5 NFL players who might FINALLY break out in their 4th season

2016 breakout players.0 - 5 NFL players who might FINALLY break out in their 4th season

There’s nothing wrong with being a late bloomer.

This week, we’re looking back at the 2016 NFL Draft. You can also check out our rankings of the top 10 players and the 15 quarterbacks who were drafted that year.

The 2016 NFL Draft has produced a lot of stars. That class gave the NFL three franchise quarterbacks, premier defensive talent, and an influx of offensive skill players.

However, not everyone who was drafted that year has hit their stride. There are a handful of players who haven’t put it all together, but are primed to do just that heading into their fourth season.

Some players are trying to reach their potential on new teams. Other players are still with the team that drafted them, but looking to play well under new coaches or next to new teammates. One thing they all have in common is that this could be their last chance to get a second contract that can set them up financially for years to come.

Here are five players from the 2016 draft looking to finally harness their talents for the 2019 season.

Darron Lee, LB, Kansas City Chiefs

Former first-round pick Darron Lee was traded to the Chiefs this offseason after three shaky seasons with the Jets. Lee needed a change of scenery, and the Chiefs needed more athleticism at linebacker.

Lee isn’t a great run-defending linebacker, but he was among the better coverage linebackers in the league last year. According to Sports Info Solutions, Lee allowed just 4.15 yards per attempt. That was good for third among the 54 linebackers who were targeted at least 25 times in coverage last year. He also allowed a passer rating of 31.6 — an incomplete pass nets a passer rating of 39.6.

Kansas City is a good landing spot for Lee for two reasons. With teams trying to keep up with Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs’ offense, Lee should see more coverage opportunities than he did with the Jets.

Lee is also a perfect fit for Steve Spagnuolo’s defense. Spagnuolo runs a match-heavy defense where zone coverage turns into man coverage with exotic blitzes sprinkled in. Lee could be a dynamic defensive weapon as a coverage player and a pass rusher on his new team.

Vernon Hargreaves, CB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The Buccaneers picked up Vernon Hargreaves’ fifth-year option, but he still has a lot to prove this year.

Hargreaves hasn’t made his presence felt much since the Bucs made him the 11th pick in the 2016 draft. He struggled mightily as a rookie — according to Sports Info Solutions, Hargreaves gave up 9.53 yards per attempt, 970 yards, and a passer rating of 96.5.

He hasn’t rebounded from that season, but he also hasn’t been on the field much since then. A hamstring injury limited Hargreaves to nine games in 2017, and his performance didn’t improve all that much. His yards per attempt did drop to 7.59, though he still allowed a passer rating of 95.5. That ranked 62nd among the 73 cornerbacks with at least 50 targets that season.

Last year, he played in just one game, landing on injured reserve after Week 1.

Luckily for Hargreaves, new defensive coordinator Todd Bowles is more of a fit for his skillset. In the four years that Bowles was the head coach of the Jets, the defense ranked eighth in catchable targets against Cover 0, Cover 1, and Cover 2 Man.

In 2017, Hargeaves played better in man coverage, which Bowles loves to run. In traditional man coverage schemes, Hargreaves’ yards per attempt dipped to 7.23 and he allowed a passer rating of 87.8.

Hargreaves’ biggest hurdle to overcome this year won’t be adjusting to a new defense. It’ll be staying healthy.

Josh Doctson, WR, Washington

This is a do-or-die year for Josh Doctson. Although he missed most of his first season in the league due to an Achilles injury, he’s been able to suit up for 31 games over the past two years. Unfortunately, the production hasn’t followed.

Despite leading Washington in targets (156) over the last two seasons, Doctson only totaled 1,034 yards and eight touchdowns. He’s dealt with five different starting quarterbacks in that timespan, but at some point he needs to show why he was a first-round pick.

Washington is adding to Doctson’s revolving door of quarterbacks this year with Case Keenum and Dwayne Haskins joining the team. Perhaps one of those two can finally be the quarterback to give Doctson his first truly effective year in the NFL. Doctson will have also have more opportunities this season with Jamison Crowder playing in New York.

One thing staying constant for Doctson is the scheme he’s playing in. That familiarity should make it a little easier for him as he becomes the clear-cut No. 1 receiver for Washington.

Hopefully Keenum and Haskins will be able to take advantage of Doctson’s frame and his ability to catch passes in traffic this season. He doesn’t consistently separate well, but he does give his quarterbacks a bigger margin for error at times.

Washington decided to not pick up his fifth-year option — if Doctson doesn’t improve, he’ll be playing elsewhere in 2020. But there is some hope with Doctson. He only has two real seasons of playing time, so maybe his third year is where everything starts to click for him.

Maliek Collins, DT, Dallas Cowboys

Maliek Collins is close to being a great defensive tackle, but he hasn’t quite broken out yet.

Collins has developed into one of the better pass-rushing defensive tackles in the NFL. According to Sports Info Solutions, he ranked 25th in pressure rate out of the 81 defensive tackles with at least 150 pass rush snaps.

Where Collins can improve is converting those pressure opportunities into sacks. He ranked 33rd in sack rate in that same sample size of defensive tackles. Through three years, Collins hasn’t been able to top five sacks in a season, which he did as a rookie.

This offseason, the Cowboys drafted Trysten Hill in the second round, which could give Collins the partner in crime he needs on the interior. If Hill can hit the ground running as a rookie, Collins will have more one-on-one pass rush opportunities to increase his sack rate.

Dallas already has a star on its defensive line in Demarcus Lawrence, and Collins has the potential to be another. Not only would a big year from Collins give the Cowboys a fierce defensive line duo, but the former third-round pick would then be able to command a huge price tag in free agency after the season.

Collins is still young — he just turned 24 in April — so this might be the year he turns into a pass-rushing menace.

Vernon Butler, DT, Carolina Panthers

Vernon Butler just has not lived up to being the 30th pick in the 2016 NFL Draft. While he has played in 38 games in his career, he has only been able to manage two sacks. That lack of production caused the Panthers to pass on picking up his fifth-year option.

Butler’s 2019 outlook might not seem very promising with the addition of Gerald McCoy, but his presence could actually be a positive for Butler. Now that the Panthers have McCoy, Butler will likely be playing with either McCoy or Kawann Short when he gets onto the field. Both of those guys can command enough attention to free up more opportunities for Butler to wreak havoc.

Butler hasn’t figured out how to consistently rush the passer, but he does have a few nice moments against the run.

Butler will undoubtedly lose snaps to McCoy this season, but the quality of Butler’s snaps should get better. He has a chance to have an efficient 2019 season, which he’ll need to secure a decent payday in the offseason.

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