Week 13 Recap

Mike the Ace and D.K. review the upset of the season and another match up between AFC playoff contenders.

Keith Srakocic/Associated Press

Washington Football Team @ Pittsburgh Steelers (23-17 Washington)
Mike The Ace @TheAceWriter

How about that NFC East? The NFL thought it saw the upset of the season on Sunday, when the New York Giants beat the Seattle Seahawks with Colt McCoy at quarterback. The real upset of the season would happen on Monday afternoon, as the undefeated Steelers would take their first loss of the season.

This game featured two of the best defenses in the NFL, and both defensive units showed up in this one. The first half of this game wasn’t very exciting. Washington’s offense struggled early, and it seemed like the Steelers defensive pressure would be too much to handle. Washington managed just 55 yards of offense in the first half.

The Steelers offense was also struggling, but they were able to find a big play in the first half that would extend their lead. Wide receiver James Washington caught a curl route from Ben Roethlisberger, and took it to the crib for a 50-yard touchdown. That play almost felt like the nail in the coffin, as the Steelers seemed to be locked in defensively. Pittsburgh held a 14-3 lead at the half, despite several missed opportunities.

Washington punched back to start the second half. Alex Smith was able to connect on several big throws, and Washington put together a 14-play, 82-yard scoring drive. Washington capped the long drive off with a 1-yard touchdown run from running back Peyton Barber. 

Washington’s defense was terrific all night. Their defense put pressure on the Steelers’ offensive line, stuffing the run and getting after the quarterback. Pittsburgh’s running game was nonexistent from start to finish. The running attack ended the night with just 14 carries for 21 yards, an average of 1.5 yards per carry. The short passing game has been a staple of the Steelers’ offense all season, but they’ve also been able to combine that with the running attack. 

The short passing game found some success in the second half, but dropped passes plagued the Steelers’ receiving core. If the Steelers will be moving forward with such a pass heavy attack, they cannot afford to have six drops like they did on Monday night. 

Despite the dropped passes, and poor running game, the Steelers had an opportunity to take the lead. The game was tied 17-17 and they were facing a 4th & 1 with just under 5 minutes left in the game. With the ball on their opponent’s 29-yard line, head coach Mike Tomlin decided to go for the conversion. Roethlisberger was unable to connect with his receiver, and they turned the ball over on downs.

Washington went on the attack offensively, and worked the ball into field goal range for the go-ahead field goal. Kicker Dustin Hopkins connected on the 45-yarder to put Washington ahead. Ben Roethlisberger would throw an interception on the first play of the following drive, and the game was virtually over.

The Steelers took their first loss of the season to a good defensive team. Their offense never really got off the ground, and the dropped passes are a cause for concern. They will have an even tougher test next week against the Buffalo Bills.

Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Cleveland Browns @ Tennessee Titans (41-35 Browns)
DK @ayeyoo_biggs

When looking at this match up, these two teams are pretty similar. They both have a good defense and great running schemes. Each team also has great running backs with Derrick Henry and the two headed monster of Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt respectively. These teams also have above average, game managing quarterbacks. We are hearing that this year’s Cleveland Browns are last year’s version of the Tennessee Titans. The Browns beat the Titans at their own game today, as they continue to chase that coveted wild card spot. 

Baker Mayfield had a game, going 25-33 for 334 yards and 4 TDs. I’ve watched him play most of his snaps since his days at Texas Tech. When Mayfield got to Oklahoma, he ran the Lincoln Riley offense to perfection. He was always so accurate. I always saw him as a sort of poor man’s Drew Brees. This game reminded me of what I used to see in those days. Surprisingly, the Browns only ran for a combined 118 yards below their 156 yard a game average. After the Browns kicked a field goal on the first drive, Mayfield threw touchdown passes on each of the next four possessions. There was a little help from the Titans as well, because of a lost fumble near mid-field, during their second drive. 

Ryan Tannehill had a crazy game. The stats don’t tell the story because (unfortunately) the game was over before it started. He went 29-45 with 389 yards, 3 TDs and an interception. Most of those yards, and all of the touchdowns, were in the second half. Tannehill was under duress all day. He was sacked 3 times, and was hit 5 times. In the second half, he tried to lead a furious comeback, but threw an interception late in the third quarter. His receivers also struggled to get separation, and Browns cornerback M.J.Stewart had an amazing game with 2 tackles, 2 pass defenses and an interception. The Browns beat a legit team today, and continue to hold the top wild card spot in the AFC. Browns head coach Kevin Stefanski has really turned the team around with his offense. 

Normally we would be talking about Nick Chubb or Hunt, but Baker had a great game. He has really taken some slack for not playing up to his number-one-pick potential. This just proves that he is the right fit in Cleveland, but he just needed better guidance and a little more help from a balanced run game. That’s why I think Browns coach Kevin Stefanski should be in the running for Coach of the Year. The Titans had an embarrassing loss, and needed to do something with their pass defense in this game. They are currently ranked as 28th in the league, and Mike Vrabel needs to make a change, or else they will fall out of the tight AFC wild card playoff race. 


Week 4 Recap

Mike the Ace and D.K. review two games from some questionable performances in NFL Week 4.

Tim Heitman – USA Today Sports

Cleveland Browns @ Dallas Cowboys ( 49-38 Browns)
Mike The Ace @TheAceWriter

Bad tackling, coverage busts, and mental lapses have plagued a decent amount of NFL teams so far. Through the first four weeks of the season, defenses league wide have struggled. However, none of these defenses may have struggled as badly as the Dallas Cowboys .

It seems to be the same story every week for Dallas. They start by exchanging scores with the opposing team on the first few drives. At some point they end up turning the ball over, and the other team almost always capitalizes. After building up a deficit, they storm back with a high octane passing offense. This script has played out in all four of their games so far. They have only been able to complete the comeback once, leading them to a record of 1-3.

Their defense wasn’t expected to be the best, but it has been awful. They have injuries at all three levels of their defense, and critics are now beginning to blame the complex scheme for their early problems. I believe a lot of their problems are due to a lack of effort. As highlighted in this breakdown here. In my opinion, stopping the run is the top priority for any defense. They have been unable to do so through the first quarter of the season.

