseason hernia surgery, the former Toledo star has a chance to be the Steelers’ top receiver.
Colts wide receiver Parris Campbell
A second-round pick, Campbell only played seven games before being placed on injured reserve with a broken foot, catching 18 passes for 127 yards and a touchdown. The former Ohio State star has blazing speed, running the 40-yard dash in 4.31 seconds at the 2019 scouting combine, and can be effective as a deep threat and working the underneath routes. With Philip Rivers taking over as the starting quarterback in Indianapolis, Campbell’s production should increase.
Cardinals wide receiver Andy Isabella
With Kyler Murray expected to take a step forward, it stands to reason that Isabella could benefit. The second-round pick impressed at the 2019 combine with his 4.31 40-yard dash, but he had just nine catches for 189 yards and a touchdown as a rookie. Though DeAndre Hopkins, Larry Fitzgerald and Christian Kirk will receive the bulk of the targets, there’s a good chance for Isabella to get more playing time in what’s expected to be a prolific offense.
Patriots wide receiver N’Keal Harry
Harry’s production in 2020 will come down to what the Patriots have in Jarrett Stidham, but he wasn’t able to do much with Tom Brady as his quarterback. Harry had just 12 catches for 105 yards and two touchdowns in seven games last season as he dealt with an ankle injury suffered in training camp. However, he enters 2020 as one of the team’s top wideouts, and the Patriots will be determined to find out what they have in their first-round pick. He’ll get plenty of chances to prove he was worth the No. 32 overall selection.
Lions tight end T.J. Hockenson
Hockenson didn’t live up the hype that came with the No. 8 overall selection, catching just 32 passes for 367 yards and two touchdowns last season. But Matthew Stafford was only healthy in eight games, and he’s expected to return to being one of the league’s best starting quarterbacks in 2020. Hockenson will likely get more targets and should benefit from a year of experience in Detroit’s offense.
Fant had at least one catch in every game in his rookie season, but he struggled to find the end zone (just three touchdowns) and caught just 60.6% of his targets. With Lock expected to improve now that the Broncos have one of the best young receiving corps in the league, Fant’s numbers should increase. Jerry Jeudy, K.J. Hamler and Courtland Sutton will draw most of the attention, giving Fant a chance to attack the middle of the field with his size and speed.
Tight end Jimmy Graham joined the Bears in free agency, giving Sternberger an opportunity to emerge in the Packers offense. The third-round pick was a talented playmaker at Texas A&M, catching 48 passes for 832 yards and 10 touchdowns in 2018. He could be a valuable target for an offense that has been lacking receiving threats outside of star Davante Adams.