The Hungriest Young Player on Every NFL Team
Nothing is handed to young NFL players. They need to earn every snap they play in those first few seasons in the league.
What makes the difference between a superstar and a player who flames out after only a few years in the league is how "hungry" they are. Here is a list of the hungriest young player on every NFL team.
Arizona Cardinals: O'Brien Schofield, Outside Linebacker
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When O'Brien Schofield entered the league, few thought he'd be more than a third-down pass-rushing specialist. While he possessed elite speed and burst off the edge, he didn't have the complete game to play every down.
However, Schofield has worked extremely hard to become better against the run in order to see more playing time. That hard work and hunger has paid off as Schofield looks poised to start the season at outside linebacker for the Arizona Cardinals.
While the Cardinals will likely still use plenty of rotation throughout their linebacker corps, the fact that Schofield has nearly locked up a starting job in just his third season shows just how far he's come.
San Francisco 49ers: Kendall Hunter, Running Back
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Kendall Hunter was a solid No. 2 running back for the San Francisco 49ers last season. He posted nearly 500 rushing yards and 200 receiving yards in limited action.
However, the 49ers brought in Brandon Jacobs as a free agent and drafted LaMichael James with the 62nd-overall pick. Clearly the 49ers had questions about both Hunter and Frank Gore heading into next season. While questions about Gore are understandable because of his age, many expected Hunter to be the eventual replacement in San Francisco.
Hunter is going to have to fight tooth-and-nail just to get some playing time. Look for him to come out extremely hungry to prove his worth to the 49ers and remain a key contributor to the offense.
Seattle Seahawks: Russell Wilson, Quarterback
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Nothing makes a player hungrier than having everyone doubt something you can't control. For Russell Wilson, that uncontrollable thing is his height.
Throughout the entire draft process, Wilson was considered too short to be a successful NFL quarterback. No one seemed to pay attention to the fact that he played behind an enormous line at the University of Wisconsin with great success, but said he would never succeed in the league.
Wilson has used that doubt to prove all of his doubters wrong as he is a legitimate threat to start for the Seattle Seahawks at some point during this year. Look for Wilson to use his doubters' words as food to continue his push towards success in the NFL.
St. Louis Rams: Sam Bradford, Quarterback
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After winning Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2010, Sam Bradford was expected to take major leaps forward during his sophomore season and become one of the top quarterbacks in the league.
However, Bradford had an extremely difficult second season and left people wondering if he really has what it takes to become a great quarterback. Bradford needs to show major improvement from last season just to prove he should remain the starter for the St. Louis Rams.
That type of pressure is going to bring the best out of Bradford in 2012. He'll rebound in a major way this year and use his hunger to make a legitimate run at the Pro Bowl.
Denver Broncos: Von Miller, Outside Linebacker
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After one of the most impressive rookie seasons by a defensive player in recent years, Von Miller is going to be hungry to prove that he can take that next step from superstar to elite of the elite.
Everyone expected Miller to be a quality player in his first season, but few thought he'd be dominant. Miller was able to consistently get pressure on opposing quarterbacks as well as hold up against the run and pass.
Miller is going to have to watch out for a sophomore slump after getting too comfortable with his success as a rookie. As long as he can continue to play at a high level, there is no reason Miller shouldn't become one of the best outside linebackers in the game.
Kansas City Chiefs: Jonathan Baldwin, Wide Receiver
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Jonathan Baldwin's first NFL season didn't start too well when a preseason fight with Thomas Jones sidelined him for the first five games of the regular season.
Once Baldwin finally got on the field, he was less than impressive. He finished with 21 receptions, 254 yards and a lone touchdown reception in 11 games. It certainly was't the type of production the Kansas City Chiefs expected from a first-round pick.
Baldwin will have a full offseason to improve and become a key member of the Chiefs offense. He'll need to have a much better sophomore season If he wants to steer away from being considered a bust.
Oakland Raiders: Rolando McClain, Middle Linebacker
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Rolando McClain made giant strides between his rookie and sophomore seasons, but his off-field issues could end up costing him his job.
McClain was arrested back in December for third-degree assault, menacing, reckless endangerment and discharging a firearm inside the city limits. He was found guilty and sentenced, but appealed the conviction and has an arraignment date set later this month.
If the charges stick, Roger Goodell could certainly hand McClain a lengthy suspension. Even if the appeal is successful and McClain doesn't face severe charges, he'll still need to come out and prove to the Oakland Raiders that he isn't just some mess up.
In the end, whatever happens to McClain will only make him more focused on the actual game of football.
