As we work our way through the endless NFL offseason much of the conversation is about who was or was not signed in free agency and of course the never-ending debates about who will be picked by which team in the upcoming NFL Draft. These things do matter but it leans into this very human thought:
‘New is always better.’
It does feel that way at times. However in doing so we forget about the new toys we had this time last year. Those draft picks and undrafted free agents prepare to enter their sophomore season. They spent a year getting stronger, getting healthy and most importantly, they spent a season learning how to be pros. Now they have a chance to take that next step.
Jay Ajayi, RB: Ajayi missed the first seven games of the season but towards the end of the year he showed promise for the future. While only running for 187 yds in relief of departed running back Lamar Miller, he did have several runs of over 20 yds. A healthy season should give him the opportunity to compete for the starting job.
DeVante Parker, WR: The 2015 first round pick finished strong after missing several games with injury. When in the lineup he showed the skills that made him a coveted wide receiver just a year ago finishing the year with a 19-yd per reception average and 3 touchdowns. Like Ajayi, a full healthy season should pay dividends.
Jamil Douglas, G/C: Douglas struggled at times when thrust into the starting lineup as a rookie but a year of seasoning and a new coaching staff could allow him to grow into more than a backup.
Jordan Phillips, DT: Serving as a reserve tackle Phillips contributed just two sacks but he did manage four timely pass deflections.
Neville Hewitt/Mike Hull/Zach Vigil, LB: the trio of undrafted free agent linebackers(each was expected to be taken in the late rounds of the draft) combined for just 44 tackles last season but each has the ability to play at this level. Hewitt played some outside linebacker when Jelani Jenkins was out of the lineup. Vigil shared time in the middle early in the season. I feel of the three Mike Hull, the former Penn State star, has the best upside.
Bobby McCain/Tony Lippett, CB: Once they let him on the field Bobby McCain showed he had what it takes to at worst be a slot corner if not outright competing for a starting spot this season. Lippett on the other hand is a raw prospect. A converted wide receiver he has earned rave reviews for how quickly he has made the transition to corner. If he continues to progress his length will be a welcome addition to the secondary.
Perhaps the biggest jump in ability for any player occurs between the first and second year. These are nine players that may make a jump going into their sophomore seasons. Add to that the potential that the new coaching staff may get more out of all of the players on the roster than the previous regime did and there is a lot to look forward to in the upcoming season.