NFL Network's "Top 100 Players of 2018" airs every Monday at 8 p.m. ET, unveiling a new set of 10 players each week. Landing at No. 50: quarterback Deshaun Watson was the only player from the 2017 draft class to fall between Nos. 41 and 50. NFL Network analyst and former NFL wide receiver Nate Burleson lists his own rankings of the top 10 second-year players heading into the 2018 campaign.
After years of shuffling through starting quarterbacks, the Texans finally found their guy in Watson. He took the league by storm when competing with some of the most high flying offenses during his six starts -- New England in Week 3, Kansas City in Week 5, and Seattle in Week 6. Unfortunately a non-contact knee injury ended his impressive rookie campaign, one that had him in the MVP conversation at midseason. There's no doubt in my mind that Watson picks up where he left off.
Hunt was a huge part of Andy Reid's offense in 2017 and finished as the league rushing leader (1,327 yards). With Patrick Mahomes stepping in under center after Alex Smith's departure, Hunt's role will have a greater impact on the Chiefs' offensive success. I'm looking for Hunt to maintain a level of consistency for 16 games, something we didn't see in Year 1 with a midseason dip in production.
Kamara took the Saints' offense to another level after the team parted ways with Adrian Peterson. The duo of Kamara and Mark Ingram then took tremendous pressure off Drew Brees and the passing game, putting up gaudy numbers and flashy plays every time out. The 2017 Offensive Rookie of the Year is poised to take an even bigger role early in 2018 with Ingram's four-game suspension, so it'll be interesting how Sean Payton utilizes his young star.
Having three running backs in my top four shouldn't surprise anyone after their show-stopping performances in 2017. Fournette quickly became the anchor of the Jags' offense and will carry a greater load in Year 2 with a young wide receiver group taking the field. Unlike Hunt and Kamara, Fournette brings an old-school style to the position. He's a hard-nosed bruiser who can eat up yardage and the clock.
Lattimore looked anything but a rookie in 2017. Not only did he elevate a defense that sorely needed it to compete in the NFC, he solidified himself as one of the league's best defensive backs. Named the 2017 Defensive Rookie of the Year, Lattimore should maintain his high-level play on the island.
There's a lot to like about this kid. He made big contributions to a Steelers offense already full of talent. JuJu led all rookie receivers in receiving yards (917) and receiving touchdowns (seven) last year, and he moves up the depth chart with the departure of Martavis Bryant. The No. 2 receiver spot is perfect for the second-year wideout as JuJu should get more touches with Antonio Brown garnering most of the attention opposite him.
The run-first Bears offense kept a lot of responsibility off Trubisky in 2017. It's like Trubisky was trying to find his way in a room with the lights off. Now, the lights are on and he can see all of his newly-signed weapons -- Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel and Trey Burton. We're going to see how comfortable Trubisky is under center as this offense becomes more balanced. Even with the plethora of offensive additions, though, this offense will still run through the legs of Jordan Howard.
Jackson is the new-school cornerback and versatile defensive back every team wants. We saw glimpses of big-play ability in 2017, and he's poised to take a leap as a sophomore. With a year under Jackson's belt and the addition of Malcolm Butler, the Titans' secondary should improve the team's 25th-ranked passing defense from a year ago.
McCaffrey had a good season as a rookie, posting more than 1,000 yards from scrimmage for the Panthers. He'll take over as the team's primary running back with Jonathan Stewart moving on in free agency, and I'm curious to see how much more the Panthers utilize him. I'd expect his numbers to rise in 2018.