The Most Unreliable Player Each NFL Team Must Lean On in 2013
The 2013 NFL season is still a dot on the horizon, but we already know who the stars will be. So why not take a look at the unworthy players that will be counted on?
Fine. Just like my girlfriend, you can ask why finding the guys that won't come through is so important to me. And I'll answer you the same as I did her: because at least we're talking about football.
In all seriousness, fans keep thinking that certain players are going to handle their business based on assumptions. That rarely works. Pinning your hopes on guys with unproven track records often leads to heartbreak.
And to be clear, there are players on this list who will rise to the occasion. They just haven't been able to do it consistently yet.
So click through to find out which player on your team has a little bit too much responsibility.
All ProFootballFocus.com links and rankings require a subscription.
Arizona Cardinals: LT Levi Brown
The media is known for not being kind to Levi Brown, the fifth pick in the 2007 draft. But allow me to buck the trend; he's a good right tackle.
Unfortunately, the Arizona Cardinals will be counting on him to play left tackle. Since he moved to the blindside, it's been an up-and-down run that has resulted in 19 of his 32 left-tackle starts earning negative grades.
Oh, and he's coming off a torn triceps injury that cost him the entire 2012 season.
Bruce Arians loves to attack downfield, which will match Carson Palmer's strength. The problem is Palmer isn't Andrew Luck in terms of mobility, and won't be able to dodge as many sacks as Luck did last year.
Thus, the Cardinals will be leaning heavily on Brown to keep Palmer clean. It's unclear at this point if he's up to the task on those long dropbacks.
Atlanta Falcons: The Entire Linebacking Corps
There aren't many holes in the Atlanta Falcons roster. They upgraded the running back position in a big-time way, kept the key cogs of their secondary while adding a couple high draft picks and replaced John Abraham with Osi Umenyiora.
That last one is important because everyone bemoans the Falcons' lack of a pass rush. While they could certainly use another one or two guys who can provide pressure, Umenyiora knows what he's doing out there.
The linebacking unit is an entirely different notion. Akeem Dent is a young man with potential, but that doesn't offset that not one of the linebackers recorded a positive Pro Football Focus grade last year.
It's no wonder Atlanta gave up a ridiculous 4.8 yards per carry.
Baltimore Ravens: LB Arthur Brown
Somebody has to step into the void left by Ray Lewis, even if he wasn't that good last year. Yes, his recognition skills were beneficial, but his play had clearly declined.
Anyways, Arthur Brown and Jameel McClain will occupy the middle linebacking spots for the Baltimore Ravens this year. McClain isn't going to take any large strides forward, and we know that he's a middling linebacker.
That puts all the pressure, especially from fans, on Brown. The Ravens will need somebody to captain the ship from the middle, and the rookie is the new face with talent.
But he's still a rookie, which means he is unreliable by default since we haven't seen how he'll adjust to the NFL yet.
Buffalo Bills: The Inside Linebackers
This one could go a number of ways.
Obviously, the easy answer would be Kevin Kolb. He's a quarterback who has had a roller coaster of a career. Sounds scary.
But he wasn't given a large contract and isn't being hailed as the savior. Plus, there's a first rounder behind him who everyone is pinning their hopes on.
No, we'll look to the Buffalo Bills' horrendous rush defense. They gave up an average of 5 yards per carry last season.
With the shift to a 3-4 defense, the inside linebackers must step into the holes and get stops this year. That job falls to second-year player Nigel Bradham and rookie Kiko Alonso. This is a pair of players with plenty of potential, but potential doesn't always equal production.
Carolina Panthers: S Charles Godfrey
Again, I'm avoiding the easy route here. Cam Newton must take a step forward this season, but we all know that pretty well at this point.
However, if you dig a little deeper, you'll see that Charles Godfrey is the most inconsistent player that the Carolina Panthers will be relying on. A play-making safety can lift a mediocre defense to respectability, but Godfrey won't be doing that.
He rated as the seventh-worst safety in 2012, and that's out of 88 players. While he only gave up a catch on 61.8 percent of the passes thrown his way (respectable), he missed 15 tackles last season alone.
You can't be a strong safety and have trouble tackling. It's a recipe for disaster.
Chicago Bears: WRs Alshon Jeffery and Earl Bennett
The Chicago Bears brought upgraded their tight end and left tackle position with the free-agent signings of Martellus Bennett and Jermon Bushrod. So the onus now falls squarely on wide receivers Earl Bennett and Alshon Jeffery.
