LaDainian Tomlinson, San Diego Chargers
This one is pretty obvious. Simply put, you should watch LDT to see if this is truly the last year of his career in which he puts up respectable numbers or if he can break the 30-year-old halfback curse. Few players have managed to do it, but one would imagine that if somebody could accomplish such a feat it would be none other than Mr. Tomlinson.
He’s been showing signs over the past two years - having his last two years shortened by injury - but he’s been working towards getting healthy mightily over the off-season. I don’t expect another 1,800+ yards from scrimmage season, but I do expect nearly 100 yards from scrimmage per game.
Shawne Merriman, San Diego Chargers
Plain and simple… if Shawne Merriman puts up 12 or more sacks next season and the Chargers defense returns to a top 10 unit than he will win the Defensive Player of The Year award barring a truly standout season from another defensive player.
The NFL, or more specifically it’s awards handed out by the 50 panelists at the Associated Press, is based on hype and Merriman is one of the more hyped players out there and therefore needs only an average season returning from injury couple with a few factors in order to have a strong shot. So I’m telling you to watch Merriman to see if he will truly be worthy of being in contention for the award that he’ll, undoubtedly, receive votes for.
Brandon Flowers, Kansas City Chiefs
Flowers received my bid for the 2008 NFL Defensive Rookie of The Year award due to tremendous metrics from K.C. Joyner, Tony Sparano, Stats LLC, and Football Outsiders. Rather should I say that they were tremendous metrics for a rookie playing in a Tampa 2 system for all 16 games as a starter.
Flowers looks to replenish this role but has to do so as the Chiefs employ what appears to be a very limited 3-4 defense. This means the pressure might be even worse for the Chiefs than it was last year meaning Flowers’ physical play will have to guide him. If he can succeed next year I can see Flowers being a Ty Law type player with the key difference being that Flowers can put up good metrics.
Dwayne Bowe, Kansas City Chiefs
Mr. Bowe is already an elite wide receiver and a pretty underrated one at that. Of the young – quantified as four or less years in the league - wide outs in the NFL I would only take Greg Jennings over him. Sure he has a little case of the dropsies, but the thing to be noted is that he has amassed 2,000 total yards receiving in his first two seasons with two practical 1,000 yard seasons.
However, both of those seasons he had Tony Gonzalez drawing coverage away from him and he no longer has that benefit. One could argue that Gonzalez’s departure will be minimal though because of the arrival of Matt Casell who showed signs of being a good quarterback last year. How will this immense shift change Bowe’s production next season?
Jarrad Page/Bernard Pollard, Kansas City Chiefs
You probably know the latter of these two player as the guy that changed the course of the NFL season in week 1 as he sent Tom Brady to the IR, but these two guys are actually very good Cover 2 Safeties. When you combine them together they form one of the five to ten best safety duos in the NFL. Together, alongside another player to look for, Brandon Flowers, these guys help to form a young secondary that will be instrumental in Kansas City’s success if they get even minimal help from the pass rush.
Derrick Johnson, Kansas City Chiefs
Johnson’s an interesting character. Some people believe that, when the Chiefs ran a 4-3, he was one of the premier outside linebackers in the NFL, while some others believed that he was on the verge of bust… two completely contrasting viewpoints.
Now Johnson is being kicked inside to play in the 3-4 where he will have new responsibilities. Unfortunately it seems that, regardless of how good you are, if you’re a 3-4 inside linebacker you don’t get talked about unless you’re Patrick Willis or Ray Lewis.
So please watch Johnson next season to see if he truly is a good linebacker like some contend or if he is eclipsing bust like others believe.
Brandon Albert, Kansas City Chiefs
Albert has continually been overlooked. Everyone wants to talk about former teammate Ryan Clady and no. 1 overall pick Jake Long, but Albert played on a level as good as both of them, if not better. They were both in good systems with decent quarterbacks where as Albert didn't have any of those things.
