Now that the 2012 Draft is in our past, it's time to look forward to what is sure to be an exciting NFL season.
By the time each NFL team finishes training camp, they'll be set with a 53-man roster. More often than not, all 53 players have to make an impact for a team to be successful. However, some players will be scrutinized much more than others.
Here is one key player to watch on every team while we reach the 2012 NFL season.
Ironically enough, that’s the player who Luck will have to try and replace in Indianapolis.
It will be interesting to see how Luck performs considering all of the hype surrounding him.
Although a lot of critics keep talking about the lack of talent surrounding Luck in Indianapolis, that may not be as true as some people think.
On defense, the Colts still have two of the league’s most dynamic pass-rushers in Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis. On offense they still have Reggie Wayne as well as the Colts’ second-round draft pick and Luck’s former Stanford teammate, Coby Fleener.
Are the Colts set to be a Super Bowl contender in 2012? I think it’s safe to say the answer to that question is no.
But could this team win seven or eight games? I certainly think that’s possible.
One thing is for certain, it will all depend on the play of the No. 1 overall pick.
Hopefully RG3 will be better as an NFL quarterback than he is at picking out a normal-looking suit.
It will be all eyes on the second overall pick this season every time the Washington Redskins play.
I’m still scratching my head over the Redskins’ decision to draft Kirk Cousins after taking Griffin second overall. If you’re bringing in a quarterback meant to be the guy from day one, why even hint that he could have some competition? Overall, taking Cousins was a strange decision in my opinion.
Anyway, I don’t think there’s any chance that Cousins will take the starting job from Griffin barring an injury.
Griffin will likely be in a two-man battle with Andrew Luck for the Rookie of the Year award this season. He’ll be an interesting player to watch develop.
After undergoing season-ending foot surgery last season, Matt Schaub missed the opportunity to play in the Houston Texans’ first ever playoff game. That was an opportunity that the Texans’ all-time leading passer certainly deserved.
Instead, Schaub watched from the sidelines and became a mentor and teacher to backup quarterback T.J. Yates. Yates played admirably in Schaub’s absence, but the loss of Schaub truly hurt the Texans as a team.
This season, Schaub is expecting to be “100 percent ready to go” when the season starts.
Schaub has been one of league’s most underrated quarterbacks for a while now and may still get overshadowed by the Texans’ dominant defense.
Nevertheless, it will be interesting to watch him as he returns to the gridiron in 2012.
Blaine Gabbert struggled in his first year at quarterback a season ago for the Jacksonville Jaguars. A major reason for that was the lack of weapons Gabbert had at his disposal.
As a result, the Jaguars traded up in the 2012 NFL Draft to take who many believed was the best wide receiver in the draft, Justin Blackmon.
Despite the former Oklahoma State standout being the first receiver taken in the draft, there’s been a lot of criticism surrounding Blackmon. There are questions as to whether or not he can be a No. 1 receiver at the NFL level.
Bleacher Report’s Senior NFL Lead Writer Matt Miller, had this to say about Blackmon going to the Jags: “Sure, Justin Blackmon is a solid wideout prospect, but trading up for a receiver who lacks dynamic size, can’t run away from defenders and drops passes over the middle is a bad fit.” Ouch.
Will Blackmon be able to prove the doubters wrong and become a dynamic weapon for the Jaguars’ offense? Only time will tell.
Jared Cook has improved by leaps and bounds in his first three NFL seasons with the Titans.
Here are Cook’s stats starting with his rookie year:
2009: nine receptions, 74 yards, no touchdowns
2010: 29 receptions, 361 yards, one touchdown
2011: 49 receptions, 759 yards, three touchdowns
As you can see, Cook has doubled (and sometimes more than doubled) his stats from season to season in his first three professional years.
Cook is a freak athlete and all signs point to the 25-year-old tight end having a breakout season this year with the Titans. Regardless of whether his quarterback will be Matt Hasselbeck or Jake Locker, it’s safe to say that either QB will make an effort to target Cook in the passing game. He'll be a security blanket that either quarterback will lean on throughout the season.
The Titans tight end will be an X-factor for them moving forward. I wouldn't be surprised to see him have a Pro-Bowl caliber season at his position this season.
In six seasons since Romo became the Dallas Cowboys’ starting quarterback, the team is 1-3 in playoff games.
You’d have a hard time finding a Cowboys’ player who has been scrutinized more often than Romo.
