Who Is Being Set Up to Fail During the 2013 NFL Season?
Optimism typically dominates the football world during the month of June, but the reality is that there will be approximately as many disappointments as there are surprises this year. Injuries and other developments will factor in as good players and coaches become victims of the cruel NFL season, but you can already feel a negative vibe in regard to certain guys.
Here, we give you 10 NFL names who could be set up to fail well before the 2013 campaign gets underway.
New England Patriots QB Tom Brady
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OK, we're not suggesting that Tom Brady is going to suddenly become ordinary in 2013, but consider that—on paper—he took a small step backward in 2012, with his passer rating dropping below the 100 mark for the first time in three years. And then consider that he'll be down two, maybe three, of his top options this season.
Danny Amendola isn't a terrible replacement for the departed Welker, but he's also had his injury issues the last couple years. Ditto for Jake Ballard. There isn't a lot of depth beyond that, so the scarcity of weapons in the New England Patriots' passing game might finally catch up to their 36-year-old quarterback this season.
Oakland Raiders QB Matt Flynn
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Matt Flynn was a trendy quarterback option entering the 2012 free-agency period, but then he was beaten out by rookie Russell Wilson prior to the season in Seattle. Now, Flynn is in his third city in as many years, and the people of Oakland are holding out hope that the talented 28-year-old can lead the Raiders back to the playoffs for the first time in a decade.
They're about to get their hopes up.
Productive tight end Brandon Myers is gone, as is Darrius Heyward-Bey, leaving Flynn with Denarius Moore, Jacoby Ford and Rod Streater as his top three receivers. Starting running back Darren McFadden can't stay healthy, and the offensive line won't likely save the day.
There's just not enough support in Oakland for a quarterback who, according to Ron Jaworski of ESPN (h/t Pro Football Talk), isn't a sure thing in the first place.
San Diego Chargers OT D.J. Fluker
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It continues to look as though the San Diego Chargers will use rookie first-round pick D.J. Fluker as a starting right tackle in 2013, but that could wind up biting them in the ass. The team was probably reaching when it used its No. 11 overall pick on the slow-footed Alabama product, which could mean it's going to try to fit a square peg into a round hole.
Even if he does eventually kick inside to a guard spot, that transition won't likely be easy, and the expectations are so high for a rookie like this that he's in an impossible spot.
Making things harder is that the 22-year-old won't likely get much support from the rest of that line, which Pro Football Focus (subscription required) ranked 31st in the league in pass-blocking efficiency last year. King Dunlap and Max Starks are fighting for the starting left tackle job, and Louis Vasquez and Jared Gaither are both gone.
Buffalo Bills Head Coach Doug Marrone
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Hey, Doug Marrone. Welcome to Buffalo, where there are kids in high school who aren't old enough to remember the last time the Bills were in the playoffs. You're the sixth head coach to try to turn this franchise's fortunes around since 2000, but there's little reason to believe it'll be any easier for you than it was for Gregg Williams, Mike Mularkey, Dick Jauron, Perry Fewell and Chan Gailey.
The Bills, who haven't had a winning record since 2004, reached for a boom-or-bust quarterback with their first-round pick. And if EJ Manuel doesn't turn into a star, they'll likely have to gamble again in a few years.
The problem is that the support isn't there yet. This is a mediocre team that lost two guards and a linebacker in free agency, signed nobody of note and is left with significant holes on both sides of the ball.
The point is that this franchise has merely been treading water for over a decade, and one man might not have the ability to change that mentality.
Jacksonville Jaguars WR Justin Blackmon
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So long as Blaine Gabbert is throwing him passes, the Jacksonville Jaguars will be putting Justin Blackmon in a position to fail.
With Gabbert and Chad Henne as his quarterbacks last year, the talented first-round pick stood little chance of putting up big numbers as a rookie. Now, in his second year, the Jags have done exactly nothing to improve their quarterback situation.
It's amazing Blackmon was able to post 865 yards and score five times despite shoddy quarterback play throughout the 2012 campaign, but don't expect him to keep progressing toward superstardom without more support under center.
