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Every NFL Team's Secret Weapon

Vincent FrankCorrespondent IJune 13, 2013

Every NFL Team's Secret Weapon

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    Every single season in the NFL there are multiple rising stars who come from obscurity to take over the conversation around the league. 

    Last season, Russell Wilson became one of the most successful mid-round rookies in the recent history of the league. Some said he was too short to play quarterback, while others concluded that the skill set just wasn't there. 

    Wilson proved everyone wrong by leading Seattle to the postseason and challenging for Offensive Rookie of the Year honors. 

    Down south a bit from Seattle, San Francisco's quarterback Colin Kaepernick took the league by storm. He led the 49ers to their first Super Bowl in nearly two decades with just nine NFL starts under his belt. 

    The previous season saw Victor Cruz come out of nowhere to take the Big Apple by storm. 

    These stories have been repeated over and over again. 

    Who will represent each team's secret star for the 2013 season? 

    Let's take a gander. 

Denver Broncos

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    Ronnie Hillman, Running Back

    Just because the Denver Broncos selected running back Montee Ball in the second round of April's draft, it doesn't mean that they are not sold on their third-round pick from 2012. 

    Hillman provided a spark last season. He went for nearly 400 total yards in limited action as a rookie. 

    With the possibility that Willis McGahee and/or Knowshon Moreno could be shown the door prior to the start of the season, there are touches to be had for Hillman in 2013. 

    I can easily envision him doubling his yardage output from last season as a change-of-pace back for Ball, who will likely get a bulk of the carries. 

    Another option I could have went with here is Chris Harris, who was the best cover corner on the Broncos last season. Expect him to start opposite Champ Bailey in 2013. 

     


Kansas City Chiefs

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    Dexter McCluster, Running Back/Wide Receiver

    If utilized correctly, McCluster could be the Chiefs version of Reggie Bush during his days with the New Orleans Saints. 

    The problem is that Kansas City's old regime didn't use the electric player to the best of his ability this past season. He touched the ball over 100 times less than in 2011, despite the fact that he was coming off a a performance that saw him average 5.3 yards per touch. 

    Look for new head coach Andy Reid to play McCluster all over the field. He will spell Jamaal Charles in the backfield, play the slot and even line up outside. 

    Give McCluster the necessary touches and he should compile a minimum of 1,000 yards from scrimmage. That's what I am banking on. 

Oakland Raiders

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    Rod Streater, Wide Receiver

    As an undrafted rookie free agent last season, Streater made a name for himself in training camp and during the preseason. 

    He turned that performance into an important role for the Raiders in the regular season. Overall, the Temple product recorded 39 receptions for 584 yards and three scores in 15 games. 

    According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Streater led all regular Oakland receivers in catch rate at 54.9 percent. 

    He is slated to take on a larger role with Darrius Heyward-Bey now catching passes from Andrew Luck in Indianapolis. 

    Look for continued progression from the talented young receiver. By the start of the regular season, it wouldn't surprise me to see him as a starter on the outside. 

     

     


San Diego Chargers

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    Vincent Brown, Wide Receiver

    Brown quickly became a fixture in "Bad Luck Brian" memes when he suffered a season-ending ankle injury against Dallas in August. 

    He was coming off a strong rookie campaign that saw him bring down 19 receptions for 329 yards and four scores in limited action. In addition, Brown was going to be tasked with helping to fill the void of losing Vincent Jackson to Tampa Bay in free agency. 

    It just didn't work out. 

    Fast forward a year, and Brown is still on the radar of those who were extremely high on him coming out of San Diego back in 2011. 

    He will compete with Keenan Allen and a myriad of veterans for the starting gig opposite Malcom Floyd with the Chargers in 2013. While Floyd might have a built-in advantage to be the No.1, Brown has a solid chance to earn the No. 2 gig. 

    If that happens, he is a breakout star ready to happen. Expect something to the tune of 50 receptions for 700 yards and a half dozen scores. 