But is the scrutiny surrounding the Cowboys QB warranted?
Since Romo has been a starter, we’ve seen Ben Roethlisberger, Aaron Rodgers and Eli Manning all take their football game to that elite level needed to win Super Bowls. Romo simply has not won the big games.
Despite a fabulous year last season from Romo, in which he passed for 4,184 yards and 31 touchdowns to just 10 interceptions, the Cowboys finished 8-8 and missed the playoffs. You could argue that Romo didn’t have the supporting cast he needed, but that’s an excuse other quarterbacks would refuse to lean on.
The now 32-year-old Romo still has time to change his legacy, but he needs start doing so in the next few seasons.
With the final pick in the first round of the 2012 NFL Draft, the defending champion New York Giants drafted running back David Wilson out of Virginia Tech.
Wilson is an incredibly speedy runner who notched over 1,700 yards on the ground last season with the Hokies.
Bradshaw has been a very solid option for the G-Men in recent years, but he has had struggles with fumbling in the past. While he didn’t fumble a single time last season, in 2010 he put the ball on the ground seven times.
As Wilson splits time with Bradshaw next season, it will be interesting to see how dynamic he’ll be at the next level.
There’s no denying that Rodgers-Cromartie is a very talented cornerback in the NFL. The Arizona Cardinals probably regret giving him up in return for quarterback Kevin Kolb (a move that has yet to pan out).
However, DRC has a tendency to overplay receivers at times and go for the home run play. As a result, he sometimes can get beat by deep passes down the field.
In his three seasons with Arizona, Rodgers-Cromartie recorded 13 interceptions. Last season with Philly, he had zero.
It will be interesting to see if DRC can return to his original form in a bounce back year for the Eagles, especially when you consider that Samuel isn’t around as a security blanket.
After adding new additions Mario Manningham (via free agency) and A.J. Jenkins (via the draft), and having Ted Ginn Jr. on the roster, it’s not even certain that Randy Moss (who was signed by the Niners to a one-year contract this offseason) will get a roster spot for the 2012 season.
Nevertheless, Moss is a competitor. I think he’s going to do everything in his power to make the Niners 53-man roster.
Moss, for good or bad, has been one of the most polarizing figures in the NFL during his career. After not playing at all last season, will he have the ability to come back and remain competitive?
That’s certainly the biggest question surrounding Moss.
One thing is for sure though, if he ends up making the 49ers team, he’ll be an interesting player to watch.
The million dollar question in Arizona this offseason will be which quarterback, Kevin Kolb or John Skelton, will be the starter.
Perhaps we should change that to the $63 million question. One would have to assume that Cardinals' head coach Ken Whisenhunt will leave the job open for competition considering Skelton's performance (the Cards are 6-2 in games that Skelton starts). However, it would be a difficult decision to sit Kolb, who signed a five-year $63 million contract after the trade that brought him to the desert from Philly.
Both quarterbacks will be in a prime situation considering they have arguably the best wide receiver in the league in Larry Fitzgerald, as well as new addition Michael Floyd (the Cardinals first round draft choice).
This will be one of the most intriguing position battles this offseason.
The Cardinals have a chance at being a very good team, but it starts and ends with the quarterback position.
The Seattle Seahawks became the laughing stock of the 2012 NFL Draft when they decided to reach and take one-dimensional pass-rusher Bruce Irvin with the 15th overall pick.
But maybe taking Irvin at that spot wasn’t such a reach after all. Gregg Rosenthal of NFL.com recently reported that the New York Jets coveted Irvin and planned to take him in the first round if the Seahawks hadn’t shocked everyone first.
Rex Ryan is one of the best defensive minds in football. If he felt that Irvin was worth a first round selection, it’s difficult to argue.
Anyway, Irvin will certainly be a fascinating player to watch in 2012.
Will he be the next Aldon Smith or a draft bust?
Only time will tell.
In eight NFL seasons, Steven Jackson has played in all 16 regular season games just twice. After losing Brandon Lloyd to the New England Patriots this offseason, the Rams will be relying even more heavily on the health of Jackson for production.
The Rams did add wide receivers Brian Quick and Chris Givens in the draft, but after Sam Bradford missed six games last season due to a high ankle sprain, the uncertainty in the Rams passing game has certainly been magnified.
St. Louis will lean on two rookie receivers and a so-far unproven quarterback this season.