Like Long and Clady he wasn't a decent run blocker, but he didn't have to be. Now Albert has a decent quarterback taking snaps for him and now has Todd Haley - an offensive-minded coach - calling the shots in Kansas City. I fully expect Albert to emerge into the public light this year if the Chiefs can develop even a semi-decent running game.
Chris Johnson, Oakland Raiders
Thanks to Tony Sparano and the way that he spun his opinion into his metrics many people believe, erroneously, that Chris Johnson had an elite season last year and that he, alongside Nnamdi Asomugha, forms the league’s best cornerback tandem.
I say that, in reality, Johnson isn’t as good as advertised by Sparano and is merely a journeyman cornerback finding success from half a good season. I could, however, be wrong. But Raiders fans will argue that their team fields the best cornerback duo, and if you want to argue otherwise I suggest you watch Johnson at some point this season.
Justin Fargas/Darren McFadden/Michael Bush, Oakland Raiders
The aforementioned trio could very well be the best rushing attack in the NFL next season, hence why they’re on here. With two good guards in Cooper Carlisle and Robert Gallery and Zach Miller determined to make an effect in the running game, these three young men have the sky as their limit.
Fargas may not be the most talented of the bunch but he is a hard worker . McFadden and Bush are incredibly talented and have shown signs at various points. With all that, look for them to be all boom and no bust next year.
Jamarcus Russell, Oakland Raiders
Third year is the charm right? It’s the year that quarterbacks and wide receivers are supposed to break out. Well, with a reliable young tight end to throw to, three healthy and very good halfbacks and an ever-improving offensive line.
Darius Heyward-Bey might have been a reach as a top ten overall pick, however, if he shows even flashes of brilliance to work with Russell’s big arm, then maybe, just maybe, Russell will show signs of expectancy. It’s time to see if he shows signs of being the first overall pick in the 2007 draft.
Kyle Orton, Denver Broncos
This is kind of a two-part piece when including Orton. It’s quite obvious that next season Kyle Orton and Jay Cutler will be compared every Sunday that the two are both playing, and hence why they’re both on this list.
Orton is on here because if he has even minimal success than it will make it seem as if Cutler was indeed a product of the Denver system. However, if Orton does fail, than it means Denver made one huge mistake in trading away Cutler.
Additional to this is we will finally see if Orton’s lack of success in his career is due to the fact that during his tenure the only semi-competent wideout in Chicago was Muhsin Muhammad.
Ryan Clady, Denver Broncos
Everyone loves to point out the tremendous season that Ryan Clady had as a rookie in that he only allowed half a sack on the season. What many forget to accompany with this is the fact that he allowed 33 quarterback pressures, which was tremendously high. P
People also tend to forget that he, like the rest of his class’s offensive linemen, wasn’t a very strong run blocker. Despite these facts many are attempting to claim him as top three left tackle in the NFL based on one statistic in one season. So next year is the year to watch to see if last season wasn’t a fluke.
Champ Bailey, Denver Broncos
In the eyes of many, Champ Bailey’s career has reached its end. Some consider him no longer to be an elite cornerback, and while some do, many of them have moved him behind Nnamdi Asomugha and Charles Woodson based on their better coverage metrics over the past three seasons.
Last year saw Bailey giving up a career high in yards per attempt, and he hasn’t managed to stay healthy over the past few seasons. Now the Broncos are employing the 3-4 defense which means that if the pressure doesn’t get there than Bailey is toast. This could spell the end for his legend and his career.
Josh McDaniels, Denver Broncos
Josh McDaniels, though not a player, has been called an “idiot” by every Broncos fan that I have ever had the fortune of conversing with. It is for this reason that if, under McDaniels, the Broncos make the post-season or become a perennial powerhouse I never want to hear a Broncos fan brag about him.
It is my belief that despite all the turmoil in Denver this off-season and despite the fact that it looks like McDaniels doesn’t look as if he knows what he is doing, it is a possibility that the Broncos might actually be a good team.
Everybody questions the mad scientist until his methods prove vital. Look to see if the situation in Denver either turns out how it looks, or if it pulls a complete 180 and the Broncos are a surprise team.