NFL Training Camp Preview: 20 First Round Picks Under the Gun in 2010
There are numerous benefits to being a first round pick in the NFL.
A big first contract, guaranteed money, snaps with the first team players, extra attention from the coaching staff, and the list goes on.
Perhaps more importantly, when a first round pick struggles, they are awarded with immeasurable patience from everyone in the organization.
General managers are graded by their ability to draft high level talent.
For this reason, they will give every opportunity for their top selections to be successful, in an effort to reflect their good judgment.
As we know, not all first round picks live up to expectations.
When a player is struggling, it is often with a great reluctance that a front office admits their mistake.
Lito Sheppard: DB Minnesota Vikings
Lito Sheppard has lived up to expectations throughout his career.
Going into his ninth NFL season, he does not fit the profile of a first round bust.
That being said, Sheppard still finds himself under the gun in 2010.
With his move from New York to Minnesota, Sheppard has gone from the frying pan into the fire.
In New York, Sheppard played in nickel and dime packages in one of the best secondaries in the NFL.
He rarely matched up against top level talent and was seldom asked to play man-to-man coverage.
In Minnesota, it appears as though Sheppard will start the season opposite Antoine Winfield on the Vikings' first team defense.
Minnesota has a notoriously bad secondary, as seen in the absence of Winfield for a portion of 2009.
Adding an aging Lito Sheppard to the mix doesn't appear likely to help anything.
Larry Johnson: RB Washington Redskins
At 30 years of age, it's difficult to make an argument that Larry Johnson could rejuvenate his career this season.
However, it is important to note that Johnson has only had two full seasons as a full-time running back in the NFL.
With that in mind, it is possible to believe that Johnson has more left in the tank than most 30 year old running backs.
In Washington, Johnson appears to be second in the three horse race for starting running back.
If he fails to regain his productivity in Mike Shanahan's offense, 2010 could be Larry Johnson's last season in the NFL.
Kellen Winslow: TE Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Entering his seventh NFL season, it still feels as though Kellen Winslow has yet to realize his full potential.
Through a string of injuries, bad quarterbacks, and a questionable attitude, Winslow's NFL career has been a disappointment.
Luckily for Winslow, tight end is one of the few positions in the NFL where a player can be productive well into their thirties.
In 2010, the Buccaneers should have a much improved passing attack, giving Winslow a great opportunity for a second chance with a rebuilding franchise.
On the other hand, if Winslow fails to reach expectations, his days in Tampa Bay could be numbered, as the Buccaneers continue to build towards the future.
Roy Williams: WR Dallas Cowboys
The writing is on the wall in Dallas.
If it wasn't already apparent, the Cowboys promoted Miles Austin to starter and drafted the top wide receiver in the 2010 draft class.
When Roy Williams is inevitably cut by the Cowboys, it's difficult to envision any team willing to take another chance on the career underachiever.
Alex Smith: QB San Fransisco 49ers
In his fifth NFL season, it appears as though everything has begun to come together for Alex Smith.
The 49ers are finally contenders in the NFC West, he has a stable of young talented receivers, and he will also be playing in front of the best offensive line of his career.
If there is any quarterback poised for a breakout in 2010, it is Alex Smith.
The problem with this scenario is that it's a double edged sword.
If Smith is successful, the sky is the limit. If Smith fails to reach expectations, the 49ers will be exploring other options in the 2011 offseason.
Ronnie Brown: RB Miami Dolphins
Ronnie Brown has been nothing short of a workhorse for Miami.
For the better part of five seasons he has been the heart and soul of Miami's attack.
With a workhorse-like mentality, injuries become inevitable. In 2010 Brown will be returning from his second season ending injury of his career.
Lisfranc surgery is coupled with a notoriously difficult rehabilitation.
If Brown shows signs of slowing down in 2010, it could be disastrous for his leverage as a free agent in the offseason.
Alex Barron: OT Dallas Cowboys
First round offensive linemen have the highest success rate of any position, explaining why there are so many chosen at the top of the board.
At this point in his career, Alex Barron appears to be an exception.
Shipped away from the desperate Rams, he'll back-up Doug Free in Dallas this season.
Doug Free, however, will enter the season as a starter at left tackle for the first time in his career.
With certain size limitations and inexperience, Barron could get a chance in 2010.
Michael Huff: S Oakland Raiders
If the Raiders were willing to part ways with JaMarcus Russell, it should send a clear message that nobody is safe on their roster. Let's hope Michael Huff got the message.
For the first time in his four year NFL career, Michael Huff began to show the promise he showed in his days at Texas.
With an improved defense around him, Huff should be in position to build of his late season performance.
Ernie Sims: LB Philadelphia Eagles
Ernie Sims struggled in Detroit, but realistically, who wouldn't.
As an athletic linebacker with a gift for pass rushing, he should fit perfectly on Philadelphia's defense.
Surrounded by talented pass rushers, Sims should be able to gain favorable matchups and disrupt the backfield.
