The 10 Most Intriguing Players of the 2009 NFL Season
So after reading a rather flawed entry to the genre (let's just say it was "overrated"), I decided to compile my first ever Bleacher Report top 10 list.
The inaugural topic is, "Top 10 Most Intriguing Players of the 2009 NFL Season." There are probably dozens of players who can fill out a list like this, but the 10 I've selected all bear a significant subplot to the upcoming football season.
Some are franchise players for their teams, and others are setting up shop with new teams, while one guy on this isn't even on a team...yet.
Before we get started, there are two overly publicized players who will NOT be on this list. Neither of them, in my view, should play one snap this upcoming season, albeit for different reasons. Just to get it out of the way...
As a dog lover, I would like to see nothing else than No. 7 never play another game in the NFL. I was originally a big fan of his, but the crime he committed was simply too heinous for any team's fanbase to welcome him with open arms.
And let's face it, he was already fading drastically as a capable NFL quarterback.
While I'm not as fervent in my disdain for Favre as I am with Vick, his is another story I rather not see played over and over again on ESPN.
I know I'm going to come off as a bitter Jets fan, but seriously, who isn't sick of this guy? His constant, yet calculated, effort to have everything revolve around his washed-up career is simply too nauseating for any football fan to stomach.
If the Vikings want to turn camp into "Favre Fest 2009" and potentially mess with the psyche of their future Hall of Fame running back...it's their funeral.
OK, let the countdown commence!
10. James Harrison
I decided to go with the photo of a deflated James Harrison after his 100-yard pick six in the Super Bowl, for obvious comedic purposes.
To get serious for a second, Harrison has had quite the tumultuous offseason. First, he skipped the customary White House visit that all Super Bowl champion teams go on—for the second time, mind you—based on his own absurd reasoning.
While that shouldn't pose much of an issue going forward, Harrison's two-year-old son was severely bitten by the family's pit bull late last month, which is surely weighing on the reigning Defensive Player of the Year's mind as camp approaches.
Harrison also signed a lucrative six-year deal in April, so it will be interesting to see how motivated the team's defensive leader is now that he's getting paid the big bucks.
Considering that the contract includes $20 million in bonuses, he should have plenty to play for.
9. Matt Cassel
Here is the first of five quarterbacks on the list, which shouldn't come as much of a surprise considering the weight of the position.
Replacing Tom Brady was supposed to be a tall task for Matt Cassel last year, but he answered the call with a breakthrough season (3,693 passing yards, 23 total touchdowns). New England finished 11-5, and despite missing the playoffs, the team had to be pleased with Cassel's performance.
After originally getting franchised by the Pats, he was then shipped over to the Chiefs to be their starting quarterback of the future. Quite the whirlwind for a guy who hadn't started a game since high school.
Not much should be expected from the god-awful Chiefs in 2009, but hey, this is the NFL. There seems to be one rags to riches story per season, so who says it can't be Cassel and co. this year? I say it can't, that's who.
8. Vernon Gholston
**Shameless Plug Alert**
You can read more about Vernon Gholston in my story "All Eyes on Vernon Gholston," recently featured on cbspsorts.com.
The sixth overall pick in last year's draft, Gholston has been no stranger to the "B Word" (bust) after a disappointing and limited rookie campaign. The workout wonder Gholston can probably bench press a Buick. The Jets are just hoping those skills can translate somehow to the football field.
Enter the Rex Ryan era, and hopes are high for Gholston to break out this year among a skilled group of Jets linebackers. With Bart Scott joining David Harris on the inside, the plan is to have Gholston and Calvin Pace wreak havoc on the outside.
With Ryan proclaiming that Gholston will be a "major contributor" this season, it's quite possible that the Jets can become the Ravens of the AFC East and ride a stifling defense into playoff prominence.
7. Mark Sanchez
Sticking with Gang Green, the Jets traded up to the fifth pick in this year's draft to acquire USC quarterback Mark Sanchez. While last year's backup, Kellen Clemens, is still fighting for the gig, the general consensus is that Sanchez is being groomed to start this season.
Whether or not they get a Matt Ryan or Joe Flacco-type rookie campaign, Jets brass is convinced that Sanchez possesses the qualities of an elite starting quarterback. He has the accuracy and arm strength to easily outperform Clemens.
Sanchez played in a pro offense at USC, so at least he doesn't have to shed the stigma of being a "system quarterback" right off the bat. Still, when your own collegiate coach questions your NFL readiness, there is an obvious cause for concern.
Nonetheless, with his fat rookie contract signed and encouraging reports coming out of OTAs, Dirty Sanchez is definitely building up some good buzz on a team that won't rely too heavily on the passing game.
6. Chris "Beanie" Wells
To keep the rookie theme going, there will be several first-year running backs looking to make an impact on their team, like Denver's Knowshon Moreno and Philadelphia's LeSean McCoy.
Chris "Beanie" Wells, the 31st overall pick of the Cardinals, has the chance to make the biggest impact playing for the defending NFC champs.
Arizona is coming off its greatest season in franchise history, and with that high-octane offense and improving defense, hopes should still be high for 2009.
The Ohio State bruiser back has been compared to Brandon Jacobs, albeit in a 6'1, 240-pound frame, with greater speed. Yikes.
Because all OSU rookies can only report to their new NFL teams in mid-June, due to late graduation, Wells will be a few weeks behind schedule at camp.
