With the 2022 NFL season now underway, a lot of eyes will be on the sophomores of the league and how they will improve and take a step forward from their rookie seasons. Of course, you have rookies like Ja’Marr Chase, Micah Parsons, Asante Samuel Jr., and Patrick Surtain II who have proven their draft positions, and then some. However, there are quite a few 2021 entrees to the league that still have a little, or a lot left to prove.
So, with that in mind, let’s take a look at who of these sophomores are primed for a breakout season during the 2022 campaign.
Jaycee Horn – Carolina Panthers
Horn’s rookie season got off to a promising start, already snatching an interception in just his second career game. Unfortunately, in week three against the Texans on Thursday Night Football, the young corner would go down with a foot injury and not return the rest of the night. It would later be revealed Horn had broken multiple bones in his foot and would have to undergo surgery, causing him to miss the rest of the year.
Flash forward a year later, and now the South Carolina product is back in the game, recording five tackles in their first game this year against the Cleveland Browns. While he did end with a low PFF grade of just 49.4, I don’t see that as any reason to write him off from having a breakout season, as this was his regular season first game in almost a year.
I believe that, as the year goes on, Horn will only get better and we will see star-studded receivers such as Mike Evans or Michael Thomas have some trouble against the young defensive back.
Trey Lance – San Francisco 49ers
Out of all the second-year QBs, I believe that Lance is in the best position to succeed. He has great weapons like Deebo Samuel, George Kittle, and even Brandon Aiyuk in his arsenal. They have a nice defense led by dominant defensive end Nick Bosa that should give the offense a good field position to work with throughout the year. The run game might have some issues with Elijah Mitchell on Injured Reserve, though Wilson could end up providing decent production in that department.
His first game this season against the Bears might not have been all that good, but that can be excused by the dreadful weather conditions. And, come on now, this is Soldier Field we’re talking about. Even without all the rain, it is still a terrible place to play. All that to say, the game was very sloppy overall and I don’t think it should be used as a reason to express disbelief in the young quarterback.
Give Lance a few more games, and I’m sure he’ll start to get into the swing of things and breakout. And if he doesn’t, then you can start having doubts. Just remember Bills quarterback Josh Allen didn’t become a superstar overnight.
Trevor Lawrence – Jacksonville Jaguars
While we’re on the subject of quarterbacks, let’s talk about the second-year QB coming into this season with the most hype and the most to prove. Trevor Lawrence.
Trevor Lawrence was drafted first overall last year by the Jaguars, who hoped for him to be this franchise’s savior, much like Joe Burrow to the Bengals or Justin Herbert to the Chargers. Unfortunately, his first year was…not so great. However, with that being said, a lot of the blame falls onto the team around him rather than Lawrence himself.
We all know the whole drama that went down with Urban Meyer last year. It was to the point that it felt like there was a new controversy with him every week. Things weren’t much better with the team itself. His weapons were okay at best and his offensive line ranked 24th in the league, which was even behind the Bengals’ notoriously awful offensive line.
But this season is a new one, as the Jaguars’ front office spent free agency addressing these needs. They did so by arguably spending a little too much money on former Cardinals receiver Christian Kirk, as well as grabbing Zay Jones off the market. Their best signing in my opinion, though, was signing Commanders guard Brandon Scherff, who was an all-pro in 2020 and made the Pro Bowl the year prior.
With all these weapons, all eyes are on Lawrence now to deliver. I’m not saying his breakout season has to be MVP-caliber, all I’m saying is I’d start getting worried if we don’t see noticeable improvement from him this year.
Rashod Bateman – Baltimore Ravens
Bateman was a rather slept-on pick last year, although to be fair he did enter into a draft that’s quickly becoming one of the best WR classes of all time, with the likes of Ja’Marr Chase, Jaylen Waddle, and Devonta Smith.
And Bateman has a really solid chance to be another receiving titan from the 2021 draft class this year.
With Marquise “Hollywood” Brown being traded during the draft to the Cardinals, Bateman will no doubt have a much bigger role in the passing game this season, currently listed as WR1 on the Ravens depth chart. He’s already started this season off pretty well, catching a 55-yard bomb from Lamar Jackson against the Jets last Sunday.
I don’t expect that score to be a one-off thing, I’m sure Jackson will connect with Bateman even more as the years go on. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if he broke the 1,000-yard mark this year, which would double his last year’s yard total of 515. Expect Bateman to have a breakout year.
Greg Newsome II – Cleveland Browns
The 26th-overall pick sort of fell under the radar last year, as other corners that were selected like Asante Samuel Jr. and Patrick Surtain II were more in the limelight than Newsome was, even if the Browns CB posted the highest PFF grade out of any outside corner selected in 2021.
This season, don’t leave him out of the discussions. Last year, Newsome allowed just an 85.6 passer rating and only one touchdown the whole season. Expect more of the same thing this year, if not then better. I wouldn’t be surprised at all if Newsome has a breakout year and gets voted into the Pro Bowl. And with Denzel Ward on the other side locking down top receivers, these two could make for an even more dangerous tandem this year.
Michael Carter – New York Jets
On a frustratingly pedestrian Jets offense, the fourth-round UNC product looks to be a bright spot for this team. Last year, behind a surprisingly solid offensive line, Carter managed to rush for 699 yards and 4 touchdowns, tacking on 365 more yards in the receiving game, giving him over 1,000 total yards on the season. Not bad for a fourth-round rookie.
He looks like he’ll continue where he left off this season as well, being one of very few pros in a 24-9 loss to Baltimore, as he recorded 60 yards on 10 rushing attempts, with 40 more through the air against a formidable Ravens defense. With Joe Flacco taking the reigns until Wilson returns from his injury (Boo, bring in Mike White!), I’m sure the bulk of this Jets offense will be carried on his and other 2021 pick Elijah Moore’s backs.
Even though he plays in one of the tougher divisions, as he will have to play the Bills twice this season, I can easily see Carter having a breakout year and pushing past the 1,000-yard barrier in rushing- and tacking on maybe 500 or more in receiving yards.