The 2018 NFL season was chock full of excitement and stellar play all throughout. It also proved to have a solid rookie class.
There were big name rookies that made a splash as they were expected to. And some others with less hype but proved to be great assets to their teams.
Here we take a look at some players heading into their second year who could build on their strong rookie campaigns:
One cannot discuss the 2018 NFL rookie class without mentioning the Offensive Rookie of the Year award recipient Saquon Barkley. The explosive running back out of Penn State absolutely dazzled in his first year.
Taken by the New York Giants with the number two overall pick in the draft, he was a highlight reel waiting to happen at any given moment. Referred to by many as a “generational back”, his style of running was a combination of power and elusiveness.
And to the dismay of opposing defenders, he was also an excellent pass catcher out of the backfield. He finished the season with 1,307 yards rushing and 721 yards receiving. Those numbers put him second overall in yards rushing and earned him a Pro Bowl selection.
With the departure of wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr., Barkley will be the centerpiece of the Giants’ offense. In 2019 he will be in a position to gain over 1,000 yards rushing and 1,000 yards receiving.
To put that feat in perspective, it has only been done twice in NFL history. Roger Craig was the first to top that mark in 1985, and Marshall Faulk was the second to do so in 1999. Barkley very well could become the third in that illustrious group.
With the number one overall selection in the 2018 NFL draft, the Cleveland Browns took a quarterback out of the University of Oklahoma. His name was Baker Mayfield.
For the first two games of the 2018 season he was watching from the bench as Tyrod Taylor started at quarterback. However, in the third game of the season on a Thursday Night game against the New York Jets, Mayfield finally got his chance to shine. Taylor went down with an injury in the second quarter, and Mayfield entered the game.
Down 14-0, he led the team back in an epic fashion winning the game 21-17. In doing so he brought the Browns their first victory in two seasons, after a win-less 2017 campaign.
His grit and poise earned him a role as the starting quarterback for the remainder of the season. He finished the year with 3,725 yards passing, 27 touchdowns and 14 interceptions. His yardage put him 17th overall amongst quarterbacks. And his touchdowns put him 11th overall in that group.
With the additions of wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. and running back Kareem Hunt, the Browns look to be even more potent on offense in the 2019 season. Look for Mayfield to finish in the top 15 in both yards passing and touchdowns, while leading the Browns to their first playoff berth since 2002.
The San Francisco 49ers struggle mightily with red zone efficiency in 2018. But rookie wide receiver Dante Pettis provided some help there.
A second-round pick (44th overall) out of the University of Washington, he found the end zone five times throughout the season. That tied a team high for touchdowns. In addition to the five touchdowns, Pettis would finish the season with 467 yards receiving.
While those are not very hearty numbers, he was struggling with injury and only appeared in 12 games. That combined with the fact that he was playing most of the season alongside backup quarterbacks, all contributed to his modest output.
In the 2019 season though Pettis will have his starting quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo back. If he can stay healthy and play a full season, look for him to have somewhere in the neighborhood of 800 yards receiving and double-digit touchdowns.
In 2018 the Denver Broncos snagged a homegrown talent from the University of Colorado. Phillip Lindsay signed with the Broncos as an undrafted free agent prior to the 2018 season. And Lindsay got to work from the start of the season. He racked up 1,037 yards rushing with 9 touchdowns on the ground. Those numbers earned him a trip to the Pro Bowl. Lindsay would become the first undrafted rookie offensive player to be selected to a Pro Bowl.
Look for more of the same in 2019 from Lindsay. He will crack 1,000 yards rushing again in his sophomore campaign, and rank in the top 10 of running backs in the league.
There was one Atlanta Falcons wide receiver that really lit up the scoreboard in 2018. Yes, he was an Alabama guy. And no, it wasn’t Julio Jones. While Jones led the league in yards receiving, his rookie counterpart Calvin Ridley saw more end zone looks than him.
Ridley a first-round pick (26th overall) of the Falcons hauled in 10 touchdowns in his rookie season. He also had 821 yards receiving. Both those stats led all rookies. Look for him to have an even more productive 2019 and break the 1,000-yard receiving mark. Stealing some catches from Jones along the way!
2019 and Beyond
All of the players discussed showed great composure and maturity through their rookie seasons. They exhibited growth and development as players as the season progressed. As long as they can stay healthy, they should all be poised for huge sophomore campaigns!