50 NFL Players Who Must Make a Major Second-Year Leap
The type of talent that enters the NFL draft every season limits the patience of each organization. This lack of patience by the organization is accompanied by a lack of patience from the coaching staff. Coaches don't have the job security to wait for a young player to develop.
This means that second-year players are either on the hot seat or thrust into key roles. Because of the amount of talent in the league, many of these players only get one chance to show they belong in the NFL.
No. 50 to No. 40
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50. Cam Newton, Quarterback, Carolina Panthers: Newton's great rookie season only raised expectations. He needs to take a step forward and avoid a sophomore slump.
49. Justin Houston, Linebacker, Kansas City Chiefs: Tamba Hali needs Houston to help draw double-teams. Kansas City's defense will only find success if Hali is productive.
48. Stevan Ridley, Running Back, New England Patriots: Ridley will get every opportunity to win the starting job, but there's plenty of competition.
47. Marvin Austin, Defensive Tackle, New York Giants: Austin must prove he can develop after missing two full seasons due to an injury and suspension.
46. Orlando Franklin, Offensive Tackle, Denver Broncos: Peyton Manning is going to need all the protection he can get.
45. Rahim Moore, Safety, Denver Broncos: Moore needs to make major improvements if he hopes to beat out Quinton Carter or Mike Adams.
44. Jabaal Sheard, Defensive End, Cleveland Browns : As the team's top pass-rusher, Sheard will be counted on to produce.
43. Jonathan Baldwin, Wide Receiver, Kansas City Chiefs: The Chiefs need Baldwin to help open the offense by making plays down the field.
42. Adrian Clayborn, Defensive End, Tampa Bay Buccaneers: The big moves in free agency raised expectations in Tampa Bay. The Bucs' defensive success depends on Clayborn's ability to generate pressure on the quarterback.
41. Mark Ingram, Running Back, New Orleans Saints: Running backs that have durability concerns raise a lot of question marks. Ingram needs to get healthy and produce.
40. Patrick Peterson, Cornerback, Arizona Cardinals: Peterson showed his return ability, and now he must improve in coverage to live up to his high draft status.
No. 39 to No. 26
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39. Jacquian Williams, Linebacker, New York Giants: He'll have to fight to beat out the newly acquired Keith Rivers for a starting role.
38. Jason Kelce, Center, Philadelphia Eagles: Kelce must keep the offensive line on the same page in order to keep Michael Vick healthy.
37. Martez Wilson, Linebacker, New Orleans Saints: Wilson needs to show major improvements before he gets buried on the depth chart. Free-agent additions David Hawthorne and Curtis Lofton will make finding snaps difficult.
36. Dion Lewis, Running Back, Philadelphia Eagles: Lewis is listed as the primary backup for LeSean McCoy, who's coming off a career-high 273 carries last season.
35. Chris Hairston, Offensive Tackle, Buffalo Bills: Hairston is penciled in as the starting left tackle for a team with raised expectations.
34. James Brewer, Offensive Tackle, New York Giants: He has the inside track to replace Kareem McKenzie, but now has to earn the position
33. Kendall Hunter, Running Back, San Francisco 49ers: Hunter needs to stand out to ensure he gets carries in a crowded backfield that just added Brandon Jacobs and LaMichael James.
32. Colin McCarthy, Linebacker, Tennessee Titans: Finished last season strong, but now needs to show improvement to lock down the long-term job.
31. Roy Helu, Running Back, Washington Redskins: Robert Griffin III will need a strong running game to lean on in order to help ease his transition into the NFL.
30. Sam Acho, Linebacker, Arizona Cardinals: Acho faces pressure to develop into the Cardinals' top pass-rushing threat.
29. K.J. Wright, Linebacker, Seattle Seahawks: Seattle traded Aaron Curry in part because of the development of Wright. He must avoid a letdown in his second season.
28. Terrell McClain, Defensive Tackle, Carolina Panthers: Carolina didn't add a single defensive tackle in the offseason. McClain must help anchor the interior of its questionable defense.
27. Chris Conte, Safety, Chicago Bears: The Bears decided to head into the season with Conte and Major Wright as their starting safeties. There's a lot of pressure on these two to get the job done, especially for a team looking to return to the playoffs.
26. Jah Reid, Offensive Tackle, Baltimore Ravens: Reid will be facing some competition this summer because of the addition Kelechi Osemele. Both are similar players and fighting for the open guard spot.
