NFL Stars with the Most to Prove in 2013

Michael SchotteyNFL National Lead WriterMay 9, 2013

NFL Stars with the Most to Prove in 2013

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    Everything is a competition.

    That's the philosophy that drives the Pete Carroll-led Seattle Seahawks (and now the Jacksonville Jaguars under Gus Bradley). More importantly, it's a core principle that all successful athletes end up following.

    If you're not competing, the next guy has an edge because you can be darn sure he's gunning for you.

    For fans and media, it can look like someone doesn't have anything left to prove when they've already seemingly reached the mountaintop. That's just not how type-A personalities are wired, though.

    These superstars got to where they are because they woke up every morning with some sort of chip on their shoulder. The very best learn how to keep from being complacent.

    This list is not about players who are looking to take the next step, and it's not about "hating" on these players as if they're not legitimate superstars. So if your favorite player is on the list, there's no reason to get upset.

    No, this is just identifying the little whispers that are already in their ears as the NFL's best prepare for the 2013 season.

Andrew Luck, QB, Indianapolis Colts

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    Interim Colts head coach Bruce Arians was holding Andrew Luck back.

    Luck had a great rookie season and did more with less talent around him than a lot of rookie passers would be able to handle. He took the Colts back to the playoffs after a terrible year prior. Under the tutelage of Arians, Luck started to take on shades of Arians' former students—Peyton Manning and Ben Roethlisberger.

    The problem is that Luck isn't Manning or Roethlisberger.

    He's Andrew Luck, and he is a fantastic quarterback in his own right. With new offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton, look for Luck to be a little more comfortable in his own skin with a little more mobility and fewer interceptions.

Richard Sherman, CB, Seattle Seahawks

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    Revis who?

    Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman believes he's better than Darrelle Revis, and the supporting evidence is pretty compelling. With Revis returning from injury, Sherman has a chance to show up his rival and solidify his status as the top cover corner in the league.

    With all the help the Seahawks have put around Sherman, the chances are good that he just might be the best at his position.

Steven Jackson, RB, Atlanta Falcons

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    Steven Jackson has plenty of tread left on these tires.

    The last time Jackson had fewer than 250 carries was 2007. He has been the St. Louis Rams' workhorse for his entire career, and at times he was the only good thing the team had going for it.

    Now in Atlanta, he'll have a bevy of elite offensive weapons behind him, but it's up to Jackson to prove this isn't some twilight-years charity signing.

    At 29, Jackson is closer to the dreaded "30-year wall" for running backs than he'd probably like to be. In Atlanta, however, there's no reason he can't maximize his potential with 200-225 carries a year and set career highs in rushing average and touchdowns.

Joe Flacco, QB, Baltimore Ravens

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    Joe Flacco wants to prove that he is worth every penny of his new six-year, $120.6 million deal with the Baltimore Ravens.

    When Flacco became the NFL's highest-paid player (a mark since topped by Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay), many in the football world scratched their heads.

    Yes, Flacco had an incredibly impressive playoff run en route to a Super Bowl MVP award last season, but his overall career has been far more mediocre than such a lucrative contract would suggest.

    Contracts aren't lifetime achievement awards, however. The Ravens obviously assume that Flacco's ability to carry the team last season is who he is and not just a fluke.

    Proving his team right and his doubters wrong should be Flacco's No. 1 goal in 2013.

Darrelle Revis, CB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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    Darrelle Revis has a new team, but he wants to prove that he is still the same player he was before his ACL injury from last season.

    ACL injuries aren't the scary career-ending events they used to be. In the past, having ACL surgery either meant one's career was outright over or at least that a player's explosion and acceleration might never return. Elite players became pedestrian ones in a hurry once they heard that telltale pop.

    In recent years, however, athletes like Adrian Peterson, the NBA's Ricky Rubio and now Robert Griffin and Marcus Lattimore have been able to come back better than ever from ACL injuries.

    Revis is the hope of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and needs to be the next in the line of ACL-recovery success stories. At 27, he has more than enough left in the tank to be a premier player in the NFL for another five years or more.

