Every new NFL season brings new surprises to the world: injuries and performance create opportunities for some lesser known names, and these players shine. There is likely to be at least a handful of new players that can capture the spotlight every year, and 2016 is no exception to the rule. Last year brought us new stars like Josh Norman, an even better Cam Newton, and a rejuvenated NaVorro Bowman. The names below highlight some people to watch come Sunday.
RB David Johnson, Arizona Cardinals
While Johnson had a sort of breakout in 2015, where he amassed 581 yards on 125 carries (4.6ypc) and 8 touchdowns, as well as 36 catches for 457 yards (12.7ypr), he was only a starter after Week 11, when Chris Johnson went down with an injury. Now that he has assumed the #1 role in Arizona’s offense, he is primed for an even bigger season. He will likely break the 1,000 yard mark, and it will most likely happen earlier than most people expect.
TE Vance McDonald, San Francisco 49ers
The 49ers’ offense doesn’t exactly have a lot of weapons with a wow factor. A diminishing Torrey Smith and an oft-injured Carlos Hyde are the two players most people will have heard, but they are far from being household names. With a new head coach in Chip Kelly, the offense will likely be vastly different. A notable stat coming into the first year of the Kelly era in San Fran: the Eagles’ top tight end, Brent Celek, was targeted 112 times in 2015, the last year with Chip as his head coach. Vance McDonald will likely have an opportunity to showcase his receiving ability with the former Oregon skipper at the helm.
WR Donte Moncrief, Indianapolis Colts
The Colts’ offense as a whole will benefit from quarterback Andrew Luck’s return, but none may profit off of it more than Donte Moncrief. In his second season, with Matt Hasselbeck throwing passes to him, he collected 64 receptions for 733 yards (11.5ypr) and 5 touchdowns. Lining up across from matchup nightmare TY Hilton will only help his case, and with other weapons such as Philip Dorsett and Dwayne Allen on the field, Moncrief will see plenty of pigskin coming his way.
RB Thomas Rawls, Seattle Seahawks
With Marshawn Lynch hanging up the cleats and settling down to some Skittles, the Seahawks prepare to find a new workhorse back. They may already have him on the roster in Thomas Rawls. Last year, Rawls exploded when Lynch went down with an injury, racking up 830 yards on 147 attempts (5.6ypc), as well as 5 touchdowns. He was also bitten by the injury bug, missing three games in the season. With the new season coming up, Rawls and Christine Michael will combine to be a competent 1-2 punch for the Seahawks offense.
WR Marvin Jones, Detroit Lions
2016 will mark the first season Marvin Jones as not been a member of the Cincinnati Bengals, where he collected 134 catches for 1,739 yards (12.9ypr) and 15 touchdowns in his three seasons played (he spent the 2014 season on injured reserve). While in Cincinnati, he was at most their #3 or #4 option on offense, stuck behind AJ Green, Mohamed Sanu, and, when healthy, tight end Tyler Eifert. Now Jones gets his opportunity in Motor City, where it is probable that the only receiver ahead of him is Golden Tate. Jones can showcase his ability and hopefully prove that he was worth the money for Bob Quinn in his first year as GM of the Lions.