On the flip side of things, you have to love what you’re seeing from Cleveland and their offense. They have been able to run the ball well, and have scored over 34 points in their last three outings. Odell Beckham Jr. went ballistic this past weekend, catching 8 passes for 81 yards and 2 touchdowns. He also sealed the game on a reverse play that went for a 50-yard touchdown.

Cleveland looks like they are on a roll. They are in a tough division, and will need to keep this focus and intensity in order to compete. Baker Mayfield has to limit his mistakes, and they will continue to bully teams on offense. On the other hand, Dallas is in the worst division in football and has a great chance to make the playoffs. They will need to find some kind of answer defensively.

AP Photo| Mike Roemer

Atlanta Falcons @ Green Bay Packers (30-16 Packers)
D.K. @ayeyoo_biggs

The Packers came out and dominated from start to finish at Lambeau on Monday night. Aaron Rodgers is continuing to have an MVP year even with a weak WR core, not having Allan Lazard and Devonte Adams

Matt Ryan was 28/39 for 285 yards and with no touchdowns. He was under fire from the Packers defense all game. He was sacked 4 times, but it was the QB hurries and getting him off his spots, which allowed for a bad offensive night from the Falcons. It also didn’t help much that Atlanta could not establish the run game. With Julio hampered by a hamstring, Green Bay stacked the box and dared Matt to throw, but there was unfortunately no time given by the offensive line. 

Aaron Rodgers went 27/33 for 327 yards and 4 touchdowns. With his top two receivers out, he went to his best threat left, tight end Robert Tonyan. He racked up 6 catches for 98 yards and 3 TDs. He does have 5 TDs on the season and is slowly turning into one of Rodgers favorite red zone targets. Aaron Jones also added 15 rushes  for 71 yards and backup RB Jamal Williams added 105 all purpose yards. 

Aaron Rodgers is putting together another MVP caliber year for the Packers and with the rest of the WR core coming back from injury, there is no reason why the offense won’t get even better. The defense also stepped up in a great way and used their pass rush led by Za’darius Smith. This loss puts Dan Quinn in an extremely hot seat, and it could be any day now that he’s fired with an 0-4 record on the season. 

NFL Breakout Players 2019 – AFC West Edition

Michael Lipscomb

Breakout players emerge every season. A new coaching staff, new schemes, or rehab from an injury, are a few valid reasons to see major improvement in an athlete. I will be giving you 32 names to watch for the 2019 NFL season. One player per team.

Do you agree? Disagree? Think I should have picked another player? Let me hear your opinions by tweeting at me @TFINS_

Follow that twitter account for more articles and content! Follow us on Instagram too: thefutureisnowsports

Denver Broncos 
Bradley Chubb – Outside Linebacker/Edge Rusher
6’4” 276 lbs
2nd year pro – North Carolina State University

Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images

2018 Statistics– 60 tackles (41 solo), 14 tackles for a loss, 12 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, 1 fumble recovery, 16 games started

With the 5th pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, the Denver Broncos selected elite edge rusher, Bradley Chubb. Chubb was an absolute force in college, winning the Ted Hendricks award for best defensive lineman, during his final year at N.C. State. Chubb kept that moment into his rookie season, recording 12 sacks for the Broncos. Bradley Chubb plays opposite of Von Miller, so his strong rookie season was naturally overlooked by the national media. I don’t see any reason for Chubb to take a step back in 2019, and he will be forcing people to mention his name sooner, rather than later.

Chubb is an explosive athlete off the edge. He combines strength, speed, and leverage when rushing the quarterback. Chubb uses his hands well, extending them to engage blockers and controlling the linemen at the point of attack. He showed a high motor and a knack for creating pressure. Chubb shouldn’t see any double teams either, as Von Miller requires that kind of respect on the other side of the line of scrimmage. Having two pass rushers this good can be the backbone of an elite defense. The sky is the limit for Bradley Chubb, and I believe he is a star in the making. I predict Chubb will record 14 sacks this season and finally get the respect he deserves from the national media outlets.

Los Angeles Chargers
Desmond King III – Cornerback/Slot Corner
5’10 200 lbs 
3rd year pro – University of Iowa

Abbie Parr/Getty Images

2018 Statistics – 62 tackles (47 solo), 4 tackles for a loss, 3 interceptions (1 returned for a touchdown),10 pass deflections, 1 forced fumble, 1 fumble recovery, 16 games played (8 started)

The slot cornerback position has become a starting position in the national football league. “Base” personnel is a three wide receiver set these days, so having a good third cornerback is mandatory. The Chargers found their own elite nickel cornerback in the 5th round of the 2017 NFL draft. Desmond King has developed into one of the best corners in the NFL, that no one is talking about.

The Chargers have one of the best secondaries in the league, and King is a large part of that. As a nickel corner, you have to be quick, intelligent, aggressive, and physical. King checks all of those boxes. King plays downhill, and isn’t afraid to come up and make tackles in the running game. He is solid in man coverage, but really excels in zone. His instincts and play recognition are elite. His technique isn’t the best, but he is still developing and will only get better with time. The cornerback also spent time returning punts and kickoffs for the Chargers last season. Desmond King is the definition of an impact player. The Chargers truly have a star in the making with King. Look out for him to lead the Chargers in interceptions, after tying Derwin James in interceptions with 3 this past season.

Kansas City Chiefs
Mecole Hardman – Wide Receiver
5’10” 187 lbs
Rookie season – University of Georgia

Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

2x All-SEC Team Wide Receiver (2017,2018). 4.33u 40 yard Dash Time at the NFL Combine.

Speed kills in football. It’s one of those attributes that you can’t teach. No team has more speed than the Kansas City Chiefs. Quarterback Patrick Mahomes lit the league on fire last year, throwing for 50 touchdowns in his second NFL season. Mahomes has a big arm, and head coach Andy Reid has tailored his system to maximize their speed on offense.