Larry Fitzgerald, WR, Arizona Cardinals

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    Last season had to be a frustrating one for Larry Fitzgerald in Arizona.

    For the fifth straight year, he played in all 16 games—a feat he has accomplished in all but two years of his nine-year career. However, he saw career lows in yards per catch and touchdowns. He had fewer than 1,000 yards receiving for the first time since 2006, when he racked up 946 yards in only 13 games.

    It's difficult to blame Fitzgerald. He has been wasting away in the hot desert sun with a lackluster offensive system and quarterbacks that don't belong anywhere near the starting lineup.

    Now with Carson Palmer and, hopefully, a little more protection on the offensive line to go with a new vertical offense, Fitzgerald is out to prove that last year was a one-time occurrence and not the beginning of the end. 

Ndamukong Suh, DT, Detroit Lions

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    It's time for Ndamukong Suh to prove that he is more bite than bark in Detroit.

    I'm more than a little fed up with Suh. The 26-year-old has yet to grow up and has made a name for himself more for his terrible driving and temper than for his actual level of play on the football field for the Lions.

    Suh spent his first year never really learning when teams were taking advantage of his aggressive pass rush. He was "wham-blocked" out of rushing lanes by any team that knew what they were doing.

    Sure, he had some sacks, but being a liability in the run game is a weird attribute for a supposed superstar. Lately, Suh has improved in just about every facet of his game (even if the sack totals aren't as gaudy), but he needs a great year with no off-field headlines to get himself and the Lions back on track. 

Tony Romo, QB, Dallas Cowboys

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    The thing with Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo is that he's not the big problem in Dallas; he's part of the solution.

    If I've said it once, I've said it a thousand times: When the owner is talking about watching game tape or setting draft boards, a franchise has bigger problems than a great (but maybe not elite) quarterback like Romo.

    At 33 and with a recent a six-year, $108 million contract extension, Romo has the weapons to succeed. But he doesn't have the protection, as his offensive line is still a work in progress. Doug Free is a replacement-level player at best, and Tyron Smith has yet to prove he's comfortable on Romo's blind side.

    The excuses aren't going to do Romo any good, however, and his window of opportunity is closing pretty fast. He's reportedly cutting back on his offseason golf this year, and he needs to be at his best to overcome the career-long hole his owner/GM has consistently put him in.

Adrian Peterson, RB, Minnesota Vikings

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    Don't worry about Adrian Peterson anymore. Just hand him the rock.

    Last year, Peterson was second in the NFL with 348 carries for the Vikings, right behind the Texans' Arian Foster. "All Day" returned from major knee reconstruction to set the league on fire, coming within nine yards of breaking Eric Dickerson's single-season rushing record.

    Coming off a season like that, the tendency for NFL coaching staffs is often to give a back like Peterson a bit of a break. The offensive additions around Christian Ponder point to a more balanced attack as well.

    For Peterson, however, the goal for the coming season is apparently 2,500 yards rushing (h/t ESPN.com). It's clear he knows what he has to prove to himself; whether he does that and capitalizes on last year's ridiculous performance...well, we'll see.

Colin Kaepernick, QB, San Francisco 49ers

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    Now it's up to Niners quarterback Colin Kaepernick to prove that he's no one-hit wonder.

    Of all the young-gun sensations of 2012, the most tenuous superstar is Kaepernick.

    With all due respect to Niners fans who are sure to take offense to that statement, Kaepernick had more plays "engineered" for him than guys like Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin and Russell Wilson.

    Yes, Kaepernick more than proved he can be a drop-back "pro-style" passer (whatever that means these days), but he also showed that he has some work to do—like every young quarterback.

    Now, the keys to the franchise are firmly in his hands. With Alex Smith in Kansas City, there's no hint of any legitimate competition for Kaepernick. If he wants to take the next step and lead the Niners to a Super Bowl championship, he'll come in every day and act like Colt McCoy or Scott Tolzien is breathing down his neck.

     

    Michael Schottey is the NFL National Lead Writer for Bleacher Report and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. Find more of his stuff at The Go Route.