Jackson will have to carry the load in order to help this team compete in 2012.
The Bills had a pathetic excuse for a pass-rush a season ago and Super Mario may single-handedly fix that issue.
The play of Williams will dictate how well the Buffalo defense performs next season.
If he is able to get after opposing quarterbacks and force them to hurry their throws, the Bills’ secondary (including first round draft pick Stephon Gilmore) will reap the benefits.
When you’re a team in the same division as the New England Patriots and Tom Brady, having a talented pass-rush is a huge luxury.
If Williams can stay healthy, he may have a career year in a Bills uniform.
Despite the lack of receivers last season, the presence of Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez made the Patriots a potent offensive team that made it back to the Super Bowl.
If Lloyd can prove himself to be a solid fit in order to become one of Tom Brady’s favorite targets, the Patriots will once again be a threat to win it all.
Trading up twice in the draft to add Chandler Jones and Dont’a Hightower to the Pats defense should help take some pressure off of Brady as well.
But the storyline I’ll be watching is whether or not Lloyd will be the perfect fit in New England.
If the Miami Dolphins have any sense, they’ll make certain that Ryan Tannehill doesn’t see the field this season.
Being behind capable quarterbacks Matt Moore and David Garrard on the depth chart is where he should stay. Tannehill should be pacing the sidelines with a clipboard, learning the offensive system and waiting until it’s time for him to take over as the starter.
However, I don’t think that the Dolphins will make that decision.
Having drafted Tannehill eighth overall in the 2012 NFL Draft, I think that the Dolphins’ organization will feel pressured to showcase their quarterback of the future.
If the Dolphins under-perform with the other quarterbacks on their roster, I wouldn’t be shocked to see the Dolphins make a bad decision by putting him in the NFL crucible.
Sensible Miami fans should want Tannehill to spend a year on the sideline, learning the game.
I’m not sure that the organization will make that choice.
Were you expecting anyone else in this spot?
The move to the New York Jets will be one of the most interesting story lines of the upcoming NFL season.
How will Tebow co-exist with Mark Sanchez? If Sanchez under-performs again, could Tebow take over the starting job? How will Tebow be used by Jets?
Well, one of the ways Gang Green plans to use Tebow is on the punt team.
Why haven’t other NFL teams thought of this? Why not throw a backup quarterback onto the punt team to always have the threat of a fake punt? In theory, it's a very clever idea.
I can’t wait to see how the Tebow experiment works out with the Jets. For better or worse, it will be fascinating.
Another obvious choice, Peyton Manning was the most sought-after free agent this past offseason.
The New York Jets, Miami Dolphins, San Francisco 49ers and Denver Broncos all tried to woo Manning to their respective club. John Elway apparently has a way with words.
By adding Manning, an 11-time Pro Bowl selection and four-time NFL MVP, the Broncos immediately bolstered their football team with one of the greatest quarterbacks to ever play the game.
There is, however, one gigantic question mark stamped behind Manning’s name this year.
The uncertainty stems from the undeniable fact that Manning missed the entirety of last season after undergoing multiple neck surgeries.
The Broncos better hope that their offensive line is prepared to protect their new signal caller.
After picking Dontari Poe at No. 11 in the 2012 NFL Draft, the Chiefs have heard the chatter about Poe’s poor football motor.
Poe’s combine numbers were absurd. At 346 pounds, Poe ran the 40-yard dash in less than five seconds and he bench pressed 225 pounds 44 times.
Athletically, Poe is an absolute machine. As a football player, however, the former Memphis nose tackle has a lot of people scratching their heads.
He certainly has the raw ability to be a dynamic NFL player, but his low football IQ and lack of effort may hurt what could be a promising career.
Hopefully for Chiefs fans, Romeo Crennel can coach this kid up.
Although the Chiefs may see Poe as a pass-rusher, his 346-pound frame could also assist Kansas City’s ineffective numbers against the run.
A season ago, the Chiefs ranked 26th in the league against the run, giving up 132 yards per game on the ground.
Poe will certainly be an interesting rookie to watch in 2012.
Darren McFadden may be one injury-free season away from becoming one of the best running backs in the game of football.
McFadden has simply had a hard time staying healthy for a full season. He has never played more than 13 games in a season since entering the NFL in 2008.
Last season, McFadden was only able to play in seven games due to a foot injury.
