Brett Favre & 31 Other NFLers Who Will Take a Step Back

Nick SachsCorrespondent IAugust 31, 2010

Brett Favre & 31 Other NFLers Who Will Take a Step Back

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    Call me Captain Obvious, but Brett Favre is going to take a tremendous step back this season.  Given that he's coming off a career year, is a stinkin' granddaddy (read: he's old), and two of his top receiving targets have serious health concerns it's certainly not hard to predict his fall.

    That's not even taking into account "the ankle", which has already had to receive injections of lubricant.

    It's not to say that he, or any of the other players listed in this article won't be important contributors on their teams.  I do expect their big plays to decline along with the numbers, although the two don't necessarily go hand in hand.

    I'm not personally attacking any of the players mentioned, I'm actually a fan of most.  In most instances it's through circumstance rather than any fault of the player that I have them on the precipice facing a steep decline.

    Hopefully I present my case well enough not to offend too many fans, let's get on with the show.

Al Harris, Green Bay Packers

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    Would it have been better to go with my second option, Donald Driver?  On a team loaded with young receiving talent, he's bound to fall off at some point in the next few seasons.  This team does harbor some serious title aspirations though, so I'm willing to bet they lean on the steady veteran at least one more year.

    Along with linebacker Nick Barnett, Al Harris has been the face of the Packers' defense for the better part of a decade.  Pretty much considered the prototype for aggressive, bump and run style cornerbacks, his game has never been predicated on speed. 

    That in itself should allow him a decent opportunity to prove me wrong.

    I personally just find it hard to believe he'll be anything but a shell of himself given his situation.  A 35-year-old corner 13 years into his NFL career, coming off of a major knee injury, has got a tough row to hoe.

    Remember him in the 2005 playoffs, in his prime, getting burned by a one-legged Randy Moss?  Unless his role is reduced there could be a lot more similar footage in Al's future.

Greg Olsen, Chicago Bears

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    I like Olsen's game a lot, to the point I was hoping the Patriots would pull off a trade for him in the offseason.  Given how their draft fell into place it's not a bad thing it didn't materialize for them, but by midseason Olsen will probably be wishing it would have happened.

    By that point, you may very well see this or another picture of the young phenom on the side of a milk carton.

    It's been beaten like the proverbial dead horse how Mike Martz's offense doesn't get the tight end involved.  He's never had a talent to work with on par with what Olsen brings to the table, so in theory that could change this year.

    It also helps his case that he brings a huge frame along with very good speed to the field.  Martz's ego is legendary though, and that leads me to believe that he'd rather use Olsen's talents sparingly to further validate his "run and gun" style system.

Kevin Smith, Detroit Lions

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    Another one that sticks out on their roster like a sore thumb is Kevin Smith.  Personally, I find it hardest to pinpoint players in line for a down season on a young, ascending team.  Believe it or not, that's exactly what the Lions have become in this writer's opinion.

    It's gotta be one of the worst feelings imaginable, to be a young player with a bright future only to suffer a serious knee injury.  Follow that with the drafting of a potential stud at the same position, and the offseason couldn't get much worse for Smith.

    He's not resting on his laurels, and by all accounts will be competing for the starting job.  Given the explosiveness exhibited by rookie Jahvid Best, I'd say that's a competition he's not likely to win.

    The one thing that gives him a fighting chance is Best's injury history, which could always rear it's ugly head at the highest level of football.  Unless it does, I have a hard time seeing Kevin in anything other than a complimentary role.

Vernon Davis, San Francisco 49ers

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    I believe Davis has taken to the tough love approach from Mike Singletary like a fish to water, and that he finally looks set to capitalize on his freakish athletic gifts.  What I don't believe is that he'll approach 13 touchdowns again this season, on a team believed by many to be a dark horse for the playoffs.

    What does Singletary believe in first and foremost?  Given his history as a player and a coach, I'd say defense coupled with a strong ground game.

    They look to be improved in both areas for 2010.  Two first-round offensive linemen bolster an already solid unit.  The defense looks to continue it's rise behind All-Everything linebacking standout Patrick Willis.

    I'm not saying Davis won't be a key cog on a good team.  He does have the already mentioned factors to contend with; along with a second year Michael Crabtree who's likely to be more assertive.