Brandon Marshall did everything that was expected of him last year (118 receptions, 1,508 yards and 11 touchdowns). Hopefully, Martellus does everything that fans are expecting of him this year (five scores in 2012).
However, Jeffery and Earl Bennett were not consistent enough in 2012 (53 combined catches) to push this offense over the top. If the Bears are going to take advantage of Jay Cutler's capabilities, he will need more than two credible receiving threats.
Cincinnati Bengals: LB Rey Maualuga
We all saw this one coming. Rey Maualuga fits the headline of this slideshow perfectly.
The Cincinnati Bengals didn't rush to extend Maualuga last season, only agreeing to a two-year contract with the linebacker about a week after the market opened.
It was with good reason.
Maualuga rated as the worst inside linebacker in 2012, according to Pro Football Focus. He missed an astonishing 18 tackles while only connecting on 111. But his lack of coverage ability is what really holds him back.
The Bengals have legitimate AFC North crown hopes for 2013. Here's hoping Maualuga finds his stride sooner rather than later.
Cleveland Browns: QB Brandon Weeden
When you look at the entire Cleveland Browns’ landscape, there is a lot to like. A solid offensive line, a defense that is coming into its own and a bruising running back that can control games.
However, the biggest pimple on the roster is in the most important spot: quarterback.
Brandon Weeden was thrust into a situation where he wouldn't be given much time to develop due to his advanced age (28) at the time of the draft. His rough first year included only 14 touchdown passes, 17 interception and three fumbles.
What's even more telling is that only Christian Ponder accounted for less yards in the air, meaning that much of Weeden's yards were gained by the receiver after the catch.
This is a team that could make noise, if it had a competent quarterback. Basically, it's all on Weeden at this point.
Dallas Cowboys: C Travis Frederick
Right tackle Doug Free is another consideration on this list, but after his reworked contract, I'm going to give him a pass.
So now the spotlight will fall onto rookie Travis Frederick. Forgoing the opportunity to add some more beef to the pass rush, the Dallas Cowboys are looking to the former Badger to anchor the line.
He'll be responsible for line calls, as all centers are, meaning he will need to learn quickly. The Cowboys believe he is up to the job, but until we see more, he's a solid candidate for this list.
Denver Broncos: CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie
Looking for inconsistent players on the Denver Broncos is like looking for a needle in a haystack, but there are a couple.
Derek Wolfe would have worked in this spot. Joe Mays also has a claim to the throne.
However, this is Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie's title for the time being. Few players have put together such a consistently inconsistent career, leading to him landing on his third team in four years but still making $5 million. You have to be undercover-bad while having a good game here and there to make that kind of money.
Now, the Broncos are relying on him to replace Tracy Porter. Seems iffy at best.
Detroit Lions: TE Brandon Pettigrew
Remember how I said that there are few players who can match Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie in inconsistency? Brandon Pettigrew is one of those few.
Pettigrew was taken in the first round with Matthew Stafford in the hopes that they could develop together. In some ways, they have, as both players have taken steps forward and backward at times.
However, Pettigrew and his six dropped passes and four fumbles in 2012 takes the cake. He could be the safety blanket Stafford needs when Calvin Johnson is quadrupled-teamed. The key word there is could.
Green Bay Packers: CB Tramon Williams
Tramon Williams needs to find himself in 2013 because he'll be at the forefront of the secondary. He's now the chief playmaker with Charles Woodson gone.
Woodson's absence means the safety net has been removed. But the good news is that we know Williams can get it done.
He proved it in 2010. He was dominant during the season and continued his stellar play all the way through the Super Bowl.
However, Williams hasn't been playing at the same level the last two years. And the Green Bay Packers sorely need him to.
Houston Texans: OLB Whitney Mercilus
Whitney Mercilus struggled mightily in the pass-rushing department last season. That’s understandable for a rookie, but he'll need to show progress if the Houston Texans are going to get over the hump.
Houston will need him to create pressure to complement J.J. Watt. The Texans are going to require more than six sacks in order to accomplish the same feat.
The talent is there; now, the production must be as well.
Indianapolis Colts: WR T.Y. Hilton
T.Y. Hilton has the ability to elevate the Indianapolis Colts offense from decent to good. Maybe even borderline great.
That's how explosive this kid is.
For example, he went off for 114 yards against the Jacksonville Jaguars and scored two touchdowns in different ways (receiving and returning) versus the Buffalo Bills.
