Second year spotlight: AFC North
Barkevious Mingo – Cleveland Browns
The Browns didn’t have many draft choices in the 2013 NFL Draft, but they did have a first round selection. With that pick, they chose LSU outside linebacker Barkevious Mingo. Mingo played in 15 games as a rookie and put up decent numbers (42 total tackles, 5.0 sacks), but he didn’t show the explosive dominating ability that was expected from him.
New Head Coach Mike Pettine’s defensive scheme is a perfect fit for what Mingo does best, rush the passer. Mingo has spent the offseason getting bigger and stronger, and the added size and strength will help him at the point of attack. With his explosive first step and quick moves, I expect Mingo to start to show the dominating ability that was expected from him a year ago. A 10 sack season is not out of the question.
Tyler Eifert - Cincinnati Bengals
Eifert was the first tight end taken in the 2013 Draft. He has prototypical size, speed, and athleticism for what teams look for in a tight end in today’s game.
While he has tight end size and strength, he has wide receiver speed and athleticism. He can play both flexed out and in tight as a “Y” and be productive at either position.
As a rookie, Eifert played well and had good numbers but nothing close to what he is capable of. In 15 games, he had 39 catches for 445 yards and two touchdowns. Now in his second year in the system and feeling comfortable, he should easily double those numbers.
Eifert has the physical and competitive traits to be one of the top tight ends in the NFL. I fully expect that he live up to that in 2014.
Jarvis Jones – Pittsburgh Steelers
The Pittsburgh Steelers are doing a great job developing young talent. They let their young players learn the game as they gradually step into their roles.
Jarvis Jones was one of the top pass rushers in college football while at Georgia. Last year, as a rookie, he played in 14 games and had 41 total tackles and only had one sack. Like many rookies, Jones wasn’t physically strong enough to handle playing in a full-time role.
With an off season to prepare himself in the weight room, Jones has gotten a little bigger and a lot stronger. With the Steelers letting LaMarr Woodley leave in free agency, the pass rushing outside linebacker job belongs to Jones. Expect to see Jones put up close to 10 sacks this year, as he is more ready to play the NFL game.
Le’Veon Bell – Pittsburgh Steelers
While at Michigan State, Bell was a workhorse-type back. He played at around 250 pounds and it wasn’t unusual for him to get 25–30 touches a game.
When Bell came to the combine, he was much lighter, weighing in at 230 and running a 4.57. As a rookie, Bell played at closer to 240 and flashed what he was able to do at Michigan State. He played in 13 games and had 244 carries for 860 yards and eight touchdowns. He also caught 45 passes for 399 yards.
My main complaint with Bell was his physicality didn’t match his size. He played more like a 215-pound back. Toward the end of the season, I saw him run with more authority. In this, his second year, I expect Bell to become the dominant back he is capable of being. If he plays to his size and strength, he should be able to get close to 1200 rushing yards and keep his receiving production just as high. It will be interesting to see how Bell develops.
Brandon Williams – Baltimore Ravens
I admit, putting Brandon Williams in this group is more of a hope than expectation on my part. Last year, I did a lot of work on Williams for the 2013 draft. He dominated Division II competition and more than held his own at the Senior Bowl. The Ravens took Williams in the third round, knowing that he was raw but with a lot of upside.
Last year, Williams played in only seven games and finished the year with 6.0 total tackles and one sack. With a year to learn the NFL game, I expect Williams to play a major role for the Ravens. While he may not be a starter, he will play in their rotation, and because he can play both on the nose and at the five-technique position, he will get a significant number of snaps.
Williams has top football character and wants to be a successful NFL player. Because of that, I look for Williams to be a much improved player in 2014.
Follow Greg on Twitter @greggabe