NFL 2020 – OFFENSIVE PLAYERS TO WATCH (NFC EDITION)
· 1 Player from each division must be selected
· In each conference the 4 players must cover all offensive positions (1 TE, RB, WR, QB Each)
1- Mike Evans – Tampa Bay Buccaneers (NFC South)
When people discuss their predictions for the forthcoming NFL season, one team that will no doubt enter the conversation is that of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The mammoth offseason acquisitions of Brady and Gronkowski to Tampa are some of the biggest moves in franchise history and it is filling the Florida natives with anticipation. Of course, if the Bucs are to become potential Super Bowl contenders, these two will have to play pivotal roles. However, my excitement in Tampa this year, is in the form of wide receiver Mike Evans.
In 2019, no wider receiver corps put up more yards (3596) or touchdowns (26) than the Buccaneers. Heading into September, the Buccaneers have arguably the best receiving contingent in the league, with Brady’s pass options coming in the main sources of Evans, Chris Godwin, Gronk, O.J. Howard and Scotty Miller.
And Tampa Bay’s number 13 is a large reason why this group is regarded so highly. To this date, Evans is yet to record fewer than 1,000 receiving yards in a league season (6 years). Only Randy Moss, (also with 6), has had 1,000+ receiving yards seasons to begin their NFL careers. Evans is also the youngest player ever to reach the accolades of both 6,000 and 7,000 career receiving yards. He is the WR1 in Tampa and is one of the best wide receivers, the great Tom Brady will have played with in his career.
One major reason, I believe the impact of Mike Evans will be felt throughout the NFL this year, is due to the addition of Rob Gronkowksi in the Bucs’ offensive threats. The TB12 and Gronk partnership, has been monumental in building one of the greatest sporting dynasties in recent decades and their success shows no signs of slowing down. Just shy of 8,000 receiving yards and 80 touchdowns, Gronkowski is sure to provide all sorts of problems for defences across the league. This is where Evans comes to prosper. The double coverage of Gronk, especially in clutch situations, is no doubt going to leave Evans with some mouth-watering one on one battles and with the talent of the GOAT’s deep arm, I see nothing but touchdowns and yards on Evans’ stats line to increase dramatically.
Evans’ impact and Tampa’s success this year is also set to increase due to the role of the quarterback position. Last year, Jameis Winston threw 30 interceptions, 9 more than any other Quarterback in the league. And although Winston is still an extremely exciting prospect, his replacement of the greatest football player of all time, is sure to cause some explosive offensive performances at the Raymond James Stadium. Just prepare yourself for this in the next few months, ‘Brady, Evans, TOUCHDOWN TAMPA BAY’.
2- Cole Kmet – Chicago Bears (NFC North)
Another team who have been let down by an underperforming quarterback is that of the Chicago Bears. However, as with the Bucs, the Bears have brought in Super Bowl winning quarterback Nick Foles in the offseason, leading to increased belief amongst Chicago fans. Their defence continues to be one of the strongest groups in the league, led by 5x Pro Bowler Khalil Mack. Whilst the main question still arises, can this team be competitive in the playoffs with their current offensive threats.
If the Bears are to become significant threats in the postseason and even prevail from an exceedingly difficult NFC North, then their offensive doubts need to be dealt with quickly. My prediction for who can perhaps solve these issues is Rookie Tight End Cole Kmet.
Cole Kmet, the 43rd pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, could provide several solutions on the offensive front. The Notre Dame Tight End, is set to become one of Chicago’s key offensive pieces in this upcoming season, and it has led to a great deal of excitement for coach Matt Nagy. When asked about his thoughts on the rookie, Nagy responded with ‘You see, the personality, the size, the makeup, how do you not get excited about that?’ With Kmet weighing over 260 pounds and running a sub 4.7 second 40-yard dash, he looks to possess an abundance of both size and speed.
The excitement of all Bears backroom staff is clear, with the coaches explaining how keen Kmet is on learning the playbook and just being able to get out and don a Bears uniform. The scariest thing is the untapped potential that seems to be evident in the 21-year-old. Nagy added in an interview, ‘The ceiling for him is so high. Because Number 1, he wants it all.’ In Kmet’s Junior year, he missed three games due to a collarbone but was still able to complete 43 receptions for 515 yards and 6 touchdowns.
Additionally, Kmet will be able to start his NFL career under the wing of veteran Jimmy Graham. The Bears picked up Graham from the Packers, and although may initially take up potential on field position and minutes for Kmet, Graham’s role will no doubt provide the rookie with a wealth of experience and knowledge, which will be just as important as on field game time.
For me, I see a strong powerful blocker and an exceptionally powerful offensive threat, which I cannot wait to see link up with the highly underrated Nick Foles, (or possibly Mitch Trubisky.) Either way I feel a real buzz about this young man’s career and I think if Chicago are to push fellow divisional rivals, Minnesota and Green Bay, then Kmet will be evident in that success.
