We’re a few weeks into the 2018 season, and there’s so much to look at. Once the season gets further in, that’s when fans and analysts really start making their conclusions. The first game or so, anything can happen. But once teams get on a roll, you’re seeing their true colors begin to come out. Then you've got second-year players, whose true colors are about to come out.
Analysts hate to judge rookies, but start to really criticize players in their second year. At that point, you can’t use the excuses that rookies can. These players are then treated like any other player, which is still pretty harsh, considering they're still very young players. So, a few weeks into the new season, let’s take a look at how the second-year players are performing.
Expectations grow, but they don’t always hit them. Some of these players played so well in their rookie season, and just can’t repeat the success they had last season. Those things happen, as other teams had the opportunity to watch film on upcoming players for a full season. This gives other teams the opportunity to adjust to these players, and find their weaknesses. Some players continue to grow and learn to work around that, while other players fall into the hole and struggle.
Many times, star status in the NFL doesn’t last long. Just because you have one really good season, doesn’t make you a really good player. It’s very unique to see the way the NFL works.
20 Struggling: Zay Jones - Buffalo Bills
Considering the Buffalo Bills don’t have many talented receivers, Zay Jones should find it easy to make an impact on that offense. Unfortunately, he has not. Jones struggles to make much of an impact, on an offense that he has a chance to succeed.
Granted, the quarterback play needs to improve for him to get better, but he also needs to get open and catches the passes thrown his way.
Last season, Jones had a very poor 36.5 catch percentage. It’s improved this season, but the Bills would like to see his numbers go up, and have a bigger role in this offense.
19 Break Out: Corey Davis - Tennessee Titans
Corey Davis has really broken onto the scene in 2018 after a disappointing 2017 campaign. Much of his disappointing rookie season was starting the season injured and the Titans offensive coaching staff failing to use him prominently in the passing game. Davis has had a much better second year under a new coaching staff. He's quickly becoming Marcus Mariota's favorite target, especially with Rishard Matthews now released and Delanie Walker out for the year. The former 5th overall pick is looking like the no.1 WR the Titans have long been searching for.
18 Struggling: Kareem Hunt - Kansas City Chiefs
It's not that Kareem Hunt is playing badly this season. The Chiefs offense has simply evolved into an offense that really spreads the ball around and really starts with the quarterback. Playing with Alex Smith under center last year, Kareem Hunt got a lot of carries and check down throws. This year, Mahomes is leading the charge by pushing the ball down field. As a result, Hunt's production and yardage has taken a hit. Hunt's numbers may eventually get closer to his rookie totals, but as a result of the Chiefs' offensive changes, Hunt has taken a bit of a back seat.
17 Break Out: Kenny Golladay - Detroit Lions
Kenny Golladay playing as well as he is, is not a good sign for any other Lions receivers, especially Golden Tate. Tate will be a free agent next season and may get no love from the Lions considering the way the sophomore has played.
Within just a few games, Golladay almost has had the same production he had in 2017.
You really can’t really ask for a better mid-round pick than Golladay, who was a third-round selection who has the speed to have an impact in the passing game.
It only took him a year to really learn the offense, and make an impact on the field.
16 Struggling: Jourdan Lewis - Dallas Cowboys
At the end of last season, most people would’ve said the starting cornerbacks this season would have been Chidobe Awuzie, Jourdan Lewis and Anthony Brown. Two of the three made it, with Lewis looking from the outside in.
With Byron Jones moving back to corner, Lewis fought to play the nickel corner spot but lost the battle to Brown.
All throughout the offseason, Lewis just didn’t look very sharp. A lot of missed plays and blown coverages led to him barely playing at all this season. It’s crazy how he was expected to be the starter but instead has barely played any snaps.
15 Broke Out: O.J. Howard - Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Before the 2017 NFL Draft, all speculations stated that O.J. Howard was the most NFL-ready player in the draft. His strength, and ability to block as well as make catches made him an immediate starter in the league. In year two, it’s showing why.
