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NFL 2019: The year of the sophomore quarterback

The year of the sophomore quarterback
Photo Credit: AP Photo/Paul Sancya

The 2019 NFL season could be the year of the sophomore quarterback. It’s not far fetched to believe all five signal callers could be making the jump to perennial Pro Bowl talent.

The New York Jets have been one of the most talked about organization this NFL offseason. After signing key names and taking control in the draft, the Jets elected to fire general manager Mike Maccagnan. While the former Jets executive’s tenure in the Big Apple was filled with lackluster acquisitions and dismal losing seasons, Maccagnan might have the last laugh.

His reasoning? The Jets are better thanks to his offseason moves.

While Joe Douglas was the perfect hire for the future, Maccagnan’s moves now have New York competing in the present. The term “sophomore slump” has become obsolete after the 2018 season thanks to three quarterbacks success.

Chicago Bears GM set the pace by surrounding Mitchell Trubisky with plenty of weapons and an offensive minded coach in Matt Nagy. The Bears finished 12-4, winning their division and will compete for the foreseeable future. Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson led Houston to an AFC South while Kansas City Chief’s Patrick Mahomes already the Heir to the leather throne.

The quest for growth in the second-year quarterbacks has changed in recent seasons. Instead of waiting for players to build with their current rosters, GMs are now aggressive in free agency to help them rapidly mature. It’s a risk to sign anyone to a lucrative contract but hey, whatever makes the team better, right?

The Jets weren’t the only team helping Sam Darnold succeed in year two. The Buffalo Bills (Josh Allen), Baltimore Ravens (Lamar Jackson) and Cleveland Browns (Baker Mayfield) all made significant moves in the offense to take their offense’s to the next level.

New York Jets

Key Additions: RB Le’Veon Bell, WR Jamison Crowder, G Kelechi Osemele, TE Trevon Wesco

It was figured thanks to all the Bleacher Report episodes of Gridiron Heights that Bell was destined to join the Gang Green. The dual-threat running back received a $52 million deal, $27 million guaranteed thanks to his early success in the Steel City. Although Bell missed a season due to contract disputes, he still was the best available running back on the market far and away.

Since entering the league, Bell has finished with over 1000 yards on the ground in three of his five seasons. Both seasons he finished under, he was plagued with injuries and missed multiple games. It’s Bell’s ability as a receiver though that makes him worth a huge deal. In three of his five healthy seasons, the 27-year-old runner has finished top five in receiving yards and targets.

The last New York Jets running back to have 1000 yards in a season was Chris Ivory back in 2015. Bell would bring that back and be a reliable check-down for Darnold in the passing game.

Osemele should also help in the run game. The former All-Pro guard perhaps had the worst season of his career last year. That’s possibly due to his health concerns that ended his season early. Throw in a fifth-round pick along with paying no guaranteed money, and the Jets have a potential standout on their offensive line.

Crowder comes in as a reliable option in the slot. Signing a three-year, $28.5 million contract, Crowder gives Darnold a weapon across the middle of the field. Pairing Crowder with Quincy Enunwa should provide the Jets multiple options for the future. Chris Herndon is a promising prospect while Wesco was a solid blocker at West Virginia.

Douglas might be taking over, but Maccagnan’s offseason has built the Jets’ foreground.

Buffalo Bills

Notable Additions: WR John Brown, WR Cole Beasley, C Mitch Morse, OT Ty Nsekhe, OL Cody Ford, G Quinton Spain, TE Dawson Knox

If the NFL would look into tampering, they’d likely find Brandon Beane stealing notes out of Pace’s book. The Buffalo Bills got better without being reckless to their salary cap. With Beane sticking with Josh Allen under center, the team knew they must do everything possible to speed up his development.

The Bills offensive line was a wreck last season, finishing 30th in total offense and allowing 41 sacks. Allen was the second most pressured quarterback in drop backs (43.4 percent according to Pro Football Focus) behind Deshaun Watson. That tune should be different after Beane’s offseason acquisitions.

While making him the highest paid center in the league, Morse brings veteran experience and stability to the interior offensive line. Nsekhe played well for Washington when injuries began to pile up and took a modest two-deal $10 million deal. He’ll start at right tackle while fellow free agent Spain should start the season at left guard. Throw in the versatile Ford and Buffalo now has a shiny new offensive line for Allen to work under.

Perhaps the only thing worse than the offensive line was Allen’s receiving corp. Although Zay Jones and Robert Foster have promise, both finished with under 700 receiving yards. The signing of Brown and Beasley not only add depth but complementary skills to progress Allen’s maturity. Brown’s vertical speed should become prevalent in helping Allen perfect his profound ball passing ability. And Beasley in the slot should be beneficial when trying to convert on third down.

The only real question is on Knox’s ability to block. Known for his hands rather his blocking game, Brian Daboll will need to transform him into a well-rounded player. Everything will need to hit for Buffalo, but Allen is a potential franchise quarterback. We should see that flourish now in 2019.

