Last season, Jonathan Taylor was coming off a solid rookie season, but he was not yet a known star. Cooper Kupp was coming off a 974-yard, three-touchdown season. Deebo Samuel had yet to make his mark.
By the end of the season, these three and others had emerged as superstars. Every season we see a group of players make an incredible leap. Here we try to identify the 10 players who could become stars by the end of this season:
New York Giants WR Kadarius Toney
Toney was a first round pick last season and really showed in a 189 yard game against there Dallas Cowboys. There are many questions surrounding Toney, most notably his ability to stay healthy. But if he can stay on the field he has a chance to explode. He has fantastic talent and who else in the Giants receiving corps will take away targets from him?
Jacksonville Jaguars QB Trevor Lawrence
Uber’s prospects don’t fall apart often. There’s a difference between questionable first overall picks and a player like Lawrence, who was almost unanimously viewed as a future star. Now that the Jacksonville Jaguars have an adult head coach, Lawrence should be much better. We saw the first signs of this in a stellar Week 18 performance last season in a win over the Indianapolis Colts. These draft analysts and evaluators can’t all be wrong.
Denver Broncos CB Patrick Surtain II
Surtain already had a solid rookie season, but the 2021 first-round pick of the Denver Broncos is going to be a Pro Bowler, just like his father was three times for the Miami Dolphins. Surtain is a calm athlete who can match up against bigger receivers, and he had everyone in the Broncos camp buzzing about his game. By the end of the season he will be recognized as one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL.
Cleveland Browns TE David Njoku
Njoku has teased his skills, but still has just 1,754 yards in five seasons. He’s also played over 64 percent of the Cleveland Browns’ offensive snaps just once (he played 80 percent in his sophomore season and had a career-best 639 yards). Njoku has a new contract worth more than $54 million over four years, which tells you how the Browns view him. He will have a full-time job this season, and without much competition for targets among receivers, he could approach 1,000 yards.
Houston Texans EDGE Jonathan Greenard
Grinard was a third-round pick in 2020 and had one sack for the Texans. Then last season he rose to prominence, with eight sacks in 12 games. The Texans need players to build around, and Grinard is someone who can be a foundational piece. He should reach double-digit sacks this season and maybe a Pro Bowl.
Baltimore Ravens WR Rashod Bateman
The Baltimore Ravens receiving corps is thin. They won’t pass it a ton, but when they do Bateman will dominate receiver targets. Mark Andrews is still the focal point of the game, but Bateman, a 2021 first-round pick, will have every opportunity to catch a ton of passes from Lamar Jackson this season.
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Los Angeles Rams OT Joseph Noteboom
The Los Angeles Rams don’t seem too worried about losing left tackle Andrew Whitworth to retirement after a great career, and that’s because of Noteboom. He has 17 career starts in four seasons, but the Rams signed him to a three-year, $40 million extension. They know what they have in it. As long as Noteboom stays healthy, he will make a name for himself this season.
Cleveland Browns LB Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah
Owusu-Koramoah fell to the second round in the 2021 draft and most analysts praised the Browns for grabbing him at a value. Owusu-Koramoah is an explosive athlete and has talked about getting more comfortable in his second season, especially with the mental aspect of the game. JOK was good last season, with 76 tackles in 14 games (10 starts), and could really explode in his second season.
San Francisco 49ers QB Trey Lance
Lance hasn’t had the best preseason, and Jimmy Garoppolo is sticking around, but he’ll be fine. He has Kyle Shanahan, one of the best offensive minds in football, calling plays. He will throw to Deebo Samuel, Brandon Aiyuk and George Kittle, one of the best trios any quarterback has. The running game will help him. And he still has the same immense talent that made him the third overall pick in last year’s draft. Lance is going to have a big season.
Dallas Cowboys RB Tony Pollard
The only thing missing from Pollard’s profile is opportunity. The Dallas Cowboys are stubbornly leading Ezekiel Elliott, but Jerry Jones hinted at a more creative role for Pollard to bring to the field. We’ll see, because teams rarely use two tails at the same time, no matter how much they tease it. At some point Pollard should get a chance at full-time work. And he might end up being a top-10 back when it happens.