When wide-eyed rookies catch their first glimpse of NFL life, the result is oftentimes overwhelming.
The National Football League is the ultimate destination of America’s premier football players and home to the upper echelon of elite, all-world athletes.
Running quarterbacks can no longer outrun the linebackers, while passing quarterbacks can no longer throw into triple coverage or lock onto their targets.
Tall, yet non-agile wide receivers cease to out-muscle NFL cornerbacks, while track-running receivers fail to run by them.
Big-bodied defensive linemen can no longer simply bull rush through the offensive line, while speed rushers cannot run around the nimble ballerina-like feet of NFL offensive tackles.
Needless to say, the very methods that brought these athletes collegiate greatness may be their eventual downfall in the NFL.
If lucky, former MVPs will be backups, and All-Americans will make all-practice squad.
In addition to the physical trials and tribulations, the mental capacity required of NFL athletes is nothing short of Einstoneous (think adjective of Einstein).
Lengthy NFL playbooks make collegiate playbooks look like Cliff Notes. The terminology sounds like a dead language, and a single play call has more nonsensical words than a Shakespearean sonnet.
Then there’s the lifestyle.
To many NFL athletes who came from middle to lower class backgrounds, the fortunes of an NFL contract will feel like winning the lottery.
As the great Notorious B.I.G. once said, “Mo Money, Mo Problems.”
Despite possessing grammatical content that would make a high school English teacher cry, the song speaks the truth—money is like a growth hormone to mischievous behavior.
It is for this reason that young NFL athletes are just as ill-prepared on the field as they are off of it.
As these young adults become seasoned by the man-producing factory known as the NFL, they begin to adjust to the speed, complexities, and distractions of their surroundings.
It is once these adjustments are made that NFL athletes can become the explosive and stat-producing players their team envisioned on draft day.
The NFC West is full of overshadowed yet high potential players that are bursting to make their way into the spotlight.
Look for late round gems like these to win fantasy football leagues come the month of December.
Like my former adolescent complexion, the following 10 NFC West athletes are primed for breakout seasons in 2009.
Yes, that is not a typo; a kicker made the breakout players list.
Coutu will get his second chance because, well, he never got a first chance.
Despite being one of only two kickers to be drafted in the 2008 NFL Draft, Coutu was placed behind journeyman veteran Olindo Mare on the depth chart.
At Georgia, Coutu was a walking oxymoron as a kicking legend.
As a Bulldog, he nailed three field goals over 50 yards, converted on all career extra point attempts, and became the first-ever Georgia kicker to achieve a kicking accuracy above 80 percent.
Look for this kicker with a bright future to finally beat out Mare and become the Seahawks’ new franchise kicker.
With the Seahawks' revamped passing attack and mediocre ground game, look for many touchdown-less trips to the red zone...great news for Coutu fantasy owners.
Prior to a disappointing senior campaign at Kentucky, which involved nagging injuries and dropped passes, Burton was considered a first or second round selection.
The Rams took a risk on him by making him the 128th overall pick in the fourth round.
With limited opportunities, Burton produced commendably for the Rams, making 13 receptions for 172 yards and one touchdown over 13 game appearances and just one start in his rookie year.
With the offseason departure of veterans Torry Holt and Drew Bennett, Burton will likely find himself the second receiver in St. Louis.
Look for him to benefit from both a season of experience and an increased role in the 2009 Rams offense.
Brandon Mebane has been an overachiever throughout college and his two years in the NFL.
As a second year player, Mebane posted impressive numbers in 2008, including 39 tackles, 5.5 sacks, and two forced fumbles.
His work ethic and motor make him one of the most underrated defensive tackles in the NFL and the best Seahawk defensive lineman not named Patrick Kerney.
Look for this up-and-coming player to step up to the challenge following the departure of Rocky Bernard.
Also keep an eye on second year player Red Bryant, who was a dominant force in college, yet was hampered by nagging injuries in his rookie campaign.
With the Seahawks likely moving trade acquisition Cory Redding to end (bad move), Bryant may beat out free agent acquisition Colin Cole and find himself starting beside Mebane come season’s end.
With the complexities of positional technique, superior strength, and speed of NFL offensive linemen, the defensive line position has one of the longest learning curves in professional football.
Despite the rookie growing pains, Chris Long still managed an impressive first year, registering 40 tackles, four sacks, and one forced fumble.
After a year of acclimating his body and technique to NFL standards, look for Long to emerge as a potential Pro Bowl player in 2009.