Baltimore Ravens

Notable Additions: RB Mark Ingram Jr, RB Justice Hill, WR Marquise Brown, WR Miles Boykin 

Everyone say it with me now: Lamar Jackson is an NFL quarterback. He’s going to play quarterback for the Baltimore Ravens. We all understand? Good.

The Jackson era began midseason when Joe Flacco suffered a hip injury. The Ravens could have gone back to their Super Bowl-winning quarterback if Jackson ever was to lose a game. Slight problem, he won six of his seven starts with the one loss coming to the red hot Chiefs.

Jackson showed growth under center with a dismal supporting cast. Fellow first-round pick Hayden Hurst was oft-injured a majority of the year while third-round tight end Mark Andrews emerged as a future star. Throw in a bunch of slot receivers playing out of position, and it’s easy to see why the former Heisman relied on his legs.

Eric DeCosta wanted to expand towards the outside for the Baltimore offense. Marquise Brown is a risky first-round selection, but speed kills in the NFL. Brown suffered multiple setbacks due to a foot injury but was still regarded as the fastest player in the draft. Miles Boykin topped a 40 time of 4.42 and has the size to win on the outside. Both players should be vertical threats, but Brown’s short route speed could turn him into a clone of his famous Raider cousin.

But DeCosta was no longer to play the running back by committee game. Signing Mark Ingram to a three-year, $15 million deal, the former New Orleans Saint will be a bruiser up the middle for the Ravens run game. He’s also a solid run blocker should Jackson decide to keep it on the option. Hill gets lost in the running back room but was a dual-threat machine for the Pokes in college.

Jackson now has quality players to help elevate his game. Nice work, Baltimore.

Cleveland Browns

Notable Additions: WR Odell Beckham Jr., RB Kareem Hunt 

Who else thought Baker Mayfield was going to become a household name overnight? If you say you did, you’re lying. No one expected the 2018 No.1 pick to become a franchise star in his rookie season but low and behold, here’s the future under center at the Cleveland Browns.

We’ve said that in the past but this time we mean it.

Mayfield set a rookie record, throwing for 27 touchdowns, 19 under new offensive coordinator Freddie Kitchens. Kitchens became head chef of Cleveland’s hot new team, and John Dorsey added several ingredients to spice up the offense.

Perhaps Odell Beckham Jr doesn’t get enough love as a top receiver due to his attitude? Maybe his antics are the problem? No, it’s due to his past quarterback play. Even with an ineffective Eli Manning calling the shots in New York, Beckham finished with at least 75 receptions and over 1,000 yards in four of his first five years. The only player who’s been just as consistent is Atlanta Falcons’ Julio Jones, perhaps the most polished receiver in the game.

Now, imagine Beckham with younger talent like Mayfield? Oh yeah, it’s chilling.

Kareem Hunt gives depth behind an already talented Browns starter in Nick Chubb. While he’ll serve an eight-game suspension to begin the season, the former Kansas City star should be an effective dual-threat option when he returns. He’ll likely see much more playing as well since Duke Johnson likely we be on a new roster.

The offensive line is the only real concern when addressing Cleveland’s offense. While the team traded away Kevin Zeitler, Austin Corbett was always best suited playing inside. He should be a decent replacement for the former All-Pro.

One should believe the Baker for MVP hype. Excellent weapons surround him for the 2019 season.

Miami Dolphins

Notable Additions: WR Preston Williams, RB Mark Walton, QB Josh Rosen

Unlike the other teams, Josh Rosen is the piece to help put together this offense. Traded for a second-round pick by the Arizona Cardinals, Miami Dolphins GM Chris Grier could be the next Ron Wolf by trading for a franchise quarterback.

There’s a good, bad and ugly when looking at the Dolphins.

The Good: Rosen has experienced weapons in Miami who have some promise.

The Bad: None of them are top-level players and would likely be complimented on any other roster.

The Ugly: The Dolphins offensive line is maybe, perhaps, supposedly, slightly better than Arizona’s

Miami had four receivers finish with above 300 yards compared to Arizona’s two. Kenyan Drake also is a reliable pass-catching option out of the backfield and averaged 4.5 yards per carry last season. Rosen has something to work with and build for the future.

But recent news out of South Beach has a rookie making the moves. Preston Williams would have been drafted if not for off the field concerns. Instead, Miami perhaps has a franchise receiver in the making. Throughout OTA’s the duo has connected for significant gains and touchdowns, already building chemistry on offense.

Walton is a low risk, high reward option. Limited in Cincinnati Bengals’ offense, the former Hurricane was known in college as a reliable runner and solid passing option. Should he cause trouble, only more reason to buy stock in Kalen Ballage.

Rosen was the move for the future to help fix Miami’s offense. He’ll have the most growing pains, but overall, a second-round pick for a franchise player is worth the deal. Expect Miami to struggle, but they could be better than advertised at the end of the season. That will likely be due to Rosen and Williams early success.

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