With the 2020 NFL season within touching distance, who are the players poised for a breakout year?
Jonah William – LT – Cincinatti Bengals
Jonah Williams didn’t have the best start to life as a Bengal. He injured his left shoulder during 2019 OTAs. This required surgery to repair a torn labrum causing him to miss the entirety of his rookie season.
The 2020 Draft saw a plethora of offensive tackles taken in the top 15, but Williams belongs in that company. Whilst at Alabama, he was favoured at the left tackle spot by Nick Saban over 2020 draftee Jedrick Wills, who played on the right. Wills is slated to start at left tackle for the Cleveland Browns this year.
Coming out of college much was made of his ‘short arms’ when compared to other prospects, but don’t let that fool you. His combination of athleticism and size is ideal for the position and his college coach Saban agrees:
“I think Jonah is no.1, very athletic. He has really good feet. He’s really, really smart in term of understanding what to do, how to do it and why its important to do it. I think he’ll be a fine player for a long time”Nick Saban, Alabama Crimson Tide Head Coach
As overall 2020 first pick Joe Burrow’s blind side protector, Williams will give head coach Zac Taylor not only an effective pass protector, but someone who is equally at home in the run game. Come the end of the 2020 season, Jonah Williams has the chance to be recognised as a high end starting left tackle in the NFL.
Ed Oliver – DT – Buffalo Bills
Entering the NFL in the 2019 draft, Ed Oliver was drafted at 9 by the Buffalo Bills. A consensus top 15 pick in 2019, with some projections having him going in the top 5, Buffalo were delighted when he fell into their lap at 9.
In college despite being an undersized interior defensive lineman, Oliver was explosive with elite level strength and movement skills. In particular his penetration ability was superb.
However, Oliver made a slow start to his NFL career. He only started 7 games in his rookie season and often found himself in rotation with others such as Star Lotulelei and Jordan Philips. It took him until week 7 against a poor Dolphins offensive line to log his first sack. He registered 5 in total on the year, with a total of 43 tackles.
However week 13 gave us a glimpse as to how disruptive Oliver can be. Against a strong Cowboys offensive he had his most impressive outing. He logged 2 sacks, a pass deflection and 1 forced fumble in 26-15 win.
With Jordan Philips now in Arizona, and Star Lotulelei opting out of the 2020 season, Oliver is pencilled in to start alongside new acquisition Vernon Butler in the Bills defensive interior. If he can consistently show what he flashed at the back end of the 2019 season, Buffalo can be excited about their investment in him and see him breakout as a star at the position.
Isaiah Oliver – CB – Atlanta Falcons
Another Oliver, but this time Atlanta Falcons defensive back, Isaiah Oliver. Coming out of Colorado, Oliver’s main strengths seemed to be his ability in man coverage, as well his overall speed for a larger corner. However, zone coverage seemed to have dragged him out of his comfort zone.
Oliver has taken his time to find his feet in the NFL after being drafted late in the 2nd round back in 2018. He started just 2 games in his rookie season and was mainly used as an occasional rotational piece in the Falcons’ secondary.
2019 saw signs of improvement as Oliver was a starter in all 16 regular season games in Atlanta. With good size and athletic traits, and with Desmond Trufant out of the picture, Dan Quinn will be looking to Oliver to step up and lead the Falcons’ backfield alongside rookie AJ Terrell out of Clemson. He will be looking to improve his interception numbers with only 1 in his rookie season, and none last, however his pass defence numbers (11 last year) show that he can be disruptive to opposing wideouts.
In a division featuring the talents of Mike Evans, Chris Godwin and Michael Thomas, Oliver’s size and man coverage skills will be put to the test – if he puts it all together, he could be poised for a big breakout in his 3rd year.
Marquise Brown – WR – Baltimore Ravens
Marquise ‘Hollywood’ Brown, the former Sooner and now Baltimore Ravens speedster, is one to watch in 2020. He made a big impact in his very first NFL game in week 1 again the Miami Dolphins last season, going for 147 yards and 2 touchdowns on a remarkable 14 snaps. He also became the first NFL player to score 2 40+yard touchdowns on his debut.
However, injury ruled him out of weeks 6 and 7, and with the excpection of an 80 yard game against the Bengals in week 10, his season never really got going again. Still, he did manage over 500 yards on the year, and 7 scores – not bad for a rookie season.
With the Ravens heavily favoured to progress deep into the playoffs, and teams ever mindful of their running prowess, ‘Hollywood’ may just find himself slipping under the radar and has the ability to punish teams with his blistering speed. Can he go on and become a star receiver like his cousin, the notorious AJ Brown, before him? Don’t bet against it
Noah Fant – TE – Denver Broncos
The Denver Broncos were able to snare promising rookie Tight End Noah Fant with the 20th overall pick in the 2019 draft following a trade with the Pittsburgh Steelers, which saw them move up to the 10th spot. Fant was the second Iowa TE off the board, with team-mate TJ Hockenson being picked up by the Detroit Lions.
Fant was an exciting prospect coming out of college, with teams excited about the speed and length that he offered at the position. Talking to Denver Broncos.com prior to the 2019, his college coach Kirk Ferentz had this to say about Fant
“ Well, the thing that really separates him from not (just) most tight ends….is just his speed. He’s got size and extension, good reach. He’s a very capable blocker”denverbroncos.com
Tight end is a notoriously difficult position for rookies to shine in. However, Fant had a decent first season in Denver after a pedestrian start. He logged 40 receptions, for 562 yards and found the end zone on 3 occasions. His most impressive showings were against the Texans and Browns where he broke the 100 yard barrier in each game, whilst bagging a touchdown also.
The Broncos made big additions to the offence this close season. standout Courtland Sutton, first round rookie Jerry Jeudy and intriguing 2nd rounder KJ Hamler occupy the wideout room. Add Melvin Gordon and Philip Lindsay operating from the backfield, the Broncos offence should be fun. With defences having to keep their eyes on multiple players, and some chemistry developing with Drew Lock, Noah Fant could be in for an exciting 2020.