The second-year jump is a thing in the NFL. Players have had a year to get acclimatized to the pros both on and off the field, they’re more comfortable with schemes and assignments and they are often given more playing time and responsibility.
So, which players from the 2021 NFL Draft class are ready to make that Year 2 leap and go from fresh-faced rookie to bona fide star? Let’s find out.
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Trevor Lawrence, QB, Jacksonville Jaguars
OK, this one might be a little obvious. The No. 1 overall pick last season, Lawrence was the most hyped QB prospect since Andrew Luck coming into the NFL, but his rookie season didn’t go the way he – or anyone – would have liked.
With just 12 touchdown passes and 17 interceptions to go along with a 33.5 QBR in 17 starts last season, it’s safe to say Lawrence’s first year was a tough one. But there were glimpses of the talent that made him an elite prospect.
This season, Lawrence gets a huge coaching upgrade with Urban Meyer out and Doug Pederson in, not to mention improved talent around him at wide receiver and running back. Jags receivers had the second-most drops in the league last season.
I’m not betting on Lawrence winning any major awards, but I think he’s primed for a breakout season.
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Travis Etienne, RB, Jacksonville Jaguars
Part of the reason we’re optimistic about Lawrence’s second-year breakout is the return of former Clemson teammate Travis Etienne. Drafted 25th overall last season, Etienne missed the entire 2021 season with a Lisfranc foot injury.
Now reportedly back to full health and looking dangerous in training camp, Etienne could be the biggest weapon in Lawrence’s arsenal and I’m expecting big numbers on the ground and through the air. Etienne is an interesting bet at +1600 in NFL Comeback Player of the Year odds.
Christian Barmore, DT, New England Patriots
Reports out of Patriots camp suggest Barmore has been the best player on the field at times. And while it’s not often we hear much about defensive tackles no matter what year they’re in, I think Barmore could become a household name sooner than later.
According to PFF, he had an 82.6 pass-rushing grade across the final nine games of the 2021 campaign, which was good for fifth in the NFL. Look for him to take a step toward stardom this season.
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Elijah Moore, WR, New York Jets
The 34th overall pick last season, Moore ended up sixth among rookie pass catchers in yards last season despite playing in only 11 games.
While a lot of his production will be tied to the development of QB Zach Wilson, nobody should be surprised if Moore doubles his rookie output of 43 receptions for 538 yards and five touchdowns.
Although the Jets spent a top-10 pick this year on another receiver (Garrett Wilson), Moore appears to be locked into the top wideout position and poised for a big Year 2 breakout. Remember the name.
Rashod Bateman, WR, Baltimore Ravens
The 27th pick last year, Bateman ended up with similar numbers to Moore with 46 receptions for 515 yards and one touchdown in just 12 games, and I’m expecting a similar jump this season.
Bateman put up those numbers despite missing the first five games of his rookie season after preseason surgery, so he should be much better prepared to start Year 2.
With Marquise Brown now departed from the Ravens offense, Bateman is the undisputed No. 1 wide receiver on the depth chart, and he should be the first or second option for Lamar Jackson, with tight end Mark Andrews soaking in a ton of targets as well.
And while the Ravens project to be maybe the most run-heavy team in the league this season, it’s not unreasonable to expect a big leap in production from the talented Bateman, who profiled very similarly to Stefon Diggs during the draft process last year.
Davis Mills, QB, Houston Texans, and Nico Collins, WR, Houston Texans
When it comes to quarterbacks, 2021 was a historic draft class with three going with the first three picks and another two taken at No. 10 and 15 overall. And while New England’s Mac Jones led the class in most statistical categories, including yards, touchdowns, completion percentage, interception percentage and QBR, none of the other four QBs drafted in the first round finished second in any of those categories, with the exception of Lawrence in yards.
It was Houston’s Davis Mills, a third-round pick, who was second in the class in TDs, interception percentage, QBR and completion percentage last season and I think he can build on those numbers in Year 2.
Talent has never been a question for Mills, who was the top-ranked quarterback recruit in his high school class entering college football.
He was an early commit to play at Stanford and was subsequently ignored by all the big-name SEC schools during the recruiting process, keeping his name somewhat off the mainstream radar. He then played just five games in his COVID-shortened draft year and entered the draft process with questions about his production.
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Now he enters his second season as the unquestioned starter with a new coaching staff. The arrow is pointing up on Mills, who I like as a dark horse in NFL passing yards odds at +4500 over at Sportsbook.
Helping him possibly reach those lofty heights is second-year breakout candidate Nico Collins. Collins sat out his entire draft year due to the COVID-19 pandemic and ended up slipping into the third round of last year’s draft. Despite missing three games with an injury, he finished just behind Moore and Bateman among rookie receivers with 33 grabs for 446 yards and one touchdown.
Locked into the second receiver spot behind Brandin Cooks in Houston, I think Collins takes a big leap this year, too.