San Diego Chargers: Ryan Mathews, Running Back
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Since being the 12th pick of the 2010 NFL draft, Ryan Mathews has struggled to become that every-down running back the San Diego Chargers were hoping for. While he has certainly shown flashes of potential, injuries have slowed him down and he has lost a number of carries to Mike Tolbert.
Now that Tolbert is gone and Mathews is once again at full health, expectations are extremely high for this third-year player. Other young players might crumble under that much pressure, but Mathews looks poised to not only meet those expectations, but surpass them.
Look for him to thrive this season in San Diego and establish himself as one of the premier running backs in the league.
Atlanta Falcons: Akeem Dent, Middle Linebacker
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After a decent rookie season as a backup to Curtis Lofton, Akeem Dent was ready to take over at middle linebacker after Lofton left for the New Orleans Saints in free agency. However, the Atlanta Falcons brought in veteran Lofa Tatupu, leaving Dent back on the bench.
An injury to Tatupu will sideline him for the season, giving Dent another chance to become the Falcons' starting linebacker. He'll still have to beat veteran Mike Peterson in training camp for the job, but he should have little trouble doing that.
Despite eventually landing the starting middle linebacker job, all this back-and-forth between Dent and other players at his position has certainly made him hungrier and more motivated than he's ever been. Don't be surprised if he uses this to put together an extremely productive season for Atlanta at middle linebacker.
Carolina Panthers: Cam Newton, Quarterback
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Cam Newton didn't just live up to expectations as a rookie—he flew past them on a F-22 jet. His 4,051 passing yards was a rookie record, as was his 14 rushing touchdowns.
While some might take that success to be an indication that he's already arrived, Newton hasn't done that. He's been as focused as ever during his first full training camp and appears ready to improve in the areas that plagued him last year.
If Newton can use his hunger to become a better quarterback and improve across the board there is no telling what type of second season he can have for the Carolina Panthers.
New Orleans Saints: Mark Ingram, Running Back
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Those expecting Mark Ingram to come in as a rookie and be an every-down back for the New Orleans Saints were certainly disappointed last year. While injuries hampered him throughout the season, Ingram also struggled adjusting to the faster pace of the professional game.
However, all those struggles during his rookie season should make him hungrier and more focused than ever. He'll be aiming to prove to the rest of the league that he wasn't just a wasted pick and that he can be a solid NFL player.
He'll have to work to surpass Darren Sproles and Pierre Thomas on the depth chart, but don't be shocked if Ingram comes out looking better than ever to start the season.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Mason Foster, Middle Linebacker
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There were few defensive rookies that started out as well as Mason Foster did last year for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He was solid in all aspects of the game and it looked as if Tampa got an absolute steal, drafting Foster in the third round.
Unfortunately, things began going downhill for Foster midway through the season and raised some doubts about how safe his job would be entering the 2012 season. Tampa Bay spent a fifth-round pick on middle linebacker Najee Goode adding further questions about how safe Foster's job was.
However, the same hunger and intensity that drove Foster to exceed expectations at the start of last season will get him back into form this year. Look for him to lead an underrated defense and show everyone that he will be keeping his job for years to come.
Houston Texans: Lestar Jean, Wide Receiver
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The Houston Texans boast one of the best wide receivers in the game in Andre Johnson. However, what they've always lacked is a solid No. 2 option to take some pressure Johnson and give Matt Schaub another target.
With Johnson sidelined with a groin injury, second-year receiver Lestar Jean has been taking his snaps with the first team in training camp. Jean is a unique player due to his combination of size, speed and athleticism. Like many other small-school prospects, Jean's grasp of the NFL game simply needs to catch up to his physical tools.
The time in the starting lineup will make Jean want to become that second option next to Johnson even more. He'll work hard to get his chance during the regular season and hopefully succeed once he gets those extra snaps.
Indianapolis Colts: Andrew Luck, Quarterback
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Look, when you're replacing a legend, you have to be the hungriest football player on the field for your team. Teammates that are used to playing for Peyton Manning have to see that you're willing to put in the extra work to become half the player he was.
There is no doubting Andrew Luck's physical abilities to succeed and I fully believe the hunger to prove he can come out of Manning's shadow will drive him to be one of the better quarterbacks in the league in no time.
Jacksonville Jaguars: Mike Brewster, Center
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Despite being a four-year starter at one of the premier universities in college football, Mike Brewster went undrafted this year.
That type of initial rejection from all 32 teams in the league could end up being the greatest thing to ever happen to Brewster. He'll be driven to prove to all the teams that passed on him just how big of a mistake they made.
