Join YouBet columnist Dan Halverson as he fondly looks back at five of the most surprising developments from the National Football League’s topsy-turvy 2019 season.
Lamar Jackson’s breakout
This year’s MVP will undoubtedly go to Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson. Jackson has been transcendent in 2019, leading the Ravens to the most potent offense in the league. After falling to the 32nd pick on draft day and being asked to consider switching positions as far back as high school, Jackson has firmly cemented himself as a damn good quarterback. He is first in the league in touchdowns per attempt and passing touchdowns, and third in overall rate. Perhaps even more notable than this passing success, however, is his rushing ability, which keeps defenses off-balance. Jackson has added 1,206 rushing yards and seven touchdowns to his passing totals, making him the single most unstoppable force in the entire NFL.
Andrew Luck’s retirement
One of the biggest surprises of the 2019 NFL season occurred before the first play even happened. After a career equally noted for injuries as brilliant play, Andrew Luck of the Colts decided to retire while seemingly still in the prime of this career. His decision inspired references and comparisons to former star Lions RB, Barry Sanders, who also hung up his cleats when he still seemed to have something left in the tank. Coming out of Stanford, Luck was described as the most NFL-ready talent to have ever graced the draft room, and he quickly demonstrated the hype was warranted. Luck had an outstanding career by most standards, but for many – especially Colts fans, there will always be lingering questions about what could have been.
The 49ers’ turnaround
The 49ers were not that long ago the kings of the NFC, led by a dominant offensive line and an elite defense. Something happened along the way, and the franchise really looked like a dumpster fire. QB Colin Kaepernick opted to kneel for the anthem and promote Nike, coach Jim Harbaugh left for his alma mater, and key leaders/All-Pros like linebacker Patrick Willis outright retired. After a three-year run of at least 11 wins per season from 2011-13, the Niners sunk to just two wins in 2016. They still managed only four wins in 2018.
In 2019, however, the team has been revived thanks to major improvement on both sides of the ball. They’ve gone from the 21st ranked offense in 2018 to second in 2019. On defense, they’ve gone from the 28th ranked defense to eighth. They do a lot of things well and have rather shockingly become the favorites to win the NFC. Everybody expected the 49ers to be a lot more competitive in 2019 than they had been in recent years, but nobody foresaw this big of a turnaround in just one year’s time.
Ryan Tannehill’s breakthrough
After opening the season 2-4 and looking like a team without an offensive identity behind struggling QB Marcus Mariota, the Tennessee Titans turned to veteran QB Ryan Tannehill. Things have been much better ever since, and while the Titans haven’t quite ensured a full turnaround and secured a playoff spot, there is no doubt they are a different team with Tannehill. He is crushing all other QB’s in yards per pass attempt at 9.6, and is third in completion percentage at 70.7%. He is also second in touchdowns per attempt, behind only Lamar Jackson. Tannehill looks confident and composed in the pocket, and his turnaround after years of unimpressive results in Miami are one of the biggest surprises in the league.
The Miami Dolphins aren’t the worst?!
After a dreadful offseason and opening quarter of the regular season, in which star players Laremy Tunsil, Kenny Stills, and Minkah Fitzpatrick were traded away, the Dolphins appeared to be in full tank mode. Everyone presumed the team that got outscored 163-26 to start their season was in for the longest season in NFL history. And yet, they have managed to get to four wins and at least maintain competitive resistance. If you would have told me after Week 4 the 2019 Miami Dolphins would get to four wins, I think this would have come as the biggest surprise of the entire season.