With that said, in his fifth season, if he doesn't improve upon his 2.5 career sacks, most NFL teams will lose faith in him.
Matt Leinart: QB Arizona Cardinals
This one almost goes without saying.
Leinart has one season to prove he can be an NFL quarterback. If he fails, he'll be able to maintain a job as a backup, but his days as a prospective starter would be officially finished.
Without Anquan Boldin, it will be a little more difficult for Leinart.
However, the Cardinal running game appears to be hitting it's stride.
If they can relieve some pressure, Leinart has a chance to realize all of his potential.
Kamerion Wimbley: LB Oakland Raiders
Another athletic freak from Florida State.
Another linebacker looking for a fresh start in a new home.
Oakland has revamped its front seven for the 2010 season.
Richard Seymour will likely move to defensive tackle, allowing rookie Lamarr Houston to start at defensive end.
Also, with the addition of Wimbley and Rolando McLain at linebacker, the Raiders appear to have several pieces in place to help with both the run and pass.
Wimbley fits the Al Davis criteria of size and speed, but given his displeasure with their inability to stop the run, he won't have a long leash in Oakland.
Antonio Cromartie: DB New York Jets
Playing opposite Darelle Revis can be a gift and a curse.
Revis will shutdown his half of the field, in saying that, with one side of the field shutdown, Cromartie will see a lot of action in 2010.
Despite his proficiency for interceptions, Cromartie had his share of struggles in San Diego.
The Jets will ask a lot of Cromartie and unfortunately for him, if he struggles, first round selection, Kyle Wilson will happily take his place.
Santonio Holmes: WR New York Jets
A former Super Bowl MVP potentially under the gun in 2010?
Probably a little less likely than most, however, the Pittsburgh Steelers don't simply allow talented players to walk away for fifth round draft picks.
The last receiver to leave Pittsburgh was Plaxico Burress and based on the reaction from the Steelers, it appears as though Holmes could follow in his footsteps.
With Braylon Edwards and Jerricho Cotchery, receptions won't be easy to come by in New York.
As a free agent at the end of the year, Holmes will need to assure the league that he is worth the risk, will he be capable in 12 games this season?
Ted Ginn Jr.: WR San Fransisco 49ers
Ginn's position as a kick returner should be relatively safe.
His position as a wide receiver couldn't be more vulnerable.
He has the potential to surpass Josh Morgan in training camp and start along side Michael Crabtree.
But given his problem with dropping passes, I wouldn't consider it likely.
Ginn's speed makes him a deep threat, but to start in the NFL, he'll need to improve numerous aspects of his receiving game.
Joe Staley: OT San Fransisco 49ers
Joe Staley has been the Niners best offensive linemen for the better part of his career, so I hesitate to say that he is under the gun.
However, the Niners added two offensive linemen in the first round in the 2010 draft, both of whom have potential to play left tackle.
At this point, Staley appears to be relatively safe in protecting Alex Smith's blind side.
However, he will need to stay ahead of his counterparts, who will be eager to take his starting role.
Vernon Gholston: DE New York Jets
Another player who's performance speaks for itself.
An argument could be made that Vernon Gholston is the worst top 10 draft pick in the last decade(or more).
In 2010, Gholston has shifted from linebacker, to defensive end, in a final attempt to gain some productivity from the former sixth overall selection.
I feel very safe in saying, if Gholston doesn't perform in 2010, his football career will be over at the end of the season.
Derrick Harvey: DE Jacksonville Jaguars
2010 will be sink or swim for Derrick Harvey.
For the first time in his career, he has another capable pass rusher on the opposite side of the defensive line.
With 5.5 sacks in his two-year NFL career, Harvey will need to show a significant improvement if he hopes to maintain his roster spot with the Jaguars.
Anthony Gonzalez: WR Indianapolis Colts
Returning from a knee injury is never easy for an NFL receiver
However, when you have to enter training camp battling two rookie overachievers, things get a lot more difficult.
Gonzalez is a talented receiver and even if he is replaced by Garcon and Collie, he'll likely find a job somewhere in the NFL.
That said, his opportunities to prove that he has returned to full health may be few and far between.
Tyson Jackson: DE Kansas City Chiefs
Usually one subpar season is forgivable for a defensive end, but when you're selected third overall, the expectations are a little higher.
Jackson failed to record a single sack in his rookie campaign and failed to disrupt the opposing backfield.
As bad as Jackson was in Kansas City's pass rush, an argument could be made that he was worse against the run.
If Jackson doesn't make vast improvements in 2010, his first NFL contract could be his last.
20. Tyson Alualu: DE Jacksonville Jaguars
Contrary to the other players on this list, Alualu won't be under the organization's gun, but rather, under the gun of the Jacksonville Jaguar fan base.
Alualu will need to prove the vast majority of the NFL that he was worthy of a tenth overall selection.
The fans don't sign Alualu's checks. But in today's NFL, it is important that star players receive the support of their fan base.
Based on Alualu's ability and work ethic, I expect him to win the hearts of the Jaguar faithful, but it will be an uphill battle.