10 second-year NFL players set to take flight in 2020

By Chris Gharagozlo
Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

Rookie years are boom or bust for many players. They either have a phenomenal rookie campaign, or they take a little time to adapt to the change of pace the NFL game provides.

Nevertheless, the second year of a player’s career often offers fans a true glimpse of their stardom. Last year, Lamar Jackson won MVP in his second year in the NFL. In 2018, Patrick Mahomes similarly won MVP in his second year in the NFL.

Here are 10 players set to take flight in 2020.

10. Brian Burns, Carolina Panthers

Brian Burns was the No. 16 pick in the 2019 draft and he finished his rookie season with an impressive 7.5 sacks. In the 2020 NFL draft, the Panthers drafted the perfect counterpart of Burns, Yetur Gross-Matos, in the second round. If Matos can have a productive rookie season, Burns should find himself in many favorable matchups.

Along with the addition of Matos, the Panthers signed Teddy Bridgewater to provide steady quarterback play. In 2019, the Panthers did not find themselves in many high scoring affairs, so Burns did not find himself in obvious passing situations.

If the Panthers can get their offense going, and Matos adapts to the NFL quickly in his rookie year, Burns should easily finish with double-digit sacks while leading the Panthers’ pass rush.

9. Daniel Jones, New York Giants

Playing behind a porous offensive line, and only having one legitimate weapon (Saquon Barkley) is never easy on a rookie quarterback. Despite only playing 13 games, Jones finished with over 3,000 yards passing and 24 touchdowns. Jones also had sneaky speed and rushed for over 270 yards.

In free agency, the Giants focused on reassuring the defensive side of the football. A good defense will put less pressure on Jones and will allow the Giants to run the football, and not pass to play catch-up.

In the draft, the Giants used the No. 4 overall pick on an offensive tackle and used two other picks on offensive lineman as well. The Giants are reinvesting into the offensive line to give their franchise quarterback some time to throw the ball and to give their face of their franchise, Barkley, holes to run through.

If the offensive line can give holes for Barkley and give Jones time to throw, then the Giants could have a bounce-back season lead by their second-year quarterback.

8. A.J. Brown, Tennessee Titans

A.J. Brown was one of the most underrated rookies in 2019. In an offense that is predicated on the greatness of Derrick Henry, a wide receiver like Brown is overlooked.

Brown was the only rookie wide receiver to have over 1,000 receiving yards in 2019. He also was tied for the most touchdowns by a rookie with eight. With Henry still the focal point of the offense, Brown should find himself in many favorable play-action situations.

Brown is one of Tannehill’s favorite targets in the passing game, and with a season together under their belt, Tannehill should have even more trust in his second-year wide receiver.

7. Maxx Crosby, Oakland Raiders

One of the most underrated rookies in 2019 was Raiders defensive end, Maxx Crosby. The fourth-round pick finished the season with 10 sacks and 47 combined tackles.

If it was not for the stellar season from Nick Bosa, Crosby would have won Defensive Rookie of the Year. In this year’s 2020 draft, the Raiders selected a multitude of wide receivers including Henry Ruggs III. If the Raiders can improve their offense that averaged 19.6 points a game, then Crosby can find himself in obvious passing situations.

As a rookie, Crosby finished with double-digit sacks, and the number should only get bigger. If 2019 first-round pick Clelin Ferrell can make a second-year leap and the Raiders improve their scoring offense that finished bottom half in the league last year then Crosby should find himself no longer underrated.

6. Drew Lock, Denver Broncos

The Broncos loaded up on offense in the 2020 NFL Draft. Receiver Jerry Jeudy fell to their No. 15 pick. His elite route running and speed will make life easy for the second-year quarterback out of Missouri.

Denver completely revamped its entire offense and now, it has one of the most lethal offenses on paper. Paper does not always translate to on-field production, but the weapons are there for Lock to have a phenomenal season.

In free agency, the Broncos added star running back Melvin Gordon to pair with Philip Lindsay creating a dynamic one-two punch. They upgraded their wide receiving core with Jeudy and second-round pick K.J. Hamler. Noah Fant is a multi-dimensional tight end who will find himself in many one-one coverages. In free agency and the draft, the Broncos also reassured the offensive line.

