Not every first year player bursts on to the scene in the NFL and take the league by storm in the way that the New York Giants’ Saquon Barkley or the Cleveland Browns’ Baker Mayfield did in 2018. Many players make their biggest jumps and see significant increases in production from year one to year two. Here are some second-year players that flashed as rookies and could become household names in their sophomore seasons:
• RB Sony Michel: Like his former teammate at Georgia Nick Chubb, who was taken four picks later at the top of the second round in the 2018 draft by the Cleveland Browns, his impressive rookie season was overshadowed by Barkley and Denver Broncos’ Phillip Lindsey in their first year. He racked up 931 yards rushing and scored six touchdowns in 13 regular season games. However, he would make his most significant contributions in the postseason.
Michel rushed for a rookie playoff record 336 yards during the New England Patriots’ run towards their sixth Superbowl championship in franchise history and scored the only touchdown in the title game. He will be the featured back in the team’s offense going forward and his role in the passing game is expected to expand.
• TE Dallas Goedert: It’s rare for a team to have two dynamic pass-catching tight ends on their roster at the same time but that’s exactly what the Philadelphia Eagles have in Pro Bowler Zach Ertz and their second-round pick from the 2018 draft. Goedert recorded 33 catches for 334 yards receiving and tied with the New York Jets’ Chris Herndon for the most touchdown receptions by a rookie tight end with four.
While his numbers don’t necessarily jump off the stat sheet, he was a reliable and sure-handed target in Philly’s offense and was a perfect complement to Ertz. His rare blend of size and athleticism make him a matchup nightmare for linebackers in coverage as well as defensive backs that try to bring him down in the open field.
• WR Christian Kirk: The second-round pick of the Arizona Cardinals showed flashes of tantalizing promise during his rookie season. Of the 12 games he appeared in, he started seven of them before he was placed on injured reserve in December. Kirk finished the year with 43 catches, 590 receiving yards and scored three touchdowns. He has the potential to be a dangerous threat out of the slot and can even line up outside. Whether it is Josh Rosen or potentially Kyler Murray throwing him the ball, expect the former Texas A&M Aggie to increase his production in year two.
• OT Braden Smith: He was the third pick in what was a sensational haul for the Indianapolis Colts in the 2018 draft. The former Auburn Tiger was taken just one pick after the team selected All-Pro linebacker and Defensive Rookie of the Year Darius Leonard in the second round.
He started in 13 of the 15 games he appeared in as a rookie at right tackle and teamed up with the first-year All-Pro guard Quenton Nelson to solidify the right side of the offensive line and fortify what was one of the worst units in the league for that last few years. Together, they gave up the least amount sacks in NFL last season with just 18 on the year and will look to pave the way for their rushing attack that saw a resurgence towards the end of last season for years to come.
• WR Michael Gallup: The third-round pick of the Dallas Cowboys out of Colorado State showed off his playmaking ability throughout the season and had his quarterback Dak Prescott seen him streaking down the field wide open at times and avoided over or under throwing him so many occasions last season, he might have sniffed 1,000 yards.
He put up 507 yards on 33 catches and hauled in two touchdowns in his rookie season. Gallup should receive favorable matchups lining up across from Pro Bowler Amari Cooper and with Randall Cobb occupying the slot. If he and Prescott can build a better rapport in the offseason then he, Cooper and Cobb could be a lethal receiving trio.
• TE Hayden Hurst: His first season didn’t turn out the way he or the Ravens expected when they selected him with the 25th overall pick of the first round in the 2018 draft out of the University of South Carolina. A stress fracture foot injury derailed the start of his rookie campaign and he struggled to get going once he was activated since he was dealing with the injury for most of the year. While he finished the year with just 163 yards receiving, 13 catches and a single touchdown, he is expected to far surpass those marks in year two now that he is fully recovered.
He excels at making tough snags over the middle and in the intermediate levels of the defense as well as down the seams. He started making some plays in the passing game and developed more as a blocker as the year went on and he got healthier. Hurst is viewed as a complete tight end by his coaches and could give the Ravens one of the most talented groups at the position in the league with his fellow 2018 draftee Mark Andrews and the newly resigned veteran Nick Boyle.