It is commonly known by fans and team personnel that players make their biggest jump from year one to year two in their NFL career. Before I get killed for excluding Khalil Mack, Aaron Donald, Odell Beckham Jr., Zack Martin and CJ Mosley on this list, please let me elucidate that these players aren't on the cusp of stardom - they've already fallen down that ravine of greatness and I consider them each to be a Top 5 player at their position. I mean, Odell is on the Madden cover.
So aside from those, we've identified 5 players who are poised to make a huge jump in their sophomore season.
1. QB BLAKE BORTLES
No one has put in more time and dedication this offseason to be great than the prodigal son of Duval, Blake Bortles. Bortles has spent his entire offseason refurbishing his throwing technique with renown throwing guru Tom House, speeding up his delivery, and burying his face in Offensive Coordinator Greg Olson's new playbook. Olson's offense in Oakland led the NFL in Red Zone scoring offense last year - an area where Bortles and the Jaguars desperately struggled in 2014. Bortles has received endless praise from the media so far this preseason, although there are some downers pointing attention to the fact that Bortles also had a hot preseason in 2014. If you actually watch the tape, there is a big difference in 2014 Blake and 2015 Blake, and comparing the two is apples and oranges according to Big Cat Country. Former Director of College Scouting Greg Gabriel wrote an article for National Football Post about the extraordinary offseason growth that Bortles earned, and how this #5 is a completely different player that took under center last season. We agree.
If he carries his positive momentum into the NFL Regular Season, Jaguars fans will be popping Bortles all year long.
2. QB TEDDY BRIDGEWATER
Steady Teddy proved all the haters wrong in 2014, leading the Vikings to a 7-9 record and throwing for almost 3,000 yards and an 85.2 QB rating. But as good as he was last year, we think Teddy will be even better this year since he will have a much better support system around him with Adrian Peterson in the backfield to take some of the pressure off. Losing Phil Loadholt to IR hurts, but we have been encouraged by the play of rookie TJ Clemmings so far, and the addition of Mike Wallace to the wide receiving core will be an interesting one if the two can ever get in sync. Wallace and Tannehill certainly never could, that's for sure.
In fact, all these pieces around him and the fact he will not be under a new offensive coordinator trying to learn a new playbook is why we are slotting Bridgewater here ahead of fellow rookie Derek Carr, who had an equally impressive debut season. Carr may be facing unrealistic expectations in 2015, even with Amari Cooper, as good as he's looked.
3. WR JOHN BROWN
It really doesn't hurt to have a veteran WR like Larry Fitzgerald taking you under his wing and teaching you had to be a professional in this league. Brown has made incredible strides when it comes to route running, high-pointing deep balls, and even run blocking this offseason, evolving into a more complete wide receiver. Look at the 5'10" Brown elevating over 6'2" Neiko Thorpe on this play last week vs. the Raiders:
Michael Floyd will be missing some time early in the season due to injury, so you can fully expect that John Brown is going to take this opportunity and run with it.
4. WR DAVANTE ADAMS
Although losing WR Jordy Nelson to a torn ACL was a devastating blow to Aaron Rodgers and the Packers, it opens the door for former ex-Fresno State WR Davante Adams to step up and carve out a huge role in this offense. Rodgers almost has that Peyton Manning effect - since he is so damn good, he can make any wide receiver serviceable. But Adams is not just some guy. This is a player that was starting to earn more and more trust as the season went on last year and was a pivotal part of the game plan as the Packers made their playoff stretch.
We fully expect Adams to eat this year. If there is any way to get Adams as a WR3/Flex option on your fantasy team, don't even think. Just do it.
5. WR BRANDIN COOKS
Look, Drew Brees is going to throw for 4,000+ yards again this year, and who's going to catch all these passes? Benjamin Watson? Brandon Coleman? Not bloody likely. As long as Cooks can stay healthy, 100 receptions this season, as ambitious as that sounds, is not out of the question. He absolutely embarrassed Logan Ryan this preseason, and even beat all-pro Devin McCourty man-to-man for a TD.
I mean, when you have a legend like Bill Belichick throwing praise your way after a preseason game, you're probably poised to have a big year.
HONORABLE MENTION: WR Mike Evans, C Corey Linsley, DT Dominique Easley, LT Taylor Lewan, DE Timmy Jernigan, WR Allen Robinson, RB Carlos Hyde, LT Jake Matthews, LG Gabe Jackson, WR Jordan Matthews, RG Brandon Linder, LB Anthony Barr, LB Telvin Smith