In the 2nd round of the 2019 NFL Draft, the Chiefs added wide receiver Mecole Hardman. Hardman ran a 4.33u 40 yard dash at the NFL combine. The Chiefs have the perfect scheme for Hardman, and he should contribute right away for this offense.

Hardman made a lot of big plays for the Georgia Bulldogs, averaging 16 yards per reception during his college career. He showed the ability to make explosive plays, deep down the field. Hardman also does a good job of tracking the deep ball. The ability to track the ball is an underrated attribute for wide receivers. Hardman has all the tools to be another great playmaker in the Chiefs’ offense. I predict Hardman will score at least 6 touchdowns in his debut season. 

Oakland Raiders
Maurice Hurst Jr. – Defensive Tackle
6’2” 291 lbs
2nd year pro – University of Michigan

Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group

2018 statistics – 31 tackles (26 solo), 3 tackles for a loss, 4 sacks, 3 passes  deflected, 1 forced fumble, 13 games played (10 started)

With all of the focus on skill positions (wide receivers, quarterbacks, tight ends, etc), many people forget that the battle is won up front, first. Some teams have fallen in love with trying to make the “flashy” pickups on defense, by drafting defensive backs and edge rushers, while ignoring the interior of their defense. The Raiders bolstered the interior of their defensive line by selecting defensive tackle Maurice Hurst with a 5th round pick in the 2018 NFL Draft.

Hurst was an outstanding player during his college years at Michigan. His draft stock fell after an issue with his heart was detected at the 2018 NFL Combine. The Raiders took a chance when drafting Maurice Hurst, and that risk is already paying off.

Hurst is an athletic interior defensive linemen that uses his power effectively. He plugs up holes against the run, and does a good job of not losing ground when he is getting double teamed. Hurst also plays with a high motor, and uses his athletic ability to chase down runners in the backfield. He also contributes to the pass rush, and led the Raiders in sacks last year, with 4. This defensive tackle isn’t the heaviest or tallest at his position, but discipline, effort, and technique make him a very effective player. The Raiders have to be ecstatic that they found such a talented player so late in the draft. As a starter for a full season, I predict Hurst will record over 50 tackles, 5 tackles for a loss, and another 4 sacks in 2019.

NFL Breakout Players 2019 – NFC West Edition

Michael Lipscomb

Breakout players emerge every season. A new coaching staff, new schemes, or rehab from an injury, are a few valid reasons to see major improvement in an athlete. I will be giving you 32 names to watch for the 2019 NFL season. One player per team.

Do you agree? Disagree? Think I should have picked another player? Let me hear your opinions by tweeting at me @TFINS_

Follow that twitter account for more articles and content! Follow us on Instagram too: thefutureisnowsports

San Francisco 49ers 
Tevin Coleman – Running back
6’1” 205 lbs
5th year pro – Indiana University


2018 statistics – Rushing: 167 rushing attempts, 800 yards, 4 touchdowns, 4.8 yards per carry . Receiving: 32 receptions (44 targets), 276 yards, 5 touchdowns. 16 games played (14 started)

After being drafted in the 3rd round of the 2015 NFL Draft, Tevin Coleman played an important role on the Atlanta Falcons offense. The Falcons used Coleman as a second string running back, giving him touches when they took Devonta Freeman off the field. This past season, Coleman was able to get more playing time due to an injury plagued season for Freeman. Coleman made the use of his touches, having a career high in rushing yards and total yards from scrimmage.

In the offseason, Coleman elected to sign a two-year contract with the San Francisco 49ers. Head Coach Kyle Shannan likes to use a variety of different running backs, so Coleman will still be splitting touches with other players. Even though Coleman will be splitting touches, I expect him to have a career year on his new team. Shannan’s scheme is perfect for Coleman. The running back is a speedstar, who excels with catching the ball out of the backfield. Shannan’s offense is centered around a zone running scheme, where Coleman is effective. The 49ers run a lot of different screen plays as well in the passing game, allowing their athletes to get into space on the perimeter. I think this is a perfect pairing of scheme and player. I predict we will see Coleman have another season with over 1,000 yards from scrimmage, while having a career high in total touchdowns.

Arizona Cardinals
Hassan Reddick – Linebacker
6’1” 235 lbs
3rd year pro – Temple University

Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

2018 statistics – 80 tackles (53 solo), 8 tackles for a loss, 4 sacks, 1 forced fumble, 5 passes deflected, 16 games played (12 started)

Being a versatile player is always a positive attribute to have in the NFL. Modern day offenses use a variety of different athletes, at multiple positions on the field. Defenses have adapted by using versatile players of their own. Linebacker Hassan Reddick is the type of versatile player that you want on your defense, but his versatility has worked against him this early in his career.

The Arizona Cardinals have made massive coaching overhauls in a short period of time. These types of changes often have a negative effect on a roster, specifically the younger players. The Cardinals have moved Reddick between outside linebacker and inside linebacker positions, multiple times. Reddick hasn’t been allowed to settle into one spot, and it has stunted his growth. Reddick seemed to find comfort in playing middle linebacker last year, and it looks like he will be starting there this season. I think a full year at one position will allow Reddick to take his game to another level.

Reddick has speed, instincts, and strong coverage skills as a linebacker. The Cardinals asked him to do a lot of different things last year, including man coverage against tight ends and elusive running backs. Reddick wasn’t perfect, but he held his own the majority of the time. Reddick truly has a real skillset, and I think he will emerge has a leader for the Cardinals’ defense this season. I think Reddick will have around 100 total tackles and cause havoc with multiple sacks and interceptions this year.

Los Angeles Rams
Cooper Kupp – Wide Receiver 
6’2” 194 lbs
3rd year pro – Eastern Washington University

Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

2018 statistics – 40 receptions (55 targets), 566 yards, 6 touchdowns, 8 games started

The Los Angeles Rams have one of the most dynamic offenses that the NFL has ever seen. There is a lot of motion, misdirection, and abstract play design featured in the play calling. Versatile receivers, like Cooper Kupp, have the opportunity to produce at a very high level in an offense like this. After a strong rookie season, and an injured plagued second year, Kupp has a chance to elevate his game in 2019.

