Derek Carr’s impressive sophomore season was only a first step.
The Oakland Raiders are a fashionable pick to make the playoffs and even win the AFC West thanks to a quarterback who appears on the verge of becoming an upper-tier player for the next decade.
Carr threw for 3,987 yards, 32 touchdowns and posted a 91.1 passer rating in 2015, helping the Raiders improve from 3-13 in 2014 to 7-9. He’s been on the rise and could get better as he continues to master coordinator Bill Musgrave’s system and develops more continuity with a supporting cast that features wide receiver Amari Cooper.
Here are other players who could be trending upward in 2016:
David Johnson, RB, Cardinals: After getting only 32 carries in the first 11 games, Johnson took over as the starter following an injury to Chris Johnson and put together a fantastic three-game stretch: 378 yards rushing, 3 TDs, 11 catches, 94 yards receiving. There’s plenty of hype surrounding the dynamic runner as he enters his second season. He’s big, strong, fast and shouldn’t disappoint.
Mike Evans, WR, Buccaneers: Evans caught more passes for more yards but had far fewer TDs in 2015 (three) than he did his rookie season (12). He also led the team in dropped passes. But Evans should thrive in new coach Dirk Koetter’s system, which helped Roddy White and Julio Jones become superstars in Atlanta. Evans and quarterback Jameis Winston have a year together so expect them to develop into one of the top QB-WR tandems in the league.
La’el Collins, LG, Cowboys: Collins lost millions when he went from being a projected first-round pick in 2015 to an undrafted free agent because of off-field issues. Dallas gambled on his talent and Collins started 11 games his rookie season. He can eventually make up that lost money by playing like a guy whose name is called by Commissioner Roger Goodell.
Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, S, Packers: He led the team with 100 tackles and added three sacks and two interceptions in his second season after a strong rookie year in 2014. Clinton-Dix should take the next step forward this season and earn a trip to Orlando for his first Pro Bowl.
Ryan Shazier, ILB, Steelers: Staying healthy was Shazier’s biggest challenge his first two seasons. He missed the first four games last year after missing parts or all of nine of the final 14 games his rookie year in 2014. When he’s on the field, he’s outstanding. Shazier had 13 tackles, forced two fumbles and recovered one in a playoff win over Cincinnati last January. He should become the next dominant force for the Steel Curtain.
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