When he does become acclimated, Wells has the potential to give Arizona that missing piece to their offense—a powerful back that can move the chains through big runs or short conversions. Tim Hightower tried to be that guy last season but will now likely serve as a backup to Beanie.
5. Plaxico Burress
Again, like with Harrison, I can't help myself with the photo.
But seriously, what's to become of Plaxico Burress in 2009? For starters, he needs to sign with an NFL team before camp breaks, or before preseason, or he can just make a splash before Week One, starting opposite Jericho Cotchery in the final year of the original Giants Stadium.
OK, my Jets bias is clearly becoming exposed on this list. What can I say? They're a happening pro football team.
As I write this today, there's breaking news that Plax's next court date has been adjourned to September, and that a trial won't take place until next year. With that said, agent Drew Rosenhaus is pushing hard for his client to sign with a team before camp breaks.
The problem is, even if a prospective team is guaranteed Burress won't be lost to trial until after the season, there's still the inevitable risk of a league suspension as soon as he gets inked.
The NFL is holding out on a decision just yet, but as soon as Plax signs with a team, a multiple-game suspension should follow.
Still, for any team in need of a dynamic No. 1 receiver, it should be a risk worth taking. Marshawn Lynch will sit the first three games of this season; however, no one can discount the value he'll bring to Buffalo in Week Four.
The Jets, Bears, and Bucs are all teams that could eventually roll the dice on Plax.
4. Matt Ryan
Ah, Matty Ice. Nothing goes down smoother.
That sounded awful.
There was probably no greater story in the NFL last year than the resurrected Atlanta Falcons, who went 11-5 and earned a wild card berth.
While they lost in Round One to the Cardinals, the team got stronger in the offseason, trading for arguably the greatest tight end of all time, Tony Gonzalez.
Ryan had a solid but by no means spectacular rookie season with the dirty birds, throwing for 3,440 yards with 17 total TDs and 11 picks. It was his poise and leadership that won him the NFL Rookie of the Year award, and that has everyone buzzing about what the Boston College alum can do in year two.
With a stacked offense that also includes RB Michael Turner and WR Roddy White, as well as a very opportunistic defense, it will be interesting to see where Atlanta figures in the very competitive NFC South. The pressure is surely on the Ice Man.
3. Terrell Owens
What kind of list would this would be without T.O.?
First off, for anyone who hasn't seen this already, especially Bills fans...
Since signing a one-year deal with Buffalo in March, it's been business as usual for T.O., taking shots at Jerry Jones and members of the Cowboys' coaching staff while missing a few voluntary conditioning programs. He has been on-board for OTAs and has looked good according to early reports.
There isn't much to say here, other than it's a one-year deal and T.O. will surely have a big impact on Buffalo's passing game. The AFC East is another tight division, and while the Bills made a big splash on the offensive side of the ball, they did little to improve a defense that was middle-of-the-pack last season.
After a hot 5-0 start, Buffalo played terribly down the stretch last season and was lucky to finish 8-8. It's tough to say what will become of them this year, but the window is slowly closing on T.O.'s chance to win a title.
It will be interesting to see what he makes of this one-year stint, as the polarity between Dallas and Buffalo alone makes for a compelling backdrop. No matter what, T.O. is still a player everyone will be pumped to see when the Bills take on the Pats in Week One on Monday Night Football.
2. Tom Brady
The photo to the left sums up Tom Brady's 2008 season with the Pats, in which a devastating knee injury knocked him out for good in Week One.
After tearing both his ACL and MCL, Brady had multiple surgeries to reconstruct the ligaments, and a timetable for his recovery was uncertain throughout the 2008 regular and postseason. When the team initially franchised Matt Cassel this offseason, it was believed that Brady's status for 2009 was in doubt.
Now, with just over two months until the regular season, Cassel is learning plays in Kansas City while Brady is projected as the Week One starter in New England. His recovery has been nothing short of miraculous, as his doctor said Brady has exceeded all expectations, healing twice as fast as the average human being.
So while analysts speculate whether or not Brady is in fact a "mutant," the Pats still have a big decision on their hands, that being whether or not their franchise quarterback sees any preseason action. I say he doesn't play a lick, not even a snap, but that's based on absolutely nothing.
No matter what happens in exhibition games, if Brady is back in top form for the season, the Pats should be favored to add another title to the dynasty.
1. Donovan McNabb
I know this is a 2009 specific list, but has there even been a more intriguing player than Donovan McNabb?
Constantly questioned about his leadership, ability and mentality, all McNabb has done in his career is lead the Eagles to seven playoff appearances in nine seasons, including five trips to the NFC Championship.
The most recent came last season, when the Eagles made a late-season surge into the playoffs, losing to the Cardinals 32-25 in the conference title game.
While this has all resulted in only one Super Bowl trip for the Eagles, a loss to the Pats in 2005, it's ridiculous to question whether or not McNabb is a top-three quarterback in his era. He is.
You can argue injuries all you want, but Tom Brady and Kurt Warner are the only quarterbacks in the last decade with more postseason success than No. 5.
Still, McNabb's success in the playoffs only magnifies the glaring hole in his NFL résumé—a Vince Lombardi trophy. You can argue that he also yearns for an MVP award, but it's highly likely he prefers a Super Bowl ring.
With a newly restructured contract and restocked Philly team, 2009 may finally be the season McNabb puts it all together. It is by no means his final shot at glory, but with an aging Brian Westbrook, and just two years remaining on Donovan's current deal, the clock is surely ticking its final ticks.