Kupp was off to a very strong start in his second season, scoring 6 touchdowns in the first eight games he played. His season was cut short after a torn ACL in a week 10 win against the Seattle Seahawks. The Rams definitely missed Kupp later in the season, especially in the Super Bowl against the New England Patriots, where they only mustered 3 points. After a full offseason to recover, he will look to make a statement in year three.

At 6’2” 194 lbs, Kupp can create matchup problems for a defense. Kupp is a very good route runner, and does a good job of using his body to create seperation. The Rams like to line him up in tight, hoping that a linebacker gets matched up with him in coverage. Kupp is also a good blocker, so the Rams are still a threat to run the ball in those formations. The threat of a running formation, while still keeping three wide receivers on the field, gives defensive coordinators nightmares. Kupp plays a very important role for the Rams offense, and will give them more fire power after returning from his injury. I predict that Kupp will record 80 catches while scoring 9 touchdowns.

Seattle Seahawks 
Shaquill Griffin – Cornerback
6’0” 198 lbs
3rd year pro – University of Central Florida

Photo Courtesy of the Associated Press 

2018 statistics – 61 tackles (54 solo), 2 interceptions, 8 passes deflected, 16 games started

The Seattle Seahawks have had one of the most interesting retooling processes in recent memory. I use the term “retool” instead of “rebuild” because the term rebuild often implies losing. The Seahawks have found a way to rebuild their roster, while only missing the playoffs once since their last Super Bowl appearance in 2014. The group that has seen the most overhaul, is the Seahawks secondary. Every member of the “Legion of Boom” is gone, but there are some young players who are ready to make a name for themselves in this league.

Cornerback Shaquill Griffin was selected in the 3rd round of the 2017 NFL Draft. Griffin contributed early as a rookie in 2017, recording a tremendous 15 pass deflections as a rookie! In his second season, Griffin was asked to do a lot more by the coaching staff. Griffin played both outside corner and slot corner. The young corner is very fluid in coverage, holding his own in both man and zone coverages. He is patient, and discipline with his technique. Griffin is also a willing tackler, and proved to be effective in run support. He was clearly the Seahawks best corner, and often matched up with the best receiver on the opposing team. Year three looks to be a big one for the UCF alum. I expect Griffin to do more “shadowing”, and follow elite wide receivers around the field. I think he will record over 10 pass deflections and make progress towards becoming a star corner in the NFL.

NFL Breakout Players 2019 – AFC South Edition

Michael Lipscomb

Breakout players emerge every season. A new coaching staff, new schemes, or rehab from an injury, are a few valid reasons to see major improvement in an athlete. I will be giving you 32 names to watch for the 2019 NFL season. One player per team.

Do you agree? Disagree? Think I should have picked another player? Let me hear your opinions by tweeting at me @TFINS_

Follow that twitter account for more articles and content! Follow us on Instagram too: thefutureisnowsports

Indianapolis Colts
Malik Hooker – Safety
6’2” 214 lbs
3rd year pro – Ohio State University

Aaron M. Sprecher via AP

2018 statistics – 44 tackles (30 solo), 2 interceptions, 4 passes deflected, 1 fumble recovery, 14 games started

Ohio State defensive backs have a solid track record in the NFL. Names like Malcolm Jenkins, Marshon Lattimore, and Denzel Ward, are respected as elite talents at their respective positions. Free Safety, Malik Hooker, has not earned that recognition yet, but there are plenty of reasons to expect that he will soon.

Hooker was a highly touted prospect after playing two seasons at Ohio State. He was selected with the 15th overall pick in the 2017 draft. Hooker made an immediate impact as a rookie, making 3 interceptions in his first 7 games. Hooker’s season would come to an end after tearing his ACL against the Jacksonville Jaguars. After recovering from his injury, Hooker had a solid sophomore campaign as well. Hooker only recorded two interceptions, but he played his role on the Colts’ defense last year. The young safety did miss two games though, and battled minor injuries throughout the season.

Year three will be an important one for Malik Hooker. The Colts’ defense was a very strong unit last season, and they will have high expectations once again this year. Hooker will have to stay healthy, and continue to make plays in the secondary for Indy. I see Hooker taking his game to the next level this season. He will lead the Colts in interceptions, while also recording more than 70 tackles this year.

Jacksonville Jaguars
Leonard Fournette – Running back
6’0” 228 lbs
3rd year pro – Louisiana State University

AP Photo/Bill Kostroun

2018 statistics – 133 rushing attempts, 439 yards, 5 touchdowns, 3.3 yards per carry, 8 games started

Running backs have a tough time in the NFL. When they are drafted high, they are expected to perform early and often. If they have one poor season, critics begin to question their longevity, and start discussing replacement options at that position. This vicious cycle has now landed at the doorstep of LSU alumni Leonard Fournette.

After rushing for just 3.3 yards per carry in 2018, analysts are wondering how much more of Fournette we will see going forward. Fournette was one of the most highly discussed prospects at both the high school and college level. He has all the tools of an explosive ball carrier. Strength, vision, speed, and a bad attitude, when carrying the rock. Fournette performed well as a rookie, rushing for over 1,000 yards and scoring 9 touchdowns. His second season in the league was filled with injuries, and the Jaguars offense struggled as a whole.

Fournette is primed for a nice comeback this season. He has lost 20 pounds, and is in a much better place physically and mentally. The Jaguars also have a new quarterback. Super Bowl LII MVP, Nick Foles, signed a 4 year deal with Jacksonville this offseason. Foles is a legitimate passer, and should take some pressure off of Fournette this year. I expect Fournette to explode back onto the scene, finishing with over 1,000 yards rushing once again.