Arizona Cardinals

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    Stepfan Taylor, Running Back

    You simply don't produce the way Taylor did with Stanford over four years without being able to see your game translate to the NFL. 

    Taylor recorded over 5,000 total yards and 45 touchdowns with the Cardinal and was one of the primary reasons Andrew Luck had a lot of success during his collegiate career. 

    Arizona will now look to Taylor to provide the same type of spark for Carson Palmer in the desert. He was one of two running backs, Andre Ellington being the other, that the Cardinals spent a draft pick on in April. 

    While Arizona did go out there and sign Rashard Mendenhall to a salary cap-friendly deal, it might make the decision to go with the youngster here. 

    The addition of fellow rookie Jonathan Cooper to play left guard should also help Taylor make a smooth transition to the next level. Cooper was the best pull-blocking guard in the entire draft and should be able to set Taylor up with rushing lanes on the outside. 

    Don't be surprised if Taylor is able to pass the 1,000-yard plateau as a rookie in 2013. 

San Francisco 49ers

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    LaMichael James, Running Back

    This talented youngster was a non-factor for a vast majority of his rookie campaign. James didn't attempt a rush until Week 14, as it took until San Francisco released Brandon Jacobs and Kendall Hunter suffered a season-ending injury before he would see action in a game.

    What James did in the few games that he did suit up was pretty extraordinary. 

    He scored an important second-half touchdown against Atlanta in the NFC Championship Game. All said, James put up 230 total yards on just 43 touches.

    Even with Frank Gore and Hunter ahead of him on the depth chart, San Francisco is expecting James to make a huge impact as a change-of-pace back in 2013. He'll be a key cog when it runs the read-option with Colin Kaepernick and should put up some decent receiving numbers.

    Remember, James was one of the most electric running backs in the recent history of college football during his college career. He tallied nearly 6,000 total yards in just three seasons.

    There is a reason why San Francisco exhausted a second-round pick on him last year. Expect an expanded role in 2013.

     

Seattle Seahawks

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    Kam Chancellor, Strong Safety

    Probably one of the most unheralded members of the best defense in the NFL, Chancellor has been nothing short of great over the past couple seasons. 

    Teaming up with Earl Thomas at safety, he's a great cover strong safety. 

    According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Chancellor ranked 13th among all safeties against the pass last season. That's telling considering that he doesn't play a position that is usually relied on to cover over the top. 

    One could even argue that Chancellor was better this past season than during his Pro Bowl 2011 campaign.

    Continued progression in all aspects of his game could lead to a spot on the All-Pro team. That's what Seattle should count on this season. 

St. Louis Rams

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    Brian Quick, Wide Receiver

    St. Louis might have surprised a great deal of people by selecting wide receiver Brian Quick with the initial pick in the second round of the 2012 draft. The small-school product from Appalachian State flew under the radar, but was considered a high-level prospect within the scouting community. 

    His transition from running a limited route tree in college to a full NFL-level tree at the highest level proved worrisome for Quick as a rookie. He recorded just 11 receptions and saw his playing time dwindle toward the latter part of the year. 

    With a full offseason under his belt, we can fully expect Quick to resolve those issues prior to the start of training camp. 

    All other indicators for success are there. At 6'3" and 220 pounds, Quick has the size to be a top-tier outside target. His ability to get off the line against press should help quarterback Sam Bradford in 2013 as well. 

    In reality, Quick is a perfect complement to Jared Cook and Tavon Austin in the passing game. Look for a stud season from the talented youngster. 

Houston Texans

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    Jared Crick, Defensive End

    This Nebraska product didn't see a whole bunch of playing time as a rookie in 2012. He recorded a couple dozen tackles in limited action behind both J.J. Watt and Antonio Smith. 

    Make no mistake about it, that was by design. 

    Crick was coming off a season-ending pectoral injury in 2011. Houston made the decision to slowly insert him in the lineup. If it weren't for the said injury, Crick would have likely been an early second-day pick back in 2012. 

