2012 NFL Season Debuts We're Looking Forward to Most
It seems so surreal to think that the wait for the 2012 NFL season is over.
It's like the blooming of the first spring flower—times, what's a fair number, 100 billion?
The excitement of each year is marked by the fact that the NFL, unlike other sports, gives us real parity and allows any team to go from a two-win season to being champs of the entire league. The start of the season is truly a blank slate, and it's enthralling knowing any of the 32 teams could hoist the Lombardi Trophy in February.
In addition, the new season brings about interest in individual players. Guys returning from serious injury, highly-touted rookies, veterans in new places and other individual storylines keep us glued to the TV like an old lady watching her soaps—and the music just got extremely intense.
Here are the five guys whose performances we should all be anticipating in 2012.
Hopefully it doesn't end in a dream sequence.
5. Adrian Peterson
Geoff Burke-US PRESSWIRE
Adrian Peterson may have lost the distinction of "best running back in the league" that he once carried without much debate, but he still hasn't fallen out of the top three. One monster year could have him right back in everyone's conversation.
However, odds are that won't happen in 2012, as he is attempting to return from a torn ACL.
Historically speaking, running backs—and really any position—have a hard time returning to form after such an injury. One-hundred percent recovery from the surgery usually takes a full calendar year, and AP won't hit that mark until later on in the season.
Combine that with the fact that second-year quarterback Christian Ponder is unlikely to scare defenses enough to move an eighth guy out of the box and you have a recipe for a season that, if he's lucky, will see AP just barely break the 1,000-yard mark.
On the other hand, he is Adrian Peterson. It really shouldn't surprise anyone too much if he completely breaks the trend.
4. Mario Williams
Timothy T. Ludwig-US PRESSWIRE
The biggest defensive free agent of the year went to a team often out of the national conversation in the Buffalo Bills, but his debut is going to be exciting nonetheless.
Williams was forced to move to outside linebacker in Wade Phillips' 3-4 defense after being a dominant force at end in a 4-3 with the Houston Texans. Williams was an excellent pass-rusher and also played the run well, putting him up there with guys like Julius Peppers and Trent Cole as some of the best and most complete defensive ends in the league.
Williams is now coming off an injury that forced him to miss a lot of time in 2011, but with Buffalo, he will get back to terrorizing quarterbacks in the Bills' 4-3 scheme.
Coming back from injury, switching positions and showing up in a new place is the perfect storm to create a ton of buzz about Williams' 2012 debut.
3. Robert Griffin III
Dennis Wierzbicki-US PRESSWIRE
The most recent No. 2 overall draft pick will begin his NFL career as the starting quarterback for the Washington Redskins—with a ton of expectations to go along with it.
Griffin, or "RG3," won the Heisman Trophy before coming to the NFL on his strong arm and athleticism, and he will be expected to put both on display at the NFL level. Ever since the quick success of Matt Ryan, Joe Flacco, Mark Sanchez and now Cam Newton, rookie quarterbacks are not given the time to develop that they once were.
As far as the league is concerned, Griffin is an NFL quarterback and will be expected to produce as such.
Can he do it? Will his Heisman-winning style translate to the big leagues? Can he turn the Redskins into a playoff contender in a tough division? Can he duplicate what Newton did in his rookie year?
Those questions will all be answered throughout the course of the year, but no one will stop asking until an answer is had.
2. Andrew Luck
Charles LeClaire-US PRESSWIRE
If there's anyone with more hype surrounding him than RG3, it's the guy drafted one slot ahead of him.
In addition to being the No. 1 overall pick, Luck is a quarterback and therefore subject to far more scrutiny than any other position. He must also live up to the extreme comparisons being made—like saying he's the best prospect since John Elway.
Then there's the biggest one of all: replacing one of the best quarterbacks to ever play the game in Peyton Manning.
The only thing in Luck's favor is the acknowledged lack of talent around him. Because of that, winning even just five or six games will be considered a very good year, and any individual stats Luck accumulates will have the disclaimer of, "Yeah, but look who he has around him."
Either way, all the hype surrounding Luck as the next best thing will have people around the country tuning in to see what he can do now that he's finally in the NFL.
1. Peyton Manning
Mark J. Rebilas-US PRESSWIRE
It's not often that a future Hall of Famer hits the free-agent market. But given the neck injury that sidelined him for all of 2011, his cap number being right around $30 million and the known availability of the No. 2 guy on this list, the Indianapolis Colts cut ties with Peyton Manning.
After some lengthy wooing from several teams around the league, Manning chose the Denver Broncos as the team with which he'd start his post-Colts career.
And after all the discussion of who might land Manning, his decision wound up bringing about more questions than answers.
Manning had always played inside at the RCA Dome and then Lucas Oil Stadium (or, "The Stadium Peyton Built"); how would he respond to playing outside, in the cold and at that altitude? How would the Broncos transition away from the read-option offense implemented while Tim Tebow was under center to a more traditional offense? How will Peyton perform with what seems to be little offensive talent?
It will be a sight to behold as Manning tries to revitalize his career in the face of extreme doubts surrounding his neck and his team. There isn't a football fan in the world who's uninterested in how this will all play out.