However, he can disappear as well. He couldn't handle the Cleveland Browns (two catches for 22 yards) and fell apart against the same Jaguars later (zero catches).
Out of all the players in this slideshow, this guy excites me. Hilton will be fun to watch.
Jacksonville Jaguars: DE Jason Babin
The Jacksonville Jaguars have a lot of problems, but the obvious solution is that Jason Babin must create pressure on the outside.
The secondary has too many holes to hold up well on its own. The only way the defense can keep up is to get after the quarterback.
Terrence Knighton and his inside pocket penetration have joined the Denver Broncos. Babin is the only hope despite his up-and-down game the past few years (18 sacks in 2010 and seven sacks since).
Kansas City Chiefs: TE Tony Moeaki
Alex Smith loves the game-breaking tight end. It's his thing. Ask Vernon Davis.
But now that Smith is a member of the Kansas City Chiefs, Davis won't be filling that role anymore.
Enter Tony Moeaki.
He somewhat burst onto the scene with his athleticism in 2010 with 47 catches and three touchdowns. However, he wasn't able to play a down in 2011 and his 2012 was mediocre (33 receptions and one touchdown).
To be fair, the whole team was mediocre last year (or worse). But it's now or never since the Chiefs grabbed Travis Kelce in the third round this year.
Miami Dolphins: LT Jonathan Martin
Jake Long wasn't his normal great self, but he still graded out as average. Jonathan Martin could only dream of average last year.
He was routinely beaten on the right side before shifting to the left. Things didn't get much better on the blindside, but he did hold his own against the Bills.
Miami can take a step forward this year, but they'll need Martin to man up.
Minnesota Vikings: CB Chris Cook
Antoine Winfield is gone and his 15 years of experience went with him. That means Chris Cook is the most experienced man in the secondary.
Cook has plenty of talent, but has driven the Minnesota Vikings faithful batty with his off-field antics, inconsistent play and unavailability. The linked arrest and injuries have limited him to just 22 games
Obviously, Christian Ponder needs to get it together as well, but he isn't the piston that drives the offense. Cook will need to come up huge if the Vikings are going to return to the postseason.
New England Patriots: WR Danny Amendola
Let's be clear: Danny Amendola hasn't been unreliable with his play. He's just spent as much time on the sidelines as he has on it.
Amendola has missed 20 games in the last two years. However, the last injury was a dislocated clavicle and a torn triceps so hopefully these are just freak occurrences instead of a consistent pattern.
The New England Patriots made a big gamble on Amendola, earning him this spot over Rob Gronkowski's ever-more troubling injury pattern. Bill Belichick is banking on Amendola replacing Wes Welker's All-Pro output.
That makes him someone who is relied on to a large degree.
New Orleans Saints: LB Curtis Lofton
Remember when we all lauded the Curtis Lofton acquisition by the New Orleans Saints?
So far, so-so.
Lofton was a standout with the Atlanta Falcons, but that hasn't translated well to the Bayou. Lofton finished 2012 as the 45th best inside linebacker in 2012, just one spot behind Brian Urlacher.
The Saints are transitioning to a new defense, and need Lofton to find his prior game in a bad way.
New York Giants: LB Dan Connor
Dan Connor began his career with what seemed like a very high ceiling. And then the injuries started to mount.
Connor missed 21 games in his first three years, and he never arrived at his pre-destined heights. He has stayed on the field the last couple years with the Carolina Panthers and Dallas Cowboys, but those years weren't stellar by any means.
He's now an okay player who will be counted to man the middle for the New York Giants defense. After years of rough play from their linebacking corps, this doesn't seem to be a big move in the right direction.
New York Jets: QB Mark Sanchez
I know. I've attempted to stray away from the obvious as much as possible.
But how can I call any other New York Jets player unreliable and leave Mark Sanchez off this list?
More importantly, I won't.
Sanchez hasn't been set up for success, but when the most associated word with your play is "butt fumble," I can't argue for you. Oh, and the 32 turnovers last year doesn't help.
Oakland Raiders: RB Darren McFadden
We all know that Darren McFadden was crazy talented in college. But that hasn't translated to longterm professional success.
A lot of that is due to injuries. He's never played more than 13 games in a season, and missed nine in 2011.
His effectiveness also hurts his stock heading into the 2013 season. His career average of 4.3 yards per carry started at 4.4, so all of his problems can't be blamed on the injuries.
