Every year young players breakout and make the Pro-Bowl and even the All-Pro team for the first time. This list is the most likely player by position to do so in 2019. All players on this team are in their third year in the league or less and have never made a Pro-Bowl or All-Pro team.
Quarterback Baker Mayfield (Cleveland)
Drafted first overall in the 2018 NFL Draft by a previously winless Browns team, Baker Mayfield’s career got off to an underwhelming start. He led a week 3 comeback in relief of an injured Tyrod Taylor to give the Browns their first victory in almost two years, but then went 1-4 in his next 5 starts. Through week 8 he had completed just 58.3% of his passes for an average of 6.60 YPA, 8 touchdowns, and 6 interceptions.
That changed when head coach Hue Jackson and offensive coordinator Todd Haley were fired before week 9. Mayfield flourished in new play caller Freddie Kitchens’ offense. He completed 68.4% of his passes for an average of 8.57 YPA, 19 touchdowns, and 8 interceptions and led the Browns to a 5-3 finish in 8 games without Jackson and Haley. Now with new #1 wide receiver Odell Beckham in the mix, Mayfield has sky high expectations for his second season in the league. He’s still inexperienced and a sophomore slump is still a possibility, but Mayfield is clearly a potential Pro-Bowler in 2019.
Running Back Christian McCaffrey (Carolina)
It might seem strange to have Christian McCaffrey on a breakout players list, but he technically meets the requirements after getting snubbed for the Pro-Bowl in 2018, which knocks a very deserving Nick Chubb from this list. The 2017 8th overall pick, McCaffrey had a 219/1098/7 slash line as a runner and a 107/867/6 slash line as a receiver last season. His 5.01 YPC average was highest among running backs with at least 200 carries and he caught 86.3% of targets thrown his way without a single drop. Perhaps most impressively, McCaffrey played every single snap in 8 games and played 96.9% of the snaps through week 16, before resting in a meaningless week 17 game. If he has a similar season in 2019, hopefully he won’t be snubbed again.
Wide receiver Cooper Kupp (LA Rams)
A third round pick in 2017, Kupp looked on his way to making his first Pro-Bowl last season, with 30 catches for 438 yards and 5 touchdowns through 5 games (96/1402/16 extrapolated over 16 games), but he suffered a knee injury week 6 and then ended up tearing his ACL a few weeks later, ending his season. The injury complicates things, but if he can return close to full strength, Kupp could easily have Pro-Bowl level production.
One thing that may prevent him from that could be his own teammates, as Robert Woods and Brandin Cooks both topped 1000 yards in 2018. Kupp has been quarterback Jared Goff’s most reliable receiver over the past 2 seasons though, completing 68.0% of his 150 targets to Kupp for 1,435 yards, 11 touchdowns, and just 2 interceptions, a 117.5 QB rating. The Rams run three wide receiver sets so frequently that slot receiver is an every down position in this offense, so Kupp should get plenty of targets if he’s close to his old self.
Wide receiver Chris Godwin (Tampa Bay)
The second of three wide receivers selected in the third round in 2017 to make this team, Chris Godwin hasn’t had the opportunity yet to be an every down player in a deep receiving corps, but he’s still totalled 93 catches for 1,367 yards and 8 touchdowns in 32 career games, while averaging 1.91 yards per route run. Now with DeSean Jackson and Adam Humphries both gone, Godwin will have the opportunity to be an every down player, and will line up both outside and on the slot. He could easily top 1000+ yards receiving and make his first Pro-Bowl.
Wide receiver Kenny Golladay (Detroit)
Also a 3rd round pick in 2017, Golladay was only a part-time player as a rookie, but still managed a 28/477/3 slash line, while averaging 1.66 yards per route run and 9.94 yards per target. In his second season in the league in 2018, Golladay took on a larger role and took a step forward, putting up a 70/1063/5 slash line, while averaging 1.87 yards per route run and 8.93 yards per target. Golladay is the Lions’ #1 wide receiver with Golden Tate gone and he could easily take another step forward in his third season in the league.
Tight end OJ Howard (Tampa Bay)
OJ Howard easily could have made the Pro-Bowl last season if he hadn’t gotten hurt, as his 34/565/5 slash line in 10 games extrapolates to a 54/904/8 slash line across a full 16 game season. Also a strong run blocker, Howard was PFF’s 3rd ranked tight end when he went down for the season with an ankle injury week 11 and his 2.26 yards per route run average also ranked 3rd in the NFL among tight ends. Assuming he stays healthy, the 2017 19th overall pick could easily have a Pro-Bowl caliber season in 2019. Like his teammate Chris Godwin, Howard will benefit from the Buccaneers losing DeSean Jackson and Adam Humphries this off-season.
