The 2018 defensive draft class took the league by storm in their first season. For example. we saw players like Darius Leonard, Derwin James, Leighton Vander Esch, and Bradley Chubb play at all pro levels. Unfortunately, not every rookie was able to live up to where they were drafted. There are 5 names that come to mind in particular.
Whether it was being played out of position or flat out just being behind the learning curve, some these guys just couldn’t seem to put it together in 2018. Luckily for them, their script can be flipped with a break out sophomore year! Which is exactly what I am anticipating from these 5 players!
5. Minkah Fitzpatrick, Defensive Back, Miami Dolphins
Minkah Fitzpatrick had an inconsistent first pro season. I blame most of his struggles on the Dolphins inability to put him at one position. I understand that Fitzpatrick’s versatility was one of his best traits. Yet, Miami played him all over the defensive backfield in his first season.
Rookies are already challenged with adjusting to the speed of the NFL game. So, not allowing him to get his footing at one position made that process that much harder. Hopefully, Dolphins head coach Brian Flores can find more of a permanent role for Fitzpatrick.
It sounds like the plan is to put him at safety but Flores hasn’t been 100% clear on where he wants to play him. Either way, I expect Fitzpatrick to take strides forward wherever he plays in 2019.
I was a big fan Fitzpatrick before the draft (5th overall player) and he just has too much talent to sour on now. As long he as his role is more clear cut, he should thrive.
4. Taven Bryan, Defensive Tackle, Jacksonville Jaguars
Taven Bryan was widely viewed as an interior defender before the 2018 draft. So, many were left scratching their head when the Jaguars tried to make him a defensive end.
After Bryan struggled with the transition, Jacksonville realized the error of their ways and moved him to back to 3 technique. Bryan looked much more comfortable at his natural position, which ultimately led to better production.
Bryan is now stepping into a starting role with a star studded defensive cast around him. He couldn’t ask for a more perfect situation, which is why I believe he is bound to breakout in 2019.
3. Tremaine Edmunds, Linebacker, Buffalo Bills
Tremaine Edmunds was one the least talked about rookies last season. That is pretty surprising considering many thought of Edmunds as the first or second best linebacker in the class before the draft. It seemed as if fellow classmates Darius Leonard and Leighton Vander Esch stole his spot light.
That said, I took an extensive look at Edmunds’s rookie season to get to the bottom of how he performed. My biggest take away was that the flashes that he showed were truly enticing. However, too far and few between. Edmunds struggled with consistently diagnosing the offense and putting himself in the right position to make plays.
Though, it was encouraging to see that he steadily improved as the season went on. He finished the year off with a dominant performance against the Dolphins where he had 12 tackles, a pass deflection, and an interception.
Keeping that in mind, I believe he will continue to progress and solidify himself as one of the better young linebackers in the league. We all know that he has special ability. He just needs to put it together for a full season.
2. Harold Landry, Edge Defender, Tennessee Titans
Harold Landry had an okay rookie season but not the one I was expecting. I say that because I thought Landry’s traits and prowess as a pass rusher were a slam dunk to translate to the NFL. Yet, he only finished with 4.5 sacks.
His main issue was that he was too reliant on outside moves. Opposing tackles often knew how to neutralize him because they knew what was coming. That is why it is so crucial that Landry adds some more counters and moves to his pass rush arsenal.
Not only is Landry getting promoted to a full time role, but he is also being expected to be the Titans primary pass rusher. He must take these necessary steps of improvement to meet those requirements. I believe that he will.
1. Isaiah Oliver, Cornerback, Atlanta Falcons
Isaiah Oliver made the top of this list because there isn’t another player I need to break out more than him. He was my top rated corner in a deep class. Yet, he didn’t live up to where I had ranked him in his first season.
In all fairness, we saw very little of him in 2018. However, he struggled in his only two starts. Oliver is now slated to be the incumbent starter. So, hopefully practicing with the first team will make for a smoother transition to the pros because he looked lost whenever he was on the field last season.
That said, I don’t feel great about expecting a breakout year from him. This hunch is more about trusting my college evaluation. I realize that my bode of confidence could comeback to bite me. But the Falcons and I just have to pray he works out.