Houston Texans
Justin Reid – Safety
6’1” 203 lbs
2nd year pro – Stanford University

Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

2018 statistics – 88 tackles (70 solo), 3 interceptions (1 returned for touchdown), 10 passes deflected, 1 forced fumble, 2 fumble recoveries, 16 games played (12 started)

The Texans defense was phenomenal last year. The front seven dominated opponents behind the play of JJ Watt and Jadeveon Clowney. The secondary brought it as well, and a rookie safety fit right in with veterans. You won’t see many rookies perform like Justin Reid did last season. Reid made an immediate impact next to safety Tyrann Mathieu, and the duo performed as one of the top safety tandems in the NFL.

Reid brings a lot of different aspects to a defense. He is smart, strong, and fast for a safety. The Texans ran a lot of exotic defensive formations and blitzes. Reid was asked to cover tight ends, blitz, stop the run, and also excel in coverage. Reid checked all those boxes, and was a big part of the Texans success last year.

In 2019, Reid will have a much tougher task. Cornerback Kareem Jackson and fellow safety Tyrann Mathieu both left Houston in free agency. I have confidence that Reid will step up, and become the centerpiece of this secondary. Look for Reid to have a breakout season, registering more forced turnovers than he did last year. By the end of this season, he should be getting recognized as one of the top safeties in the game today.

Tennessee Titans
Corey Davis – Wide Receiver
6’2” 205 lbs
3rd year pro – Western Michigan University

Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

2018 statistics – 65 catches (112 targets), 891 receiving yards, 4 touchdowns, 16 games started

The 5th overall pick in the 2017 draft, Corey Davis was drafted to be the number one receiving option for quarterback Marcus Mariota. After two pedestrian seasons, I think we will see Davis hit his star caliber this year. Davis is a physical wide receiver with great leaping ability. He has above average footwork, and his combination of athleticism and technique are a dangerous blend at wide receiver. Davis could be considered an elite receiver very soon.

Wide receiver is the most talented position group in the NFL. There is a long list of names that many consider to be elite. Davis hasn’t produced like those players just yet, but he has shown the potential to do so. In a Week 10 beatdown of the New England Patriots, Davis had one of the best games of his career. Davis was often covered by All-pro cornerback Stephon Gilmore, and still managed to produce 7 catches, 125 yards, and 1 touchdown. That level of dominance against an elite secondary should give Titans fans an idea of what Davis could become. This season, I expect Davis to take a major step towards stardom. My prediction is that he will have close to 1,200 yards receiving while catching 8 touchdowns.

NFL Breakout Players 2019 – NFC South Edition

Michael Lipscomb

Breakout players emerge every season. A new coaching staff, new schemes, or rehab from an injury, are a few valid reasons to see major improvement in an athlete. I will be giving you 32 names to watch for the 2019 NFL season. One player per team.

Do you agree? Disagree? Think I should have picked another player? Let me hear your opinions by tweeting at me @TFINS_

Follow that twitter account for more articles and content! Follow us on Instagram too: thefutureisnowsports

Atlanta Falcons
Calvin Ridley – Wide Receiver
6’1” 190 lbs
2nd year pro – University of Alabama

Scott R. Galvin-USA TODAY Sports

2018 statistics – 64 catches (92 targets), 821 yards, 10 receiving touchdowns, 16 games played

After witnessing their dominance over college football, you would imagine that Alabama has a bevy of star players at every position in the NFL. A lot of Crimson Tide players have been selected early in the draft, but they have not all produced at an elite level in the league. One position that consistently translates well from Alabama, to the NFL, is wide receiver. The Atlanta Falcons already had star receiver Julio Jones on the roster, but elected to draft another weapon from Bama in the 2018 NFL Draft. Following a strong rookie season, Calvin Ridley looks ready to become a force in his own right.

Ridley is a different type of receiver than Jones. Julio Jones is a big, physical threat at wide receiver. He often dominates his matchups with pure athleticism and strength. Ridley is a lot smaller, and wins his matchups with quickness and sharp change of direction. Both players have speed, which makes this Falcons’ passing attack very dangerous.

Calvin Ridley put up fantastic numbers for a rookie wideout, recording 10 touchdowns in his first year. The most encouraging part of Ridley’s receiving numbers, is that he was able to succeed while Jones performed at his usual, high level. These two appear to compliment each other well, and they could develop into one of the best receiving tandems in the entire league. I predict Ridley will build off his strong rookie campaign and gain over 1,000 yards receiving this season

Tampa Bay Buccaneers
O.J. Howard – Tight End
6’6” 242 lbs
3rd year pro – University of Alabama

Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

2018 statistics – 34 catches (48 targets), 565 yards, 5 touchdowns, 10 games played (8 started)

Tight ends typically get off to slow starts in their NFL careers. The physicality, quickness, and responsibilities of a good tight end, are a lot different in the pros, in comparison to the college level. In recent history, many tight ends have been able to find success in their third season. All signs are pointing toward a massive third year for tight end O.J. Howard.

Howard is as athletic as they come at the tight end position. He can outrun linebackers and outmuscle defensive backs that are trying to cover him. He is the prototype, modern day tight end. Howard is explosive with the ball in his hands, and a legitimate big play target. Through the first two seasons of his career, Howard has been hampered by injuries and inconsistent quarterback play. If he can stay healthy, 2019 projects to be a big year for him.

Carolina Panthers
Shaq Thompson – Linebacker
6’0” 230 lbs
5th year pro – University of Washington

Photo Courtesy of USA TODAY Sports

2018 statistics – 79 tackles (50 solo), 4 tackles for a loss, 1 forced fumble, 14 games played (11 started)

Teams in the NFL are passing more than ever. “Base” personnel is usually a three wide receiver set for most offenses in today’s league. Offenses have more speed on the field, leading to mismatches with slower linebackers and safeties. The evolution of the passing game has forced defenses to add speed to their units. Shaq Thompson is the type of athletic defender that coaches want to use in today’s league.

Thompson, a former first round pick out of Washington, has helped the Panthers defense from multiple spots on the field. Thompson is excellent in coverage. He gains depth on his pass coverage drops and reacts well to the football. He has also been their SAM linebacker, and lined up on the defensive line in certain formations. At only 230 lbs, that level of versatility is impressive.

