Just making it to the NFL is an incredible accomplishment. For those NFL players good enough to become the game’s biggest stars. As the 2020 season nears, a new group of players is poised for breakout seasons that will make them the NFL’s newest stars for years to come.
We see breakout players every season, but it’s often guys who just surpass expectations. For a player to achieve NFL stardom, they need to make jaw-dropping plays every week and post incredible stats. We saw it in 2019, when Lamar Jackson exploded to become the NFL MVP and T.J. Watt became a household name.
As we now look ahead to the 2020 NFL season, some incredible athletes are poised to deliver breakout seasons and become some of the NFL’s newest stars.
Kyler Murray, quarterback, Arizona Cardinals
Talent plays a crucial role in a player becoming an NFL star, but it takes far more than that. Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Patrick Mahomes and Russell Wilson all have a great coach and at least one game-changing receiver helping them. Murray showed promise in his rookie season under his head coach, Kliff Kingsbury, but he needed an elite weapon to make the next jump in his career.
Enter the blockbuster trade this offseason for DeAndre Hopkins. In an instant, the Arizona Cardinals provided Murray with an All-Pro receiver that makes absurd plays after the catch and boasts an absurd catch radius. A second year in Kingsbury’s offense and more familiarity with the NFL would already have put Murray on track for a breakout season. Now with Hopkins on his team and the Cardinals poised to contend this season, Murray is poised to emerge as the NFL’s newest star at quarterback.
Joe Mixon, running back, Cincinnati Bengals
Everyone expected Mixon to become a breakout player this past season. Unfortunately, playing behind one of the NFL’s worst offensive lines and running on an ankle sprain prevented that from happening. As we look ahead to the 2020 NFL season, this will be the year when the Bengals’ workhorse back becomes an NFL star.
Joe Mixon’s stats from the 2019 season might not seem impressive. He averaged just 3.1 yards per carry in his first eight games. After getting healthy, though, Mixon averaged 4.6 yards per rush in his final eight games and averaged 107.6 rushing yards over the last five contests. He’s also an outstanding all-purpose back and will be catching passes from Joe Burrow. Behind an improved offensive line with a better offense, Mixon could be an All-Pro this season.
Brian Burns, edge rusher, Carolina Panthers
Behind quarterbacks, edge rushers are among the NFL’s highest-paid players. Creating havoc off the edge is everything and it’s why athletic outside linebackers are always taken early in the NFL Draft. Carolina hoped it landed a special player when it selected Brian Burns with the No. 16 overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft. A year later, their decision is about to pay off even more.
Burns didn’t receive a lot of playing time during the 2019 season. He played only 43% of the Panthers’ defensive snaps, per Pro Football Reference. Incredibly, he still found a way to intimidate opposing quarterbacks and create problems. Burns recorded 23 quarterback pressures and 7.5 sacks as a rookie. He averaged a sack every 63.7 snaps, per Benjamin Solak, an absurd rate given his limited experience. If Burns plays more than 70% of the snaps next season, which is easily achievable, he could quickly be among the NFL’s sack leaders in 2020.
Diontae Johnson, wide receiver, Pittsburgh Steelers
Everyone expected the 2019 season to be all about JuJu Smith-Schuster. Instead, Johnson proved that he could be Pittsburgh’s next star receiver. A third-round pick, Johnson first had to prove himself just to get on the field. Once he finally got his chance. When he finally took the field, he played through a groin injury and had to catch passes from Pittsburgh’s backup quarterbacks all year.
Johnson still finished with 680 receiving yards and five touchdowns as a rookie. Heading into the 2020 season, he’ll play an even bigger role in the Steelers’ offense and can catch passes from Ben Roethlisberger. Just look at what Johnson can do with the football in his hands, he is incredible. Don’t be shocked if he earns a Pro Bowl selection this year and becomes part of the reason Pittsburgh lets Smith-Schuster walk in free agency.
Ed Oliver, defensive tackle, Buffalo Bills
After being drafted with the ninth overall pick in 2019, Oliver showed flashes of dominance. However, we never quite saw the athletic marvel put it all together in his first NFL season and take over a game.
The Buffalo Bills are loaded on defense and head coach Sean McDermott is brilliant when it comes to scheming up a defensive game plan. There are very few defensive tackles that come close to Oliver’s athleticism at the line of scrimmage. He might not be on Aaron Donald’s level, which no one is, but he has the traits to be a star. Buffalo’s fan base knows how to appreciate defensive players and Oliver will become a household name.