No. 25 Pernell McPhee, Defensive End, Baltimore Ravens
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The recent injury to Terrell Suggs means the Baltimore Ravens need to find someone capable of helping with the pass rush. Pernell McPhee doesn't play the same position as Suggs, but showed last season he can get after the quarterback.
He was able to register six sacks in limited playing time. However, the free-agent departure of Cory Redding gives McPhee the chance to earn a starting role.
The Ravens are counting on McPhee to take a step forward and cash in on the promise he showed last season.
No. 24 Mason Foster, Linebacker, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
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The flurry of offseason additions raised expectations for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. However, players like Vincent Jackson and Carl Nicks can't play defense. Tampa Bay needs Mason Foster to emerge as the leader of that unit.
Foster has the best combination of experience and talent among the linebacker corps. This unit could be the weak link of the defense, unless Foster is able to take a step forward in his development.
A disappointing season could end Foster's run as the starting middle linebacker.
No. 23 DeMarco Murray, Running Back, Dallas Cowboys
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It's safe to say Felix Jones hasn't lived up to expectations of being a first-round pick. The Dallas Cowboys are now counting on DeMarco Murray to provide the team with a strong rushing attack. Murray had an excellent rookie year, but an injury cut his season short.
Durability was one of the concerns surrounding Murray when he entered the draft. Dallas can't afford to count on another injury-prone running back. Murray's second season must be both productive and injury free, or Dallas could make adding a running back a priority next year.
No. 22 Marcus Gilbert, Offensive Tackle, Pittsburgh Steelers
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The Pittsburgh Steelers' decision to shift second-year tackle Marcus Gilbert to the left side was bold. It puts a lot of pressure on Gilbert to protect Ben Roethlisberger's blind side against the league's top pass-rushers.
It'll be interesting to see if Gilbert is able to hold off the likes of Willie Colon and Mike Adams, both of whom are options at left tackle. Pittsburgh's Super Bowl chances look a whole lot better if Gilbert is able to stick on the left side.
The longevity of Roethlisberger's career might depend on the offensive line's ability to limit the pressure this season. Last year he took a lot of big hits, and it takes only one hit to force someone out of the lineup.
No. 21 Greg Little, Wide Receiver, Cleveland Browns
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The Cleveland Browns felt it was more important to upgrade at the quarterback and running back position over wide receiver. This means Greg Little must develop into the team's No. 1 receiving target. It'll be hard for Brandon Weeden and Trent Richardson to find success if the team doesn't have a threat on the outside.
Little's main focus should be improving his concentration and avoiding dropped balls. Dropped passes will frustrate and hurt the development of a young quarterback. A lot of questions will surround the Browns franchise if Little and the other receivers struggle.
No. 20 Mikel Leshoure, Running Back, Detroit Lions
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An Achilles tendon injury and drug-related arrest has kept Mikel Leshoure from making an impact for the Detroit Lions. Nobody wants to see a player arrested on a drug charge, especially one that missed an entire season due to injury. Leshoure has a lot of work to do in order to rebuild some good will within the franchise.
If the Lions hope to build on last year's success, they need to develop some sort of power running attack. Leshoure is the one running back on the roster that can provide that type of production.
An unproductive season will put Leshoure's job in jeopardy.
No. 19 Stephen Paea, Defensive Tackle, Chicago Bears
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The Chicago Bears are counting on Stephen Paea to be a major part of their defensive line rotation. This offseason they released Anthony Adams and Amobi Okoye signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, which really thinned the depth at defensive tackle. Paea enters the season as the primary backup for both Henry Melton and Matt Toeaina.
As a second-round pick, Paea is expected to make a major impact. The Bears didn't add any defensive tackles this offseason, meaning they expect Paea to remain healthy and contribute. Chicago's defensive success depends a lot on the front four's ability to penetrate the pocket.
No. 18 Titus Young, Wide Receiver, Detroit Lions
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Titus Young's hold on the No. 3 receiver role in the Detroit Lions' offense might be in jeopardy. Detroit used a second-round selection to add Ryan Broyles to the receiving corps and create some competition for Young. Broyles might not be completely healthy at the beginning of the season, but Detroit definitely plans to use him once he is.
Young and Broyles are similar players who use their quickness to overcome limited size. They both work well out of the slot and had excellent production in college. Detroit will use some four-receiver sets, but if Young doesn't set up he could lose a lot of snaps.
