We’ve passed the quarter mark of the 2018 NFL season and it’s already been a special year for unheralded players stepping up and making a name for themselves.
In a league shifting more and more to the pass, we’ve seen plenty of under-the-radar wide receivers emerge with breakout performances.
The 2018 season has also provided plenty of breakthrough performances on the defensive side of the ball. Every week, a young player who has disappeared off of everyone’s radar leaps back into action and makes the first major step in becoming a player people will never forget.
Here are 10 unheralded players set to step up in NFL Week 5.
Chester Rogers, wide receiver, Indianapolis Colts
Indianapolis heads into a short week with a real chance star receiver T.Y. Hilton misses Thursday’s game. In a matchup against the New England Patriots, the Colts will need someone else to step up.
This will likely be another game that requires Luck to throw 40-plus times, which almost makes Rogers a lock for 10-plus targets. He saw 11 targets in Week 4 in a game where T.Y. Hilton saw snaps, so a similar target share should be expected on Thursday.
New England’s secondary can be exploited by good quarterbacks and it’s clear Rogers has developed chemistry with Luck. While this may not be a 100-yard game, Rogers could deliver his first 70-plus yard, one touchdown game in his NFL career.
Marquez Valdes-Scantling, wide receiver, Green Bay Packers
Green Bay heads into Week 5 with the distinct chance that it could be without Randall Cobb and Geronimo Allison against the Detroit Lions.
If both receivers miss Sunday’s game, the pressure will be on Valdez-Scantling to make some plays. The rookie made his first NFL start in Week 4, but only saw three targets and turned one into a 38-yard catch and run.
The 23-year-old has good size and speed, showing the ability to make deep plays down the field. He’ll need to show more on short and intermediate routes, especially with Pro Bowl cornerback Darius Slay matched up on Davante Adams. Fortunately, a matchup against cornerback Nevin Lawson should allow Valdes-Scantling to make some plays.
Tyler Kroft, tight end, Cincinnati Bengals
Following another season-ending injury for Tyler Eifert, the Bengals must once again turn to Kroft as their fill-in starter.
It’s a role he is certainly familiar with after he produced career-best numbers in 2017. Kroft finished his third season with seven touchdowns and 404 receiving yards on 42 catches in a bad offense last season.
Cincinnati’s offense is much better this year. Tyler Boyd has emerged as an excellent receiver, and with Bill Lazor’s offense turning Andy Dalton into a much better quarterback, Kroft could be poised to set career highs for the second consecutive season.
C.J. Beathard, quarterback, San Francisco 49ers
The loss of Jimmy Garoppolo is certainly a setback for San Francisco’s offense. However, Week 4 demonstrated that Beathard can still do enough to make this offense work and stay competitive in games.
While Sunday’s matchup against the Arizona Cardinals will provide some challenges, Beathard will rely on George Kittle quite often, exploiting a weakness in Arizona’s defense. He may not drop a jaw-dropping performance, but he can do more than enough to put San Francisco in position to win.
David Moore, wide receiver, Seattle Seahawks
After not seeing a single target in his three games, Moore finally saw some action in Week 4. Now after taking his first step in Seattle’s offense, the 23-year-old should step into a bigger role.
Pete Carroll already indicated that Moore will start to take more snaps away from veteran Brandon Marshall. It comes with a matchup on deck against a Los Angeles Rams secondary without Aqib Talib and with Marcus Peters playing through an injury.
Seattle will need its passing game to come alive to even have a chance in this game. Moore won’t see a lot of targets, but the young receiver could find the end zone for the first time in his career this Sunday.
Ronnie Stanley, offensive tackle, Baltimore Ravens
Offensive linemen don’t get a lot of love, especially when they play for teams off the national radar.
Fortunately, Stanley will have a chance to prove himself this week against the Cleveland Browns. The 24-year-old will get to battle against Myles Garrett, who is quickly becoming one of the best pass rushers in the NFL.
If Stanley can hold up against Garrett and protect Flacco, it will go a long way in helping him establish himself as a premium tackle in the NFL. Meanwhile, stellar pass protection from Stanley would go a long way in Baltimore pulling off the road win against Cleveland.
Maurice Hurst, defensive tackle, Oakland Raiders
Jon Gruden has spoken repeatedly this season about the team’s desperate need for a pass rusher. He may finally have one with the emergence of Hurst on the interior of Oakland’s defensive line.
The rookie dominated in Week 4 against the Cleveland Browns with his first career sack, forced fumble and pass deflection. He created problems for Baker Mayfield and found ways to create consistent interior pressure.
Now Hurst will get to square off against the Los Angeles Chargers. It should create another opportunity to shine, even more so because Rivers lacks Mayfield’s mobility to escape. While this will be a season of ugly moments for the Raiders, Hurst will be a bright spot for the future.
James Bradberry, cornerback, Carolina Panthers
Very quietly, an exciting cornerback duo is emerging in Carolina. 25-year-old James Bradberry is quickly becoming the star of the Panthers secondary and now gets an exciting challenge against Odell Beckham Jr.
Bradberry had two weeks to prepare for OBJ with time off during the team’s Week 4 bye to study the film and prepare himself for a matchup against one of the NFL’s best.
Covering an elite receiver is something Bradberry is used to. He drew plenty of coverage opportunities in Week 2 against Julio Jones, and Jones finished that game with 64 receiving yards. He also handled himself well against A.J. Green. If Bradberry handles himself against OBJ, he’ll quickly become recognized across the NFL.
Corey Liuget, defensive tackle, Los Angeles Chargers
Set to return from a four-game suspension, Los Angeles should be ecstatic the moment Liuget walks through the door.
In the absence of Joey Bosa, putting pressure on opposing quarterbacks has been a major problem. Liuget will immediately help add interior pressure on the defensive line, forcing opposing quarterbacks away from their comfort zone and towards Melvin Ingram or Derwin James coming down for the blitz.
Even if Liuget is limited on a snap count, he is desperately needed. If he can plug up some interior rushing lanes and force Derek Carr off his spot, things will get much easier for the Chargers defense.
Tashawn Bower, defensive end, Minnesota Vikings
This is the matchup where Minnesota can unleash Bower. After seeing flashes from the athletic and promising pass rusher, a Week 5 matchup against the Philadelphia Eagles is the perfect chance to let him loose.
Philadelphia’s offensive line has allowed the second-most quarterback hits (34) in the NFL. Even Lane Johnson, considered to be one of the best tackles in the league, has struggled.
No matter who the Eagles face, their offensive line has problems. Danielle Hunter will require a double team for most of the game, which will allow Bower to either explode off the edge unblocked or have just one offensive lineman to discard. This is the week where Bower picks up his first sack of the 2018 season.