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2020 NFL Preview: One breakout player for each NFC team this season

Frank Schwab
·8 min read
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Sometimes we can get an idea if a player is about to break out by how he looks in the preseason. That won’t be the case this year.

The preseason was canceled, but there are still players impressing coaching staffs in training camp. Earlier this week, we looked at a breakout player for each AFC team, and it’s time to take a look at one breakout player from each NFC team:

Arizona Cardinals: CB Byron Murphy

Murphy had a tough job last season. He was a rookie playing opposite Patrick Peterson, which means he had a target on his back (he also had to be Arizona’s No. 1 cornerback when Peterson was suspended for six weeks). Murphy was up and down last season, but he does have talent. With Robert Alford likely out for the season with a pectoral injury, Murphy will shift back outside instead of being the primary slot corner. The Cardinals need him to take a step forward.

Atlanta Falcons: TE Hayden Hurst

Hurst was a first-round pick of the Baltimore Ravens, but was quickly passed by Mark Andrews from the same draft class. The Falcons lost Austin Hooper in free agency, so they traded second- and fifth-round picks for Hurst. That shows Atlanta believes in Hurst’s talent. The Falcons will probably pass a lot this season, and Matt Ryan threw to Hooper often, so it seems like a good bet that Hurst doubles his career yardage, which is 512.

Carolina Panthers: DE Stephen Weatherly

The Panthers spent significant money on three free agents: quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, receiver Robby Anderson and Weatherly. Considering Weatherly started only seven games in four years with the Minnesota Vikings, and six of those starts came in 2018, it’s a gamble by Carolina that Weatherly can do more with a full-time role.

Chicago Bears: WR Anthony Miller

Miller has played well in stretches. He had seven touchdowns as a rookie, and then had 431 yards in a five-game stretch late last season. Consistent production is the last piece of the puzzle. The Bears will be thrilled if the 2018 second-round pick puts it all together and posts a 1,000-yard season.

Dallas Cowboys: TE Blake Jarwin

Jason Witten is great, but you can question the 2019 Cowboys’ coaching staff for giving Witten a majority of the snaps while promising Jarwin played just 39 percent of the time. In that limited playing time, Jarwin put up a 31-365-3 line. Witten is gone, the Cowboys will have a high-scoring offense and Jarwin could end up as a top-10 tight end by season’s end.

Blake Jarwin celebrates catching a pass for a touchdown.
With Jason Witten gone, this is the season for Dallas Cowboys tight end Blake Jarwin to shine. (AP Photo/Ron Jenkins)

Detroit Lions: CB Jeff Okudah

Strangely, there aren’t a lot of breakout candidates for the Lions. Most of the players who are going to play significant roles are either established veterans or don’t have a great upside. Picking Okudah, the third selection in this year’s draft, seems too easy, but he can be a star right away. He is as clean of a cornerback prospect as we’ve seen in years, and should be an impact player right away.

Green Bay Packers: S Darnell Savage

The 2019 first-round pick was good for a rookie, but he could be a Pro Bowl contender in Year 2. He injured his ankle early last season and played through it — doing “a pretty good job with it being my first injury that I actually had to play with,” he said — but it probably limited him most of the year. He is a big-play threat who can line up anywhere, and he could be a big difference maker this season.

Los Angeles Rams: RB Darrell Henderson

A year ago, Henderson was the hot name. Questions about Todd Gurley and Henderson’s status as a third-round pick made him a popular breakout pick. Then Henderson struggled as a rookie and the Rams drafted Cam Akers. But don’t forget about Henderson. Sean McVay has said all of his backs will play. Henderson was highly productive in college and can still take the lessons learned from last season and perhaps keep the rookie Akers from taking over a big role.

Minnesota Vikings: TE Irv Smith Jr.

There are a lot of intriguing tight ends this season. Smith had 36 catches for 311 yards and two touchdowns, which was pretty good considering Kyle Rudolph is Minnesota’s starter. Smith is a good route runner and with Stefon Diggs no longer in the offense, there will be more targets for him.