    He is best suited to play the 5-technique in a 3-4 scheme, which just so happens to be what the Texans are looking for from him. If Crick is able to maintain his leverage at the point of contact and open up lanes for oncoming pass-rushers, he'll be a find for Houston this upcoming season. 

    Depending how the remainder of the summer plays out, Crick could actually find himself starting at right defensive end opposite Watt. 

    According to Spotrac, Smith is set to count $9.5 million against the cap. Houston could save $6 million by simply showing him the door and inserting Crick in as the starter. 

    That makes all the sense in the world. 

Indianapolis Colts

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    Nathan Palmer, Wide Receiver

    Palmer was an instant training camp stud for San Francisco a couple years back. His combination of electric playmaking ability and speed leads me to believe he can be a huge under-the-radar performer for Andrew Luck and Indianapolis in 2013. 

    The Northern Illinois product caught just one pass in five games in spot duty after Indianapolis claimed him from San Francisco last season. 

    Even with the addition of Darrius Heyward-Bey in free agency, Palmer should be given an opportunity to prove his worth in training camp. Given that chance, there is no reason to believe that he won't shine. 

    Look for it to happen. 

Jacksonville Jaguars

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    Denard Robinson, Running Back 

    It wasn't too long ago that Robinson was considered a top Heisman Trophy candidate at Michigan. Of course making the transition from quarterback to running back might be a bit difficult, especially as a rookie. 

    That being said, the talent is there for Robinson to exceed all expectations in his first season with the Jacksonville Jaguars. 

    As a former quarterback, Robinson already possesses solid field vision. This will help him be able to make an impact early on. He'll be able to rely on pure physical ability and instincts while learning the nuances of the position. 

    In addition, Jacksonville is fully prepared to rely on Robinson in 2013. 

    It let Rashad Jennings walk in free agency and really has no proven backup running back to shoulder the load should Maurice Jones-Drew go down to injury. 

    Even with a healthy Jones-Drew, the Jaguars will need someone to come in and spell the veteran. 

    There is no reason to believe that Robinson can't tally 100 total touches and over 600 yards in 2013. 

Tennessee Titans

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    Delanie Walker, Tight End

    Walker struggled with drops this past season. The ultra-athletic tight end actually let 24 percent of the passes thrown in his direction hit the ground in 2012 (via Pro Football Focus, subscription required). 

    That's not exactly what you would call being productive when given an opportunity. 

    With that in mind, it's important to note that Walker dropped less passes in his first six seasons combined with San Francisco than he dropped last year. We need to see more than one year of issues as they relate to drops before calling it a pattern. 

    In terms of overall play, Walker is one of the most underrated overall tight ends in the NFL. He will give Jake Locker a solid weapon to throw to between the hashes and can even line up either outside or in the offensive backfield as well. 

    Looking at Pro Football Focus again, Walker was the second-best run-blocking tight end in the NFL last year. 

    Just imagine how his presence will help Chris Johnson and the Titans running game. 

Atlanta Falcons

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    Brian Banks, Linebacker

    This isn't only an amazing human interest story. As most of my readers already know, Banks was falsely accused and convicted of sexual assault as a teen and spent years in prison for a crime he did not commit (via ESPN). 

    It came at a time in his life when Banks was a highly-touted high school prospect from Southern California. In fact, he had already been recruited by Pete Carroll and USC at the time. 

    For what it is worth, Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff told the NFL Network that Atlanta isn't treating Banks as a "charity case"(via The Atlanta Journal Constitution).

    Combine all his character, drive and work ethic with all the training he has done lately – this isn’t a guy who is just slopping around. He is 6’2’’, 250 lbs, runs in the low 4.8s which] he can get better at. His functional movement screens were very good. We like how he is developing. This isn’t a charity case. This is a great feel-good story but also one we believe he can come in here and compete.

    "Come in and compete" are the operative words there. According to Ourlads.com, Banks is stuck behind Akeem Dent and Pat Schiller on the depth chart at middle linebacker. That's not a big deal considering that those two players leave a lot to be desired. 