T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Seattle Seahawks

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    T.J. looks to be well on the downside of his career, and I personally think his signing should be viewed a little negatively by Seahawks fans.  He was coming off of a season in which he averaged less then 10 yards per catch, and was 31 years old to boot.

    He got his average up to 11.5 per last year, at the expense of 13 catches.  While some of that is the product of a poor supporting cast, a true number one wideout dictates his numbers to a degree.  At this point in his career, after a combined seven touchdowns his past two seasons, he's anything but.

    They certainly don't have a big-name replacement lined up, which could lead to him being more productive than I anticipate.  There is a lot of young talent though, namely Golden Tate, Deon Butler, and John Carlson.

    Pete Carroll has no allegiance to Houshmandzadeh, so if he's able to get the best out of former first round flameout Mike Williams he has a similar player who could usurp T.J.'s role.

Larry Fitzgerald, Arizona Cardinals

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    Did I just get through saying how a number one wideout should largely control their own destiny?  As we all know, Larry is a bonafide stud in the league and top five at his position regardless of how you rank them.  So how can I possibly justify his inclusion on this list?

    There's so many, many reasons to be down on Fitzgerald for the upcoming campaign.  He's lost probably Hall of Fame QB Kurt Warner, and exchanged him for either Matt Leinart or Derek Anderson.  Yup, that's a Grand Canyon sized difference in quarterback play regardless of who wins the battle.

    Ditto Anquan Boldin, a tremendous receiver in his own right who was justifiably (to a degree) miffed on being overshadowed by Larry.  While Breaston, Doucet, and Co. are intriguing options, none brings the credibility with defenses that Anquan had.

    The defense lost two of it's top four or five players, and the running game has a lot to prove before it's trustworthy.  Occasionally a perfect storm of circumstances occurs that even a transcendent player cannot overcome, and Larry looks to be in that kind of tough spot.

Steven Jackson, St Louis Rams

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    You have got to feel bad for Steven Jackson, stuck on a horrible team in which he's the only real offensive weapon.  The drafting of Bradford places a light at the end of the tunnel; but with many pieces needed to be a contending team the tunnel's end is likely to coincide with the downside of his career.

    A trade is always possible, I for one would think it would make sense for the Rams as well as potential trade partners.  He gets to possibly play for a contender, and they get either a draft pick (or picks) combined with younger pieces while saving some cap room.

    With Donnie Avery going down and a potential starting QB who's a rookie, this season's prospects look dim.  Anything approaching or above his annual 1,000 yards should be considered a success.

Mike Peterson, Atlanta Falcons

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    Once again I'm forced to go with a fairly easy choice.  It's impossible to bet against Tony Gonzales, and the bulk of their roster is young guys on the upswing outside of he and Peterson.

    He had 109 tackles last year, 82 of which were solo.  He's always been more of a linebacker whose game revolves around speed.  While there's always a guy like Derrick Brooks who outlives expectations at the back end of his career, it's hard to bank on a guy 12 years into his NFL journey.

    Another factor that must be considered is the Falcons' young duo of outside 'backers for their 4-3 system.  Stephen Nicholas is just hitting the prime of his career at age 27, and rookie Sean Weatherspoon is a guy who's going to be hard to keep off the field. 

    Chances are he slides seamlessly into more of a reserve role this year, to serve as a mentor for the future stars of Atlanta's linebacking core.

Stylez G. White, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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    His reason for being here is his fault and no one else's.  His stats last season were about what you'd expect from an average to slightly above defensive end in the 4-3 (43 total tackles, 6.5 sacks). 

    However, it's his practice habits apparently adopted from Allen Iverson that have me down on his chances for success this season.

    I recently read this quote from Bucs head coach Raheem Morris on "Stylez is my Allen Iverson, and that's not going to I tell him every day, we're going to tolerate him until we can replace him." 

    It's slightly paraphrased, but that's the meat of the comments.  They were made in regards to his obviously substandard practice habits, and on a team as young as the Bucs those poor habits cannot be allowed to spread.

Steve Smith, Carolina Panthers

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    There's not really any one thing I can put my finger on when making this prediction (it's more like a lot of small issues or potential question marks).  Of course there's no receiving threat opposite Smith, but that's standard operating procedure for the vertically-challenged dynamo. 

    The running backs are both still in place and ready to be their effective, if slightly injury-prone selves.

