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Sophomore Standouts: 5 Players Going into Their Second Year Poised to Become Stars

Ethan Vassar
July 6, 2020

An NFL player's second season in the league is notorious for "the big leap." Taking a more professional approach to the off-season, weight room, and film study, the sophomore season often sees huge jumps in development and on-field production. Here are five sophomores ready to join the ranks of players like Lamar Jackson, DJ Chark, Minkah Fitzpatrick, and Fred Warner; all of whom have made huge improvements to their game in their second year in the league.

Drew Lock, QB – Denver Broncos

It looks like John Elway finally found his franchise quarterback in the Missouri product. Lock went 4-1 in his 5 games as Denver’s starter and posted a completion percentage of 64.1%, only point three percent worse that the offensive rookie of the year, Arizona Cardinal quarterback Kyler Murray. It’s safe to say that if Lock was healthy and started the majority of the season, he could have vied for the OROTY. Expect Lock to perform even better in 2020, as the Broncos signed running back Melvin Gordon in free agency and have paired stud wideout Courtland Sutton with Jerry Jeudy, one of the top wide receiver prospects in the draft, and KJ Hamler, giving Lock more weapons.

Deebo Samuel, WR – San Francisco 49ers

With Emmanuel Sanders signing with the New Orleans Saints in free agency, all signs point to Samuel being WR1 for the 49ers. Although it was Sanders’ arrival that sparked the increase in Samuels’ production – his first 100-yard game came after Sanders was traded to the team – these numbers should only improve. Teams will still have to devote attention to beastly tight end George Kittle, and other wide outs like Kendrick Bourne, who showed some promise in the playoffs, and the electric Brandon Aiyuk. A defense can’t cover all these weapons, and Samuel should be able to make the most of his open opportunities. Look for Samuel to be involved more in the run game as well, as Samuel averaged 14.3 yards per attempt in the playoffs.

Devin White, LB – Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Devin White turned in a solid rookie season with 91 tackles, second on the Buccaneers defense. Also on that Bucs defense are last years sack leader Shaq Barrett and powerful inside force Ndamukong Suh. As offenses will have to devote more attention to last year’s sack leader Barrett, White should be able to make the most of this opportunity: capitalizing on one-on-one matchups and using his nose for the football to pick off any arid throws caused by Barret’s pressure. White also had three forced fumbles, four fumble recoveries, and one interception, so look for him to develop into more of a turnover machine this upcoming season.

Olabisi Johnson, WR – Minnesota Vikings

With the Vikings trading star wide receiver Stefon Diggs to the Buffalo Bills and letting draft bust Laquon Treadwell sign with the Atlanta Falcons in free agency, the only notable wideouts on Minnesota’s roster besides Adam Thielen and Justin Jefferson are the recently acquired Tajae Sharpe and seventh round pick Bisi Johnson. Johnson had a fairly underwhelming rookie season – 31 receptions for 294 yards and 3 touchdowns – but he is the only wide receiver on the Vikings current roster (aside from Thielen) with more than two catches in a Vikings uniform. Although the Vikings added Justin Jefferson in the draft, a far from ideal off-season and shortened preseason could hamper Jefferson's development and knowledge of the offense, meaning Johnson should have the opportunity to compete for a starting job catching passes from Kirk Cousins.

Chase Winovich, EDGE – New England Patriots

The New England Patriots have a big hole to fill, and not just at quarterback. With the departure of linebackers Kyle Van Noy and Jamie Collins, Sr. in free agency and the weakness against the run, the Patriots front seven needs some help. Enter Winovich, who, with the departure of Van Noy and Collins, should be seeing a lot more of the field this upcoming season. Although not playing every snap last season, the numbers show Winovich can be a premier pass rusher: his 5.5 sacks last season where more than Dallas’ DeMarcus Lawrence and Seattle’s Jadeveon Clowney. Lawrence and Clowney both played 600 plus snaps last season, while Winovich only played 291.Granted, he was playing for Bill Belichick and the league’s best defense, but Belichick’s coaching and mentorship are the exact reason why Winovich can make a big leap in his second year.

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