Left tackle Dion Dawkins (Buffalo)
Dion Dawkins looked like a future Pro-Bowler as a rookie in 2017, as the second round pick was forced into action at left tackle when long-time starter Cordy Glenn got hurt and allowed just 3 sacks and 3 hits, while committing just 4 penalties, in 11 rookie year starts. Dawkins played well enough for the Bills to trade Glenn in the off-season, but Dawkins was not nearly as good in his second season in the league, allowing 7 sacks and 2 hits, while committing 13 penalties in 16 starts. Dawkins has the potential to bounce back in his third season in the league though and could still develop into a Pro-Bowl caliber player long-term.
Left guard Will Hernandez (NY Giants)
The 34th overall pick in 2018, Will Hernandez’s rookie year was overshadowed by Quenton Nelson, who went 6th overall and made the All-Pro team as a rookie, but Hernandez looks to have a bright future as well, after finishing 22nd among guards on PFF as a rookie. At 6-2 340 pounds, Hernandez was known for his run blocking coming out of college, but he also held up in pass protection as a rookie, allowing just 5 sacks and 3 hits, while committing only 2 penalties total. With the Giants getting rid of Odell Beckham this off-season, they’ll likely try to run the ball more in 2019 and Hernandez fits the hard nosed style of football they want to play. He could easily take a step forward and earn Pro-Bowl consideration in his second season in the league.
Center James Daniels (Chicago)
Daniels primarily makes this list for lack of a better option, but the 2018 2nd round pick was considered by many to be the top center prospect in his draft class. Daniels’ 10 rookie year starts came out of position at left guard, where he held up well in pass protection (0 sacks, 3 hits), but predictably struggled to get push in the run game. His 6-3 295 frame made him one of the smallest starting guards in the league, but now he’s moving back to his natural position of center, where his lack of size will be less of an issue. A second year breakout year is certainly within the realm of possibilities.
Right guard Chris Lindstrom (Atlanta)
Lindstrom is the only rookie on this list and, like Daniels, largely makes this list of lack of a better option. Lindstrom was selected 14th overall by the Falcons and the former tackle was one of the best pass blocking guards in college football last season. Largely expected to be a week 1 starter, a Pro-Bowl appearance might be a little much to expect him as a rookie, but he could easily develop into that kind of player long-term.
Right tackle Ryan Ramczyk (New Orleans)
Ramczyk could have easily made the Pro-Bowl in either of his first 2 seasons in the league, as he’s been responsible for just 7 sacks, 7 hits, and 9 penalties in 31 career starts, while finishing 9th and 6th respectively among offensive tackles on PFF. Right tackles don’t always get the Pro-Bowl consideration they deserve, but Ramczyk is arguably the best right tackle in the league and could easily get stronger Pro-Bowl consideration in his 3rd season in the league.
Interior Defender Vita Vea (Tampa Bay)
The 12th overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, Vea’s career got off to a rough start when he suffered a calf strain early in training camp that kept him out through week 4. Despite that, Vea had a solid rookie year overall. The 6-4 347 pounder isn’t just a big run stuffer, with 3 sacks and a 10.2% pressure rate as a rookie. He was especially good down the stretch, after he was completely past his injury, with a 12.8% pressure rate in his final 6 games. Vea also saw his snaps per game go up to 46.8 in his final 6 games, after averaging 30.3 snaps per game in his first 7 games. If he can avoid further injury, he could easily have a breakout second season in the league.
Interior Defender Da’Shawn Hand (Detroit)
Hand was just a 4th round pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, but he came with more upside than a typical fourth rounder. Once the top recruit in the country, Hand had an underwhelming collegiate career at the University of Alabama, but he showed off his athletic upside at the combine with a 4.83 40 at 6-4 297, which lead to the Lions taking a chance on him in the 4th round. So far, that chance seems to have paid off. Hand didn’t play a ton as a rookie, but he earned more playing time as the season went on, averaging 39.6 snaps per game in his final 9 games before suffering a season ending knee injury week 14, and he earned above average grades from PFF for both his run stuffing and pass rushing.
Overall, he was PFF’s 13th ranked interior defender and he had 3 sacks and a 9.5% pressure rate on 263 pass rush snaps. It could be tough for him to see a significantly bigger role with the Lions adding Mike Daniels and Trey Flowers to what looks like a loaded defensive line, but if Hand continues developing it’ll be hard to keep him off the field and 40 snaps per game is plenty of time for him to disrupt offenses. More talent around him could allow him to have more easy shots at the quarterback.
Edge Defender Bradley Chubb (Denver)
It’s a bit of a surprise that Chubb didn’t make the Pro-Bowl as a rookie. Chubb had name recognition as the 5th overall pick in the draft and his 12 sacks were 14th most in the NFL. Chubb wasn’t quite as great as those sack numbers suggest, as much of his pass rush production came from having Von Miller disrupting the passer on the other side, and he finished just 50th among edge defenders on PFF, but Chubb also had a 12.5% pressure rate on his own and could easily take a step forward in his second season in the league. With Miller still lining up opposite him, Chubb has a good chance to break double digit sacks again, which could easily send him to his first Pro-Bowl.