3- Carson Wentz – Philadelphia Eagles (NFC East)
My most controversial and possibly bias selection is Philadelphia Eagles Quarterback, Carson Wentz. For the past few seasons, the Philadelphia Eagles have been an extremely successful team, claiming their first Super Bowl win in franchise history in 2017, (SBLII). The Eagles are also reigning NFC Eastern Champions and are yet again a strong playoff prospect for this upcoming season.
At the current stage of his career, there is a large number of fans who are not completely sold on Wentz as a QB who can lead a Super Bowl winning team. The main question surrounding the Quarterback and the sides genuine threat going deep into the postseason is can A) Carson Wentz stay healthy and B) Can Wentz perform in the high-pressure situations of the NFL Playoffs. The answer to question A, remains undecided, but here is why I believe, with this roster, the Eagles and Wentz are set to have a lucrative season.
Firstly, the argument of Wentz not being able to perform in the playoffs, is mind blowing. Yes, I agree he still has to prove himself in this regard, but he has only started one playoff game in his career, (defeat to the Seahawks last season). And in that game, he lasted less than one quarter due to a concussion injury, so he has hardly many opportunities to prove himself in this regard.
Secondly, I want to emphasise his efforts last season. Throughout the 2019 season, the Eagles were plagued with injuries and their offensive threats looked depleted at the best of times. The wide receiver spot was hit hard for Philly last season, with all three of their main receivers in the form of, Alshon Jeffery, Nelson Agholor and DeSean Jackson, all faced prolonged spells out and importantly all were unavailable for the Wild Card game against Seattle. And at 5-7 with four games to go, the Eagles’ season looked all but over. Cometh the hour, cometh the man, as Wentz dominated all four games starting with a miraculous comeback for an OT win over the Giants. The Eagles number eleven averaged 300 yards in their last four matches, to catapult themselves ahead of Dallas and steal the NFC East, from the jaws of defeat.
Finally, as already mentioned, Wentz has had to deal with limited receiving options, however this year, the Eagles offense looks scary for any league defence. Back to a healthy state, the likes of Jackson and Jeffery are a threat for all teams and provide great deep options for Wentz to stretch the field. Additionally, towards the back end of last season, the figure of Greg Ward was discovered and thrust into the limelight producing some heroic performances down the stretch, to allow the Eagles to secure that playoff position. Not only that, but throw the draft this year and trade deals, the Eagles have been able to obtain wide receivers, Marquise Goodwin, John Hightower, Jalen Reagor and Quez Watkins, all who provide, a highly skilled operator in the form of Wentz, limitless options down the field.
The current state of the NFC East, is being favoured by many to be controlled by Dak Prescott and the Cowboys, however I see nothing but success coming from Lincoln Financial this year and I believe Wentz will lead the Eagles to back to back NFC Eastern titles, for the first time since 2004.
4- Kenyan Drake – Arizona Cardinals (NFC West)
Last but not least, I have selected Kenyan Drake as a ‘One to Watch’ this year in the NFC West. Drake is going into his first full season with the Cardinals and has a big role to play. The Cardinals are coming off the back of a disappointing 5-10-1 season last time out, in Kyler Murray’s rookie year and are looking to go a few games better this year and push for a potential playoff spot, in what is a very talented NFC West division.
After his trade to Arizona midway through last season, Drake completed eight games with the Cardinals, finishing with 8 touchdowns and over 100 yards per game overall, (both receiving and rushing yards combined.) Drake is the number one running back in Arizona and will no doubt be called upon time and time again this year. Not only will he be needed in breaking down defences, but his role in important 4th downs and RedZone visits will be crucial to determine the Cardinals season.
In March this year, the Cardinals picked up arguably the leagues best wide receiver, in the form of DeAndre Hopkins, with running back David Johnson going the other way. And although, the initial instinct of most might be with the receiving talent of Hopkins, Kirk and Fitzgerald in their ranks, alongside with the playmaking ability of sophomore Kyler Murray, the usage of the running game and Drake might be reduced, I do not believe it will hinder the effect he will have on this team. The best team in NFL history, have been able to adapt and play the situation in front of them. The conditions and game type will not always favour the passing game, and having Drake as Arizona’s clear number 1 rusher, he will provide a vital weapon in an exciting armoury.
Drake recorded 108 more rushing yards, in his 8 Cardinals games last season, than he did in the entirety of his 2018 season in Miami. At the age of just 26, the Georgian native, still has much to give to this league and the next few years could finally provide him with a roster capable of providing a serious playoff push.
Arizona are currently one of the most hyped teams going into this season and there are many clear reasons why. Hopkins drawing the main interest, alongside an ever-learning young Quarterback in Kyler Murray, but please whatever you do, do not sleep on Kenyan Drake. His mix of speed and strength, are going to hit this league hard this year, and although it might be difficult to top his ‘Miracle in Miami’ moment, I feel he is a dangerous ‘One to Watch’ for the 2020 NFL season.
Who do you guys think is going to take 2020 by storm?