    If Banks can show that the rust has worn off and he has the athletic ability, which it's pretty obvious he does, the Falcons may have found a gem. 

    Check back in on this slide in August, as I wouldn't be surprised if Banks quickly surpasses one or two of those players mentioned above. 

Carolina Panthers

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    Josh Norman, Cornerback

    It's time to give credit where it is due. 

    Bleacher Report's Michael Schottey first placed Norman on my radar during the East-West Shrine Game in January of 2012. This enabled me to study the small-school product for the first time leading up to the draft. 

    Needless to say, I came away pretty damn impressed.

    His performance as a rookie in Carolina this past season didn't disappoint. Norman, a fifth-round pick, started 12 games and recorded 71 tackles, seven passes defended and two interceptions. 

    As expected, Norman did struggle in coverage at times. However, he did show plus ball-hawking skills and an eye for the quarterback from the defensive secondary. 

    With improved technique and another offseason under his belt, there is no reason to believe that Norman cannot improve his game a great deal as a sophomore. 

    Expect rather big things from him in 2013. 

New Orleans Saints

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    Junior Galette, Linebacker

    The loss of Victor Butler to an apparent torn ACL this week is going to hurt the New Orleans Saints' transition to a 3-4 scheme.

    Though, it will definitely give Galette a chance to earn his stripes from the outside linebacker position. Now entering his fourth NFL season, the Haiti native looks to build off a five-sack campaign from a year ago. 

    If Galette is featured more in 2013, which is a likely scenario at this point, we could be looking at a double-digit sack season. 

    After all, he did record those five sacks in just 301 snaps in 2012. While that ratio won't be sustained in 2013, it is an indicator that Galette can provide a high volume of sacks, via Pro Football Focus (subscription required).

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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    Brian Leonard, Running Back

    Man, I remember watching Leonard play at Rutgers. He reminded me of a young Mike Alstott when he entered the NFL back in 2007. He never really got it going in St. Louis or Cincinnati, as neither team gave him a chance to cradle the rock or lead block. 

    He has just over 1,500 total yards and one touchdown in six seasons. 

    After trading LeGarrette Blount to the New England Patriots during April's draft, Tampa Bay now has room for Leonard on the roster. 

    He won't necessarily take carries away from Doug Martin, but he should be able to be an important all-around member of Tampa Bay's backfield this upcoming season. 

    This is only magnified by the fact that the Buccaneers don't really have a reliable or proven No. 2 running back behind Martin. 

    Expect Leonard to surprise a great deal in 2013.

     


Baltimore Ravens

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    Kyle Juszczyk, Fullback

    I wasn't a popular writer in Baltimore when I indicated last month Vonta Leach was likely going to be a June cut. 

    The writing was on the wall, as Leach's 2013 salary just wasn't sustainable for the Ravens. Couple that with the addition of Juszczyk in April's draft and you had to believe Leach was going to be a goner this month. 

    That's exactly what happened when the Ravens cut him loose on Tuesday (via ESPN). 

    While much different in what he brings to the table, Juszczyk can be a force for Baltimore as a rookie in 2013. He is currently the only fullback on the roster, which indicates that he'll start out of the gate. 

    Equally as important, the Harvard alum is a solid receiving option out of the backfield. He will provide quarterback Joe Flacco with yet another solid receiving option to go along with Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce.

    I envision somewhat of a James Casey role for the rookie this season. 

Cincinnati Bengals

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    Marvin Jones, Wide Receiver

    Jones dealt with injuries as a rookie last season, but was still able to accumulate 18 receptions in 11 games (five starts). 

    The 2012 fifth-round pick fell a great deal in the draft. With that in mind, it's important to note that he was considered a second-day pick before that fall. 

    He possesses all the indicators for success. A quick step off the line of scrimmage creates separation at the line in press. Massive 10" hands enable him to go up and get the ball. In addition, a frame of nearly 6'2" gives him a built-in advantage over smaller defensive backs. 

