Cleveland Browns OLB Mack Wilson
Maybe last preseason was a fluke for Mack Wilson with the Browns. It’s the one shining spot for the former Alabama star as he enters his second year. Throw in a hopeful growing role, and perhaps Wilson is set to become the next leader of Cleveland’s front seven.
Wilson was your typical rookie once the regular season began — flashing potential but more often struggling. With Christian Kirksey suffering an injury, the fifth-round pick was forced into a starting role, and he struggled in coverage immensely. Finishing the year with 82 tackles and an interception was the only positive on a forgetful first season for the Crimson Tide tackler.
Mack Wilson with his second interception of the game for the Browns 💪
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) August 9, 2019
Kirksey is now gone to Green Bay while Joe Schobert left for Jacksonville. The team barely addressed the position outside of drafting LSU’s Jacob Phillips late in the third round. Wilson’s confidence level should be high entering the year, and if his coverage skills improve, the Browns have found their in-house replacement.
Cleveland will have a young linebacker core to build off in 2020. Wilson, however, certainly has the chance to be one of the best in the division.
New England Patriots DE Chase Winovich
Good ole Bill Belichick knows how to pick them, right? Despite losing six-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback Tom Brady to free agency, the Patriots will look to contend with second-year starter Jarrett Stidham. But it’s the defensive side of the ball that has the second-year breakout candidate in Chase Winovich.
The third-rounder played a limited role in his first season in Foxborough, tallying 26 total tackles and 5.5 sacks. The Michigan edge rusher was also playing on defense behind Kyle Van Noy, who revitalized his career before taking a mega-deal with the Dolphins this offseason. Now, Winovich will have the chance to show why scouts were blown away by his measurables in Mobile in 2019.
According to Boston Sports Info’s Twitter account, Winovich is one of two rookies to post at least 5.5 sacks and 10 quarterback hits in his first season. The other? Chandler Jones. Now, as the full-time starter off the edge, expect Winovich to pick up where Van Noy stopped and continue to thrive on one of the league’s top defenses.
Impossible to ignore Chase Winovich's fanatical effort, even when you're not studying him. pic.twitter.com/WYqTSEW0jx
— Alex Kozora (@Alex_Kozora) April 19, 2019
Emperor Palpatine I mean, Belichick, knows how to build a championship program around a player. Maybe this time, he relies on defense and continues the Sith system at Gillette Stadium with a defensive apprentice.
Los Angeles Chargers FS Nasir Adderley
The Los Angeles Chargers will be banking on their defense to shine in 2020. With the addition of Chris Harris Jr., perhaps that loaded secondary will only become better as they look to create a “no-fly zone” blanket on opponents. Range will be essential, so look no further than Nasir Adderley to take over in that department.
The Chargers grabbed a steal on the second day of the draft with the Delaware product. The biggest problem was he couldn’t stay healthy long enough to get fans excited about his small-school, big-play approach. The former Blue Hen collected two total tackles while limping through pain in four games of action.
In year two, Los Angeles has big plans for the second-rounder to enhance his cover skills as a multi-tooled chess piece in Gus Bradley’s defense.
“He needs to get healthy, No. 1,” Chargers general manager Tom Telesco said, per ESPN’s Eric D. Williams. “That’s what this offseason is about. He’s already had several weeks and months to get a head start on that. As he moves into the offseason, he’s going to be a defensive back. It could be safety; it could be some nickel corner; it could be corner. We’ll kind of see.”
When healthy, Adderley has shown his skills to win in coverage both high and low. He can rotate from the slot in man coverage to play the single-high formation in the zone. Overall, a healthy season will prove that Adderley could be the missing piece to the Bolts’ secondary, ready to strike as the best in the league.
Green Bay Packers TE Jace Sternberger
Will Jace Sternberger be a top tight end when his career is over? Let’s not go that far. Will he see more significant snaps in 2020 and become the team’s potential second weapon? Well, by default, yes.
The former Texas A&M product played well in his lone season at College Station, predominately used as a flex tight end or “H-back” role. In his first professional season, Sternberger missed a majority of the time due to injury but did score a touchdown against the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship game. Fully healthy, the Packers will now look to the 23-year-old as a legitimate starter and second option for Aaron Rodgers.
First and foremost – hope to see more targets in the pass game! pic.twitter.com/VYfvL7840e
— Ben Fennell (@BenFennell_NFL) March 21, 2020
“I will have the opportunity for my role to be bigger,” Sternberger said, according to The Athletic’s Matt Schneidman. “It’s all how I handle it and what I can prove. It goes back to me and this opportunity. I’m just really excited about it, and I’m just definitely ready for it.”
Mercedes Lewis is the only option at tight end with experience. He’s registered 18 catches in two years with the team behind Jimmy Graham. While raw, Sternberger has the skill sets and ability to create damage after catches to win one-on-one battles and score points.