To this point in his career, Thompson hasn’t played the amount of snaps that you would like. The Panthers used linebackers Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis in their two linebacker sets, forcing Thompson off the field. Thomas Davis signed with the Los Angeles Chargers this past offseason, so that should put Thompson on the field more. With the added snaps, I think Thompson will have his first 100 tackle season. I also think he will record at least 2 interceptions.

New Orleans Saints
Marcus Davenport – Edge Rusher/Defensive End
6’7” 265 lbs
2nd year pro – University of Texas San Antonio

Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

2018 statistics – 22 tackles (12 solo), 4.5 sacks, 6 tackles for a loss, 1 forced fumble, 13 games played (0 started)

Pass rushers have always been a valued position in football. Getting to the quarterback is mandatory for any defense. If the quarterback has all day to throw, he’ll eventually find an open target. The Saints traded up in the 2018 draft to select their pass rusher of the future. Defensive End Marcus Davenport is a big, athletic rusher, that has high expectations going into his second season.

Davenport got off to a productive start in his rookie year, recording 4.5 sacks through the first seven games of the season. His rookie season was derailed following a toe injury during a Week 8 win vs the Minnesota Vikings. Davenport would return after missing three games, but didn’t look the same for the duration of the year.

This past offseason, Davenport posted on social media about an injury that bothered him throughout the season, suggesting that he played through the pain. After making a full recovery, I predict Davenport is set for a huge return in 2019. Look for the UTSA product to record a minimum of 8 sacks in his sophomore season.

NFL Breakout Players 2019 – AFC East Edition

Michael Lipscomb

Breakout players emerge every season. A new coaching staff, new schemes, or rehab from an injury, are a few valid reasons to see major improvement in an athlete. I will be giving you 32 names to watch for the 2019 NFL season. One player per team.

Do you agree? Disagree? Think I should have picked another player? Let me hear your opinions by tweeting at me @TFINS_

Follow that twitter account for more articles and content! Follow us on Instagram too: thefutureisnowsports

Buffalo Bills
Josh Allen – Quarterback
6’5” 238 lbs
2nd year pro – University of Wyoming

Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

2018 statistics – Passing: 2074 yards, 10 touchdowns, 12 interceptions,  52.8% completion percentage. Rushing: 89 rushing attempts, 631 yards, 8 touchdowns, 12 games played (11 started)

When I first scouted Josh Allen as a quarterback coming out of Wyoming, I was not a fan. I doubted that he would find success at the pro level, and thought Buffalo had missed with the No. 7 pick in the draft. After witnessing the first 11 starts of his career, it looks like I was wrong. Allen played with incredible poise and confidence as a rookie. He made some great throws, often pushing the ball down the field for big gains. He was impressive as a runner as well, gaining over 600 yards on the ground.

Despite the early production, Allen wasn’t perfect. He threw more interceptions than touchdowns and had a low completion percentage. Going into year 2, those are some areas where he will need to improve. The good news is that Buffalo has surrounded him with weapons to do so.

The Bills went out and signed receivers Cole Beasley and John Brown. Brown is a speedster who should make big plays downfield for the Bills, while Beasley will be a great target on 3rd down. They also have young talent at receiver. Those young players should continue to develop as they mature. Allen has as much arm talent as any quarterback in this league. He also plays with a toughness that can rally players in the locker room. With a full offseason to grow as a passer, and new weapons in the huddle, expect Allen to have a breakout season in 2019. I predict Allen will combine for over 3500 total yards next season.

Miami Dolphins
Minkah Fitzpatrick – Safety/Defensive back
6’1” 207 lbs
2nd year pro – University of Alabama

Associated Press – nj.com

2018 statistics – 80 tackles (51 solo), 2 interceptions (1 returned for a touchdown), 9 passes deflected, 16 games played (11 games started)

Minkah Fitzpatrick was one of the most versatile safeties in college football during his time at Alabama. Fitzpatrick lined up at safety, outside corner, slot corner, and sometimes linebacker. His versatility impressed the Dolphins, as they selected him with the 11th overall pick in the 2018 draft. Fitzpatrick’s rookie year included a lot of the same responsibilities, as he started games at both corner and safety for Miami. Fitzpatrick is an incredibly smart player, and athletic enough to compete at almost any position on a defense.

Coaches love having players like Fitzpatrick, because it allows them to get creative with defensive play calling. With the increase of spread offenses at the pro level, coaches are using safeties at almost any position on a defense. Dolphins new Head Coach, Brian Flores, spent the last 7 years as a defensive coach for the New England Patriots. The Patriots are known to use defensive lineups with multiple safeties. I believe Flores will use Fitzpatrick as a defensive weapon, deploying him all over the field to confuse offenses. I have high expectations for Fitzpatrick this year, and predict that he will lead the Dolphins in forced turnovers this season.

New York Jets
Sam Darnold – Quarterback
6’3” 225 lbs
2nd year pro – University of Southern California

Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

2018 statistics – 2865 yards passing, 17 touchdowns, 15 interceptions, 57.7% completion percentage, 13 games started

Quarterbacks from USC have had some less than stellar careers in the NFL. Mark Sanchez, Matt Barkley, and Matt Leinart are all considered underachievers at the pro level in one way or another. The stereotypes behind USC quarterbacks caused Jets fans to be apprehensive when the team selected Darnold with the No. 3 selection in the NFL Draft. After an inspiring rookie season, Darnold appears to be ready to flip those stereotypes on their head.

Darnold played very well for a rookie quarterback. The Jets offense struggled as a whole, but Darnold finished strong in the last few weeks of the season. This offseason, the Jets went out and added a lot of talent on the offensive side of the ball. Running back Le’Veon Bell signed a $52 million dollar deal to head to New York. After having an entire year off, Bell should be fresh and ready to perform at an elite level once again. The Jets also added speedy wide receiver Jamison Crowder, who should bring explosiveness to their offense.

Darnold is a smart quarterback, and throws the football with precision and timing. The added weapons around him should make his job a lot easier in 2019. I think we will see Darnold and the Jets surprise a lot of people this upcoming season. My prediction for Darnold is at least 30 passing touchdowns in 2019.