No. 17 Brooks Reed, Linebacker, Houston Texans
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The Houston Texans felt comfortable letting Mario Williams leave via free agency because of the other players on the roster. There was a point in time where Williams was seen as the most important player on this football team. However, the switch to a 3-4 defense allowed other players to make an impact. Brooks Reed is one of the players Houston needs to fill Williams' shoes.
Reed must continue to develop if the Texans hope to improve on last year's success. Houston also brought in some competition for Reed when it drafted Whitney Mercilus in the first round. The Texans will be looking for a double-digit-sack season from Reed.
No. 16 Bruce Carter, Linebacker, Dallas Cowboys
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Bruce Carter is an extremely talented football player but failed to really impress last season. His limited development is what led to the Dallas Cowboys signing Dan Connor in the offseason. As it stands, Carter will serve as a backup to both Connor and Sean Lee.
Lee has some injury concerns, which means Dallas needs Carter to show some improvement. If Lee is forced out of the lineup, Carter will be asked to step in and not miss a beat. From what he showed last season, he isn't a guarantee to play at a high level.
No. 15 Andy Dalton, Quarterback, Cincinnati Bengals
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The Cincinnati Bengals are a team on the rise, but they will only go as far as Andy Dalton can lead. Dalton played well for a rookie and helped a four-win team earn a playoff berth. However, Dalton needs to take a significant step forward if the Bengals hope to make future playoff appearances.
Cincinnati worked hard to put a ton of weapons around its young quarterback. The Bengals improved the offensive line with the addition of Kevin Zeitler and added another threat in Mohamed Sanu. This team's success lies in the hands of Dalton.
No. 14 Derek Sherrod, Offensive Tackle, Green Bay Packers
The Green Bay Packers selected Derek Sherrod in the first round with the hope that he would team with Bryan Bulaga to give them bookend tackles. However, early struggles and an injury resulted in a disappointing rookie season for Sherrod.
Green Bay's decision to part with Chad Clifton puts pressure on Sherrod to live up to expectations. He'll be locked into a competition with Bulaga and Marshall Newhouse for the right to land one of the starting tackle spots. At this point, Sherrod has a lot of ground to make up in that competition.
No. 13 Cameron Heyward, Defensive Line, Pittsburgh Steelers
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The talk about the Pittsburgh Steelers' aging defense has put a dark cloud over the team. However, those discussions fail to mention the several young backups that have a bright future. This year might be the time for players like Cameron Heyward to step up.
Aaron Smith is no longer with the team and Brett Keisel is 33 years old, which means Heyward must become a bigger part of the rotation. The Steelers' ability to continue their defensive dominance depends on guys like Heyward fulfilling their potential.
No. 12 Jimmy Smith, Cornerback, Baltimore Ravens
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The emergence of Cary Williams, singing of Corey Graham and drafting of Asa Jackson puts Jimmy Smith under some pressure. His first-round draft status means he'll get plenty of chances to earn snaps, but the Baltimore Ravens can't afford inconsistent play at cornerback.
Baltimore's Super Bowl hopes rely on the defense performing at an elite level. The injury to Terrell Suggs will hurt the pass rush and put more pressure on the secondary. This team needs Smith to assert himself as a top-notch cover man.
No. 11 Cameron Jordan, Defensive Line, New Orleans Saints
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The New Orleans Saints' addition of Steve Spagnuolo as defensive coordinator will bring a ton of changes. He prefers to let the front four create the majority of pressure, a major change from Gregg Williams' blitz-heavy system. In order for Spagnuolo's defense to be successful, he'll need Cameron Jordan to improve his play.
Jordan's one sack last season won't be tolerated this year. Spagnuolo will quickly replace him in the lineup if he's unable to generate consistent pressure on the quarterback.
No. 10 James Carpenter, Offensive Line, Seattle Seahawks
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The Seattle Seahawks' selection of James Carpenter in the first round brought a lot of criticism. This pick would have made more sense at the end of the second round or early in the third. Carpenter's rookie season was hampered by injuries and below-average play.
He enters the offseason fighting for a starting role. He'll have to beat out Breno Giacomini to land the right tackle job and outduel Paul McQuistan for a guard spot. The fact that Carpenter isn't guaranteed a starting job shows how he underperformed as a rookie.
No. 9 Gabe Carimi, Offensive Tackle, Chicago Bears
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Despite the disagreement from most experts, the Chicago Bears made it known they felt comfortable with their offensive line. However, their confidence relies on the unit remaining healthy and intact throughout the season. Chicago is counting on Gabe Carimi playing a major role in the improvement of this unit.