Philadelphia Eagles: CB Cary Williams
The Philadelphia Eagles have gone through a dramatic shift in philosophy with the hiring of Chip Kelly. Apparently, one of those changes included a complete renovation of the cornerback position.
Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie are gone, although that might not be terrible considering their play last year. However, the Eagles will be banking on Cary Williams to hold it down in 2013.
That's a risky position.
He can look great one day, and get completely owned the next. There's a reason that Ozzie Newsome is among the best in the business. Letting Williams walk could prove to be another feather in his cap.
Pittsburgh Steelers: DE Ziggy Hood
Not every 3-4 defensive end is going to be J.J. Watt. Essentially, they aren't going to put up huge numbers.
Usually, their job is to hold the point of attack and keep the linebackers clean so they can make plays.
But they still need to make some noise as a pass-rusher in order to allow the outside guys to get after the quarterback. Ziggy Hood has struggled to do anything in this area, as his negative 15.5 PFF grade as a pass-rusher would attest.
If Hood doesn't help out, LaMarr Woodley won't be able to regain his former form. And if Woodley doesn’t find his game, the Steelers aren’t going to finish any higher than third in the AFC North again.
St. Louis Rams: DE Robert Quinn
The St. Louis Rams shouldn't give up on Robert Quinn. Yet.
He's only two years removed from being taken in the first round. And everyone remembers his three-sack game against the Arizona Cardinals.
However, that was the Cardinals and he wasn't producing pressure on a consistent basis outside of that effort. In fact, he only had 26 quarterback hurries on the season.
Oh, and he doesn't do very well against the run either.
San Diego Chargers: RB Ryan Mathews
Ryan Mathews is the epitome of this slideshow.
There have been plenty of players that have been chosen highly that haven't panned out. But Ryan Mathews seems determined to be remembered for it.
He's only been able to carry the ball 564 times in his three-year career, usually due to some random injury. However, some of that has to do with his 4.4-yard average.
But the main reason is his lack of dedication. Let's see if the young mean learns what it takes this offseason.
San Francisco 49ers: WR A.J. Jenkins
A.J. Jenkins wouldn't have been a key cog in this year's offense for the San Francisco 49ers had everything gone to plan.
Like most things in life, it didn't.
Michael Crabtree will be out the majority of the season with an Achilles injury. Even if he is able to come back at some point, his effectiveness will likely be limited.
Jenkins was taken in the first round, but hasn't been allowed to do anything yet as he has zero catches in three games. But duty calls and we'll see how he responds.
Seattle Seahawks: DE Bruce Irvin
Pete Carroll must have learned a few lessons from his first go-round in the NFL. There isn't much to critique when it comes to the Seattle Seahawks.
But my job is to poke holes, so I will.
Bruce Irvin isn't a starter with Cliff Avril in town, but he's a pass-rushing specialist. He's already out for the first four games and, if Avril goes down, he won't be able to handle the run.
It's a reach. I know.
But Breno Giacomini is a right tackle with a mobile quarterback. Irvin is more important so he has to take the criticism.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: QB Josh Freeman
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have been getting busy the last two offseasons. There have been trades (see Darrelle Revis) and free-agent signings (Vincent Jackson).
They've even drafted a quarterback this year when they selected Mike Glennon. Do you think Josh Freeman got the message?
Freeman was a hot commodity two years ago when he threw 25 touchdowns and had 11 turnovers. However, he's thrown only 43 touchdowns against 52 turnovers since.
The Bucs are in a tough division, but there are a lot of building blocks on the roster. However, without a quarterback, there isn't any hope.
Tennessee Titans: RB Chris Johnson
Give Chris Johnson this: he is durable. He's only missed one game in his entire career.
But he can't establish a permanent rhythm.
Since his 2,006-yard season, his average hasn't topped 4.5 yards per carry, with a low of 4.0. That's not what paid-like-stud running backs should be producing.
This is a make-or-break year for Jake Locker, but the same goes for Johnson. If he can't pose the same threat he did before, the entire backfield may go through an upheaval.
Washington Redskins: LB London Fletcher
London Fletcher is an iron man. He hasn't missed a game since 1998.
Fletcher's rookie season was 1998. That’s impressive.
Unfortunately, he's not the same force he was a few years ago. His leadership and dedication is commendable, but he earned a negative 23.6 grade from PFF.
Your middle backer needs to run your defense before the snap. Then he needs to finish plays once those same plays have started. Fletcher can no longer do both.