New England Patriots
Damien Harris – Running back
5’10” 214 lbs
Rookie Season – University of Alabama

AP Photo/Butch Dill

3070 career rushing yards, 23 career rushing touchdowns at Alabama. Second All-SEC in 2018. 2 time college football champion (2015, 2017)

The New England Patriots went through a minor identity change on offense this past season. The discussion around the Patriots has always been about Brady, and his ability to orchestrate their offense. Brady has clearly had the most illustrious career of any quarterback in NFL history, but he also just turned 42 years old. The Patriots are running the ball more as Brady ages, and they are running it at a high level.

Last season, the Patriots had the 3rd most rushing attempts of any team in the NFL. Running back Sony Michel was the catalyst for their running game, leading the team in rushing yards. The Patriots added another strong runner in the 2019 draft. Alabama running back Damien Harris was selected by New England in the 3rd round of the draft. Harris was a complete back during his four years at Bama, and was a major contributor to their two championships in 2015 and 2017.

With the addition of Harris, I think the Patriots are going to continue their shift towards a run heavy offense. Harris is a versatile back with the ability to run between the tackles or on the perimeter. He also caught the ball out of the backfield well for Alabama. Harris is a very similar player to Sony Michel, and I believe they will be a dangerous combination in the backfield. Michel may lead New England in rushing attempts and yards, but I believe Harris will lead the Pats in rushing touchdowns this season.

NFL Breakout Players 2019 – NFC East Edition

Michael Lipscomb

Breakout players emerge every season. A new coaching staff, new schemes, or rehab from an injury, are a few valid reasons to see major improvement in an athlete. I will be giving you 32 names to watch for the 2019 NFL season. One player per team.

Do you agree? Disagree? Think I should have picked another player? Let me hear your opinions by tweeting at me @TFINS_

Follow that twitter account for more articles and content! Follow us on Instagram too: thefutureisnowsports

Philadelphia Eagles
Avonte Maddox – Cornerback
5’9” 183 lbs
2nd year pro – University of Pittsburgh

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

2018 Statistics – 35 tackles (28 solo), 2 interceptions, 4 passes deflected, 1 forced fumble, 13 games played (9 started)

The Eagles had trouble in the secondary during the 2018 season. Injuries to starters Rodney McLeod and Jalen Mills hampered the unit early. More injuries occurred to their replacements, and the group looked pitiful by the middle of the season. Veteran safety Malcolm Jenkins remained healthy and kept the defense together, but there was another unsung hero in the secondary. Cornerback Avonte Maddox was a huge contributor during his rookie season for the Eagles.

Maddox was drafted in the 4th round as a cornerback out of Pittsburgh. He was asked to play safety after a season ending injury to McLeod in Week 3. Maddox showed speed, great instincts, and aggressiveness while playing out of position. At just 5’9” and 183 lbs, it was impressive watching him accept the challenge of playing safety. Maddox had his own injury trouble last season, and missed three games after injuring his knee in a Week 11 loss to the New Orleans Saints.

Maddox would return at cornerback in Week 15 against the Rams. The defense felt his impact, as he recorded 2 pass breakups and an interception in that game. During the 2019 season, I predict Maddox will have more games with this level production. He will likely start in the slot cornerback position for the Eagles this season. I see Maddox as a rising star in this secondary, and I expect him to lead the Eagles in pass breakups this year.

Dallas Cowboys
Xavier Woods – Safety
5’11” 181 lb
3rd year pro – Louisiana Tech University

Ronald Martinez/Getty Images North America

2018 Statistics – 56 tackles (39 solo), 2 interceptions, 9 passes deflected, 1 forced fumble, 14 games started

If you sit back and watch the Dallas Cowboys defense, you’ll notice their speed at linebacker and size at cornerback. Their front office has done a great job of adding athletic players, that can match up well with modern day offenses. The Cowboys run a lot of man coverages, leaving their athletes 1-on-1 to contain receivers. An underrated aspect of running man coverage is the deep safety help behind the man coverage. Free safety Xavier Woods had a very good season last year, holding the back end together and preventing big plays down the field.

Woods, a late round pick out of Louisiana Tech, plays one of the most important roles on the Cowboys defense. Woods plays fast and has strong play recognition skills. He’s a decent tackler, and displays his range consistently. With his first season as a starter under his belt, he is primed for a career season this year. After recording 9 pass deflections in 2018, I predict Woods will turn some of those into interceptions. He should lead the Cowboys in interceptions, in 2019.

New York Giants
Sterling Shepard – Wide Receiver
5’10” 194 lbs
4th year pro – University of Oklahoma

Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

2018 statistics – 66 catches (107 targets), 872 yards, 4 touchdowns, 16 games started

A 2nd round pick in 2016, Sterling Shepard has carved out a productive career for himself so far. His receiving numbers are solid, and he proved to be a valuable receiving option playing next to Odell Beckham Jr. With Beckham being traded to Cleveland, Shepard needs to step up as the top receiving threat for the Giants. It’s his time to shine in New York.

Shepard should be the leading receiver for the Giants this season. He is a fantastic route runner, and is very quick in and out of his cuts. The addition of Golden Tate should also benefit Shepard. The duo will put a lot of stress on defenses with short and intermediate routes. I would like to see Shepard make improvements as a deep threat this season. Defenses will be stacking the box to contain Saqoun Barkley, so he will have opportunities to win against single coverage. Shepard has seen his yards per reception decrease with each season that he has been in the league. The Giants will need that number to head in the opposite direction if they want to have a successful 2019 campaign. I predict Shepard will have his first season with over 1,000 yards receiving this year.

Washington Redskins
Da’Ron Payne – Defensive Tackle/Nose Tackle
6’3” 320 lb
2nd year pro – University of Alabama


2018 statistics – 56 tackles (35 solo), 6 tackles for a loss, 5 sacks, 1 forced fumble, 1 fumble recovery, 3 passes deflected

Da’Ron Payne was one of my favorite college players to watch at Alabama. He dominated offensive lines with his combination of strength and quickness. Payne wasn’t as dominant in his first year for Washington, but the future is bright for this young defensive lineman. 

