The AFC East is consistently one of the most competitive divisions in the National Football League year in and year out. This constant competitiveness leads to exciting training camp battles between the veterans and the rookies.
This slideshow previews the top 15 players in the AFC East that are under high pressure to be contributors in the 2010 NFL Season.
Mark Sanchez had a benefit that most rookie quarterbacks don’t have the luxury of—an absolutely stellar offensive line paving the way for a run-first attack led by speedsters Leon Washington and fellow rookie, Shonne Greene, adding the “change of pace” aspect to the smash-mouth play of Thomas Jones.
With Thomas Jones and Leon Washington being replaced by the aging LaDanian Tomlinson and rookie Joe McKnight, Sanchez will be needed to be more of a game leader, as opposed to the role of “game manager” that he played last year.
He didn’t put up great stats as a rookie, which wasn’t a surprise. But Sanchez is definitely under pressure to improve his 12 touchdowns and 20 interceptions, given the addition of wide receiver Santonio Holmes.
Personally, I believe that Cromartie has all the physical tools to be an elite cornerback in the National Football League, and he is the perfect fit for the cover corners the Jets need for their exotic blitz packages.
The question we must ask ourselves about Cromartie is, where is his head at? With reports indicating he is far behind on child support of multiple children from multiple women, Cromartie has a lot on his plate at the moment.
There is no doubt that he has the talent to return to his 2007 form, in which he recorded 10 interceptions. With coach Rex Ryan motivating him, along with first round draft pick Kyle Wilson clawing at his heels in a bid for the starting job, Cromartie is under pressure in the 2010 season to perform.
The New England Patriots first selection in the 2009 NFL Draft didn’t meet the high expectations that came with his pre-draft hype.
Chung is currently competing with veteran safety James Sanders for the starting role, as Sanders is a reliable run-stopper.
Chung recorded 37 tackles and only one interception in his rookie campaign, but his ceiling is high, and it is widely believed that whether it is this year or next, Pat Chung will be a cornerstone in the New England Patriots secondary for years to come.
Leodis McKelvin was taken in the first round of the 2008 draft, had a decent rookie season, and appeared ready to turn it on for the 2009 season.
Instead, McKelvin opened up the season by fumbled a kickoff in the 4th quarter of the opener against the New England Patriots, eventually costing the Bills the game.
However, McKelvin is a VERY talented defensive back with great instincts and huge potential. Assuming Terrence McGee is healthy by the season's start, McKelvin and McGee will be an extremely dominant cornerback tandem.
Yeremiah Bell is slated to be the starter for the Miami Dolphins this season come opening day. But if he doesn’t instantly make plays, do not be surprised if second year safety Chris Clemons takes over his starting role.
Bell played exceptionally well in a season that he needed to, given that the starting cornerbacks, Vontae Davis and Sean Smith, were rookies. Bell recorded 114 tackles, picked off three passes while deflecting another nine, and even had one and a half sacks.
Reshad Jones, a fifth round selection from the 2010 NFL Draft, also has the talent to make the roster, as he was drafted far lower that many so-called “draft-pundits” had rated him.
Kawika Mitchell was a key factor in the 2008 Buffalo Bills defense, recording over 80 tackles, making a presence on every down, batting away passes, forcing fumbles, and making interceptions.
However, Mitchell suffered a nasty quadriceps tear last season, ending his season after only six games. Now, with the Buffalo Bills transitioning to a 3-4 defensive scheme and the addition of ILB Andra Davis, who is well versed in the 3-4, Mitchell will have to perform exceptionally well to regain his status as a playmaker for the Buffalo Bills.
Mitchell realizes this, stating, "This is definitely the biggest dogfight I've been in during my whole career."
LaDanian Tomlinson was released by the San Diego Chargers this offseason, as the Bolts chose to go younger at the running back position, adding Ryan Mathews in the first round of the 2010 NFL Draft.
Tomlinson says that he is is excited for the challenge, and is desperate to prove doubters wrong. He even reportedly got a Jets logo tattooed on his calf!
Tomlinson is under extreme pressure to salvage his career, or retire before it is too late.
Cameron Wake was a CFL superstar, recording 23 sacks in the 2008 season. Bill Parcells and the Miami Dolphins front office quickly saw his pass rushing ability and signed him for the 2009 season.