If McFadden can stay healthy this season, he may put up extremely impressive numbers.
Raiders’ fans can take solace in the fact that their starting running back doesn’t grace the cover of Madden 13.
From 2008-2010, Rivers had a quarterback rating over 100 in three straight seasons. Despite his consistency, Rivers regressed last season for the Bolts. His QB rating dipped to 88.7 as he threw 20 interceptions and fumbled the ball seven times.
Watching Rivers’ last season was frustrating because we’ve already seen how good of a player he can be. Watching him regress statistically was part of the reason for the team’s struggles.
Will Rivers return as one of the league’s top quarterbacks this season and lead the Chargers back to the playoffs? We’ll have to wait and see.
Last season, Ndamukong Suh went through a big sophomore slump. Of course, maybe I should call it a "sophomore stomp."
Suh's infamous stomp earned him a two game suspension last season, which certainly didn't help his overall stats.
Suh regressed in every statistical category during his sophomore year. Here's the comparison:
2010: 16 games, 66 tackles, 10 sacks, one forced fumble, one interception, three pass deflections.
2011: 14 games, 36 tackles, four sacks, no forced fumbles, no interceptions, one pass deflection.
Will Suh return to the performance he had in his rookie season this year? Will he mature and learn to control his temper?
Those are two X-factors to watch for this season.
Jay Cutler finally has a go-to target in his receiving core.
Devin Hester is a dynamic talent, but he's much better suited returning kicks and punts for touchdowns. He's a bad fit as a team's No. 1 wide receiver.
The addition of Brandon Marshall immediately fixes the question marks in Chicago regarding their lackluster receivers.
When motivated, Marshall is one of the most talented receivers in football. Keep in mind that this is the guy who once caught 21 passes in one game.
Cutler has to be excited for the 2012 season to try out his new weapon.
This offseason, Jeff Saturday signed with the Green Bay Packers after 13 years with the Indianapolis Colts. Over those 13 years, Saturday developed a close bond with former Colts' quarterback Peyton Manning.
Many suspected that Saturday would sign wherever Manning decided to go, reuniting the four-time MVP with a familiar rear end under center.
Saturday however, decided that Green Bay was a better fit. He'll now be snapping the ball to another one of the NFL's best QBs, Aaron Rodgers.
It will be strange seeing Saturday in a different uniform next year, but look for him to bring veteran leadership to the Packers offensive line.
Can Christian Ponder be the Minnesota Vikings' franchise quarterback? That's a question the 24-year-old will look to answer this season.
In 11 games last season for the Vikes, Ponder threw for 1,853 yards, 13 touchdowns, 13 interceptions and fumbled the ball five times.
In the 2012 NFL Draft, the Vikings went out and added significant help for Ponder.
The addition of Matt Kalil with the No. 4 overall selection has Ponder giddy.
In theory, Ponder will have more protection in the pocket, allowing him to make more reads. Giving Ponder more time in the pocket should help his production moving forward.
With Percy Harvin, Visanthe Shiancoe and Adrian Peterson at his disposal, Ponder should be able to put up solid numbers.
If he doesn't, the Vikes may look for a different answer at quarterback.
Courtney Upshaw's role in Baltimore could be a prominent one this season. With the news that Terrell Suggs partially tore his Achilles tendon, it could translate into the Ravens depending upon the rookie even more for production.
The good news is that Upshaw will have arguably the greatest linebacker ever in Ray Lewis to mentor him.
In addition, Upshaw may come into the league with a bit of a chip on his shoulder after falling to the second round at pick 35.
Upshaw won't be able to replace Suggs, one of the best defensive players in the NFL, but he'll have to try. Especially considering that Suggs could miss the entire 2012 season.
After having arguably one of the best drafts of any NFL team in 2012 (Matt Miller graded the Bengals’ 2012 draft class an A+), the Bengals went out and signed troubled Arizona State linebacker Vontaze Burfict, who went undrafted.
Via Twitter, one Bengals fan said, “Signing Burfict after a solid draft is like watching Madea after Pulp Fiction.”
Despite how much of a joke that statement is, it’s also a pretty fair analogy.
We knew that Burfict’s off-field issues (and on-field issues) would drop his stock to the later rounds, but no NFL team took a chance on the linebacker, who was a former five-star recruit coming out of high school.
Burfict may come into the league with a huge chip on his shoulder, trying to prove everyone wrong for passing on him approximately seven times each.