    Jones now needs to step up and prove that his slide down the draft board in 2012 was nothing more than a mirage. He has the skill set to be a perfect complement to A.J. Green on the outside. 

     


Cleveland Browns

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    T.J. Ward, Safety

    The Cleveland Browns are building something special in the defensive secondary. Joe Haden and Ward represent a solid cornerback/safety tandem. 

    While Haden gets most of the play, Ward has been a solid contributor since Cleveland made him a second-round pick back in 2010. 

    He recorded nearly 70 tackles with three forced fumbles and an interception in 14 starts this past season. As an in-the-box safety, Ward's strength is against the run. 

    According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required) Ward ranked No. 1 among all safeties against the run in 2012. Add in his ability to force turnovers and you could have an All-Pro in the making. 

    Expect huge things from the talented strong safety this season. 

     


Pittsburgh Steelers

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    Chris Carter, Linebacker

    Carter was a huge draft crush of mine entering the 2011 NFL draft. He seemed to possess the perfect set of skills to transition to outside linebacker in Pittsburgh's 3-4 defense. 

    He hasn't really lived up to the billing in two NFL seasons. 

    The former Fresno State star has played in only half of Pittsburgh's games over the past two seasons, starting just three times. 

    However, there is still time for the athletic freak to break out. The Steelers sent James Harrison packing in the offseason, which leaves a huge void opposite LaMarr Woodley at outside linebacker. 

    Jason Worilds is slated to start at right outside linebacker, but Pittsburgh needs yet another player to step up in the rotation. It did select Jarvis Jones in the first round of April's draft, but the Georgia alum may need some seasoning before he can make a real impact. 

    If given the chance, Carter could impress in training camp. 

     

     


Chicago Bears

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    Khaseem Greene, Linebacker

    First, let me preface this slide by saying that Greene will not replace Lance Briggs as Chicago's starting weak-side linebacker this upcoming season. 

    General manager Phil Emery and Co. brought him in to eventually replace Briggs, but that won't happen during his rookie campaign. 

    Instead, Greene will be a fixture in Chicago's nickel packages. He has superior coverage skills for such a young player and will be brought in to improve that aspect of the game. 

    A duo of Greene and Briggs, who ranked third among 4-3 outside linebackers in pass coverage last season, will definitely help out the back end of Chicago's defense (via Pro Football Focus, subscription required). 

    Imagine him and Briggs being able to handle the hashes in coverage. This leaves Charles Tillman and Tim Jennings the ability to play man on the outside without safety help. 

Detroit Lions

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    Ryan Broyles, Wide Receiver

    If this 2012 second-round pick can actually stay on the field in 2013, he will play a huge role in Detroit's passing game. 

    Lions general manager Martin Mayhew has been seeking a perfect complement to Calvin Johnson at wide receiver. The Titus Young experiment failed miserably after just two seasons and Nate Burleson seems to be well past his prime. 

    This leaves Broyles as the odds-on favorite to land the No. 2 wide receiver gig. 

    If that happens, the Oklahoma product will impress skeptics. 

    He already runs above-average routes, can rack up yards after the catch and possesses great hands. In addition, Broyles will get plenty of targets. 

    After all, quarterback Matthew Stafford has attempted more passes in a two-year span than any quarterback in the history of the league. 

    There is a strong possibility that a healthy Broyles can put up over 1,000 yards this season. 

Green Bay Packers

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    Johnathan Franklin, Running Back 

    Think about this for a second. Bleacher Report's Matt Miller had Franklin ranked as the top running back prospect in his final big board leading up to the 2013 NFL draft. 

    He was ranked directly above Eddie Lacy, who went two rounds before to the very same Packers. 

    Lacy has long been considered the best running back in this draft class, but is struggling with hamstring issues that boiled over in the BCS National Championship Game. 

