Sophomore Jump | FOX Sports

The 2017 NFL Draft was loaded with talent and we still have not seen the best of a seemingly deep class. On both sides of the ball, you can expect to see an improvement in some immensely talented second-year pros. Some names on this list might be familiar while others are on the cusp of moving the curtains aside and taking center stage.

It’s quite simple, some players slump while others jump. Let’s see who is set to catapult themselves on the NFL’s trampoline.

Mitchell Trubisky

Trubisky has a lot of the similar characteristics that Carson Wentz possesses. He has the strong arm to push the ball down the field. He has exceptional accuracy despite only completing 59.4 percent of his throws and throwing seven interceptions. Also, the North Carolina product can make plays with his feet. Obviously, Trubisky’s decision making needs to improve, but his best receiving threat from 2017 might have been Tarik Cohen who plays running back. With new receiving threats in Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel, and Trey Burton, the Chicago Bears brain trust are hoping their new franchise cornerstone can make the same jump Wentz made, last season, in his second year.

Marlon Mack

The former South Florida Bull had a so-so rookie campaign as he would spell Frank Gore here-and-there. Mack finished the season with 358 yards on 93 carries and four total touchdowns. He averaged about six carries a game which translated to 3.8 yards per attempt. That is not bad considering the Indianapolis Colts’ front lacked a killer instinct in the trenches. During the 2018 NFL Draft, they selected the best guard in the draft in Quenton Nelson to bolster their front. With Gore gone, Mack is subject to tote the rock 250 times next season and he is a threat in the passing game too given his 225 receiving yards last year. Having Andrew Luck under center should make his job easier too.

Cooper Kupp

“Smart” and “instinctual” are two words Jared Goff once used to describe Kupp. You could see why Goff had such choice words for his well-rounded receiver as it showed in Kupp’s ability to create separation and get open. The 6’2 receiver demonstrated versatility, despite his size, in his ability to play out wide and as a slot receiver. As a result, he finished with 62 catches, 869 yards, 14 yards per reception, and five touchdowns in his rookie campaign. Now, you might be wondering why he is on this list considering his productive inaugural season. Well, Sammy Watkins was not retained as the Los Angeles Rams are putting their eggs in Kupp’s basket. Expect him to cook as 100 catches with 1,000 yards is realistic for the young Rams’ receiver.

Patrick Mahomes II

“I don’t want to hype him, but I compare him to Brett Favre,” exclaimed Tamba Hali on “Good Morning Football” of the NFL Network. Hali said this after practicing against Mahomes for a year in which the young Kansas City Chiefs quarterback made a habit of making the defense look bad. Most notably, he made All-Pro defensive backs Marcus Peters and Eric Berry look half-witted. Andy Reid even seems to be reminded of Favre when he watches Mahomes because of his propensity to complete passes in tight windows. Maybe that is why Alex Smith was dealt in a trade to Washington.

Mahomes’ gunslinger mentality is sure to put the Chiefs in a few bad spots especially with teams loading the box to stop Kareem Hunt. However, the former Red Raider has the weapons in Travis Kelce, Tyreek Hill, Sammy Watkins, Spencer Ware, and Hunt to be the antidote to whatever plan defensive coordinators decide to orchestrate.

Julie’n Davenport

Davenport has by far the best name on this list. Aside from the great name, he is in an even better situation to be the anchor at left tackle for the Houston Texans. He came in last season as a fourth round pick out of Bucknell, that is by no means a football powerhouse. Davenport probably did not expect to see much time on the field with All-Pro Duane Brown manning the fort. However, he played in 11 games as a rookie and there was a lot to like as well as some things that needed to be cleaned up.

Davenport’s size, 6’7”, is what he can hang his hat on as his arm length is long enough to keep pass rushers at bay. In addition, he should benefit from being thrown in the fire a year ago. However, he has to get out of his stance like he is late for work especially with protecting Deshaun Watson’s blindside. The Texans rolled the dice in letting Brown walk and they are hoping Davenport is a lucky seven or eleven. Craps anyone?

Ahkello Witherspoon

A corner that is long, wiry, and rangy for the San Francisco 49ers. No, not Richard Sherman. The new Niner must see a lot of himself in Witherspoon because he invited his new teammate to a camp featuring some of the NFL’s elite corners in Darius Slay, Xavier Rhodes, and Aqib Talib. Might we see Witherspoon become the next shutdown corner in a division that houses Sherman, Talib, Marcus Peters, and Patrick Peterson?

In two of his last four games, Witherspoon finished the season on a high note with two interceptions and should be able to add more to his resume with an All-Pro corner, Sherman, playing opposite of him. Good luck dealing with these two skyscrapers at corner NFC West quarterbacks.

Gareon Conley

Guard your shins as soccer is not the only place where shin injuries can occur evidently. Although rare in the NFL, Conley was dealing with a shin injury last year as a rookie. To make matters worse, he was dealing with an unclear conscience as he was facing some serious sexual allegations, recently dropped, after already having the charges modulate his draft stock.

The Oakland Raiders 2017 first round pick was expected to go top 10, or at worst top 15, in last year’s draft. Heck, some considered Conley to be the better prospect compared to his college teammate in Marshon Lattimore. Nevertheless, he slipped to the 24th pick. Now, for the first time in a year, the former Buckeye can focus on just playing football. The Raiders view him as a player with oodles of talent as they hope it will transfer to him being an elite player. Jon Gruden and Paul Guenther are impressed as their young corner is learning the defense and developing good technique as they told reporters recently. There is not much roster talent at corner to inhibit Conley from being the top dog in Oakland.

Matt Milano

SLEEPER ALERT. Another player on this list with double M as the initials to his name. As a result, I will use verbs starting with M to describe him.

Milano was misinterpreted coming out of Boston College, at linebacker, as he finished his career with 14 sacks and 32.5 tackles for a loss. He was mishandled in the draft as he slipped to the fifth round before the Buffalo Bills snagged him. The Golden Eagle product moved his way up the depth chart as he started five games during his 16-game rookie season. Milano mirrors an undersized Luke Kuechly, standing at an even six-feet, as he can cover and defend the run showing fluid instincts in both departments.

The addition of Tremaine Edmunds should make Milano’s job easier as Sean McDermott has to be hoping his two young backers can grow to be quite the duo like the one he coached in Carolina. Edmunds has the freakish athletic ability of Thomas Davis while Milano has the makeup of Kuechly.

Each of these youngsters teams will be looking for a return on their investment. These second-year players, well some, are not in any jeopardy of having the plug pulled on their NFL life, but they ought to improve in a hurry.

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