Everybody loves to talk about new additions to a football team during the offseason and how they can improve a roster. While that is exciting, football teams often get better because players already existing on the roster develop.
Development is not always linear and it happens differently for every player. Let’s examine the top player on every NFC North team primed to breakout in 2019.
Chicago Bears: James Daniels, OL
Daniels wasn’t an instant starter for the Bears as a rookie in 2018, but worked his way into the lineup and started ten games. A prospect I graded as a first-round talent in last year’s draft, I love how Daniels fits Matt Nagy’s scheme.
Daniels is a rare blend of mobility and power, featuring some of the most explosive movement skills I’ve ever witness from an interior offensive linemen. His range is elite, which opens the door for even more scheme multiplicity for the creative Nagy. With his rookie season out of the way, Daniels should blossom into a standout up front for Chicago and he’s primed to anchor the unit or year’s to come.
Green Bay Packers: Jaire Alexander, CB
My top rated cornerback in last year’s class, Alexander enjoyed an impressive rookie season. Starting eleven games in his first NFL season, Alexander had dominant moments, showcasing the skill set of a number one corner on an improved Packers defense.
Considering the investments Green Bay made on its defense this off season, the improved talent around Alexander should lead to even more big plays. Preston Smith, Za’Darius Smith and Rashan Gary makes the Packers’ pass rush more dynamic while Darnell Savage and Adrian Amos being added to the secondary strengthens Green Bay in coverage. Alexander is going to thrive and be mentioned among the best in the league by the end of 2019.
Detroit Lions: Kerryon Johnson, RB
Johnson ignited the Detroit offense and became the Lions first 100-yard rusher since 2013 in the Lions’ win over New England last season. Limited to ten games and seven starts, Johnson still tallied 641 rushing yards while averaging 5.4 yards per carry and also catching 32 passes.
Projected to be Detroit’s lead back in 2019, Johnson’s blend of size, burst, power and vision makes him a dynamic option that could challenge to be among the league leaders in yards from scrimmage.
Minnesota Vikings: Dalvin Cook, RB
Injuries and a lackluster offensive line has limited Cook across his first two seasons, but he flashes a dynamic skill set as both a runner and receiver out of the backfield. Despite an underwhelming front five, Cook has still managed 4.7 yards per carry for his career while emerging as a receiving threat in 2018.
Entering 2019, Cook is healthy and primed to be Minnesota’s lead back. The offensive line welcomes first-round pick Garrett Bradbury to the lineup which enables Pat Elflein to shift over to guard, improving the unit in two spots. Josh Kline was added in the offseason who is a starting-caliber interior blocker while growth from Brian O’Neil is expected in Year Two of his career. The zone-blocking scheme being implemented by Gary Kubiak should also play more to Cook’s strengths as a runner. As long as he stays healthy, Cook is ready for a monster season.