There are some players in the NFL who are not considered “elite” but might be very soon. All it takes is one big season for someone to go from “average” to a Pro Bowl. These players, one year from now, might be looked at very differently.
Who is primed for a breakout season in 2018?
Mitchell Trubisky: QB – Chicago Bears
Mitchell Trubisky had a relatively bad rookie season last year. In the 12 games he started, Trubisky threw for only 2,193 yards, averaging 182.8 yards per game. He finished the year with just seven touchdowns and seven interceptions, and the question of if he can be a franchise quarterback remains unanswered.
That said, he never exactly had a team of all-pros surrounding him. His best target was Kendall Wright, who has a single 1,000-yard season in his career and had only 614 yards and a single touchdown in 2017 despite starting all 16 games. The Bears receiving core for 2018 has much more potential than years prior:
– Allen Robinson was a pro-bowler in 2015 and can be a tremendous threat when healthy.
– Taylor Gabriel has been a solid receiver out of the slot for the Atlanta Falcons for the past two years and has very dangerous speed.
– Anthony Miller and Javon Wims both have great potential in their rookie season, Wims being one of the more talented late-round players in the past draft.
The second piece of the offense that will lead to Trubisky’s success is the tough one-two punch that is Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen. Having a powerful running back like Howard is great for opening up your receivers, and Tarik Cohen is a more modern halfback that can receive well out of the backfield. Having both of them to rely on will make Trubisky’s life much easier in the coming years.
Robby Anderson: WR – New York Jets
Robby Anderson had a very good sophomore season last year, racking up 63 catches for 941 yards and 7 touchdowns. The former undrafted free agent had an average rookie season but now has clearly shown his potential to be a big playmaker. He has every characteristic of a true WR1, and a 1,000 yard, 8+ touchdown season could solidify him in that role. The sky truly is the limit for Robby Anderson in 2018 (as long as he can stay out of trouble).
Who is throwing the ball is just as important as who is catching it, and Josh McCown is not a bad option. Robby Anderson and Jermaine Kearse were seemingly able to unlock McCown’s potential as a quarterback. He had one of the better years of his seasoned career individually in 2017 and there is no reason to think he cannot continue that trend. His days with the Jets are numbered, however, with rookie quarterback Sam Darnold behind him preparing to take the reins. McCown will want to prove himself as a legitimate starting quarterback and perform to that standard in what may be his final full year starting in New York.
Eli Apple: CB – New York Giants
Eli Apple’s time in New York has been troubled to say the least. He was a first-round pick in 2016, but since then he has underperformed and been both fined and suspended by the team. In his two years as a New York Giant he has started 16 games and only has one interception and one forced fumble. Now, he’s being asked to fill the shoes of the recently-cut Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. What makes 2019 different from the past two years?
The defensive scheme for the Giants is completely changed under new defensive coordinator James Bettcher and new head coach Pat Shurmur. Apple is similar in build and style to Patrick Peterson, the Arizona Cardinals cornerback who has flourished under Bettcher’s system in past years. Apple is clearly not as athletically gifted as Peterson, but by mimicking that production this year he can quiet the rumors surrounding his future and become the player the Giants wanted when they selected him in 2016. There is also supposedly a “clean slate” between Apple and the new management regarding the personal issues, something he desperately needed to claim his spot on the team.