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NFL experts debate: Projecting the biggest story of the 2019 season

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Saquon Barkley thanks Giants, family after Best Breakthrough Athlete award (0:40)

Saquon Barkley wins the ESPY for Best Breakthrough Athlete and says he respects all the nominees he was up against for the award. (0:40)

Our panel of ESPN NFL experts is looking ahead over the next two weeks, identifying teams and players poised to dominate in the future, as we lead up to the unveiling of our new Future Power Rankings, which launches on July 16. Our panel will answer a question every day.

The topics our panel has hit so far (click the links to see the answers):


2018 was defined by the league's offensive explosion. 2019 will be the Year of _______.

Matt Bowen, NFL analyst: Kyler Murray. I can't wait to watch rookie in Kliff Kingsbury's offense. Sure, Murray will go through some growing pains in his first pro season. Kingsbury, too. But the upside here? It's Murray's electric dual-threat ability in an up-tempo offense. The Cards are going to play fast, and I anticipate Murray posting some impressive numbers as a rook.

Mike Clay, fantasy writer: The return to Earth. It starts with offensive scoring, which was through the roof in 2018 and figures to level off or dip this season. That especially applies to the Chiefs (more on that here) and Seahawks, who broke logic with super-efficient and unsustainable 2018 campaigns. We should also expect bounce-backs from perennial contenders Green Bay and Pittsburgh, who disappointed last season but are still among the league's better teams on paper.

Dan Graziano, national NFL writer: The pass-catching running back. Christian McCaffrey set a league record for running backs with 107 catches last season and was one of four backs who caught more than 80 passes. I say someone breaks that record in 2019, whether it's McCaffrey again, Saquon Barkley, Alvin Kamara, David Johnson ... someone. And the number of backs catching more than 80 passes a year continues to go up.

Mina Kimes, NFL writer: The play-action pass. My interest was piqued recently when I read a quote from Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins, who mentioned that the team's analytics staff was pushing the offense to use play-action more often because of its efficacy. The three teams that ran play-action passes the most in 2018 were the Rams, Patriots and Chiefs; more offensive coordinators around the league will try to replicate their success.

Jason Reid, The Undefeated senior writer: Kyler Murray. Will there be some bumps along the way? Sure. Despite his talent, Murray will be tested. With rookies, that's the way it works. But Murray should absolutely thrive in the Cardinals' up-tempo offense. By the end of the year, we'll be saying, "that was fun."

Kevin Seifert, national NFL writer: Quarterback reckoning. The NFL will have at least two starters who, just a few years ago, would have been considered ill-equipped for the job. Kyler Murray in Arizona and a full year of Lamar Jackson in Baltimore will show us whether the NFL can transition to passers who find unique ways to get it done. We'll also begin the long process of moving away from an aging base of future Hall of Famers. Drew Brees, Tom Brady and Philip Rivers are all approaching free agency.


Who will be the No. 1 fantasy draft pick in 2022?

Bowen: Saquon Barkley, RB, Giants. Barkley racked up more than 2,000 total yards and 15 touchdowns with 91 pass receptions as a rookie. Monster numbers. We know he is going to see the high-volume touches again this season in the Giants' offense, and the home run ability is there, too. He's going to create explosive plays.