Howard is such a threat in the passing game and uses his strength to overpower defenders. There can be great coverage on him, and he still finds a way to make plays. Maybe it’s because of Ryan Fitzpatrick, and if so, they need to keep Fitzmagic going to Howard can continue making those plays. If not, it will be interesting to see how Howard plays.
14 Struggling: Charles Harris - Miami Dolphins
Another guy who looked exceptionally well, especially as the draft got closer, was Charles Harris. The former Mizzou defensive end continued to get more and more looks as the draft approached, and some believed he could have got drafted a lot sooner. But, thankfully he didn’t, because he hasn’t been very good so far.
Harris was seen to have all the assets you want in a defensive end.
Except Harris has struggled to capitalize and make the needed plays. It’s great that he has the skill set to be successful, but he needs to translate that to on the field.
13 BreakOut: JuJu Smith-Schuster - Pittsburgh Steelers
Last season, we saw that JuJu Smith-Schuster could be one of the best No. 2 wide receivers in the league. This season, we see that Smith-Schuster could actually be a No. 1 wide receiver on most teams. Obviously, that won’t happen in Pittsburgh because of Antonio Brown, but in the future, he should eventually see a massive paycheck.
Smith-Schuster may arguably be Ben Roethlisberger’s favorite target right now. It seems like the connection between the two only got better throughout the offseason. Just imagine how scary this offense will look once, and when/if Le’Veon Bell does end up coming back.
12 Struggling: Deshaun Watson - Houston Texans
The Texans just never seem to put it all together. When their defense is dominating, their offense sputters and when their offense is clicking, their defense is riddled with injuries. Deshaun Watson was on his way to being Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2017 before a torn ACL ended his season. Watson returned this year expected to undergo some difficulties trying to get back to his old form and that's what's happened. Yes, his yardage totals have been high, but that's mostly because the Texans have been trailing in many games, forcing him to throw the ball more.
The Texans started slow and may not be able to catch up in the AFC South race. Watson has shown some flashes of his brilliant rookie season, but he's not putting up the explosive numbers he was last year.
11 Break Out: Cooper Kupp - Los Angeles Rams
Talk about a pleasant surprise. Cooper Kupp has been awesome. In a big game against the Vikings, Kupp caught nine passes for 162 yards and scored two touchdowns. Kupp kind of blew under the radar last season but should receive more respect this season. Jared Goff looks like a much better passer, which will only help Kupp play even better.
Kupp is very diverse and can help this offense do many different things.
It’s fun to see Kupp running open when everyone is worried about Todd Gurley and Brandin Cooks. Kupp may just be the sweet spot to this offense.
10 Struggling: Solomon Thomas - San Francisco 49ers
Solomon Thomas was picked early in the 2017 draft and was expected to be a legitimate pass rusher. So far, we have seen no signs of that throughout his first two seasons. Defensive ends take some time to develop in the NFL, but seeing the way the other defensive players are playing is discouraging for Thomas.
Thomas needs to dig deep into the playbook, watch more film and understand what he needs to do each week. Sometimes players come into the NFL and have the talent, but need to study a lot more in order to see success translate on to the field.
9 Break Out: Mike Williams - Los Angeles Chargers
Mike Williams’ injury last season made analysts worry on how well he would actually play this season. So far, so good. Williams looks like he could be the guy in L.A., even passed Philip Rivers’ time. His strength and speed make it difficult to cover him.
It’s good to see Rivers finally have a legitimate receiver. The Chargers just need to put everything together and they could be a playoff team. Williams is finally living up to his potential, now the rest of the team needs to do the same. Imagine what the Chargers could do if they did live up to their potential.
8 Struggling: John Ross - Cincinnati Bengals
Watching the preseason, you would have thought that this season John Ross would really dominate. Not at all. Ross has the speed but hasn’t really been involved in this offense. Instead, Tyler Boyd has come out of nowhere, being a great complement to A.J. Green.
For some reason, the targets just aren’t getting to Ross.
Unlike most receivers that struggle, Ross has caught most of the passes that have been thrown his way. It very well may be that he’s just not getting open. Whatever it may be, Ross does not look good for a top-10 draft pick from last year.
