Christian Ponder and 3 Players Poised for Breakout Years in 2012
The 2011 NFL season is over, but its ending brings a new beginning for some players.
Of course, we will see Tom Brady, Arian Foster and Calvin Johnson in this year's highlights, but who will be the surprising new face that joins these greats?
Will a rookie quarterback lead their team into the playoffs, or will it simply be that breakout year for a player who has struggled to find their groove thus far?
Let's find out.
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It's not uncommon for a rookie quarterback to be completely overwhelmed with the starting job. Jumping from college to the pros does not affect any position more than quarterback.
Christian Ponder learned this the hard way.
Ponder threw for 13 touchdowns and 13 interceptions while also fumbling the ball five times last year.
However, not all of the blame can fall on the rookie quarterback.
Ponder never seemed to be fully healthy in his first NFL season, much like his final years as a Florida State Seminole.
Without being 100 percent, not having a solid receiver outside of Percy Harvin and having one of the NFL's worst offensive lines, Ponder and the Vikings managed three wins but also kept several games very close.
The Vikings organization has already addressed the obvious deficiencies by drafting OT Matt Kalil, and two wide receivers from Arkansas in Greg Childs and Jarius Wright.
After such improvement during the offseason, and a full year for Ponder to get his sea legs, there is only one possible direction going forward.
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Demaryius Thomas was relatively unknown to the NFL world until his game winning 80-yard touchdown reception from Tim Tebow in the first round of the playoffs against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Waiting two years to put his name on the map was not the plan for Thomas after being drafted 22nd overall in 2010.
But it wasn't entirely his fault, either.
Tim Tebow isn't exactly your average throwing quarterback, and there simply weren't that many opportunities for Thomas to succeed.
With Peyton Manning at the helm, you can bet that will change.
Thomas showed that he has what it takes to light up a defense with the opportunities he got. Now with Manning delivering a few more balls his way, production can only increase.
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Brandon Spikes has already become an anchor of the young and developing New England Patriots' defense, despite having to sit out seven games last year with a sprained knee.
The playoffs is where Spikes really began to shine. He notched 26 tackles, one interception and a forced fumble in only three playoff games. Eleven of those tackles came in Super Bowl XLVI against the New York Giants.
In two years in the NFL, Spikes has really seemed to find the path to stardom. With the Patriots adding to the defense over the offseason, a healthy Brandon Spikes could return and become one of the most dominant linebackers in the NFL.
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The Buffalo Bills were the surprise team over the first half of last year's season.
While the Bills faded in the second half of the season, running back C.J. Spiller began to show signs that he could live up to expectations after being drafted No. 9 overall in 2010.
After a truly disappointing rookie season, the late signs of improvement in 2011 have to ease concerns whether Spiller can truly become a franchise running back.
After a year of early success, perhaps the Bills are ready for the spotlight.
The same goes for Spiller.