10 NFL Players in over Their Heads This Season
During every NFL season, players emerge who either surprise or greatly disappoint in comparison to initial predictions.
Every year, there seems to be some lesser-known player ready to explode onto the national stage just as there always seems to be an established superstar set to fall off the proverbial cliff and and far short of expectations.
Then, there are those players who appear to be stuck in virtually un-winnable situations. We're talking about guys who, either due to expectation or circumstance, have found themselves set up for failure (even if they don't actually fail).
In short, we're talking about players who are simply in over their heads.
Is Tony Romo finally ready to take Dallas to the top?
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Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo has been one of the NFL's most polarizing figures ever since he took control of the starting job back in 2006.
Playing the biggest position for one of the league's marquee franchises has kept Romo in the spotlight, and the once-surprising Eastern Illinois product has done little to shy away from it.
Of course, with fame comes scrutiny, and Romo has found himself under the microscope as much as any other player in today's NFL—which has often seemed to be more of a curse than any sort of a blessing.
While Romo has achieved both individual and team success (three Pro Bowl nominations and three playoff appearances since 2007), he has been consistently criticized for his inability to take the Cowboys deep into the postseason and toward an always-coveted Super Bowl opportunity.
After failing to lead Dallas to the playoffs at all in each of the past two seasons (a three-interception performance in a division-deciding game against Washington last year certainly didn't help) the pressure is squarely on Romo, heading into the 2013 season.
Toss in the fact that Romo was awarded a six-year, $108 million contract earlier this offseason and that Cowboys owner Jerry Jones has called for the quarterback to have a bigger role in offensive game-planning, and this truly looks like a now-or-never season for Romo.
Big numbers and exciting moments aren't going to be enough for Romo in 2013 (he was statistically a top-five quarterback last year, but what did that produce?), and anything short of a trip to the NFC championship game will likely be seen as failure.
Although the Cowboys' ability to find postseason success undoubtedly depends on the team as a whole, it will be Romo who bears the brunt of the criticism if things go wrong.
Can Greg Jennings continue to impact the NFC North with his new team?
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For most the past seven seasons, wide receiver Greg Jennings has been a focal point of the Green Bay Packers' high-powered passing attack. The former Western Michigan star has found himself a go-to target for future Hall of Famers Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers and helped the team take home a Super Bowl title in 2010.
However, injuries limited Jennings to just eight games in 2012, and the continued emergence of fellow wideouts Randall Cobb, James Jones and Jordy Nelson made Jennings expendable and looking for a new team early in the offseason.
Which leads us to the Minnesota Vikings, where Jennings will try to re-emerge as the team's new No. 1 receiving threat.
Expectations will be high for the Vikings, who were a surprise playoff team a season ago, and expectations will be high for Jennings, who will be counted on to take Minnesota's young (and often inconsistent) offense to the next level in 2013.
Of course, the Vikings will be able to lean heavily on the always dangerous (and seemingly superhuman) Adrian Peterson to make plays in the running game. However, for the team to become a true contender, the down-field passing game is going to have to find a way to play catch-up.
Minnesota will also have to use the season to find out if young quarterback Christian Ponder can develop into a franchise signal-caller or if it is time to move in another direction, and Ponder is going to need all of the help he can get.
These responsibilities are going to fall largely on Jennings' shoulders, especially considering the Vikings recently shipped off playmaker extraordinaire Percy Harvin.
Outside of budding star tight end Kyle Rudolph, the rest of the receiving talent surrounding Jennings isn't exactly overwhelming, which means the seven-year veteran will (perhaps unfairly) be asked to carry the load.
How much of Oakland's season will ride on the health of RB Darren McFadden?
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From a physical and talent standpoint, few players in the league today are as imposing as Oakland Raiders running back Darren McFadden.
McFadden has been a major focal point of the Raiders offense since being selected fourth overall in the 2008 draft and is likely to be heavily counted on in 2013.
Dangerous as both a runner and as a receiving threat, the 6'1", 218-pound physical specimen is one of the games most gifted and versatile offensive weapons when healthy.
Unfortunately, staying healthy has been a major problem for McFadden over the years. McFadden has appeared in only 57 of a possible 80 games over the past five seasons, and his best year came in 2010, when he appeared in 13 games and amassed 1,664 combined rushing and receiving yards and scored 10 total touchdowns,
Oakland has talent on the offensive side of the football, but a looming quarterback competition could determine just how far this team can go in 2013. With former starter Carson Palmer out of the picture and with former Packers and Seahawks backup Matt Flynn trying to fend off Terrelle Pryor and rookie Tyler Wilson for the starting job, the Raiders' quarterback position is anything but settled.
A strong and consistent ground game could help the Raiders keep their heads above water while the team decides if any quarterback on the roster can be a legitimate starter, and a season from McFadden similar to that of 2010 would go a long way toward accomplishing that feat.
The hard part for McFadden may not be finding a way to produce on the field, but simply finding a way to stay on it.