Carimi missed most of last season with a knee injury but is slated to regain a starting role next year. He'll begin the year at right tackle, but if J'Marcus Webb struggles he could be asked to shift to the left side. Either way, Carimi needs to play at a high level if the Bears hope to return to the playoffs.
No. 8 Nate Solder, Offensive Tackle, New England Patriots
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The retirement of Matt Light opens the left tackle spot for Nate Solder. While Solder played well as a rookie, he'll need to make some major improvements to ensure Tom Brady's blind side is protected. The Patriots are entrusting a young and raw player with their most important asset.
Consistency and improving technique are the two areas Solder needs to focus on during the offseason. He must do a better job remaining balanced so he can react to counter-moves. Solder will be tested by some tough pass-rushers like Mario Williams and Cameron Wake.
No. 7 Nick Fairley, Defensive Tackle, Detroit Lions
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Injuries, inconsistent play and an offseason run-in with the law has brought a lot of negative attention to Nick Fairley. When the Detroit Lions added him to the mix many felt they would have the most dominant defensive line in the game. However, we didn't see much of Fairley and Ndamukong Suh on the field together.
The Lions need Fairley to work through his issues and become a dominant force. He still possesses a ton of potential but needs to live up to it.
No. 6 Anthony Castonzo, Offensive Tackle, Indianapolis Colts
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We've seen plenty of young quarterbacks fail to live up to expectations because of the offensive line's inability to provide protection. The Indianapolis Colts are going to need Anthony Castonzo to improve if they want to avoid Andrew Luck becoming the next David Carr.
Castonzo has the potential to be an excellent left tackle in the NFL, but injuries derailed his rookie season. The lack of reps could have an impact on his ability to play mistake-free football. Castonzo's development will play a key role in the Colts' attempt to rebuild.
No. 5 Prince Amukamara, Cornerback, New York Giants
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Corey Webster and Terrell Thomas are entrenched as the starting cornerbacks for the New York Giants, but there will be a battle for the nickel role. Prince Amukamara must beat out Jayron Hosley and Antwaun Molden for that third cornerback job.
Amukamara is without question the most talented of that group, and possibly even more talented than the players in the starting lineup. However, he'll need to remain healthy and improve his consistency if he hopes to make an impact.
Because of his first-round status, New York has high hopes for Amukamara.
No. 4 Robert Quinn, Defensive End, St. Louis Rams
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The St. Louis Rams are still a few years away from competing for a playoff berth. However, if they want to improve on last year's two-win season they'll need Robert Quinn to step up. Jeff Fisher will want to see his talented defensive end tandem generate a ton of pressure on the quarterback. In order for that to happen, Quinn will need to first win the starting job.
Quinn's quickness and athleticism give him the ability to create pressure, but he needs to improve his overall technique. Because of his suspension at North Carolina, Quinn could have been a little rusty heading into his rookie season. This won't be the case this year, and the Rams will expect big things.
No. 3 Jake Locker, Quarterback, Tennessee Titans
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The future of the Tennessee Titans franchise rests on the unproven arm of Jake Locker. Last season was a learning year for Locker, but this year he's expected to compete for the starting job. The Titans will need to see improved accuracy and understanding of the offense if he's to unseat Matt Hasselbeck as the starter.
Nowadays, franchises are less patient with young quarterbacks. Locker should feel lucky he was given a chance to sit and learn last season. However, he shouldn't expect the same type of patience this year.
No. 2 Christian Ponder, Quarterback, Minnesota Vikings
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Health and durability are major concerns surrounding Christian Ponder. The Minnesota Vikings ignored those concerns when they selected him in the first round of the 2011 draft. However, the injury bug resurfaced and Ponder was force to miss time in his rookie season.
Minnesota invested the No. 4 pick in the 2012 draft on Matt Kalil in order to improve their pass protection. The hope is that he'll help Ponder avoid hits and remain healthy. The 2013 quarterback class looks strong, and a poor or injury-filled season by Ponder could spark a change.
No. 1 Blaine Gabbert, Quarterback, Jacksonville Jaguars
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The Jacksonville Jaguars are committed to giving Blaine Gabbert a chance to become their franchise quarterback. They brought in Mike Mularkey and offensive-minded head coach who works well with quarterbacks. Jacksonville also made a aggressive moves to bring in offensive weapons like Justin Blackmon and Laurent Robinson.
However, it also signed Chad Henne as another option should Gabbert struggle. Gabbert's rookie season wasn't very impressive, and he'll need a strong second year to remain in the franchise's future plans.