    Jake Delhomme is gone, although that's not a bad thing by any stretch of the imagination.  Now that defensive coordinators have some game film of Matt Moore to study, it will be interesting to see if he can build upon last season's success.

    Julius Peppers' absence could potentially lead to extended drives for opposing teams.  Combine that with an offense that has only three proven weapons and as a team they could be in line for a tough season.  I think Smith's play and stats will suffer as an end result.

Darren Sharper, New Orleans Saints

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    While there's apparently a chance he doesn't even make the squad, I'm going to go out on a limb and say they'll find a spot for the playmaking veteran.  If they think they're going to get anywhere near the production from last season, I think they need to seriously adjust their expectations.

    The Saints team as a whole got every bounce and every fluky play their way last season, and Sharper was one of the beneficiaries.  I'm not trying to diminish his or the Saints magical run, merely pointing out how asinine it would be to expect a repeat.

    Nine interceptions for 376 yards and three touchdowns?  I have a hard time seeing him get half of those numbers, even in a starting role for most of the season.

    This doesn't mean his resigning is a negative, as he's arguably the greatest ballhawking safety of his generation aside from Ed Reed.  They could certainly do worse finding someone to help teach a young secondary while providing spot plays on the field.

Marion Barber, Dallas Cowboys

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    Barber will continue his reign as one of the most punishing short yardage backs in the entire NFL, but his tenure as a starting running back is starting to wind down.  The inevitable is being pushed along by a couple of younger, more explosive backs in Felix Jones and Tashard Choice.

    It would actually behoove Barber to accept a reduced role, as anyone who runs as violently as he does puts his career on the line with virtually every touch.

    Felix Jones made his first camp appearance in the best shape of his career, sporting some added muscle mass to boot.  Choice has always excelled when given the opportunity.

    With the Cowboys' major questions on offense surrounding a shaky offensive line, expect whoever carries the ball to take more of a pounding than usual.  It's because of that I expect all three to be rotated more often, with Barber perhaps facing the most reduced role given his wear and tear.

DeSean Jackson, Philadelphia Eagles

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    I'm fully expecting to be eviscerated by Philly fans for this pick, but I stand behind my reasoning.  Kevin Kolb may have a bright future (and certainly played well his first two starts), but as with any young quarterback I expect him to be overwhelmed at times. 

    He won't always have the presence needed to stand in and deliver those big plays that McNabb was so good at.

    It doesn't necessarily translate to poor success for the team, as Jackson establishing himself as a top five big play threat forces defenses to account for him.  I would look for Jeremy Maclin to benefit from all that attention to an extent.

    Brent Celek will likely reap the biggest reward, as the axiom "the tight end is a young QB's best friend" exists for a reason.  Look for the Eagles to continue their success as a team, but expect Jackson's numbers to be down some from a phenomenal '09 campaign.

London Fletcher, Washington Redskins

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    People have been betting against London his whole career, so I'm a little leery to attach him to this article.  However, it does increase my prognosticator cred that much more should I actually catch the man in a down season!

    10 straight seasons of over 100 tackles, big plays without number, and being one of three finalists for the Walter Payton "Man of the Year" award last year.  What hasn't this guy done?

    It's the wear he's endured over his 13 years, along with the increased pounding a 3-4 ILB takes that have me including him on this list.  Perhaps McNabb's presence allows the defense more time off the field, translating to extra rest for veterans like Fletcher.

    I'm not rooting against him by any means, and if I had to be wrong about just one guy on this list, it would probably be him.

Osi Umenyiora, New York Giants

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    Attention, Bill Belichick: if you think he can transition to become a 3-4 outside linebacker, and can get him without giving up too much (perhaps a young corner like Wheatley or Wilhite, or safety James Sanders, along with a mid to late round pick?) please do the deal!  He's stuck in a deep rotation in New York, hence his place on this grouping.

    He's built similar to second round pick Jermaine Cunningham, with one added bonus....he's proven on the NFL level.

    He came to camp vowing to put aside his formerly selfish ways, putting the team ahead of personal stats and achievements.  He's had over 30 sacks the last four seasons, so when healthy he's got obvious skills.

    As stated previously, what he lacks to this point is an obvious prominent role in the defense he's part of.  If he reemerges from the pack or gets traded to a team that will feature him, he will quite likely play his way off of this list.

    If he continues to be pushed aside in New York in favor of younger players, he will likely fail to be the impact player of past seasons.