While he may not start this year, he should still make the final roster and position himself to be the center of the future for the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Tennessee Titans: Jake Locker, Quarterback
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Nothing will make you hungrier than being a top draft pick, but then your team going out and signing a veteran free agent to take your job.
That is what happened to Jake Locker last year with Matt Hasselbeck, and even though Locker played extremely well whenever Hasselbeck got injured, he still finds himself in an intense quarterback competition this year.
Locker will likely use this competition to force himself to become a more accurate and sound quarterback. Once he does that, the starting job is all but guaranteed to be his for the Tennessee Titans.
Chicago Bears: Alshon Jeffery, Wide Receiver
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After major questions about his ability to separate, his weight and desire heading into the 2012 NFL draft, Alshon Jeffery has to prove all his critics wrong. When people are constantly questioning what type of player you are, it generally makes you more focused and a better player.
The Chicago Bears are certainly hoping Jeffery can use those pre-draft comments to boost an average receiving corps in Chicago. If Jeffery can motivate himself to reach his full potential, he could end up being the best receiver drafted this year.
Detroit Lions: Ndamukong Suh, Defensive Tackle
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After an extremely impressive rookie season, Ndamukong Suh was a lot less dominant during his second year. He was overly aggressive at times and failed to make the impact he did as a rookie.
His poor performance during his sophomore campaign forced people to begin wondering whether his rookie year was just a fluke. It is that type of doubt that Suh will take personally and use to get back to playing impact defense in 2012.
He'll be as hungry as ever to prove he wasn't just some one-hit wonder, but rather a giant force to be reckoned with.
Green Bay Packers: Davon House, Cornerback
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The biggest area of concern for the Green Bay Packers heading into the 2012 season was in their secondary. It was a weak point in 2011 and the release of Nick Collins before the start of training camp wasn't a good sign that things would be getting better.
The best move Green Bay can make heading into the regular season is to move Charles Woodson from cornerback to safety where he can have the opportunity to make more plays on the ball. For that to happen, the Packers needed one of their young cornerbacks to step up and take his place.
Despite only playing in two games last year, second-year cornerback Davon House appears to be hungry enough to be that player to step up. He's been fantastic throughout training camp so far and if he can hold up throughout the preseason, he could very well be the player good enough to move Woodson to safety.
Minnesota Vikings: Kyle Rudolph, Tight End
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Despite playing behind Visanthe Shiancoe last year, Kyle Rudolph looked every part of a dominant tight end in limited snaps. After the Minnesota Vikings moved on from Shiancoe, it appeared as if Rudolph would become one of the top targets for Christian Ponder.
However, Minnesota decided to bring in another veteran tight end in John Carlson during the offseason. While adding another weapon like Carlson could be seen as a wise decision, another way to look at it is this move being a direct shot toward Rudolph.
While he's unlikely to lose his starting job to Carlson, look for Rudolph to use this signing as motivation to become an absolute beast and force the Vikings to keep Carlson on the sidelines.
Baltimore Ravens: Jimmy Smith, Cornerback
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Heading into last year's draft, Jimmy Smith's off-field issues nearly outweighed the potential he had on the field. Smith quickly showed in limited time that he is ready to forget the past and push forward toward stardom.
Despite being a solid nickel cornerback last year, there are still those who doubt Smith's overall abilities. Those doubters are what feeds Smith and his hunger as he pushes toward starting at cornerback for one of the best defensive teams in the league.
Cincinnati Bengals: Vontaze Burfict, Middle Linebacker
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Vontaze Burfict went from potential top-10 selection before the 2011 college football season to being an undrafted free agent. That type of fall forces an individual to face reality.
Coming into training camp, Burfict was a long shot to win a roster spot on a very good defense. However, Burfict has looked good so far in the offseason and has a legitimate shot at making the final roster for the Cincinnati Bengals.
Obviously, Burfict took his fall from grace well and it seems to have made him a hungrier player than he's ever been.
Cleveland Browns: Brandon Weeden, Quarterback
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I guess it is hard to call a 28-year-old quarterback young, but Brandon Weeden is a rookie and young according to NFL standards.
Due to his age, Weeden needs to be hungrier than nearly every other rookie that was drafted this past April. He doesn't have the luxury of waiting a few years to make an impact. In a few years he'll be over 30 and if he hasn't made it by then, he'll likely be out of the NFL.
There is a lot to like about Weeden's game, but not much to like about his situation with the Cleveland Browns.
