Every year, there are NFL players who manage to outproduce their individual circumstances, either overcoming a lack of supporting talent or exceeding low expectations.
Before we fully turn the page toward 2020, let's look back at some of the players who overproduced last season -- those who performed like stars despite either being stuck in less-than-ideal situations or being viewed as relative non-factors because of past performance or unpromising surroundings.
Below, I've highlighted five of the top overproducers of the 2019 season:
Barrett entered the 2019 season on a one-year, $5 million prove-it contract after spending the first portion of his career as a backup in Denver. And he was joining a Bucs defense that, while talented, featured a slew of young players trying to master new coordinator Todd Bowles' system. So it would have been fair to expect modest production from the veteran. All Barrett did was carry Tampa's pass rush nearly single-handedly, notching nine sacks in the Bucs' first four games and finishing the year with a franchise-record (and league-high) 19.5 sacks. It's true that Barrett got a mid-season boost from Jason Pierre-Paul's return to health; with JPP on the field, it was harder for opposing offenses to double-team Barrett, who was free to pile up eight more sacks in his final six games. But the fact is, in the space of one season, he elevated himself from free-agent afterthought to franchise-tag-worthy force. If he can put up another strong season on the franchise tag, Barrett should be set up for a mega-deal.
OK, it might seem weird to list Jones, a bonafide stud, as an overproducer. But his All-Pro-caliber 2019 seems all the more impressive -- and, in a way, unlikely -- when you consider the supporting cast in the desert. If the 10 other starters on Arizona's defense were as productive as Jones, the Cardinals wouldn't have finished with the NFL's worst yardage-allowed mark. Despite the lack of a complementary pass-rush presence, Jones ripped his way to a franchise-record 19 sacks, leaning on his great first-step quickness and high motor. Jones was one of only six players last season to notch double-digit sacks without having at least one teammate also finish with six or more sacks, and of those, only the Saints' Cam Jordan (15.5) came close to matching Jones' sack total. (The others were the Browns' Myles Garrett, who had 10, the Cowboys' Robert Quinn, who had 11.5, the Colts' Justin Houston, who had 11, and the Giants' Markus Golden, who had 10.) Jones will probably have to be a one-man band again in 2020, although free agent Jordan Phillips, who had 9.5 sacks in Buffalo last year, could help bring more pressure inside.
Christian McCaffrey's spectacular 2019 performance overshadowed what his Panthers teammates were able to accomplish on an individual level during an otherwise lost season for the organization. But Moore excelled despite working with three different starting quarterbacks and missing one game. The second-year pro became the youngest player in franchise history (22 years old) to record 1,000-plus receiving yards, finishing with 87 catches, 1,175 receiving yards and four touchdowns total. His strength as an all-around receiver, in terms of explosiveness and reliability, was reflected in the fact that he tied for third in the NFL with four plays of 50-plus yards and fifth in first-down catches (63). The Panthers will take their lumps as they rebuild under new coach Matt Rhule, but Moore's presence as a steady target for new quarterback Teddy Bridgewater will make the transition easier.
Thrown into the fire when Nick Foles went down with a broken collarbone in the first quarter of the 2019 season-opener, Minshew put forth an effort that would have been considered more than solid for any rookie quarterback, let alone one drafted in the sixth round, as Minshew was last year. He went 6-6 as a starter, with 21 touchdown passes against six interceptions, while building a strong rapport with young receiver D.J. Chark (1,008 receiving yards, eight touchdowns). Minshew apparently did enough to earn a chance this season to cement himself as the team's long-term starter, given that the Jags did not draft or sign a serious competitor for quarterback snaps. The hiring of former Washington head coach Jay Gruden as Jacksonville's offensive coordinator will only help Minshew's cause -- I think this player is going to be pretty good, when it's all said and done.
It might look in retrospect like Jones was in prime position last season, based on his ability to wreck opponents in a ground-oriented attack while playing with one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL. But heading into the year, there were legitimate reasons to question whether he'd have that kind of impact. First, there was speculation about how much Aaron Rodgers, who had operated in a pass-happy attack in his previous 11 seasons as the Packers' starter, would buy into the shift in philosophy employed by new head coach Matt LaFleur. Second was the fact that Jones had been used inconsistently by the team since he was drafted in 2017. Picking up some of the offensive slack left by receiver Davante Adams' absence with a toe injury, Jones started all 16 games and finished with career highs in attempts (236) and rushing yards (1,084), along with 16 rushing touchdowns, which tied Derrick Henry for most in the NFL. Again, this was without much in the way of complementary offensive pieces, with the Packers' young receivers struggling to step up in place of Adams; Jones, in fact, ranked second on the team in catches (49) and third in receiving yards (474). Jones should continue to build off a strong campaign, with Jamaal Williams and AJ Dillon battling for backup snaps.