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All-32 Series: NFC South’s Breakout Players for the 2018 Season

Written By- Team Blitz

Atlanta Falcons

Takkarist McKinley (DE)

McKinley was the Falcons’ 1st round pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, as the team aimed to bolster its defense after allowing 34 points in their crushing Super Bowl defeat by the Patriots. Coming out of college, McKinley’s technique was extremely raw, as he lacked a punch, hand skills, and pass rush moves. However, he always was a relentless, high-motor player with great energy, heart, and fight, taking no plays off and playing all the way through the whistle.

Takk started last season off slowly, but underwent clear growth as it progressed. He had 15 of his 20 tackles and 5 of his 6 sacks in the 2nd half of the regular season, along with one sack in each of the Falcons’ 2017 playoff games. He also visibly improved on tape, as he had much more active hands, better bend and flexibility in his hips, and more impressive pass rush moves. With another offseason and a full year of NFL experience under his belt, McKinley is in great position to breakout and be a force for the Atlanta D.

-Alexander Amir

Carolina Panthers

Christian McCaffrey (RB)

McCaffrey was the Panthers’ first selection in last year’s draft at 8th overall. During his rookie campaign McCaffrey acted as a playmaking back, lining up all over the field as an effective receiver and runner for the Panthers offense. McCaffrey was one of Cam Newton’s top targets, finishing with 80 receptions to go along with 650 yards and 5 touchdowns. McCaffrey was less effective on the ground, but still managed 400 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Although he was very effective as a playmaker during his rookie season, he played behind veteran running back Jonathan Stewart.

After the Panthers released Stewart this offseason, McCaffrey is now slated to be the top back in Carolina. And history shows that he’s ready. McCaffrey is an extremely versatile weapon who showed his true abilities during his time at Stanford. The Panthers used McCaffrey well in his first season, but I believe he can become not only one of the best fantasy backs, but one of the best running backs in the league. He will be a top target out of the backfield, in the slot, and between the tackles. He is a do-it-all back, and after watching his film from last year, if the Panthers coaching staff is smart, they will use him in all facets of the offense and in the return game. I expect him to shine bright just as he did at Stanford.

-Collyn Foster

New Orleans Saints

Tommylee Lewis (WR)

Tommylee Lewis has worked his way up from being undrafted to the starting lineup. After being recommended by Coach Bill Parcells, Lewis made the team in 2016, and saw his role expand in 2017. With some departures at the receiver position, mainly Willie Snead, look for Lewis to get some more run. He is a fast, shifty receiver who can fill the void left by Snead. He understands where the zones are and can sit in them, as demonstrated by his touchdown Week 13 against the Falcons. In an offense that saw the running game explode last year, a receiver is set to be the breakout star out of the slot.

-Ryan Goudy

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Ronald Jones (RB)

This year’s second-round pick from the University of Southern California is primed for a breakout rookie season. Tampa Bay has been desperate for a running back with Jones’ skill set for years. It’s out with the old, in with the new; the Doug Martin project lasted a few years too long, and the Buccaneers now have (on paper) possibly the most talented group of offensive weapons in the NFL. It’s a copycat league– teams have seen what the Saints were able to do with the combo of Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram. The Bucs plan to add a similar facet to their offense by pairing up the more physical Peyton Barber with the team’s new speeder Ronald Jones.

Jones, or “Rojo,” isn’t your typical one-cut and go running back. He comes with Jamal Charles-like speed and a Shady McCoy-esque ability to make people miss in the open field. It’s a deadly combination when you add in his balance and a refusal to be taken down. During the 2017 season, his electrifying home-run running style racked up 20 touchdowns and 1,737 total yards in only 13 games for the USC Trojans. Rojo has a chance to take it to the house every time he touches the ball. The breakaway runs will add up to a breakout year, especially after the team added Alex Cappa and Ryan Jensen to the offensive line.

-Jack Bourgeois



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