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Just a Sophomore Slump - Third-Year Players Who Will Rebound in 2019


There were more sophomore successes in the NFL in 2018 than sophomore slumps.

Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes threw for 5,000 yards and 50 touchdowns, Carolina’s Christian McCaffrey ran for 1,000 yards and added 867 receiving yards, and both Pittsburgh’s James Conner and Seattle’s Chris Carson had breakout rushing seasons after doing little during their rookie campaigns. Pittsburgh’s JuJu Smith-Schuster racked up 111 receptions for 1,426 yards and seven scores in his second NFL season and made All-World receiver Antonio Brown expendable. Oh, and let’s not forget San Francisco’s George Kittle! All he did in his second year was set the NFL record for receiving yards for a tight end in a single season!

The sophomore seasons for some NFL players did not go quite as well, however. There were players who had their years ruined by injuries and/or ineffective teammates and coaches, or were just defended better by opposing teams. Do not give up on the three players below, though. They will bounce back in their third seasons and be fantasy forces in 2019. Here is a look at potential rebound candidates for 2019.

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Leonard Fournette, Jacksonville Jaguars (RB)

2018 Stats:  439 rushing yards, 185 receiving yards, 6 TD

Fournette was tackled by as many problems as he was defensive lineman in 2018. He was criticized for his bad attitude, his poor physical shape, and a hamstring injury that sidelined him for six games, not to mention how pedestrian his 3.3 yards per carry average was. 2019 has the makings of more trouble since he was recently arrested for speeding and driving with a suspended license. He has gone from being a top-10 fantasy RB to being a humongous fantasy risk heading into the upcoming season.

Those with short memories might forget that Fournette had 1,040 rushing yards, 302 receiving yards and 10 total touchdowns during his rookie season. This guy was a workhorse who Jacksonville’s offense revolved around when the Jaguars came within one game of the Super Bowl that year. Who on Jacksonville’s roster is going to take his top tailback spot away from him? Alfred Blue? Benny Cunnigham? Thomas Rawls? No, no, and no.

So Fournette has nobody to worry about behind him on the depth chart, and defenses will no longer be able to stack the box as much as they have the past two seasons now that newly-signed Nick Foles will be keeping them honest with his pinpoint passes. If he can stay injury-free and drama-free throughout the season, nobody is more poised for a gigantic junior NFL season than Fournette.

 

Keelan Cole, Jacksonville Jaguars (WR)

2018 Stats:  38 receptions, 491 yards, 1 TD

Cole was one of the most popular fantasy sleepers heading into the 2018 season due to how he finished 2017 (23 catches for 475 yards and three touchdowns in his final five games), yet he turned out to be a fantasy failure. His poor play left him as the No. 3 receiver behind Dede Westbrook and Donte Moncrief, and being the third WR in Jacksonville’s run-first, below-average-QB-led offense was akin to being the fourth-string running back on a CFL squad. Cole barely put up in 16 games what he did in that five-game stretch the year before and was probably dumped in most fantasy leagues well before the end of the season.

There are two bits of good news that have come out of his offseason for Cole, though. One is that Moncrief has taken his talents to Pittsburgh to help fill the void left behind by Antonio Brown (good luck!). The other good news is that Cole no longer has to attempt to catch haphazard passes from Blake Bortles anymore now that ultra-accurate Foles was brought in to run the offense. Cole will have some work to do to move up the depth chart with Marqise Lee returning from injury and Westbrook and former second-rounder D.J. Chark in the mix, but I am inclined to think Cole’s 2019 numbers will be more like his 2017 numbers when all is said and done.

 

Evan Engram, New York Giants (TE)

2018 Stats:  45 receptions, 577 yards, 3 TD

Calling 2018 a season where Engram suffered a sophomore slump might be harsh considering his numbers were down due to him missing five games with an injury. His per-game averages were along the same lines as they were during his rookie season (4.3 receptions for 48.1 yards in 2017, 4.1 receptions for 52.4 yards in 2018). But fantasy players who were hoping for Engram to take his game and fantasy value to the next step like the aforementioned Kittle were as disappointed as a child at a carnival who finds out the cotton candy machine is broken.

Engram will no longer have to fight Odell Beckham Jr. for targets, and that is a blessing, not a curse. While wideouts Sterling Shepard and Golden Tate will get their fair share of looks from Eli Manning and/or first-round shocker Daniel Jones, Engram’s target total should return to its 2017 level (7.6 per game) after losing almost two targets per game in 2018 (5.8). If Engram can keep his drops to a minimum and the Giants maximize his talents, he should have 75 receptions for 900 yards and eight touchdowns at year’s end.

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