“I think there’s a big, big upside here,” Vikings offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak said about Smith, according to the Pioneer Press.

New Orleans Saints: S C.J. Gardner-Johnson

Gardner-Johnson, who said he’s changing his name to Ceedy Duce, was a fourth-round pick last season and made plays down the stretch as a rookie. He can play multiple roles, including slot corner, and playing time should open up with Vonn Bell moving on in free agency. The Saints can get creative with him.

New York Giants: WR Darius Slayton

Slayton, a fifth-round pick out of Auburn, was a nice surprise last season. He caught eight touchdowns and averaged 15.4 yards per catch. Two games accounted for 275 of his 740 yards, and it’s not easy to count on huge games like that, but it’s possible Slayton could emerge as Daniel Jones’ No. 1 receiver of the present and future in his second season.

Philadelphia Eagles: OT Andre Dillard

The Eagles had enough confidence in Dillard, last year’s first-round pick, to move on from future Hall of Famer Jason Peters at left tackle. When Peters was re-signed later in the offseason, the team announced he’d be playing guard. Dillard started just four games as a rookie, but the coaches are happy with his increased strength and his athleticism should allow him to be an above-average left tackle for a long time.

San Francisco 49ers: WR Kendrick Bourne

With some injuries to 49ers receivers, rookie first-round pick Brandon Aiyuk is the de facto No. 1 receiver. But it’s tough to depend on rookies, and Bourne is getting good reviews in camp. He hasn’t had a huge role in the offense but does have nine touchdowns in the past two seasons.

“He’s almost the vet in the room right now, which is somewhat funny to us, because four years ago, he wasn’t close to that,” Kyle Shanahan said via NBC Sports Bay Area. “It’s been pretty cool to watch how he’s come this far, and we’re just getting started at camp, but know [that] some of the guys look up to him.

“Bourne has gotten better each year. He knows the offense real well. He’s played all the positions and the same guy today as he was the first day he got here, as least as a person.”

Seattle Seahawks: TE Will Dissly

The Seahawks signed Greg Olsen, which could cut down on Dissly’s opportunities. But if Dissly is healthy, maybe Olsen isn’t needed. Dissly was playing very well before tearing his Achilles last season. Through five games last season, his 16-game pace was 74-838-13. He got hurt early in the sixth game. You can’t assume Dissly is 100 percent this season, and Olsen is going to get snaps no matter what. However, if Dissly can pick up anywhere close to where he left off, the Seahawks have their tight end of the future.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: CB Carlton Davis

Davis, a 2018 second-round pick, isn’t yet a household name. But Buccaneers coach Bruce Arians believes Davis is a top-10 cornerback already.

“I think Carlton made that move,” Arians said late last season, according to AL.com. “What he did to DeAndre Hopkins was outstanding. He basically just shut him out of the game, and that’s not an easy job. He did a really good job on Julio [Jones]. He realized Julio’s a little stronger.

“But the penalties have gone. He’s one of the top-10 guys, in my opinion, right now.”

Davis has just one interception in two seasons. If he can boost that total, it will lead to more attention and perhaps more widespread acclaim as one of the NFL’s best.

Washington Football Team: WR Terry McLaurin

McLaurin’s rookie season was very good. This wouldn’t a breakout with a bit player becoming a good starter. With McLaurin, the breakout could be from promising young player to one of the NFL’s best. McLaurin was a standout in a bad offense last season. He was Pro Football Focus’ fifth best receiver last season among all receivers with at least 90 targets, ranking ahead of Mike Evans, Davante Adams and Amari Cooper. Washington has practically nobody else to steal targets from McLaurin, might not have much of a run game and will be in catchup mode plenty this season. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see McLaurin take a leap to being a 100-catch receiver and be recognized as one of the NFL’s bright stars by the end of the season.

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