Wake recorded 5.5 sacks, serving as a backup to Joey Porter and Jason Taylor, both of whom have left for the Arizona Cardinals and the New York Jets, respectively.
Wake is the ideal size for your prototypical 3-4 pass rushing linebacker, as expressed by Jason Taylor who said, "Dolphins fans will forget about me soon, because Wake just has that talent."
Can he live up to those lofty expectations? We'll have to see.
Marshawn Lynch has gone from a Buffalo fan favorite to a constant nuisance to Bills fans all over.
His various off-the-field issues have been extensive, including an arrest for possession of marijuana and a firearm, being involved in a hit and run in Buffalo, and another bone-headed move of stealing a $20 dollar bill from a Buffalo police officer's wife at a local resturant.
The former Pro Bowler, and two time 1,000 yard rusher's ability was overlooked by his distractions off the field, coupled with the emergence of Fred Jackson as the starter last season.
With the Bills using their No. 9 overall pick in this year's draft on running back C.J. Spiller, Marshawn Lynch NEEDS an outstanding season or he is on his way out of Buffalo.
Shonn Greene has been handed the keys to the New York Jets backfield in only his second year in the National Football League. But I'm not sure LaDanian Tomlinson will be able to perform well enough for this tandem to excel.
Greene had a decent regular season, rushing 108 times for 540 yards and two touchdowns. But his outstanding postseason numbers—54 attempts for 304 yards and two touchdowns—left Jets fans buzzing about the upcoming season.
Brandon Spikes was one of the most skilled and seemingly NFL-ready middle linebackers, aside from Alabama's Rolando McClain, coming into the 2010 NFL Draft, and was given a first round grade by many draft gurus.
That all changed at the NFL Combine when Spikes ran over a five second 40 yard dash. He dropped all the way to the 62nd overall pick in the second round, and was selected by the New England Patriots.
Spikes started 39 of 47 games at Florida, recording 307 tackles, with 6.5 sacks , 31.5 stops for losses totaling 89 yards, eight pressures, two forced fumbles and four recoveries. He also deflected 14 passes and intercepted six others, setting the school career record, as he returned four of those for touchdowns.
Spikes was the top tackler on the Gators in 2007 and 2008, and the sixth Gator to ever lead Florida in tackles in back-to-back seasons
Spikes is under pressure to prove the teams that passed on him wrong, and will be one of many to prove that 40-yard dash speed is completely different than game speed and instincts.
Gholston, the workout warrior drafted sixth overall in 2008 by the New York Jets, has yet to record a sack in his NFL career.
Head coach, Rex Ryan, was speaking highly of Gholston at the beginning of OTA's, but his tone has changed of late, stating, "He needs to hit the quarterback, or hit the road."
Experts claim that the third year is when an NFL player should be completely adjusted to the game, so Gholston is under EXTREME pressure to remove his current "bust" status.
Aaron Maybin was drafted 11th overall last season, and had an awful rookie campaign. Yet, this season he is moving to a more natural position for a player of his specific skill set, as he will be primarily be a pass rusher with the Bills turning to a 3-4 defense.
Maybin has put on weight, and is reportedly picking up the playbook quickly. He really needs to perform this year, and have an Elvis Dumervil-like breakout season, or he risks joining a long list of Buffalo Bills first round busts.
It seems like every season, New England Patriots fans ask themselves, "Is this the year Laurence Maroney can break out?"
Maroney is a physically imposing running back, who can excite you for multiple plays, and then break your heart when he fumbles on the goal line. He has yet to break the 1,000 yard mark in his four year career, but is part of a split backfield of not two, not three, but four running backs.
If Maroney improves his "dancing" in the backfield and work on his fumbling issues, he could find himself out of Bill Belichick's dog house.
Chad Henne had a so-so sophomore season, appearing in 14 games, completing 60.8 percent of his passes for 2,878 yards, 12 touchdowns, and 14 interceptions.
This offseason the Miami Dolphins made a huge move, trading two second round draft picks for All Pro wide receiver, Brandon Marshall, who has to be in discussions for the best young wideouts in the league.
Henne is behind a strong offensive line, with two more than competent running backs, and now one of the best receivers in the game. He should have more than enough experience, being that he is entering his third season. No he needs to put up the numbers to show it.