This is the fourth in an eight-team series:
Garrett Bolles could take a nice step forward in his second season and the Broncos now have a slew of talented young receivers that could really start to make a name for themselves. Also, it wouldn’t be surprising if Devontae Booker and/or Royce Freeman put together a very solid 2018 campaign. Still, the breakout player for the Broncos comes from their superior side of the ball. Simmons did his best work against the run last year, but looks to be an improving coverage player with a good head for the game. He did miss the final three games of the season, but Simmons is a reliable tackler with very good position versatility. He can cover the slot, the deep middle and pretty much everywhere in between and should only be getting better in these capacities. With competent quarterback play, there should be much less pressure on Denver’s defense. And with the addition of Bradley Chubb, there should also be much more pass-rush, allowing Simmons to make a lot of plays on the ball going forward.
Kansas City-Chris Jones
Kareem Hunt clearly fit this bill perfectly last year and Chiefs’ fans are hoping that Patrick Mahomes breaks out in glorious fashion. I am a big Mahomes fan and he was my top ranked quarterback in last year’s draft, but I expect his first season as Kansas City’s starting quarterback to be a rollercoaster wild ride of extreme ups and downs rather than a true breakout, which could in turn come in 2019 under Andy Reid’s watchful eye. As for Jones, he already really has broken out and can really disrupt opposing blocking schemes with his length, power, agility and upfield skills. But now is the time in Jones’ career when he will start to get recognized with the outstanding group of top defensive big men around the NFL. Even in an era when defensive linemen are far more talented and superior overall to those trying to block them, Jones is primed to stand out in breakout fashion.
Los Angeles Chargers-Derwin James
I have shied away from listing rookies in this series, but I felt as though James was the best defensive prospect in this entire draft and had no business falling to the 17th pick overall. This guy simply has it all. He is a fantastic competitor with rare size and highly explosive physical traits. He is better off near the line of scrimmage, but James has the range to handle deep responsibilities and could develop into a tight end eliminator before long. He plays the run and blitzes very well. Not only that, but in this Seahawks-like scheme, James fits into the Kam Chancellor role unbelievably well. While that could leave the capable Jahleel Addae playing out of position or losing playing time all together, James is such a good prospect that it is well worth it. The Chargers first round pick a year earlier, Mike Williams, is also a very logical choice to breakout when given loads of playing time and with the unfortunate injury to Hunter Henry.
Even with Jordy Nelson and Martavis Bryant now in Oakland, the Raiders really need Amari Cooper to breakout to the point where he is truly a bonafide number one NFL wide receiver. That is certainly possible. In fact, it is Cooper’s time and I am expecting a very strong season as he enters the prime of his career. Karl Joseph is another quality player that also could be ready to jump from good to great. But Gareon Conley is the choice here in his second season. The 24th pick in last year’s draft despite legal issues surrounding him at the time, Conley played under 100 snaps in his rookie season due to a shin injury. He is healthy now and could be poised to quickly grab hold of the top cornerback spot in Oakland. Conley pretty much has it all physically in terms of size, speed, strength, change of direction and suddenness in his movements. As he was coming out of Ohio State, Conley will be a work in progress with his recognition skills and it won’t be surprising if he looks bad from time to time throughout the year. Still, the good should very much outweigh the bad for Conley going forward. New defensive coordinator Paul Guenther put a major emphasis on the cornerback position during his recent time with the Bengals and Cincinnati repeatedly used early picks at this position. Conley is exactly what Guenther is looking for.