    Franklin, on the other hand, proved himself to be quite the workhorse at UCLA. He averaged over 20 rush attempts per game as a senior in 2012 and recorded a ridiculous 2,057 yards from scrimmage. 

    It goes without saying that Green Bay needed to go out there and find a top-tier young running back to provide some balance on offense. 

    Franklin fits that description to a T. 

    While he might lose touches to Lacy in the red zone, Franklin will more than likely be the Packers' primary running back as a rookie. Defenses won't be able to stack the box with Aaron Rodgers under center, which will give Franklin a lot of open lanes to run through. 

    Don't be surprised if he tallies over 1,400 total yards in 2013. 

Minnesota Vikings

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    Jarius Wright, Wide Receiver

    The additions of wide receivers Greg Jennings and Cordarrelle Patterson will lead some to believe that Minnesota just isn't sold on Wright. 

    That couldn't be further from the truth. 

    Minnesota needed to go out there and find talent to replace Percy Harvin, whom it traded to Seattle immediately prior to the start of free agency. 

    These two additions have no impact on Minnesota's opinion on Wright. 

    Wright put up over 1,100 yards against elite SEC defenses in his final season at Arkansas and can stretch the field on the outside. 

    He put up 22 receptions for over 300 yards and two scores in just seven games as a rookie last season. Extrapolated over the course of a 16-game schedule, that projects out to over 700 receiving yards. 

    With another full offseason under his belt, you can fully expect Wright to come into training camp later this summer ready to take on an added role. 

    Don't be surprised if he flirts with 800 yards and six or seven scores. 

Buffalo Bills

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    Marquise Goodwin, Wide Receiver

    As the Oakland Raiders have proven over and over again, speed isn't the be-all and end-all in the NFL. Will track speed translate to the football field? Are we looking at another Ted Ginn here? 

    Those are two questions that scouts asked themselves about Goodwin leading up to the 2013 NFL draft. 

    I will say that Goodwin proved he can be a reliable pass catcher on the outside. While he leaves a little to be desired in terms of route running, the rookie can be an immediate deep threat for either Kevin Kolb or EJ Manuel in Buffalo. 

    That's where he is going to earn his stripes early. 

Miami Dolphins

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    Dion Sims, Tight End

    Miami did go out there and sign Dustin Keller in free agency prior to the draft in April. It then picked up Evan Rodriguez from Chicago in waivers earlier in June. 

    This doesn't mean that Sims won't be given a chance to prove he deserves playing time as a rookie. 

    The Michigan State product was one of the best mid-round tight end options in the 2013 NFL draft. At 6'5" and 285, Sims is a massive target for Ryan Tannehill between the hashes. While he lacks great athleticism, the rookie is just as good of a blocker as he is a receiver. 

    It's becoming pretty evident that general manager Jeff Ireland has started to value the hybrid tight end recently. This only bodes will for Sims' chances in 2013. 

    Sims wasn't utilized a lot in Michigan State's run-first offense, but he did record 36 receptions for 475 yards in 2012. 

    Those numbers could be duplicated as a rookie in South Beach this year. 

New England Patriots

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    Alfonzo Dennard, Cornerback

    Dennard was well on his way to becoming an early second-day pick in the 2012 NFL draft. He then made a decision that altered his draft stock and cost him millions. 

    The former Nebraska standout was arrested a mere five days before the draft for assaulting a police office (via Yahoo!). This caused him to drop all the way to the Patriots in the seventh round. 

    Facing serious legal problems, Dennard was still able to be an immediate impact performer as a rookie. He recorded seven passes defended, three interceptions and a touchdown in just six starts. 

    Dennard is now slated to be New England's starting right cornerback next to Aqib Talib. This means that quarterbacks will target him early and often. This also means that Dennard will have more chances to force turnovers. 

    If his success last season is any indication, Dennard will thrive in that role. 

    Back to his legal issues for a second. 

    Dennard was sentenced to 30 days in jail, which won't be served until March. This means that he'll be ready to play a full slate of games this upcoming season (via NFL.com). 

