What kind of influence can this guy have on the Jets' offense?
One of the wonderful things about the NFL is the unpredictability of it. Every year, new players flourish and new teams emerge as contenders. Last year saw some historic performances with some of the best quarterback play we have ever seen.
When looking ahead to next season, there are five specific statistics that I feel will happen and will surprise many.
It is no secret that Rex Ryan loves to run the football
During the 1978 NFL season, the New England Patriots set the NFL record for rushing yards in a season with four running backs totaling 500 or more rushing yards. In 2012, I believe that we’ll see the New York Jets break that record.
The speculation all offseason has been that Tim Tebow was brought in not to be a backup quarterback, but rather, to start over Mark Sanchez. If Tebow starts Week 1 for the Jets, the odds of this record being broken goes up immensely.
Under the direction of Tim Tebow, the Denver Broncos led the league in rushing last year. In fact, from Weeks 7-16, when Tebow took over as starter, the Broncos averaged 212.3 rushing yards-per-game, a 16-game pace of 3,396 yards, which would have obliterated the previous record.
Rex Ryan loves to run the football, even more than John Fox in Denver. This can be evidenced by his teams in 2009 and 2010, which ranked first and fourth in the league in rushing respectively. In 2009, when they ranked first, they actually accumulated 2,756 yards on the ground, the most of any team in the league since the Falcons ran for 2,939 in 2006. In 2009, the Jets didn’t have a quarterback who could run the football, Mark Sanchez was their starter, and practically all of their yards came from their running backs.
Insert Tim Tebow into the mix, along with rookie wide receiver Stephen Hill, who is a very good blocker coming out of Georgia Tech’s triple-option system, and the Jets are set up to be a dominant run-based attack in 2012.
Dual threat quarterbacks have become the rage in the NFL
This stat line has never been accomplished by an NFL player.
Michael Vick came close three times in his career, but has never reached both plateaus in the same game. I think this is the season we finally see it done.
Cam Newton was a revelation last year for the Panthers, Robert Griffin is a dynamic talent and should get every opportunity to put up huge stats in his first season and Michael Vick is healthy again. One of those three will put up this stat line this year.
All it would take to accomplish this feat would be two long runs and an efficient passing game. I don’t think it would surprise anyone to see Newton, Vick or Griffin break two long runs in one game. As I mentioned, this feat has never been accomplished, but it is very possible.
Offenses continue to become more spread out and run out of the shotgun, giving more opportunities for plays to extend outside the pocket. All three players have shown the ability to pick up yards with their legs and their arms.
Trent Richardson should make football more exciting for Cleveland fans.
I may really be going out on a limb here, but I think the Cleveland Browns offense is going to show significant improvement from their 2010 campaign. The addition of Brandon Weeden and Trent Richardson will do wonders for an offense that only scored 218 points last season.
Weeden has impressed coaches thus far and is expected to be the day one starter for Cleveland. If he were 21-22 years old, he would have been a sure-fire top-10 pick, so fans should expect that type of production out of him as a year one starter. He is intelligent, has a great arm and is a team leader.
The Browns still lack weapons at the receiver position, but Greg Little, Mohammed Massaquoi and Josh Cribbs are solid enough to at least produce average NFL numbers, which is still a huge improvement over their offense last year.
Weeden’s impact will be great, but the biggest impact will come from the arrival of Trent Richardson. Richardson is the best running back to enter the league since Adrian Peterson in 2007. In 2006, the Vikings scored 282 points. In 2007, after the addition of Peterson, the Vikings scored 365 points. Adding a runner like Richardson gives the offense someone they can rely on, a player that they can hand the ball off to and get those tough first downs to extend drives. Having Richardson will open up the passing game as well because teams will be forced to bring safeties closer to the line of scrimmage. It’s a two-pronged effect, and the Browns will take advantage.
Along with an increase in scoring comes an increase in television exposure and popularity. For the past couple of years, the Browns have been abysmal to watch, as they have owned a completely anemic offense. The infusion of young talent on the offense side of the ball will propel them ahead of many of the aging teams in the AFC and make the must-watch TV for any fan by season’s end.
Stafford certainly has the talent to throw for 5,000 yards again, but can he stay on the field?
Matthew Stafford became the fourth quarterback in NFL history to throw for 5,000 yards and he was also the youngest player in NFL history to accomplish that feat. There’s no reason to expect a regression. The Lions added slot receiver Ryan Broyles in the second round of the 2012 NFL draft to add to a group of receivers which already boast the top receiver in the game in Calvin Johnson and dynamic second-year receiver Titus Young. The combination of Johnson, Young, Broyles and Nate Burleson at the receiver spots, and tight end Brandon Pettigrew is a lethal grouping to give the surgical Stafford.
Some may expect his numbers to come down from last year partly due to the fact that Stafford led the league in pass attempts in 2011. But the Lions still lack any semblance of a rushing attack. Jahvid Best and Mikel Leshoure are coming off injuries, and it’s still uncertain how effective they will be next year.
In the final four games of 2011, Stafford averaged 416 passing yards and four touchdowns per game. I would expect him to continue his progression towards being one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL. If he accomplishes the feat of 5,000 passing yards, he’d be the first player in NFL history to do it in consecutive seasons (unless of course Drew Brees or Tom Brady also throw for 5,000 yards in 2012).
Where this becomes a bold prediction is that for it to happen, Stafford needs to stay healthy and be on the field for all 16 games. Jeff Backus has proven to be a solid option at left tackle and should have another good year left in him. The team also drafted OT Riley Reiff in the first round of the 2012 draft, which should help keep Stafford stay on his feet.
2011 Sack Leader Jared Allen taking down Bucaneers quarterback Josh Freeman
In the history of the NFL, there has never been a season where two pass-rushers have each accumulated 20 or more sacks. Last year, we came dangerously close, with Jared Allen recording 22 and Demarcus Ware recording 19.5. However, this is going to be the season that we see it done.
Over the past five years, there have been eight instances of a player recording more than 16 sacks, four of those were recorded in 2011. The players that recorded them were Jared Allen, DeMarcus Ware, Jason Babin, and Jason-Pierre Paul. All four players are healthy and return to the same roles for the same teams as they played on last year.
Aldon Smith recorded 14 sacks despite only playing 48 percent of the snaps in San Francisco. One of the league’s best pass-rushers, Mario Williams, was out for most of the season with a torn ACL and signed with Buffalo in the offseason who hopes to feature him as their best pass rush option. Rookie of the Year Von Miller was banged up towards the end of the season and still ended up with 11.5 sacks.
With all of these players in their prime and healthy, they all should have the opportunity to record 20 or more sacks. It should not surprise anyone if more than two players reach that plateau.