The establishment of new stars, or the emergence of players we thought we already had pegged, may be the best part of watching the NFL on a weekly basis. Here are five names to keep an eye on for 2019, if you're not already.
Lamar Jackson, quarterback, Baltimore Ravens
An offseason spent building something genuine around Baltimore’s 2018 first-round pick could yield some major dividends. We saw the momentary spark he provided the Ravens in Joe Flacco’s absence with a scheme that was largely smashed together on the fly by offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg. This offseason, the Ravens’ new general manager, Eric DeCosta, will take over possibly with a new head coach and new offensive coordinator. They can focus on complementary pieces for Jackson and a quarterback whisperer who can continue to assist Jackson in ironing out his game. That being said, the uphill climb to get him on the field was not nearly as high as initially expected at this point a year ago.
Sam Darnold, quarterback, New York Jets
Along those lines, the Jets will almost certainly scour the coaching market for someone who has a reputation of developing young passers. The team has a nice defensive core in place, but lacks weapons on the outside and a dependable, heart-of-the-backfield type running back. Recognizing that the best time to win a Super Bowl is during a quarterback’s rookie contract, expect the Jets to spend lavishly this offseason to pad the runway for their new coaching hire.
Corey Davis, wide receiver, Tennessee Titans
The gradual ascension of Davis may have been missed for those struggling to watch the Titans’ sputtering offense and inconsistent set of core stars. However, Davis improved on an injury-plagued rookie season and should do so again in 2019 with an offense that is much friendlier to his skill set. Assuming the Titans can hold on to in-demand coordinator Matt LaFleur for one more year, expect Davis to turn some heads during a season that will also be a major decision point for quarterback Marucs Mariota.
Dede Westbrook, wide receiver, Jacksonville Jaguars
Jacksonville will need to reset the books in many ways next year after going for it in 2018. One constant, aside from an expensive and talented offensive line and a solid power running game, will be the talented young Westbrook. The second-year wideout managed 641 yards and five touchdowns over the course of this season despite a declining Blake Bortles under center. His speed in open space makes him a prototypical next-gen offensive player who can fit with any new coordinator.
Nick Chubb and Sony Michel
The former Georgia backs who play for the Browns and Patriots, respectively, had eye-opening 2018 seasons despite being role players in their offense. Once the deck is cleared around Chubb in Cleveland, eliminating some of the other players taking carries, he could be one of the most talked about feature backs in the NFL next year. The same goes for Michel. Even if New England maintains their distance from one-back systems, there should be plenty of use for a powerful, smart running back in that offense.