Payne plays an important role in Washington’s 3-4 defense. With just three down defensive lineman, the nose tackle is the key to controlling the line of scrimmage. Payne did so last year, playing with great leverage against interior lineman. He has violent hands, and did a good job controlling blockers at the point of attack. Payne is a very smart football player with a great feel for how lineman are trying to block him.

In his second season, I expect Payne to become more of an impact player. With his combination of athleticism, intelligence, and technique, I believe he can develop into one of the best defensive tackles in football. Look out for Payne to increase his tackles for a loss and sack numbers this season. 

NFL Breakout Players 2019 – AFC North Edition

Michael Lipscomb

Breakout players emerge every season. A new coaching staff, new schemes, or rehab from an injury, are a few valid reasons to see major improvement in an athlete. I will be giving you 32 names to watch for the 2019 NFL season. One player per team.

Do you agree? Disagree? Think I should have picked another player? Let me hear your opinions by tweeting at me @TFINS_

Follow that twitter account for more articles and content! Follow us on Instagram too: thefutureisnowsports

Cincinnati Bengals
Jesse Bates – Safety
6’2″ 201 lbs
2nd year pro – Wake Forest University

Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

2018 Statistics – 111 tackles (73 solo), 3 interceptions (1 returned for a TD), 7 passes deflected, 16 games started

The 2nd round pick out of Wake Forest earned his stripes early for the Cincinnati Bengals last season. Jesse Bates is a big, versatile free safety who proved he was a tackling machine in his first season. Bates recorded 111 tackles for the Bengals, preventing plenty of touchdowns along the way. He also excelled in coverage with 7 pass deflections.

I noticed that Bates played with a lot of freedom for a free safety. He is extremely aggressive, often leaving his deep middle coverage to lurk routes underneath. Despite his aggressiveness, Bates has a great feel for how plays develop and does not leave his teammates out to dry when they are expecting coverage over the top. I expect Bates to improve even more next season, recording more interceptions and making more highlight plays. I believe Bates will enter the conversation as a true star safety in the NFL, after this year.

Cleveland Browns
Nick Chubb – Running back
5’10” 227 lbs
2nd year pro – University of Georgia

John Kuntz – clevland.com

2018 Statistics – 192 rushing attempts, 996 yards, 8 touchdowns, 5.2 yards per carry, 9 games started

Nick Chubb is poised for one of the biggest breakout seasons that a running back has had in a long time. Chubb’s rookie season got off to a slow start. The running back was seemingly third on the depth chart for the first six weeks of the season. Things changed for Chubb after running back Carlos Hyde was traded to the Jacksonville Jaguars in October of 2018. That trade was the start of something special for this Georgia Bulldog alum.

Chubb was fantastic in the 9 games he started for the Browns, averaging an impressive 5.2 yards per carry. He is a powerful, north and south runner, with great vision for finding the right holes to run through. With a full season ahead of him, get ready for Chubb to emerge as a star running back in this league.

Let’s also remember the big time wide receiver the Browns picked up this offseason. The addition of Odell Beckham Jr. changes the entire dynamic of this offense. Defenses will think twice before stacking the box against Chubb, or they’ll be watching Odell dance in the end zone after a touchdown. This Browns offense will be tough to stop this season, and there may be no bigger beneficiary than running back Nick Chubb.

Baltimore Ravens
Lamar Jackson – Quarterback
6’2” 212 lbs
2nd year pro. University of Louisville

Ravens Wire- USA Today

2018 statistics – Passing: 1201 yards, 6 touchdowns, 3 interceptions, 58.2% completion percentage. Rushing: 147 rushing attempts, 695 yards, 5 touchdowns, 7 games started

Lamar Jackson took over as the full-time starter for the Ravens following their bye week in 2018. The Ravens fully embraced Lamar’s athletic ability as a runner, and made drastic changes to their offense. Pistol formations, read option run plays, and RPO’s (run-pass options) instantly became a staple in the Ravens offense. With a stout defense on the other side of the ball, Lamar lead the Ravens to a 6-1 record and a playoff berth.

While watching Lamar orchestrate the Ravens offense in a college football style scheme was entertaining and successful, I don’t think it is built for long term success. Lamar had double digit rushing attempts in every game he started, and had over 20 rushing attempts in two separate games. Expecting Lamar to maintain that level of rushing attempts over an entire season seems like a dangerous formula for the longevity of his career.

The Ravens offensive coordinator for this season is Greg Roman. Roman was the O-coordinator for the 2012 San Francisco 49ers (that lost in the Super Bowl to the Ravens) with Colin Kaepernick at quarterback. If anybody knows how to sustain a pro-style offense with a running QB, it’s Roman. I have faith that Roman will come up with a plan that maximizes Lamar’s skill set, but will still protect him and allow him to grow as a passer. I predict Lamar will throw around 22 touchdowns and look more confident from the pocket. I’m expecting big things out of Baltimore this year.

Pittsburgh Steelers
James Washington – Wide Receiver
5’11” 214 lbs
2nd year pro – Oklahoma State University

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

2018 Statistics – 16 receptions (38 targets), 217 yards, 1 touchdown, 6 games started

There are a lot of different opinions out there when discussing the departure of wide receiver Antonio Brown. The truth of the matter is, the Steelers traded away their best offensive weapon. Brown’s production will not be easily replaced, but the good news is that the Steelers have young talent on the roster at that position.

I think James Washington will win the position battle for the No. 2 receiver spot. Washington was one of my favorite 2018 draft prospects at wide receiver. While not incredibly big or athletic, Washington has a knack for making contested catches and creating plenty of yards after the catch. Washington definitely struggled in his first year with Pittsburgh. The young receiver was called out by Ben Rothlesberger following a crucial drop against Denver in Week 12. I think Washington has put those early struggles behind him, and is prepared to be a major contributor in 2019. Let’s see if he can do his part to help the Steelers get back into the playoffs.