Tully Banta-Cain, New England Patriots

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    I'm actually rooting for Banta-Cain's stats to drop this year.  That will mean the defense has gotten more well-rounded, as last year he accounted for about one third of the Patriots' total sacks.  If they're to get to the places they hope more threats have to emerge.

    Bill Belichick has retaken the helm of the defense, which bodes well for a mostly younger group.  This should also equate to pressure being brought from all angles, and that should allow other players to get more comfortable rushing the passer.

    If you wish to take the negative route as reasoning for including him on this list, he outplayed his prior sack high by four in a contract year last season.  Perhaps after getting his money his hunger will be slightly sated?

    Regardless of whether it's due to himself or outside circumstances, don't expect a repeat of last year's career figures from Banta-Cain.

D'Brickashaw Ferguson, New York Jets

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    Would the scampering, sneaky, Jets-hating part of me love to see this come true?  Of course, but I also believe it to be a realistic prediction.  You can't undersell the impact Alan Faneca had on Ferguson's career.  Also, short of Jerico Cotchery I was hard-pressed to come up with other players....Mark Sanchez maybe?

    It's no coincidence that he really started to shed the "soft" label around the time Faneca first appeared in New York.  Not to mention the veteran definitely made life easier with his quality play than any player replacing him is likely to do.

    For a team that presents itself to be a Super Bowl contender, the importance of the offensive line can't be undersold.  Especially the left tackle, who will be counted on in the ground game as well as protecting an inferior NFL passer (at this point in his career).

    While as a fan I'm rooting for it to happen, taking my bias out of it I believe there's going to be at least a slightly noticeable decline in his play.

Jairus Byrd, Buffalo Bills

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    Any chance you remember Orlando Thomas?  Probably not, so if you're like most I'll refresh your memory.  He was a safety for the Mnnesota Vikings, who in his rookie year burst onto the scene with nine interceptions.  I'd bet you're starting to see the parallels here!

    He played six seasons after that, and amassed only 13 picks in those next six years combined.

    While there's any number of circumstances that are different, it does highlight a safety's ability to have a fluky year.  While I'm not suggesting Byrd will be anything but a solid pro, it's a stretch to imagine him getting near 10 picks every season.

    All I'm saying is that the safety position is one of the most fluctuating from year to year (outside of the greats), and on a team with pass rush questions it's legit to expect a Rookie of the Year candidate to take a step back.

Ricky Williams, Miami Dolphins

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    This is more a combining of several different factors rather than my way of saying he's come to the end of the road.  Ronnie Brown is in a contract year, and if he's healthy (a big if, I know) could be poised for a great year with the threat of Brandon Marshall on the outside.

    Ricky's likely the youngest 33-year-old back in league history, due in large part to his sabbatical to study holistic medicine.  So that's one thing working in his favor.

    In addition to Ronnie Brown's presence, by virtue of the great year Williams had last season he's left himself pretty much no where to go but down.  A back 10 years younger would consider near 1,400 total yards and 13 touchdowns a successful season.

    "Run, Ricky, Run" may have been a movie subject over the summer, but is likely to be a less popular theme come fall.

Steve Slaton, Houston Texans

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    Within the last several months, I've mentioned his name in at least one article touting him as a nice sleeper in fantasy football.  A wise man knows when to cut his losses, and I'm starting to believe his fantastic rookie outing was nothing more than a fluke.

    He's averaged an unacceptable five fumbles his first two years in the league, with an astounding seven of them coming last year.

    This problem has carried over into this year's preseason, which leaves him unable to capitalize on the tragic injury to rookie Ben Tate.  He's also suffered a turf toe injury recently, which as anyone who follows the game knows is nowhere near as minor as the name would indicate.

    When one combines his durability issues and fumbling concerns with Arian Foster's emergence, it's easy to see that Slaton has earned his spot in this article.

Bo Scaife, Tennessee Titans

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    Bo is a nice all-around tight end, a sure handed target usually good for some first down yardage.  He's not particularly explosive though, and that hurts his long-term viability on a team needing more dynamic receiving targets.

    That's why many believe it will be Jared Cook's time to shine sooner rather than later.

    A 6'5", 245lb player who was a rookie last season, he's from the same mold as the Packers' budding star Jermichael Finley.  It's a stretch to imagine him putting up those numbers in a far more conservative system.

