Leighton Vander Esch NFL superstars
Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Each new season brings with it a new class of young NFL players who morph into superstars and become household names — wowing the masses on a weekly basis.

Taking a look ahead to the 2019 NFL season, we’ve picked 10 such young players who have what it takes, including a couple of rookies.

Jaire Alexander, cornerback, Green Bay Packers



This highly-touted second-year player began his NFL career with a strong rookie campaign. Alexander started 11 games last season and made an instant impact for the Packers. He tallied 66 tackles, one interception, 11 passes defensed, and threw in a half-sack for good measure. Green Bay added significant talent to its defensive front this offseason. That will benefit Alexander and the team’s secondary as a whole. We expect this young cornerback to become one of the league’s best in short order.

Lamar Jackson, quarterback, Baltimore Ravens

One of the most exciting young players the league has seen in a while, Jackson took advantage of a Joe Flacco injury last year and never looked back. Though he was more effective running the ball than as a pure passer, the former Heisman winner did enough through the air to give fans hope he’ll have what it takes to excel there, too. The Ravens did extensive work to upgrade the talent around Jackson, including some exciting draft picks like Marquise Brown and Justice Hill. Combined with a custom-tailored offense to suit Jackson’s strengths, this young quarterback should thrive in 2019.

Roquan Smith, linebacker, Chicago Bears



Despite getting off to a slow start during his rookie campaign due to a contract impasse and early injury with the Bears, Smith was exceptional last season. Utilizing his superior speed and instincts, he racked up 121 tackles, five sacks and one brilliant interception while starting 14 games last season. Chicago’s front seven is among the league’s most dominant as a whole. With Smith entering his second year playing behind the likes of Khalil Mack, Akiem Hicks and Eddie Goldman, we expect him to become one of the best linebackers in the NFL.

Chris Godwin, wide receiver, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The Bucs let Adam Humphries walk in free agency and traded DeSean Jackson to the Philadelphia Eagles. Then they did very little to upgrade their receiving corps in the draft, selecting Scott Miller out of Bowling Green in the sixth round. Clearly, Bruce Arians likes what he has on the roster, and that includes the up-and-coming Godwin. His second-year jump in 2018 was significant. Appearing in all 16 games and earning five starts, Godwin caught 59 passes for 842 yards and seven touchdowns. With Humphries gone and Arians calling the shots on offense, it wouldn’t be shocking to see those numbers nearly double in 2019.

Derwin James, safety, Los Angeles Chargers

James burst onto the scene as a rookie and instantly became one of the league’s most impressive young safeties. His impact was significant for the Chargers in 2018. The former Florida State star showed his diverse skill set tallying 105 tackles, 3.5 sacks and three interceptions. His star will shine all the brighter in 2019, as James will be playing alongside rookie safety Nasir Adderley out of Delaware while Notre Dame product Jerry Tillery helps one of the league’s best defensive fronts become all the more dominant.



Tre’Quan Smith, wide receiver, New Orleans Saints

As a rookie last season, Smith earned the trust of Drew Brees and was actually on the receiving end of the veteran’s record-breaking touchdown pass in October. Hauling in 28 passes in total for 427 yards and five touchdowns, he proved a valuable weapon for the Saints. Heading into his second season, Smith is clearly the No. 2 receiver behind Michael Thomas and figures to become more entrenched as a trusted target for Brees. Doubling up on his touchdown total isn’t out of the question.

Nick Bosa, defensive end, San Francisco 49ers

The best defensive player in the 2019 NFL Draft, Bosa finds himself in a situation with the 49ers that should lead to an electric rookie campaign. San Francisco’s starting lineup will feature Bosa, DeForest Buckner and Dee Ford. On their own, all three are wrecking balls. Playing together, they’re an offensive line’s worst nightmare. Double-digit sacks and multiple forced turnovers are on the horizon for this former Ohio State star.



Nick Chubb, running back, Cleveland Browns

Once Chubb took over as the undisputed starter last year, the former Georgia standout produced big-time numbers on a weekly basis. A home-run hitter, Chubb has the ability to take every carry the distance for six points. Appearing in all 16 games and earning nine starts, he rushed for 966 yards (5.2 yards per carry) and scored 10 touchdowns from scrimmage. Now Cleveland has even more firepower in the passing game with the addition of Odell Beckham Jr. This will only make Chubb all the more dangerous as defenses will have to pick their poison.

Leighton Vander Esch, linebacker, Dallas Cowboys

As a rookie, Vander Esch quickly justified the first-round pick Dallas used to acquire him out of Boise State. He appeared in all 16 games, starting 11, rackinfg up 140 tackles and two interceptions. Vander Esch’s combination of size (6-foot-4, 256 pounds), speed and athleticism is rare — he’s been compared to Hall of Famer Brian Urlacher. As he continues to develop his mental game, this young linebacker has the potential to become the NFL’s best.



Kyler Murray, quarterback, Arizona Cardinals

Every rookie quarterback is going to struggle at times. That is something that just comes with the job. Murray is set to be Arizona’s starter from the opening day of training camp, and he has the tools to become an instant star in the NFL. Though he does have sprinter’s speed, Murray also was exceptional as a pure pocket passer last season at Oklahoma. The Cardinals did a fantastic job of bringing in weapons for the young passer this offseason, too. The only concern is that Arizona’s offensive line is still a huge question mark. Yet given his ability to evade pressure — almost Russell Wilson-esque — that’s something Murray should be able to overcome.