Pittsburgh Steelers: Marcus Gilbert, Offensive Tackle
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The Pittsburgh Steelers had major difficulties with their offensive line last year and Marcus Gilbert was often a big part of the blame. While he wasn't as bad as some people thought, he definitely went through his rookie growing pains.
He'll now be starting alongside two other rookies in David DeCastro and Mike Adams this year, so Gilbert is going to have to step up his game in a major way. Look for him to successfully hold down the right side of the offensive line for the Steelers this year.
Dallas Cowboys: Bruce Carter, Inside Linebacker
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There were major character questions concerning Bruce Carter heading into the 2011 NFL draft from his days at the University of North Carolina. However, the Dallas Cowboys thought highly enough of Carter to draft him early in the second round.
While Carter didn't make much of an impact during his rookie season, he'll likely be starting this year with plenty of pressure on him. He's going to be asked to play some serious snaps opposite Dan Connor and Sean Lee and if the Cowboys want to be successful, Carter is needs to prove his character isn't cause for concern.
This is going to be a make-or-break year for Carter, but his hunger to prove those who doubted his character should make him successful during his second season.
New York Giants: Victor Cruz, Wide Receiver
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There should really be no doubt that Victor Cruz is the hungriest player on the New York Giants.
He's been one of the hungriest players in the league due to everyone doubting his abilities. However, once he got a shot to actually play he took full advantage of it.
Look for Cruz to continue to improve because of his great desire to be the absolute best he can be.
Philadelphia Eagles: Riley Cooper, Wide Receiver
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There were plenty of people who expected Riley Cooper to have a breakout year in 2011. However, Cooper only recorded 16 receptions for 315 yards and a touchdown.
With the Philadelphia Eagles bringing in some rookie receivers like Marvin McNutt, Chase Ford and Darnell Williams, Cooper is going to need to prove he can still be a weapon. Hopefully the added competition can light a real fire under Cooper so he can reach the potential everyone expected him to.
If he doesn't come out as the hungriest wide receiver on the roster, he could very well find himself searching for a new team.
Washington Redskins: Robert Griffin III, Quarterback
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What makes Robert Griffin III such a hungry player is his desire to prove that he is the best quarterback of the 2012 draft class.
He'll spend his entire career being compared to Andrew Luck, which will only make him hungrier to succeed. Expect a successful career from Griffin as he rejuvenates a downtrodden franchise in the Washington Redskins.
Buffalo Bills: C.J. Spiller, Running Back
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C.J. Spiller was widely considered a bust through his first one-and-a-half seasons in the NFL. However, after Fred Jackson went down with an injury, Spiller had 262 rushing yards and two touchdowns over the final three games of the season.
He'll look to build on that late success heading into the 2012 season, but a returning Jackson could stop him in his tracks. In order for Spiller to get the significant playing time needed to prove his worth to the Buffalo Bills, he'll have to be hungry enough to fight Jackson every step of the way.
The desired scenario in Buffalo is for Spiller and Jackson to both get their carries and become one of the best running back duos in the league.
Miami Dolphins: Michael Egnew, Tight End
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After the 2010 college football season, Missouri tight end Michael Egnew was considered one of the top prospects. However, Egnew decided to stay in school for another season and after struggling he found himself being constantly criticized for not performing up to standards.
His draft stock took a major hit during that season and dropped him into the third round of the 2012 NFL draft. Despite ending up a much later pick than he would have in the 2011 draft, that might end up being the best thing to ever happen to Egnew.
He'll spend his entire career proving doubters wrong and considering his size, hands and athletic ability, there is a good chance he'll be successful.
New England Patriots: Aaron Hernandez, Tight End
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This might sound crazy, but I believe that Rob Gronkowski's success is going to make Aaron Hernandez a hungrier player.
The truth is that Hernandez isn't that far behind Gronkowski in terms of talent. Because Gronkowski has the better statistics, no one seems to think twice about Hernandez. In fact, Hernandez's versatility to play a number of roles for the New England Patriots makes him just as valuable as Gronkowski.
Heading into the 2012 season, look for Hernandez to use that hunger to become one of the most dangerous weapons, regardless of position, in the entire NFL.
New York Jets: Tim Tebow, Quarterback
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I know it seems like Tim Tebow has been around forever because no one can stop talking about him, but he is only entering his third year and is still considered a young player.
Of all the players on this list, Tebow is probably the hungriest. This shouldn't come as surprise considering how Tebow constantly proves doubters wrong by winning football games, but it is still the truth.
Tebow wants to win and I'm pretty sure he'll do anything to do so. If that doesn't make you a hungry player, I don't know what does.