Week 1 NFL Predictions: Top Sophomore Stars Who'll Dominate in 2012 Debuts
So, you were good as a rookie. Good for you. Let's see how you do when the opposition has a full season of game tape to develop a specific scheme to stop you in Year Two.
The "sophomore slump" is the not-as-bad-looking cousin of the dreaded "bust" term, but both are distinctions every young NFL player tries to avoid.
When it comes to these four, need not worry.
They will prove any skeptics wrong and initially avoid the "sophomore slump" with dominant performances in their 2012 debuts.
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We heard the offseason hoopla about Julio Jones. He's a second-year wideout with great size, athleticism, speed, soft hands and the natural aggression to absolutely breakout within the Atlanta Falcons' offense.
After an encouraging preseason in which he showcased the very skills that made the Falcons trade a handful of picks to select him No. 6 overall in the 2011 draft, everyone is expecting Jones to truly burst onto the scene and piece together a fantastic regular season.
Well, now's the time to start the emergence.
He's facing a Kansas City Chiefs team, that if healthy, could be one of the surprise teams in the AFC. The Falcons have their fair share of issues along the offensive line, but with Tamba Hali suspended due to a violation of the league's substance abuse policy, Matt Ryan can breathe a little easier on his drop backs.
Stanford Routt and Brandon Flowers are good corners, but they are no match for Jones throughout the course of a game.
Expect Jones to be a major facet of a productive afternoon for the Falcons' offense.
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Miller played in 15 games as a rookie and exploded for 64 tackles and 11.5 sacks. He and Elvis Dumervil were integral in the Denver Broncos' late season resurgence and AFC West crown.
He had three tackles and a sack against the Pittsburgh Steelers in the opening round of last year's postseason, and the former Texas A&M star will get another chance to disrupt Ben Roethlisberger on Sunday Night Football.
Not only should Miller display the same lightning-quick burst off the snap that made him extremely difficult to block, but he'll face a vulnerable offensive Pittsburgh line that's already without rookie David DeCastro.
Big Ben is arguably the best out-of-the-pocket improviser in the league, but Miller should be able to create consistent pressure on passing downs to force the Steelers' quarterback into precarious situations.
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The Texans had one of the most productive defensive lines from top to bottom in 2011. Mario Williams contributed five sacks before he went down for the season with a torn pectoral muscle, but the rest of the defensive line was steady from September through the playoffs.
Connor Barwin finished with 11.5 sacks. Veteran Antonio Smith had 6.5 sacks. Brooks Reed tallied 6.0 quarterback takedowns and J.J. Watt accumulated 5.0 sacks.
Reed, one of the team's hybrid outside linebackers, finds himself in a favorable Week 1 matchup against the Miami Dolphins at home.
More often than not, he'll square off against tight ends and running backs kept in the backfield for blocking purposes, as rookie right tackle Jonathan Martin and stud left tackle Jake Long (who has a minor MCL sprain), will face either Watt or Smith on each snap.
Ryan Tannehill has the skill set to be mature into a fine NFL quarterback, but making his debut on the road, with a shaky offensive line in front of him, could lead to a day filled with sacks for the Texans' defense, especially Mr. Reed.
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Cam Newton. The reigning Offensive Rookie of the Year, a guy who demonstrated transcendant ability last year as he set various rookie records.
Many have selected his Carolina Panthers as true sleepers in the NFC due to what they believe Newton is capable of in his second season.
They should be better than their 6-10 record of 2011, but how much better?
Well, things will start off exquisitely in Week 1 against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for Cam and his squadron.
Greg Schiano's team has a trio or rookies with immense upside in running back Doug Martin, safety Mark Barron and linebacker Lavonte David, but they're all rookies.
Tampa Bay's defense was downright awful a year ago, and though the presence of Barron, David and free-agent acquisition Eric Wright should improve the unit, they're still no match for Newton and all of his play-making ability, even at home.
Newton has a solid yet not necessarily spectacular trio of pass-catchers in Steve Smith, Brandon LaFell and Greg Olsen and will certainly make use of his size, speed and deceptive agility on designed runs and scrambles.