Welcome To The Big Game: 10 Players Who Can Elevate Their Status in 2010
The NFL is one of many sports that features both talented players, and in-between style athletes who often only show half of their potential.
It's kind of like considering the Boston Celtics' Rajon Rondo. He has always been talented, but prior to the 2010 season failed to come out of his shell a little.
Therefore, upon thinking of this, the same style of thinking could apply to many NFL athletes.
For you see, we're not talking about already well established players, we're talking about players who have been noticed, but still are that step below the very top level in professional football.
There are many names that could fill this list, however a list of Top 10 names have been selected.
Is your favorite teams quarterback, running back, wide receiver or defender on this list? Or are they set up for another "almost there" style season?
It's time to find out!
10. Matt Stafford - Detroit Lions
The first thing that comes to mind when I see a photograph of Matt Stafford, is heart.
He showed in 2009 that he what it takes to play in the NFL, and also showed a tremendous amount of passion and dedication, even though Detroit found wins hard to come by.
Only playing 10 games in 2009, many people are quick to throw Matt Stafford under the bus and label him as another Draft bust.
But before we can totally criticize Stafford, it is important to realize that he can only do so much with what is presented to him.
Stafford is on a struggling team, and as much charisma as he bares, it still most likely won't be enough to push Detroit over the edge and defeat the higher ranked NFC teams.
This being said, 2010 is a new year. Daunte Culpepper seems to be intent on signing elsewhere, and realistically there is no other competition for Matt to have contend against.
Therefore, don't expect wonders from Matt Stafford, but expect him to be a lot more confident under center.
He may not finish in the top 10 quarterbacks at the end of the season, however he does have a prime opportunity to elevate his status and prove to everyone why Detroit took him as the No. 1 pick.
9. Josh Freeman - Tampa Bay Buccaneers
For those that weren't thoroughly impressed with Josh Freeman in 2009, I suggest you get your head checked.
Not only was Josh Freeman a stable quarterback for Tampa Bay, he also showed everyone that he has the potential to become an elite passer not only in 2010, but throughout the future.
Aside from what Josh Freeman already promises, it is his stats that tell the real story.
In 2009 Josh Freeman threw for 1,855 yards and 10 touchdowns, impressive stats for a young rookie who was almost forgotten about when the season first began.
Take it from a Packer fan in saying, I know what this guy is about. He demolished a few impressive teams on more than one occasion, and his accuracy and well though out approach to opposing defenses surely leaves the Tampa Bay coaching staff with smiles a mile wide.
The only concern for Josh Freeman is his high interception rate. Throwing 18 interceptions last season, Josh Freeman's accuracy at times was impressive, but did leave a few wide receivers second guessing his passing attempts.
This is only a small rookie criticism that we see after every season, so lets hope for this young mans sake and Tampa Bay's sake, that he works out this small kink in his game plan.
He is only a young guy, but I do feel he has the potential to really knock the socks off of a few people this year.
8. Alex Smith - San Francisco 49ers
Yes, another quarterback. This time though we focus on a more well established thrower, rather than a second-year starter.
It seems when it comes to Alex Smith people are either for him or against him. He is still yet to prove anything to anybody, and just when we think he is set for a breakout season, he retreats and acts like a deer caught in the headlights.
So why will we see a different Alex Smith this season? I hear you ask. Well it's simple, he finally has protection.
Upon watching the NFL Draft earlier in April, I wasn't exactly stunned to see the 49ers draft both Anthony Davis and Mike Iupati, but I was surprised a little to see San Francisco properly address their needs.
For those that are unfamiliar with Davis' and Iupati's work, let me sum it up for you in one word: dominant.
They are immovable objects that protect a quarterback like an overprotective mother protects her son.
Sure, the NFL jitters may affect both in the early going, but I think you'll agree Alex Smith should feel right at home behind these two forces of human beings.
Aside from protection Alex Smith now just needs to show us that he has the ability. Can he throw consistently? And can he withstand top defenses?
These are questions I have no answer for. Should he succeed though, well lets just say people may think twice before criticizing No. 11 anytime soon.
7. Austin Collie - Indianapolis Colts
Finally, we stray away from quarterbacks for the time being, and focus on a young and promising wide receiver.
