Five 2017 NFL first-round picks who will break out in 2018

To whom much is given, much is expected. Players selected in the first round of the NFL draft certainly fall into this category, but sometimes the expectations for immediate success can be a little unrealistic. It's not unusual for it to take a couple seasons before these players hit their groove and start to take off.

For other players, they end up going through normal rookie growing pains before exploding onto the scene in Year 2 (Jared Goff, for example), thanks to their talent and an increased level of comfort. Here are five first-rounders from the 2017 draft who are ready to make the leap in Year 2.

Solomon Thomas, DE, San Francisco 49ers

One of the biggest issues facing Thomas when he came into the league as the third overall pick was his "tweener" size (6-foot-2, 256 pounds) and playing style. Was he a defensive end or a defensive tackle? I saw him as a potential early-down defensive end who would move inside in sub-packages. However, he managed just three sacks in 14 games (12 starts) last season, as the Niners searched for the best way to utilize him. GM John Lynch indicated last month that Thomas would play the Leo position (weak-side defensive end) in 2018 and move inside on passing downs, which should be a good fit for him. Thomas' skill set and high-energy approach give him a great opportunity to become a disruptive rusher along the interior this season. With a year under his belt and a coaching staff who should have a better understanding of how to utilize him, Thomas is in line for a breakthrough.

Patrick Mahomes, QB, Kansas City Chiefs

It's usually not wise to expect big things from a first-year starter at quarterback, but I'm still going to plant my flag with Mahomes because of Andy Reid's track record in helping QBs succeed. Mahomes, the 10th pick of the 2017 draft, threw for 284 yards and an interception in his one and only career start -- the final regular-season game of last season -- but people inside the Chiefs' building say Mahomes' growth during the season allowed the team to feel comfortable enough to trade away Alex Smith this offseason. Mahomes has a solid offensive line, a quality running game and plus targets to throw to in Tyreek Hill, Travis Kelce and free-agent addition Sammy Watkins. He might have to endure some growing pains, but I think Mahomes will surprise anyone doubting him in 2018.

Derek Barnett, DE, Philadelphia Eagles

The 14th overall pick in 2017 got out of the gates with a solid rookie season, posting five sacks as a rotational defensive end. Barnett played in just 41.6 percent of the defensive snaps, but with the Eagles releasing Vinny Curry this offseason, he should see a lot more playing time in 2018, even though Philadelphia still has good depth at the position. Barnett is more of a technician than speed rusher off the edge, so he ran into much more traffic than he was used to as he transitioned to battling NFL offensive tackles. Barnett has quick, strong hands and finds efficient paths to the quarterback. His season as an understudy likely gave him the experience he needed to help convert a higher percentage of his rushes into hurries and sacks.

Gareon Conley, CB, Oakland Raiders

Conley, the 24th pick in 2017, played in just two games last season before being placed on injured reserve in November with recurring shin issues that had lingered since June. He's a full participant in OTAs, though. Needless to say, a better year is expected for him, and a quick star turn could be in offing. Raiders head coach Jon Gruden clearly likes what he sees. He told reporters at OTAs this week that Conley is "special" and that he was "a top pick of the draft for a reason." The Raiders have struggled at the cornerback spot for quite a while now, but Conley will bring not only speed and length, but legitimate man-cover talent. Conley's former Ohio State teammate, Marshon Lattimore, showed an ability to adapt quickly to the NFL game last season, and Conley could follow suit with a healthy second season.

David Njoku, TE, Cleveland Browns

Njoku flashed at times in 2017 -- especially early in the season, with three touchdown catches over his first five games -- but he failed to put together consistently productive outings. Njoku, who was selected 29th overall in 2017, came into the league as a raw player in need of more experience and coaching. A leap in production should be expected in 2018. The team's changes at quarterback, whether it's Tyrod Taylor or Baker Mayfield taking the snaps, could very well hasten his improvement. Taylor was very comfortable targeting Charles Clay in Buffalo, while Mayfield will be looking for a safety-blanket target he can trust and grow with as a pro. Njoku is a talented athlete who should shine this season as he gains the trust of his quarterbacks.

Follow Lance Zierlein on Twitter @LanceZierlein.

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