Robert Griffin III
RGIII left few questions unanswered as a rookie, but can he do the same in 2013?
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It's pretty difficult to imagine a situation in which Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III could possibly be in over his head.
After all, the former Baylor star had little trouble facing the challenges thrown at him as a rookie. Griffin passed for 3,200 yards in 2012, posted an NFL rookie record 102.4 passer rating and led the Redskins to their first NFC East Division title since 1999.
Oh, and let's not forget how quickly Griffin's charismatic ways made him a fan favorite as well as the face of the Redskins franchise, and one of the league's biggest stars.
However, the pressure will be on for Griffin to do even more for a follow-up act, and the expectations will be great.
Despite ending last season with a devastating knee injury and a disastrous playoff loss to the Seattle Seahawks, Griffin will be expected to continue to excel on the field and keep the Redskins in the hunt for a Super Bowl appearance.
Are such expectations for a quarterback coming off of major ACL and MCL surgery really realistic?
Perhaps not (and reports of his fast recovery certainly don't help), but they will continue to exist because Griffin is a player and a professional like we have never seen before.
If Griffin can defy the odds and return 100 percent to lead Washington back in the championship hunt, then he will only continue his rise to the top of the NFL world.
However, if Griffin struggles in his second season, or fails to regain his pre-injury form, all eyes are going to go back to the injury suffered on January 6 and everyone responsible for allowing it to happen—which according to many, includes Griffin, himself.
Danny Amendola faces the unenviable task of making fans forget about Wes Welker
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Replacing a fan favorite on one of the NFL's most popular teams is never easy.
Replacing a fan favorite, who also happened to be Tom Brady's friend and favorite target is a challenge that no one wants to run headfirst into.
However, that is the task faced by New England Patriots wide receiver Danny Amendola, who was added this offseason in an effort to offset the loss of master slot receiver Wes Welker, who signed as a free agent with the Denver Broncos.
It's not that Amendola is not a talented player (he did manage to haul in 63 passes for 666 yards in just 11 games last season) it's just that the player he is trying to replace is widely regarded as one of the top slot receivers in league history.
Welker has logged more than 110 receptions in five of the past six seasons and has been one of the most consistent playmakers on New England's high-octane offense.
It's a lot to live up to for a player who has never really emerged as a true star and who has battled injuries in recent years (Amendola missed 20 of the Rams' past 32 games).
Amendola's new five-year, $31 million contract only adds to the expectations that will be heaped upon the four-year veteran, and if the wideout fails to meet them, fans will criticize both Amendola and the Patriots for making such a costly miscalculation.
The Patriots are also facing major questions at the tight end position, which only adds to the pressure faced by Amendola, pressure he simply may not be ready to face.
Then again, he will be catching passes from Brady, who seems to have a knack for making anyone not named Chad Johnson look like a superstar.
Can Dannell Ellerbe continue to evolve in his new home?
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The Miami Dolphins were one of the league's busiest teams this offseason, scoring free agent prizes such as wide receiver Mike Wallace, cornerback Brent Grimes and tight end Dustin Keller.
The Dolphins also added inside linebacker Dannell Ellerbe, signing the newly crowned Super Bowl champion to a five-year, $35 million deal.
In Miami, Ellerbe will be asked to provide a leadership role in the Dolphins' revamped defense, and to replace veteran Karlos Dansby, who was released and subsequently signed with the Arizona Cardinals.
The issue here is that Ellerbe really doesn't have the experience needed to take charge of a young defense. Although he did play a pivotal role in the Ravens' storybook championship run last season, he was largely a role player and a special teams standout in the years before.
Ellerbe appeared in 13 regular-season contests last season, amassed 92 total tackles, 4.5 sacks and a forced fumble, but in the three years prior, he had not started more than three games or logged more than 41 tackles or one sack.
While the Dolphins are hoping that they are getting the versatile playmaker who appeared last season, one has to remember that Ellerbe was surrounded by Hall of Fame talent on a championship-caliber team.
Things will be different in Miami, where the rising talent is apparent, but a winning pedigree is not.
This will be Ellerbe's first season as a full-time starter, and taking over for Dansby, who started all 16 games last season and racked up 134 tackles, will also be a difficult task.
As of now, it appears that the Dolphins have managed to snag a young up-and-coming defender just entering his prime. However, the expectations for Ellerbe will be high, and only time will tell if he has what ti takes to meet them.
Blaine Gabbert could be facing his final chance in Jacksonville
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High expectations typically come with being a former first-round pick.
When you're talking about Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Blaine Gabbert, however, perhaps they shouldn't—at least not after what the team has witnessed over the past two seasons.
Since coming to Jacksonville as the 10th overall pick in the 2011 draft, Gabbert has shown flashes of talent, but has largely been a disappointment. In 24 starts, he has passed for just 3,878 yards while completing a mere 53.8 percent of his pass attempts.