7 Break Out: Christian McCaffrey - Carolina Panthers
Last season, Christian McCaffrey looked like he would do most of his work in the passing game. Jonathan Stewart was primarily responsible for getting carries out of the backfield. This season, the Panthers decided that they need to really dedicate their running game to McCaffrey. So far, McCaffrey is looking like a back who can do it all, especially with the threat of Cam Newton running always being there.
McCaffrey has strength that few people knew about, as he has no problem rushing right into linebackers. His courage to take on anyone in his way will only help him be better. McCaffrey may shock some of those fans who weren’t big on him.
6 Struggling: Leonard Fournette - Jacksonville Jaguars
The sad truth is that Leonard Fournette may not be very durable. Through not even two full seasons, we have seen Fournette go throw many different injuries, holding him out of a few games.
Fournette has been strong and played through some of the injuries, but there are several games that he has missed.
Drafting a running back at fourth overall is risky, knowing the shelf life of running backs. Jaguars fans may never be able to rely on Fournette because of his ongoing injury issues. Although we haven’t seen much from him, the injuries are a step backward compared to what he accomplished last season.
5 Break Out: Alvin Kamara - New Orleans Saints
Nobody would have expected a third-round pick to possibly be the most dangerous running back in the league. But that is the effect that Alvin Kamara has on the league. Kamara truly is a new era running back that can run in the backfield but can also be a crucial part of the passing game.
Many times, Kamara has more 100-yard receiving games than touchdowns. He just has that ability to make plays no matter where he is on the field. If the Saints don’t re-sign Mark Ingram, the Saints either need to turn Kamara into a more traditional running back, or trade for another back.
4 Struggling: Dalvin Cook - Minnesota Vikings
When Dalvin Cook first entered the NFL, he seemed to be the next dominant running back. But once he got hurt, things changed. Cook has averaged a lot lower yards per carry, and his injuries continue to linger behind him, affecting his play.
Cook was a strong, speedy running back in college that had no problem taking the hits. Now, he continues to deal with injuries that may have affected the way he plays the game. It could be the fact that a healthy Cook is not back, or maybe he’s just rolling backward from his rookie season with the Vikings.
3 Break Out: Myles Garrett - Cleveland Browns
It didn’t take Myles Garrett long for him to transition into the NFL. As a rookie, Garrett looked really good, but his season was hampered by early injuries. As a second-year defensive lineman, he looks even better. Playing on the defensive line is not an easy task for young players, but Garrett makes it look easy.
Garrett is truly living up to being the No. 1 overall draft pick.
It’s been a while since we saw a defensive end succeed like this, this quickly. If he keeps it up and the defense clicks around him, the Browns could have one of the better defenses in the NFL. What a change of events that would be.
2 Struggling: Mitchell Trubisky - Chicago Bears
Aside from his six-touchdown performance against a woeful Buccaneers defense, Trubisky has struggled to keep the Bears offense moving. Fortunately, the Bears seem to be built around a surging defense, led by Khalil Mack.
The issue last season with Trubisky was that he didn’t have enough offensive weapons. Now, he has plenty of talent but is barely getting the job done. The Bears defense is much improved, which has practically carried the Bears. Whatever Trubisky and the offense does is extra.
With many new additions, Trubisky should be playing at a higher level. He just doesn’t look as good as everyone claimed he would be. Maybe he looked like an NFL quarterback in college, but that doesn’t seem to be the case now.
1 Break Out: Patrick Mahomes - Kansas City Chiefs
Phew. Even those who liked Patrick Mahomes couldn’t have predicted how well he’s been playing. Mahomes has been perfect, which is rare in football. Mahomes hasn’t turned the ball over much, he’s winning games practically on his own through the air, and doing everything needed to carry this offense with a poor defense on the other side.
Some people believe Mahomes could be one of the best quarterbacks in the league. And while that may be the case for the future, he still has time to grow. It’s just amazing to see how well Mahomes has played, and how fans are reacting to what he’s done.