Much will be expected from the top rookies in the NFL last season as they embark on their sophomore campaigns. There are always players that did not make a big impression as rookies who emerge in their second season to become valuable commodities. Here are four players primed for a breakout season in Year 2:
Grant Delpit, S, Cleveland Browns
Delpit missed his entire rookie season with the Cleveland Browns due to a torn Achilles. He was one of five safeties taken in the second-round of the 2020 NFL draft and the only one of this group who didn’t make starts for his team this past season. Coming off an Achilles tear, expectations should be tempered, but here’s a reminder of how good Delpit was when healthy at LSU:
- 2-time All-American
- Won the Thorpe Award as the nation’s best defensive back in 2018
- Started 37 of 40 career games for the Tigers
- Had 60 or more total tackles each season for LSU
- Finished his collegiate career with 8 interceptions and 32 passes defended
When healthy, Delpit has a nose for the football and the athleticism/play recognition ability to be a ball hawk for the center of Cleveland’s defense. Something Cleveland’s defense lacked last season was the penchant for causing turnovers – specifically interceptions. They ranked 22nd in the NFL with just 11 interceptions. Delpit has the playmaking ability on defense to help increase these numbers and should be a key piece of their secondary next season.
Xavier McKinney, S, New York Giants
McKinney is another safety who was drafted in the second round last year. Unlike Delpit, McKinney was able to play in six games — four starts — during the 2020 NFL season. After fracturing his foot in August, McKinney was forced to start his career on the injured reserve list but was able to make it back to action for Weeks 11-16.
Once on the field, McKinney had his highs and his lows. He was targeted 13 times and allowed 12 receptions (92.3% completion percentage allowed), but allowed 8 yards per completion, allowed zero touchdowns and allowed a passer rating of 65.4. He missed just one tackle while receiving a grade of 70.0 from PFF. McKinney is a former all-SEC first-teamer and a third-team All-American who was trusted to play in games as a freshman at Alabama. He started as a sophomore and junior for Alabama in 28 games over the two seasons. Entering his second season for the Giants fully healthy, McKinney should step into New York’s already stout defense and start alongside Jabrill Peppers while being an impact player for their secondary.
Lucas Niang, OT, Kansas City Chiefs
Kansas City decided to start from scratch this offseason with the offensive tackle position. They cut both of their 2020 starters (Eric Fisher and Mitchell Schwartz) to begin the offseason and subsequently filled their left tackle position with Orlando Brown Jr., whom they acquired from the Baltimore Ravens in April before the draft. With their right tackle position still up for grabs, second-year offensive tackle Lucas Niang could be their solution.
Niang was the Chiefs’ third-round pick out of TCU last year, but he elected to opt out of the 2020 season. He was an exceptional pass blocker in college. Since 2017, Niang hadn’t allowed a sack on 975 pass blocking snaps. He made all his starts during his junior and senior seasons at TCU at right tackle (19 games). He has the experience and physical tools to be the Chiefs’ long-term solution at the position and could be an immediate starter for them in 2021 if his health cooperates and if he can beat out veteran Mike Remmers for the starting job.
Darrell Taylor, OLB, Seattle Seahawks
Taylor lost his entire rookie season due to a leg injury that required a metal rod to be put into his leg. He’s fully healthy entering the 2021 season and adds to a defense that had success getting to the quarterback last season — they ranked seventh in sacks. Seattle lost Jarran Reed to free agency this offseason. Reed led Seattle’s defensive line in sacks last season and the team’s leader in sacks was safety Jamal Adams. Taylor brings much-needed pass rush ability to their defensive line.
Taylor had back-to-back 8-sack seasons during his redshirt junior and senior seasons at Tennessee. He had double-digit TFLs in each of those seasons as well. He left Tennessee tied for 10th all time in sacks and was only the third player in the program’s history to record a four-sack game. He played in a 3-4 defense while at Tennessee and should be a rotation edge player for Seattle for the upcoming season and could expand his role with success rushing the passer.
References: Pro Football Focus, Pro Football Reference