Monday, August 8, 2022

Travis Etienne, Kadarius Toney highlight Year 2 players returning from injury that are in for big years

It happens to an unfortunate select few every year — rookies who see their opening seasons in the NFL get derailed by injury. Some are significantly held back by poor coaching. 

For as much as an injury or minimal opportunity screeches post-draft momentum to a halt, those less-than-ideal scenarios do not stop a player from rebounding in his second professional season.

These are the second-year bounce-back players for 2022.

As a draft prospect, I didn’t adore Etienne like many others did but acknowledged he was an explosive, high-energy runner with above-average capabilities as a receiver, mostly due to how fast he accelerated and how speedy he was in top gear. 

The preseason injury as a rookie was probably a blessing in disguise — Etienne avoided the negative atmosphere derived from Urban Meyer and his coaching staff. Now he enters what, at the very least, will be a semi-competent coaching environment on a team with much more talent on it than it featured a season ago. 

Jacksonville’s blocking should be improved in large part due to the presence of big-ticket free-agent signing Brandon Scherff, and Trevor Lawrence can’t be worse in Year 2 than he was as a rookie. Jacksonville Etienne will look a lot like Clemson Etienne in 2022.

Ossai exudes explosiveness. He’s incredibly fast off the snap, and wraps the corner like a Ferrari around the bend. His 41.5-inch vertical and 10-11 broad jump at the combine last year quantified what was apparent on film. In his only game of the 2021 preseason, the former Texas star was dominant. Unblockable. He registered seven pressures on 23 pass-rushing snaps. 

The nearly 6-4, 255-ish pounder won’t be asked to be the alpha rusher in Cincinnati either. Opponents will gameplan to limit Trey Hendrickson and Sam Hubbard on the outside of the Bengals defensive line. At first, the low amount of snaps will cap his impact. After the Bengals see how efficiently Ossai is pressuring the quarterback, the coaching staff will get more rotational at the edge-rusher position. His acceleration is that special, and Ossai understands how to utilize his hands as a rusher too. 

Just like his dad in the 2003 draft, Samuel Jr. should’ve been a first-round pick. The only reason he was selected in Round 2 … his size. But at 5-foot-10 and 180 pounds, Samuel’s natural feistiness shines against larger receivers and he has nickel corner esque suddenness, which gets him to the ball in a flash if it’s thrown in his direction. 

Two concussions curtailed a promising debut campaign for the legacy — Samuel Jr. still managed 11 pass breakups and two interceptions in 12 contests. His coverage brilliance was evident when he was on the field — for about 60% of the defensive snaps. 

This year, with clean bill of health, Samuel will go from encouraging rookie to budding superstar in what should be a loaded-with-playmakers defense in Los Angeles. 

Toney is a dazzling yards-after-the-catch play waiting to happen. He was barely fully healthy as a rookie yet managed a bulky 6.0 YAC per reception average, which tied for the eighth-highest figure among all qualifying receivers in football. That 6.0 YAC per reception figure was the same as Chris Godwin’s and Cooper Kupp’s, of course, at a much different volume. 

Being dynamic with the ball in his hands is not new behavior from Toney. That was his trademark at Florida. He’s a freaky athletic specimen, too. And the Giants can’t be infected by the injury bug as badly as they were in 2021, so opposing defenses will have a fair share of legit talent to scheme to stop outside of Toney. 

The former first-round pick will be viewed as one of the NFL‘s most dynamic gadget-type weapons after his second season.

I’m sneaking Cisco into this article, because he wasn’t injured last season. He just barely got any action for three-quarters of his debut season. But we’re giving all Jaguars a pass for last season, right? I am. Gone is Meyer. Doug Pedersen is in. The environment in Jacksonville will be significantly more conducive to success, and Cisco will be a beneficiary of the new vibe in northeastern Florida. 

Meyer barely let Cisco on the field as a rookie. Then, after Meyer was relieved of his coaching duties, Cisco set career-highs in defensive snaps, logged 16 total tackles and had his first two pass breakups as a professional. At around 6-1 and 216 pounds, Cisco is shaped like a strong safety/linebacker hybrid but ranges to the football in coverage like a ball-hawking specialist, as evidenced by his 13 interceptions at 25 career games at Syracuse. Cisco will emerge as one of the game’s more complete young safeties, who’s always around the football, particularly in coverage.

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