New York Jets CB Dee Milliner
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This is all about expectations from those pesky New York sports fanatics who will apply pressure on rookie cornerback Dee Milliner. They'll want to see if he can step in and replace departed superstar Darrelle Revis, even though that's completely unfair because rookie corners usually need more time to adjust than their peers.
Milliner will likely serve as New York's No. 2 corner, with Antonio Cromartie technically "replacing" Revis. But it won't necessarily feel that way, because the Jets just used a top-10 pick on the guy. Their last two top-10 picks before that were Mark Sanchez and Vernon Gholston, so this is a franchise looking to make amends.
The Jets also failed to support Milliner by getting him pass-rushing help in the offseason. Fellow first-round pick Sheldon Richardson could be solid, but he isn't an edge-rusher, and the team used the rest of its six draft picks on offensive players.
Arizona Cardinals QB Carson Palmer
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This could go either way, because at least Carson Palmer finally has some decent receiving options with Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd in Arizona. But the Cardinals still failed to do much to address their weak starting offensive tackle spots in the offseason, and that's worrisome.
Yes, first-round guard Jonathan Cooper helps, and they'll at least get left tackle Levi Brown back, but this is still an offensive line that gave up the most sacks and the second-most pressures in the league last year. And even when the Cardinals had a healthy Brown at left tackle in 2011, their PFF pass-blocking efficiency rating (subscription required) was even worse.
Palmer wasn't pressured too badly in Oakland, but he still managed to throw 15 interceptions in two years under those circumstances. The heat will be turned up in Glendale, which could mean trouble.
New Orleans Saints Head Coach Sean Payton
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After a year away from coaching, Sean Payton returns to a team that is still led by quarterback Drew Brees. That's the good news.
The bad news is that his defense is in shambles after surrendering 800 more yards and 0.5 more yards per play than any other unit in the league last season. On top of all that, the Saints are rolling the dice on a transition to a 3-4 scheme (which never happens successfully overnight) and handing the defensive reins to Rob freakin' Ryan.
In nine years as a defensive coordinator in three different cities, Ryan has never put together a D that has managed to finish in the top 12 in the league in terms of points allowed. He's also never been a defensive coordinator on a team with a winning record.
Throw in that Brees, who is coming off a down year, has lost his blind-side-protecting tackle, Jermon Bushrod, and it might not be easy for the Saints to rejoin the upper echelon under Payton in 2013.
Miami Dolphins OT Jonathan Martin
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Some of these are simpler than others. The Miami Dolphins let franchise left tackle Jake Long get away in free agency and failed to replace him in the draft or free agency. That means that 2012 second-round pick Jonathan Martin will likely be responsible for second-year quarterback Ryan Tannehill's blind side.
Among the 80 offensive tackles who took at least 25 percent of their teams' snaps in 2012, Pro Football Focus (subscription required) graded Martin as the fifth worst. He gave up more hurries than any tackle in the football and put together some real stinkers while stepping in for the injured Long late.
The Dolphins seem to believe in the 23-year-old, per MiamiDolphins.com's Andy Kent, but that confidence could cost both Martin and the team.
New York Giants QB Eli Manning
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Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks aren't even major reasons why Eli Manning could be in line for a tough year in New York. Both top receivers should be back, but if Manning is under increased pressure, he could find it impossible to consistently hit those talented wideouts.
Gone are running back Ahmad Bradshaw and tight end Martellus Bennett, both of whom weren't just extremely productive as runners and receivers, but were also exemplary pass-blockers. No back picks up the blitz like Bradshaw, and Bennett was deemed by PFF (subscription required) to be the third-best pass-blocking tight end in the NFL in 2012.
Bradshaw's replacement, David Wilson, spent most of his 2012 rookie campaign in Tom Coughlin's doghouse due to his inability to pass protect and block in general. Meanwhile, Bennett's replacement, Brandon Myers, was rated by PFF (subscription required) last year as the fourth-worst pass-blocker in the league among tight ends who took at least 50 percent of their team's offensive snaps.
That kind of switch, plus the mild receiver debacle, and Manning could run into some problems in 2013.