Every season there are a few notable players in the NFL who take their game to a whole new level, landing near the top of the league from a statistical perspective.
Some of these players are really just that good. They demonstrate this by remaining one of the league’s highest performers for years to come until their careers reach their inevitable declines.
Others simply had a good year because their particular set of talents combined with the right set of circumstances to make them into a better player than they otherwise would've been. They may not fade into obscurity, but they won’t be able to consistently reach quite the top of the league either.
Which statistical leaders from the 2011 season will be unable to stay at the very top in 2012? Keep reading to find out.
A bruiser of a running back, Arian Foster has found great success in Houston after signing with them as an undrafted free agent in 2009.
Foster accounted for the fifth-most rushing yards in the league in 2011 despite missing three games at the end of the regular season. If he had been able to participate in those final three games, he could have easily been one of the top three running backs in the league.
Foster lost carries in 2011 to fellow running back Ben Tate, a rookie who proved that he had what it took to grind out yards and first downs when it mattered. There is every indication that Tate has earned the right to continue carrying the ball with some regularity in the new season.
With Matt Schaub and Andre Johnson once again healthy and able to complement the ground game with an aerial attack that is excellent in its own right, Foster may see his premier role in the Texans offense diminish enough to make an impact on his yardage numbers in 2012.
During his rookie year, Victor Cruz tore up the field on the behalf of the New York Giants. He finished the regular season with 1,536 passing yards and the highest average yards per reception of any player who topped 1,000 yards.
He won’t be flying under the radar as a semi-unknown threat in 2012, but a target for defenses to work their coverage schemes around.
More importantly, he may be moved from the slot (via Dan Graziano, ESPN)—where he was very effective and a defensive mismatch—to the outside in the wake of Mario Manningham’s departure.
Both of those factors may cut into Cruz’s productivity, which could knock him out of the top five in terms of gross yardage next season.
Rob Gronkowski put together a breakout campaign in 2011, shattering receiving and touchdown records. Gronkowski was part of the receiving trio that dominated the New England Patriots offense.
While there is no doubt that Gronkowski will continue to be an integral part of the Patriots offense, it seems unlikely that he will be able to achieve quite the same level of excellence two years in a row.
The Patriots offensive system is meant to spread the ball around to several receiving threats.
Gronkowski will certainly see plenty of targets in 2012, but he probably won’t be able to match his touchdown record, and it seems doubtful that he can carve out a second season with 90 catches on an offense so overloaded with talent.
That’s not to say that he will not be an impact player next season since there is no question that he will, but he will not have quite the statistical year that he put together last season.
Jared Allen stood out on a mostly unremarkable Minnesota Vikings defense last season by leading the league in sacks with 22. He was half a sack away from tying an NFL single-season record.
While achieving similar success and ultimately breaking the record is a lofty goal and a great one for Allen to work towards (via Duluth News Tribune), achieving that level of success in the sack game for two years in a row is something that no other NFL player has done in his career (via NFL.com).
Allen’s continuing contributions to his defense are going to go a long way towards helping revitalize the squad, particularly if the Vikings are able to find an answer in their secondary to complement their scary offensive line.
In 2011, London Fletcher led the NFL in tackles and was elected to a third consecutive Pro Bowl. That’s an impressive stat line for any NFL player, but especially for one who will be 37 this year.
The real question seems to be whether he can continue to dominate the way he has for the past 10 decades, or whether he will begin to see his numbers decline as he starts to feel his age.
The Redskins defense will still rely heavily on Fletcher’s contributions in 2012, but they will perhaps begin to put more responsibility in the hands of Perry Riley to keep Fletcher fresh.