Edge Defender Carl Lawson (Cincinnati)
A 4th round pick in 2017, Lawson’s career got off to a promising start, when he had 8.5 sacks, 12 hits, and a 15.2% pressure rate as a rookie. Lawson only had 1 sack in 2018, but he added 7 hits and a 13.6% pressure rate in 7 games before going down for the season with a torn ACL. The injury definitely complicates his long-term progression, but Lawson looked like one of the best young edge rushers in the league before getting hurt and could easily pick up right where he left off. If he does, double digit sacks and a Pro-Bowl trip wouldn’t be a surprise from him in his third season in the league.
Linebacker Jayon Brown (Tennessee)
Just a 5th round pick in 2017, Brown struggled when forced into action as a rookie, finishing as PFF’s 76th ranked linebacker out of 99 eligible on 487 snaps. He made a big leap from year one to year two though and finished the 2018 season as PFF’s 9th ranked linebacker on 852 snaps. The undersized 6-0 226 pounder wasn’t great against the run, but he was one of the best coverage linebackers in the league, allowing just 5.09 yards per attempt and no touchdowns on 56 targets. He’s also an adept blitzer, totalling 6 sacks last season and pressuring the quarterback on 18.1% of his 144 career blitzes. He’s a perfect fit as a linebacker in the modern NFL and could easily make his first Pro-Bowl in 2019.
Linebacker Matt Milano (Buffalo)
Milano is similar to Jayon Brown, as an undersized (6-0 223) linebacker who went in the 5th round in 2017. Milano flashed on 450 rookie year snaps and then took a step forward as an every down player in his second season in the league in 2018, ranking 16th among linebackers on PFF before going down for the season with a broken leg in week 14. Like Brown, he isn’t great against the run, but he was one of the best coverage linebackers in the league last season, allowing the 2nd lowest QB rating into his coverage of any linebacker in the league, picking off 3 passes and only allowing a reception every 13.2 coverage snaps (8th in the NFL among linebackers). If he can rebound from his broken leg and make it through the season healthy, he has Pro-Bowl potential.
Cornerback Marlon Humphrey (Baltimore)
The 16th overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, Humphrey has allowed just 49.7% completion and 5.87 yards per attempt in two seasons in the league, but he has only started 13 of 30 games, as part of arguably the deepest cornerback group in the NFL. The Ravens still have three other cornerbacks set to make more than 6 million dollars in 2019 (Tavon Young, Jimmy Smith, and Brandon Carr), but Humphrey has shown he deserves an every down role. He looks like a future #1 cornerback and could easily have a breakout third season in the league.
Cornerback Tre’Davious White (Buffalo)
Tre’Davious White easily could have made the Pro-Bowl as a rookie in 2017, when he allowed 50.0% completion, deflected 12 passes, and committed just 3 penalties, but he ended up getting snubbed. In 2018, he wasn’t nearly as good, allowing 57.5% completion, deflecting 5 passes, and committing 10 penalties. Despite the sophomore slump, the 2017 27th overall pick still has a bright future and could easily bounce back to being one of the top cornerbacks in the league in his third season in the league in 2019. If he does that and a couple of those deflections turn into interceptions (just 4 picks as a rookie), he’ll definitely draw Pro-Bowl attention.
Cornerback Adoree Jackson (Tennessee)
Selected 18th overall in 2017, Adoree Jackson hasn’t quite played at a Pro-Bowl level yet, but his career is off to a solid start, as he’s finished 36th and 31st respectively among cornerbacks on PFF in his 2 seasons in the league. Now going into his 3rd season in the league, he could easily take another step forward. One big thing that would help him make his first Pro Bowl appearance is coming down with more interceptions. He had just 2 in his career so far, but he’s deflected another 23 passes, so it’s not as if he’s not making plays on the ball.
Safety John Johnson (LA Rams)
Despite playing for a high profile Rams team, John Johnson doesn’t get a lot of national attention, but he looks like a budding young star at the safety position. Drafted in the 3rd round in 2017, Johnson barely played in his first 5 games, but he’s started all 27 games since and has finished 11th and 8th respectively among safeties on PFF. Not even 24 until December, Johnson could easily take another step forward in his 3rd season in the league and earn Pro-Bowl recognition for the first time.
Safety Malik Hooker (Indianapolis)
Malik Hooker went 15th overall in 2017 and was considered a top-10 talent by most, falling because of durability concerns. The scouting report has proven to be accurate with Hooker, as he’s played well when on the field, but he’s missed 11 games with injury in 2 seasons in the league, including a torn ACL that ended his rookie season after 7 games. Hooker was PFF’s 13th ranked safety in 14 games in his first season back after the ACL tear in 2018 and, only going into his age 23 season, he still has a high ceiling if he can avoid injury.