I always find it prudent to check in on the draft classes of the past and see how they are fairing. The 2018 class gave us a lot of talented players including 5 new quarterbacks, two All-Pro Indianapolis Colts, a franchise running back in New York, and an All-Pro Safety in LA. As with every draft class, however, some players show promise in their rookie season but don’t have an opportunity to breakout. Sometimes it’s due to injury and sometimes it’s due to being buried on the depth chart.
For this article, I am gonna take a look at five defensive players from the 2018 draft class who are due to have better sophomore seasons than rookie seasons. Unlike the offense, every position on the defense is eligible for this list. Just like the last one, this is not a rankings list, but instead, a watch list.
As always any comments or questions hit me up on Twitter @DanteCollinelli.
Harold Landry, OLB, Tennesse Titians
2018 Stats: 4.5 sacks, 44 combined tackles, 1 Forced Fumble
Oh, what I would give to see Harold Landry never get hurt again. Landry was a first-round grade on my board in 2018 because of the elite bend and speed he had off the edge. There was always major injury red flags with him though, so he fell to the second round. Landry played in 15 games last year for the Titans and started in three of them. Although I have a lot of love for Cameron Wake, he’s just not the same player he was a couple of years ago. The other players competing for a LOLB spot are former Temple grad Shareff Finich and Dereck Robertson. Landry should have the starting job essentially handed to him this year and when healthy Landry could be a double-digit sack performer. He also has the benefit of getting to play with Mike Vrabel as his head coach. Vrabel played linebacker in the NFL for several years and has done a great job with the Titans defense so far. All of the pieces for Landry to hit his true potential are in play we just have to sit back and watch.
Isaiah Oliver, CB, Atlanta Falcons
2018 Stats: 23 combined tackles, 7 passes defended, 1 interception
Every single draft cycle there is a group of players that I gravitate towards for whatever reason. In 2019, it was players like Devin Bush, JJ Arcega-Whiteside, Brett Rypien, and Rock Ya-Sin. In 2018 however, Isaiah Oliver was someone I was super high on coming out of Colorado. Oliver had all the tools to be an effective press-man corner in the NFL and had some ball production to go along with it. Oliver played in 14 games last season for the Falcons but only started in two of them. The fact that he had 7 PBUs with just two starts is actually grounds for a solid rookie season. The Falcons still have Dezmond Trufant as their number one corner but the number two corner role is wide open for the taking. Here are some of the names competing with Oliver for that spot let’s see how many of them you actually recognize, okay? Kendall Sheffield, Tavez Calhoun, Rashard Causey, Blidi Wreh-Wilson, Jordan Miller, and Parker Baldwin. How many did you get? Probably not that many, right? Suffice to say Oliver is in line to be the starter for the Falcons all 16 games this season. That alone should help him along to having the breakout season I think he is due for.
Jerome Baker, LB, Miami Dolphins
2018 Stats: 79 combined tackles, 3.0 sacks, 3 passes defended, 1 interception
Please don’t accuse me of being a homer with this pick because I promise its got nothing to do with Baker playing for the Dolphins. It does, however, have to do with the Dolphins’ new coaching staff and Baker’s improved play down the stretch last season. Baker played in all 16 games in 2018 including 11 starts. I wasn’t that high on Baker coming out of Ohio State but there is little denying his natural athletic talent. Baker is a great mover in space and should be a coverage option for the Dolphins this coming season (trust me they need those). What really excites me is Brian Flores’ new scheme which should give Baker some more opportunities to rush the passer. Baker had three sacks last season and was not given a lot of responsibility in that area. Baker’s athletic profile projects nicely as a pass rusher and Flores’ is known for getting the most of his defenders as pass rushers. No need to go over the depth chart for the Dolphins because Baker started the majority of last season and only got better. I expect Baker to be a versatile chess piece on a bad Dolphins team this season.
Ronnie Harrison, SS, Jacksonville Jaguars
2018 Stats: 32 combined tackles, 1.0 sack, 3 passes defended, 1 interception
Ronnie Harrison was another player I had ranked in the first-round during the 2018 draft cycle but he slid down to the third round. Harrison spent most of the 2018 season buried on the Jaguars depth chart behind Jonathan Cyprien. In total, Harrison only started in eight games last year but still had some production to show for it. Cyprien is no longer on the team and his competition on the depth chart CJ Reavis and Andrew Wingard who aren’t exactly fantastic players. Harrison is a hard-hitting safety who should make an impact in the box for a Jaguars team that has a lot of proficient defenders. Not only is Jonathan Cyprien gone but Telvin Smith is also not expected to play this season. Smith was the heart of the Jaguars’ defense and accounted for a lot of tackles and overall production. With Harrison’s hard-hitting mentality and newly found starting role, he should be a prominent member of an already talented defense in 2019.
Marcus Davenport, DE, New Orleans Saints
2018 Stats: 22 combined tackles, 4.5 sacks, 2 passes defended, 1 forced fumble
Let’s be honest here because Davenport has much higher expectations than the rest of the players on this list. Not only is he the only player on this list that was drafted in the first round but he’s also the only player who cost the drafting team an extra first-round pick in a trade-up selection. Davenport’s 2018 season got off to a good start recording 4.0 sacks in the first eight games, but then, he only recorded 0.5 sacks the remaining eight games of the season. Davenport battled some injuries which lead him to only play in 13 games last season but that included 0 starts. Davenport should get an opportunity to start alongside Cameron Jordan this season just based on the amount of capital the Saints have spent on him. Davenport was a raw product coming of UTSA so hopefully, he improves technically as a pass rusher this season which leads to more production. Look, I wasn’t a huge fan of Davenport when he came out in 2018 but the Saints need his pass rush, and the depth chart around him isn’t great. Trey Hendrickson and Mario Edwards Jr are his main competition. Davenport has all the tools to be an effective pass rusher and I’m just praying he will show a lot of improvement this upcoming season.