Lock will have a plethora of weapons for the 2020 season, and this will make a huge break out candidate in 2020, and will also make the Broncos a sleeper to make the playoffs.

5. Terry McLaurin, Washington Redskins

Terry McLaurin was one of the few bright spots on a stale and poor Redskins’ offense. McLaurin had to deal with a quarterback carousel with Case Keenum, Colt McCoy, and Dwyane Haskins.

Despite these challenges, McLaurin had a break-out rookie campaign finishing with 919 receiving yards and seven touchdowns. He was ruled out of the last game of the season with a concussion and could not surpass the 1,000 yards mark.

Nevertheless, McLaurin blew expectations out of the water and made him the clear No. 1 receiver in Washington. Now, he will have one quarterback throwing him the ball and he will have a year under his belt. Haskins and McLaurin played at Ohio State together, so the chemistry should only grow.

The Redskins added many offensive weapons in the 2020 draft, and a healthy Guice and Peterson should lead to a dynamic running game. The Redskins traded Trent Williams, but added his replacements in the draft, and will still have one of the better offensive lines in the league.

The pieces are lining up for McLaurin to have another breakout season.

4. D.K. Metcalf, Seattle Seahawks

The 2019 second-round pick made his mark late in the season for the Seahawks. In the final weeks of the regular season and into the playoffs, Metcalf erupted.

He provided a much-needed go-to target for Russell Wilson. In their playoff game versus the Philidapehia Eagles, Metcalf let loose and caught a 54-yard touchdown that would seal the win for the Seahawks.

Metcalf is a freak of nature and he opened eyes during the Combine. Many thought Metcalf had the talent to be something special, but not a lot of people saw him making the impact he did as quickly as he did.

He finished the season with 58 catches for 900 yards and seven touchdowns. Those are phenomenal numbers similar to Terry McLaurin and A.J. Brown. Metcalf has not even hit close to his ceilings and if he fixes his drops issue, he will be one of the best receivers in 2020.

3. Kyler Murray, Arizona Cardinals

The Arizona Cardinals shocked the world this offseason with a blockbuster trade for star wide receiver, DeAndre Hopkins. The shock was not only that the Texans traded arguably the best receiver in the NFL, but also, the Cardinals only gave up 2nd round pick and 4th round pick. They also unloaded David Johnson’s massive salary.

Hopkins gives Murray a game-changing playmaker. He will join Larry Fitzgerald and Christian Kirk to give Murray options in the passing game. The Cardinals had the 10th most rushing yards per game in 2019, and a great running game is a quarterback’s best friend.

In 2019, Murray won the Offensive Rookie of the Year award. He passed for over 3,700 yards and rushed for over 500 yards. Murray should make significant strides in 2020 and should lead the Cardinals to playoff contention.

2. Nick Bosa, San Francisco 49ers

The No. 2 pick in the 2019 draft experienced something most top picks don’t experience in their rookie year: playing in the Super Bowl. Bosa was a vital part of a defense that led the 49ers to the Super Bowl.

The reigning Defensive Rookie of the Year disrupted defenses and helped form a lethal front seven for the 49ers. He finished with nine sacks, one interception, and one forced fumble.

In year two, Bosa should find himself in a bigger role. The 49ers traded DeForest Buckner to the Colts for a first-round pick, and they used that first-round pick on a defensive lineman. It is unlikely that Javon Kinlaw mimics the 7.5 sacks Buckner had in 2019.

Bosa should find himself in another role where he can break out, and cement himself as one of the best linemen in the NFL.

1. Josh Jacobs, Oakland Raiders

In a recent interview, Raiders General Manager, Mike Mayock, said he expects Josh Jacobs to be heavily involved in the passing game. Jacobs finished with 1,150 yards rushing and only 166 yards receiving.

With the addition of Henry Ruggs III, who has lethal speed, Jacobs should find himself in lopsided matchups coming out of the backfield. DeAndre Washington, the receiving back in Oakland, left for Kansas City, so Jacobs should be the clear workhouse in Oakland.

Jacobs also was playing through a fractured shoulder for the larger part of the 2019 season. A fully healthy Jacobs and a elite speed at the wide receiver position should lead to this second-year back having a historic year.