In 2009. Austin Collie shocked the NFL world with his impressive stats. He wasn't on the field constantly, but somehow he did manage to post 676 yards and seven touchdowns in his rookie year.
As impressive as this was though, Austin Collie failed to be totally consistent at times.
With the greatest passer in the game today throwing to him, Austin Collie had his odd quiet patch where most fans failed to even notice he was on the field.
With this being said, expect a new Austin Collie this season. The competition will always play against Austin Collie, and as long as Reggie Wayne and Pierre Garcon are in blue and white, he will have to share the ball a little.
However, that isn't to say that he can't crack the 1,000+ yard mark this season. Peyton Manning will look to target young Austin Collie this season, and hopefully exploit the many talents that this young man does have.
Providing the unthinkable injury should happen, if the Colts do make yet another playoff run, expect Austin Collie to be perceived in a different light.
6. Joe Flacco - Baltimore Ravens
How do you solve a problem like Joe Flacco? Keep piling on the talent.
Ah, what to say about Joe Flacco? He's convinced a few people he has what it takes, and yet still fails to receive the credit he deserves.
Looking at Joe Flacco on paper, things don't look bad at all. 3,613 yards, 21 touchdowns and 12 interceptions should leave Joe Flacco feeling pretty happy right now in terms of how his 2009 season went.
Still, the criticism that always seems to hang around Joe Flacco like a bad smell is the fact that he hasn't taken control of the Ravens like a true quarterback should.
Joe Flacco is like Mark Sanchez, the Jets have carried him a lot of the way, and so far we are yet to see either quarterback grasp the reins and lead their team to the promise land.
A lot of this is due to Flacco's inexperience, and the fact that he is still learning the game. However now that the Ravens have acquired Anquan Boldin, there is simply no excuse for Joe to sit back and enjoy the ride.
Baltimore are my personal Super Bowl favorites, but the long-awaited journey still will stop and start if Joe Flacco plays like he did in 2009. Stats are one thing, and control is another.
I'm not criticizing Joe in any way, but he needs to step up immensely. I guess you could say that Joe Flacco is the missing piece to the puzzle in Baltimore, although funnily enough, he still plays for the Ravens.
The time has come for Joe to take over. Prove to everyone that the Joe Show is here, and it is time to fear his quarterback presence. If Joe is successful in doing so, he should see the criticism lift from above his head.
5. Mark Sanchez - New York Jets
You knew he was coming sooner or later.
From one quarterback that needs to take over, we focus on Mark Sanchez. Amidst all of the praise that Mark Sanchez has undergone, many more sensible NFL fans realize just how lucky Mark Sanchez was in 2009.
Like Joe Flacco, Mark Sanchez relied heavily on the Jets to at times, and much of this relying attitude was directed toward the defense.
It seemed that if Mark made a mistake, Darrelle Revis and his army of impressive men would regroup and prevent the opposing team from taking advantage.
I guess this is what a truly great team does, but the tolerance for Mark Sanchez's inability to take over won't last long. New York is an area that wants a complete team, not just half.
They are eager for a Super Bowl, and are eager for a quarterback other than Eli Manning who is considered a well established passer.
Is Mark Sanchez capable of this? Yes, yes and yes. He can throw exceptionally well, and despite his 20 interceptions in 2009, should feel a lot more relaxed under center this season.
Expect Mark to be confident this season. He's had his Ben Roethlisberger like rookie playoff run, and has experienced success. Therefore, there is no uncharted territory for Mark Sanchez other than the Super Bowl.
A former USC quarterback will only want to reach the Lombardi Trophy sooner or later, so unless Mark is comfortable with letting New York carry him there, if he steps up, so will his status in 2010 and the future.
4. Jay Cutler - Chicago Bears
At times last season Jay Cutler showed glimpses of greatness. He passed the ball well at times, but at the end of the day the only statistic that people focused on was Jay Cutler's high interceptions.
Finishing the year with 26 interceptions, most Bears fans felt torn in regards to their opinion of him.
Now though, the confidence is high. Fans seem to feel that we are yet to see the best from Jay Cutler, and now that he has settled in with Chicago, he should feel right at home in 2010 as he tries to win the NFC North for Chicago.