Yet, at the same time, Burfict may continue being a headcase. Trent Dilfer of ESPN said that after talking to people at Arizona State, they had this to say of Burfict, "He sucks the life out of your football team." Yeesh.
I'm very interested to see if the former Sun Devil can put it together at the NFL level.
After the Browns decided to draft the 28-year-old quarterback Brandon Weeden with the 22nd overall pick in the draft, it seemed obvious that Colt McCoy would be the odd man out, and as a result, would be out the door.
Not so fast. Oddly enough, there have been reports that McCoy won't be traded from Cleveland.
That certainly seems like a strange change of events after speculation that McCoy would be gone.
If you make the decision to draft a 28-year-old QB (in the first round, mind you), it makes sense to start that guy right away to maximize his value.
If McCoy doesn't get traded, he'll likely be in a position battle this offseason with Weeden for the starting job. If the former Texas Longhorn doesn't win that position battle, it will prove to be a rough few months for the young quarterback.
Regardless of who wins the job, watch that player closely. If they don't perform, the second guy on the depth chart may seize the opportunity to start.
The price tag for any team in the NFL looking to acquire Mike Wallace this offseason will be a first-round draft choice. That elephant in the room is preventing teams from going after the Steelers' speedster.
In addition, Wallace reportedly wants to be paid like Arizona Cardinals' star wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald... Now Wallace is a good receiver, but he's not that good.
I think when all the dust has settled, Wallace will be back with Pittsburgh.
If he does make a return to the Steelers, Ben Roethlisberger may rely on him more so than usual after the retirement of Steelers' Hall of Fame caliber receiver Hines Ward.
Until then, Wallace should probably start rubbing a Buddha's belly if he wants to be paid like Larry Fitz.
Last season, the Atlanta Falcons' defense ranked 20th against the pass, giving up 236.6 yards per game through the air.
Adding veteran cornerback Asante Samuel for a measly seventh-round pick is a great pickup, especially when you consider that he agreed to restructure his contract to play in Atlanta.
Samuel is a play-making corner with a whopping 45 career interceptions.
Look for Samuel to be a huge difference maker for the Falcons this season.
Cam Newton had a fantastic rookie year a season ago with the Carolina Panthers, but there's still room for improvement.
Despite throwing for a whopping 4,051 yards, Newton also threw 17 interceptions.
His rushing numbers were extremely impressive. He racked up 706 yards on 126 attempts for 14 touchdowns.
Newton will be amazing to watch if he improves his quarterback play by avoiding the sophomore slump, but honestly, even if he plays at a similar level to his rookie year, he'll be a fun player to watch.
You don't need me to tell you that the New Orleans Saints have been through a crazy amount of negative press this offseason.
Suspensions stemming from "BountyGate" started with staff members. General Manager Mickey Loomis was suspended for eight games, head coach Sean Payton was suspended for the entire season and Gregg Williams may never have an NFL job again.
The suspensions trickled down to players as well. The two current Saints involved are Jonathan Vilma, who was suspended for the entire 2012 season and Will Smith, who will miss the first four games of the season.
With that said, one of the few leaders left in New Orleans after the debacle is Drew Brees.
As he goes, so go the Saints. It will be interesting to see how Brees and the entire Saints roster responds to what happened in the offseason.
For the Saints to succeed, they'll need another monster year from Brees as he plays without his usual head coach.
LeGarrette Blount certainly has no lack of swagger. Last season, after a game against the Detroit Lions in which Blount got just five touches for 15 yards, he voiced his opinion that he deserves the ball more.
"I feel like... I'm a play-maker on this team also, so I feel like I should be on the football field more," Blount told the St. Petersburg Times last season.
Blount, who is never one to shy away from voicing his opinion, said he would not be happy if the Bucs chose to take Trent Richardson in the 2012 NFL Draft.
The Cleveland Browns answered that question by taking Richardson third overall after trading up to get him.
The Bucs, however, still added a running back in Round 1. With the 31st overall selection, Tampa Bay drafted Boise State runner Doug Martin.
Martin is a three-down back who has the ability to block and catch the ball out of the backfield.
If Blount is open to it, he and Martin could become a formidable two-headed monster for the Bucs next season.
If he'd rather be the only guy getting touches, there could be some chemistry issues. Make sure to watch this story line moving forward.