Despite playing Div. I-AA football just one season prior, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie looked like a seasoned NFL veteran out on an island with NFL wide receivers.
He displayed superior athleticism, ball skills, and a willingness in run support. In just 11 starts, Rodgers-Cromartie amassed 42 tackles and four interceptions.
Look for his interception totals to improve as he gains the confidence to take risks and jump routes.
It could be a Hawaii-bound February for Rodgers-Cromartie.
Despite being the leading receiver at Virginia Tech as a senior (out-receiving fellow teammate Eddie Royal), not many people had heard of Josh Morgan when the 49ers called his number in the sixth round of the 2008 NFL draft.
Such obscurity was short-lived, as Morgan shot onto the NFL scene with a total of nine receptions for 182 yards and a touchdown in his first two preseason contests.
Although less impressive than his preseason statistics, Morgan’s 20 receptions for 319 yards and three touchdowns were impressive for a rookie.
Dubbed “Baby Freak” by his college teammates for his astonishing combination of size, strength, and speed, this baby TO (minus the attitude) will be a go-to guy for the winner of the San Francisco quarterback competition.
Despite the decision to put first round draft pick Michael Crabtree at Morgan’s X-receiver position, the 49ers will likely give the old Isaac Bruce a rest before they let their second year star see the bench.
With a season of wide receiver coach Jerry Sullivan’s instruction under his belt, Morgan should turn heads come September.
Also keep an eye on third year receiver Jason Hill, who, like Morgan, flashed enormous potential in 2008 with 30 receptions for 317 yards and two touchdowns.
Despite a crowded wide receiver position, Hill should still see the playing field as a slot receiver.
Despite being an unpopular second round draft selection with electrifying players like DeSean Jackson and Eddie Royal still on the board, Avery went on to have an impressive rookie campaign playing opposite potential future Hall of Fame receiver Torry Holt.
In just 15 starts, Avery managed 53 receptions, 674 yards, and three touchdowns.
These are impressive statistics considering that he was playing college football for Houston just one year prior.
With Holt departing for the Jacksonville Jaguars, this second year player will be the lone sheriff in St. Louis wide receiver town.
The drafting of Jason Smith should help provide Marc Bulger the time to find his new No. 1 target.
Listing Vernon Davis as a breakout player is beginning to get old for football analysts.
Despite resembling the athlete that I emulate my Madden Football player creations after, Davis has thus far been a disappointment as a first round, sixth overall draft pick.
Plagued by a broken fibula, dropped passes, and the necessity to stay in and block on passing downs, Davis’ career statistics are not what you would expect from the self-proclaimed “Pro Bowl player.”
Although disappointing due to his endless potential, Davis has still posted solid numbers for a starting tight end with 103 receptions for 1,132 yards and nine touchdowns over three seasons.
This included a 2007 season with 52 receptions, 509 yards, and four touchdowns in just 14 games.
Coming off a Pro Bowl alternate selection in 2008, look for Vernon Davis to finally become the dangerous player his Under Armour commercials suggest.
The 49ers’ new offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye will certainly enjoy the services of his best tight end since his days with Tony Gonzalez in Kansas City.
Hopefully Raye can extract similar production.
Calling this coming season a breakout year for Seahawk tight end John Carlson would be a slight against his remarkable rookie campaign.
After all, he hauled in 55 balls for 627 yards and five touchdowns.
With that said, 2008 was just the tip of the iceberg for this high potential player.
With a year of NFL seasoning under his belt and the addition of T.J. Houshmandzadeh, look for this former rookie phenom to slip under opposing defenses’ radars for numerous fantasy football points.
After catching 77 passes for 1,006 yards and three touchdowns, most would argue that Steve Breaston has already “broken out.”
Given that three Cardinal wide receivers broke the 1,000-yard mark in 2008, breakout has a whole new meaning in Arizona.
There are two factors leading me to believe that we have yet to see the best of Breaston.
The first is the potential for development he still possesses as a wide receiver entering just his third season in the league. Although quick and explosive, Breaston’s route running in 2008 left room for improvement, suggesting an even better 2009 year.
The second factor is contingent on Anquan Boldin’s status with the team. If Boldin departs for the pastures that show him the green, look for Breaston to cannibalize the former fellow Cardinal’s fantasy points.
If Boldin leaves the desert, look for second year wideout Early Doucet to make his way onto the Arizona scene.