Although Gabbert hasn't exactly been surrounded with prime talent, much of the responsibility for Jacksonville's struggles over the past two seasons is going to be placed on the quarterback (where else would it go?).
With a new head coach in Gus Bradley now calling the shots, Gabbert could be looking at his last chance to solidify himself as the Jaguars franchise quarterback.
However, he will first have to beat out journeyman Chad Henne in order to even earn an opportunity. It will undoubtedly be one of the league's least-watched quarterback competitions, but it could very well determine the direction of the Jaguars 2013 season.
Unfortunately, even if Gabbert manages to land the starting gig, he will still face an uphill battle trying to lead the Jaguars out of the AFC basement.
There will be a notable learning curve with a new front office in place, and with second-year wideout Justin Blackmon set to serve a four-game suspension, the start of the season could be especially rocky.
If Gabbert is unable to overcome, he could quickly find himself jostling with fellow former first-rounders JaMarcus Russell and Vince Young in the unemployment line.
With the Chargers going though a transition, Ryan Mathews could be running an uphill battle
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Once the pride of the AFC West, the San Diego Chargers have quickly fallen to the ranks of the also-rans, which is one of the primary reasons general manager A.J. Smith and coach Norv Turner were shown the door following last season.
New head coach Mike McCoy appears well-equipped to lead a resurgence in 2013.
Perhaps no player received more criticism last season than running back Ryan Mathews.
Not only has the 2012 12th overall draft pick been forced to play in the shadow of future Hall of Famer LaDainian Tomlinson, but Mathews also battled health issues (10 missed games in three seasons) and problems with ball security (12 fumbles during that span).
If the pressure of trying to prove he can remain healthy and can be an integral part of McCoy's new system weren't enough, Mathews also has the ire of a disgruntled fan base to contend with.
In fact, CBS Sports recently reported that some fans have been so upset with the fourth-year running back that they have directed "death wish" internet comments at both Mathews and his mother.
Outside distractions aside, Mathews is going to have to prove that he can be better on the field in 2013. Last season, he rushed for just 707 yards and one touchdown.
The pressure will be on Mathews to raise the bar for himself this season; otherwise McCoy and the rest of the Chargers decision-makers may be looking for a new first-round rusher when 2014 rolls around.
Can Brandon Weeden be more than a stopgap quarterback in 2013?
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When you're the quarterback of the new era Cleveland Browns, it probably always feels like the chips are stacked against you.
When you're a 30-year-old second-year pro, learning a new system, with a new owner, injury concerns surrounding your top offensive weapon and a two-game suspension looming for your best receiving target, you probably feel like folding before the game even begins.
Browns quarterback Brandon Weeden wasn't exactly awful as a rookie in 2012 (he did manage to pass for a franchise rookie record 3,385 yards), but he appeared wildly inconsistent and often lost in then-head coach Pat Shurmur's West Coast system.
The strong-armed Oklahoma State product seems to be a better fit for new coordinator Norv Turner's offense, which may help alleviate the team's concern over the quarterback position.
However, Weeden still faces an uphill battle if he wants to establish himself as the Browns franchise quarterback. Star running back Trent Richardson battled through numerous injuries last season and is currently nursing a shin injury, making his status worth keeping an eye on.
No. 1 wideout Josh Gordon has also been handed a two-game suspension for violation of the league's substance abuse policy, which will make things for Weeden even more difficult to start the season.
The ongoing federal investigation surrounding owner Jimmy Haslam will only add to the distractions.
If Weeden can find a way to overcome all these obstacles and perform well in 2013, he may have a legitimate chance to answer the biggest question surrounding the Browns since they returned to the league in 1999.
If not, the Browns will probably be looking for a different answer in the 2014 draft.
Rex Ryan was forced to lead a sinking ship in 2012
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Okay, so he isn't a player, but it's hard not to put New York Jets head coach Rex Ryan on this list.
After all, it doesn't seem that anyone in the league will be in over his head more in 2013.
When Ryan first took over the Jets in 2009, he was brash, confident and didn't apologize for any of it. Better yet, his team found a way to back up his bravado on the field and the Jets looked to be a perennial contender for years to come.
However, things went south after New York made back-to-back AFC championship appearances in 2009 and 2010, and Ryan's act has started to become a bit stale.
The Jets slipped to 8-8 in 2011 and down to 6-10 last season, which led to the firing of longtime general manager Mike Tannenbaum.
New general manager John Idzik was brought in this offseason, which could pave the way for a head coaching change next season if Ryan can't find a way to turn things around in a big way.
In addition to facing an uncertain future, Ryan must also find a way to navigate a rocky quarterback competition between inconsistent Mark Sanchez and rookie media magnet Geno Smith and overcome the loss of all-world cornerback Darrelle Revis, talented tight end Dustin Keller and de facto starting running back Shonn Green.
He'll also have to navigate all these obstacles under the ever-watchful eye of the New York media, which may prove to be extremely difficult, even for a man like Ryan.
But, hey, at least he won't have to answer any more questions about Tim Tebow.