Perhaps the biggest problem holding Jay Cutler back though is his wide receivers.
The Bears wide receiver corps is poor in comparison to many big NFC teams, and despite Chicago's impressive offseason additions, the fact remains the same that the Bears are limited in targets to throw to.
Should Jay Cutler somehow evolve into a great quarterback as the season progresses, expect to hear about.
Chicago have suffered since their Super Bowl XLI run in 2006, and therefore fans are tired of seeing the same dismal performance year after year.
If there is one player that needs to elevate his status this season, it is Jay Cutler. The criticism is still present, and with Lovie Smith on the hot seat, tensions are high in the Windy City.
Hopefully we are talking about Jay Cutler differently this time next season.
3. Jermichael Finley - Green Bay Packers
He's already been deemed as the future of the Packers receiving corps, and rightfully so.
Jermichael Finley in 2009 impressed a lot of people. After posting 676 yards and 5 touchdowns, Finley left head coach Mike McCarthy no other option but to place former starting tight end Donald Lee as the second stringer.
Now, it's Jermichael's time to shine. The Packer offense is exciting, Aaron Rodgers is expected to have a possible MVP style season, and the old veteran Green Bay wide receivers are still present.
What else could Jermichael ask for?
That's right, nothing. He is with one of the most promising teams in all of football, and could realistically win a Super Bowl within the next two to three years.
Of course, a case could be made that Jermichael proves everyone wrong and has a quiet season. However, Jermichael is the type of player that responds well to pressure.
He'll simply play it cool, rely on Rodgers and deliver. He's done it before and if he does it again, mark my words Jermichael may just outdo the Jeremy Shockey's of this league in no time.
2. Jason Campbell - Oakland Raiders
If there is any other player in the league with bigger guts than Jason Campbell, I haven't heard of him.
Stepping into a team like Oakland surely is daunting for any player, but when the Raiders are flat out posting a win, the pressure is certainly on for everybody.
Like the old saying goes "The quarterback is the most important position to a team."
So have the Raiders invested in a smart choice with Jason Campbell?
Some say yes, while others say no. However, there is no denying that Campbell has a huge mountain to climb if he is to get the Raiders back on the winning path.
With this said, should Campbell some how succeed in this mammoth of a task, he will be praised until the cows come home. JaMarcus Russell has been a bust, and just about everything Al Davis has touched has failed.
If Jason Campbell comes into Week 1 all guns blazing, please give him credit. His talent has been questioned in recent years, and his overall ability is doubted by many.
Fail and he will listed as another footnote in Raider history. Succeed and he will go down as a potential Raider legend for rejuvenating the Black Hole.
It could go either way, but either way a name will be given to Jason Campbell soon enough.
1. Tony Romo - Dallas Cowboys
Will the real Tony Romo please stand up?
Some may argue with this pick, but to me Tony Romo is still yet to show his true colors in the NFL.
Sometimes he makes fantastic throws from the all over the field, while other times he is involved in a hard hitting sack-fest that sees Dallas exit the playoffs with their tales between their legs.
When Tony Romo first started in Dallas, most people didn't expect much. A list a mile long of past legends daunted Tony Romo, and the Wisconsin-born quarterback experienced his fair share of scrutiny.
Now we look at the present. A roster with a ton of talent, some decent coaching, a great fan base, a billion dollar stadium, but still no Super Bowl.
I guess a lot of the blame can't entirely be pinned on Romo, however I feel that fans don't really know how to describe Tony Romo right now. He is one of those rare players who is good, but bad at the same time.
So what can Tony do to really achieve his full glory this season?
It's simple, just play well, and consistently. Even if no Super Bowl ring is achieved yet again, if Tony has a decent and well-rounded season, fans should be appreciative.
His head seems to be finally in the game of football and out of media attention, and there are no more Jessica Simpson or Terrell Owens distractions in Dallas.
Tony, just play well. Do us all a favor as fans and outdo yourself. The NFC East is already a fierce division, and if Tony was at his best, it would be even better.
To me Tony does not have a status just yet, other than a choker. It's time to show everybody that he is the real deal in Dallas, and that everything is indeed bigger and better in Texas.