New York Jets

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    Chris Ivory, Running Back

    Most people outside of New Orleans don't realize that Ivory led the Saints in rushing back in 2010. While being forced to share carries with a myriad of running backs, Ivory was still able to rack up over 700 yards on the ground and average over five yards per attempt. 

    His production has gone downhill since, mostly due to the Saints' unwillingness to actually give him reps. 

    Ivory still produced at a high level when he was on the field over the past two seasons, but only rushed the ball 119 times during that span. 

    This won't be an issue with his new club. 

    The New York Jets are planning to feature Ivory in their running game this upcoming season. Based on previous production and an imminent increase in attempts, there is no reason to believe that the veteran can't put up 1,300 yards and double-digit scores on the ground. 

Dallas Cowboys

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    Gavin Escobar, Tight End

    Jerry Jones has long sought a secondary tight end option outside of Jason Witten. After a relatively strong start, the Martellus Bennett experiment failed after four seasons. Once Bennett signed with the Giants prior to last season, it became apparent that quarterback Tony Romo had to rely on Witten more than he would have liked. 

    The end result was a career season for the tight end in terms of receptions, but his touchdown total dropped to three. 

    Enter into the equation, this rookie second-round pick. 

    Escobar is a great receiving tight end with very little blocking ability. He recorded 93 receptions for over 1,300 yards and 13 touchdowns in his final two seasons at San Diego State. 

    The targets are there to be had. If Escobar proves his worth, he could be a pleasant surprise as a rookie in 2013. 

     

     


New York Giants

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    Mark Herzlich, Linebacker

    How many of you honestly believe that Dan Connor will hold off Herzlich for the starting middle linebacker job in New York this upcoming season? 

    It took the Boston College product a while to regain his pre-cancer form but from what I am reading, Herzlich seems to have taken that next step and could be a starter-caliber linebacker in 2013. 

    According to the Giants official website, Herzlich has been taking first-team reps during the offseason. If this is any indication, he should earn the starting gig out of camp. 

    Prior to his unfortunate bout with cancer, Herzlich was considered one of the best all-around defensive players in college football. He recorded 110 tackles and six interceptions as a junior in 2010. 

    Expect him to be a stud if he gets a shot this upcoming season. 

     

     


Philadelphia Eagles

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    James Casey, H-Back 

    This is an interesting situation. Chip Kelly's spread offense rarely featured a fullback at Oregon. I guess this is why many were surprised that Philadelphia signed Casey in the offseason. 

    After some reflection, it makes all the sense in the world. 

    Casey will play both fullback and tight end in the Eagles' new offensive scheme this season. He will mostly be tasked with being a safety valve for whatever quarterback is under center. 

    Catching passes is what Casey did best during his college years at Rice. He brought in 111 passes for over 1,300 yards and 13 scores back in 2008. 

    While those numbers never materialized in Houston, Casey did see all of his major receiving numbers increase in each season with the Texans. 

    Expect a more prominent role with Philadelphia this year. 

Washington Redskins

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    Phillip Thomas, Safety

    I had a second-round grade on Thomas coming out of Fresno State this past April. He was one of the best all-around cover safeties in the entire class and fills a position of tremendous need with the Redskins. 

    Ourlads.com currently has Thomas behind Reed Doughty at free safety, but there is no reason to believe he will remain in that role once the season starts. 

    Thomas filled up the stat sheet last season in earning consensus All-American honors. He recorded 84 tackles, eight interceptions, four sacks, 13 passes defended four sacks and four forced fumbles. 

    That's just plain ridiculous. 

     

    Vincent Frank is an NFL featured columnist here at Bleacher Report. Vincent is the head sports editor over at eDraft, co-host of Draft Sports Radio, which airs every Monday and Wednesday from 3 to 6 p.m. ET, and a fantasy writer for Pro Football Focus.

    Go ahead and give him a follow on Twitter @VincentFrankNFL.

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