Mur­ray, Lock, Stid­ham are among group poised to break out in 2020

Richmond Times-Dispatch - - SPORTS - BY C.J. DOON The Bal­ti­more Sun

MON­DAY, JUNE 1, 2020

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 was named of­fen­sive rookie of the year 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.

Bron­cos quar­ter­back Drew Lock: 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 be­fore start­ing Week 1 the fol­low­ing sea­son, join­ing the Bron­cos’ Trevor Siemian. Stid­ham, a fourth-round pick, at­tempted just four passes as a rookie, 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 highly sought 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 GandyGolde­n 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

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 sec­on­drounder Cam Ak­ers, but the op­por­tu­nity is there to be the lead ball­car­rier in an of­fense that helped turn Gur­ley into a star.

Cow­boys run­ning back Tony Pol­lard: The only way for Pol­lard to truly break out is for starter Ezekiel El­liott to get hurt or for the fourth-round pick to be traded to an­other team, but the for­mer Mem­phis star can still be one of the league’s most ef­fi­cient run­ners. A fourthroun­d 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 more than 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 thir­dround pick who the Bears traded up to get, Mont­gomery rushed for 889 yards and six touch­downs and added 25 catches for

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.

Steel­ers wide re­ceiver Dion­tae John­son: 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 play­ing with Ma­son Ru­dolph and Devlin Hodges, who rated among the worst quar­ter­backs in the league last sea­son. With the re­turn of Ben Roeth­lis­berger and an ex­pected re­turn to full health after off­sea­son her­nia surgery, John­son 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 40yard 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 the first-round pick. He’ll get plenty of chances to prove he was worth the No. 32 over­all pick.

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.

Bron­cos tight end Noah Fant: 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.

Pack­ers tight end Jace Stern­berger: Tight end Jimmy Gra­ham joined the Bears in free agency, giv­ing Stern­berger an op­por­tu­nity to emerge in the Pack­ers’ of­fense. The thir­dround 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.


Car­di­nals quar­ter­back Kyler Mur­ray was the of­fen­sive rookie of the year last sea­son after to­tal­ing 4,266 yards from scrimmage (3,722 passing, 544 rush­ing).

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