    It's not a stretch to imagine him seizing the starting job when boasting such supreme physical gifts.  Scaife will still be valuable as a short yardage receiver and blocker, but expect his targets to drop drastically in 2010.

Maurice Jones-Drew, Jacksonville Jaguars

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    How can you not love MJD?  I've been a fan of his ever since he started to show his size wouldn't hinder his pro career.  Some of my personal favorite moments of his were his block of Shawne Merriman, along with his single-handedly defeating the Jets last season.

    The league's best defense looked powerless to stop him, but I don't think that will be the case for teams this season.

    Don't get me wrong, I think he can get 800-1,000 yards fairly easily.  He's prominently featured on a run first team, and in case I haven't alluded to it enough the man has boatloads of talent.  It's simply that a season around 1,000 yards represents a fairly significant step back for a player of Jones-Drew's stature.

    He had almost 1,800 yards to go with 16 touchdowns last year.  Given the lack of additions offensively combined with an already touchy knee, it wouldn't be a negative reflection on MJD were he to struggle a bit more than usual this season.

Gary Brackett, Indianapolis Colts

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    Brackett's been a heck of a player in Indy for some time, having been above or one below 100 tackles for the last five seasons.  He also has the knack for making the timely big play, quite often in the most dire of situations.

    He's starting to show a bit of wear though, missing six games combined the last two seasons.

    That's not enough to count him out by itself, nor is speculating if receiving a new deal will quell his hunger.  Much like with Steve Smith, I just have a funny feeling that some mysterious unknown is going to factor into a slide in his play/numbers this season.

    Given that the Colts drafted Pat Angerer (a virtual Brackett clone) in the second round, you've got to wonder if they're not feeling the same.

Brian Dawkins, Denver Broncos

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    Long one of the most feared safeties in the league, "Wolverine" combined the ball-hawking skills of a free safety with the lumber-laying ability of a strong safety.  Always the consummate pro, it sucks to say that he's quickly coming to the end of a possible Hall of Fame career.

    The man's 36 years old at a position where athleticism is necessary, and around the age where the decline from one season to the next is dramatic in how visible it is.

    You could call me crazy considering he had his first 100 tackle season last year.  I'd say that's an indictment of the Bronco's linebacking core more than a resurgence of Dawkins' career.

    He won't go out on a horrible year, he's far too determined and prideful for that.  However, if you expect him to post another 100+ tackle season I have rights to a bridge in New York that I'll let go for cheap.

Shaun Phillips, San Diego Chargers

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    With the team needing to see something from 2009 first-round pick Larry English, somebody is going to have to deal with a few less snaps.  The Bolts will likely feature Shawne Merriman the first few weeks in a possible attempt to get him moved before the trade deadline, so especially early in the year Phillips' numbers and impact could suffer.

    He forced a colossal number of fumbles last season, I wasn't aware he knocked seven balls loose.  He had an equal number of sacks, and did all right as far as getting decent tackle numbers.

    In adding Ryan Matthews, the Bolts finally have a back who can be the bellcow effectively for the offense once again.  That along with Vincent Jackson's likely holdout could lead to a bit of a more conservative offense, causing decreased numbers across the board on defense.

    He'll still be a player that I would welcome onto the Patriots, but I don't think '10 will be one of his better personal campaigns.

Thomas Jones, Kansas City Chiefs

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    I applaud the signing by the Chiefs, as they needed the injection of between the tackles toughness that Jones brings.  While he also brings professionalism and consistency that should rub off on a young roster, he's not running behind the New York line anymore.

    Jamaal Charles' presence further clouds things for Jones, essentially forcing him into a short yardage and change of pace role.

    It's not that he can't handle the change in role, it's simply that it's going to be a big step back in terms of his on the field impact.  If Charles goes down that immediately changes things, but it's impossible to predict injuries...especially with young guys with little wear and tear.

    He'll have a very positive impact on the team in general, but it looks as though his days of 1,400 yards and 14 touchdowns are behind him.

Sebastian Janikowski, Oakland Raiders

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    My buddies and I have had a long-standing nickname for Sebastian, simply calling him "Leg."  That leg has been featured prominently on Sundays, although less then it would be if the offense was actually competent.  With Campbell in the fold, how can I possibly be predicting a lesser season for Janikowski?

    Before last season, three of his four prior seasons were below 75 percent field goals made.  The leg strength has never been a question, but his accuracy has always been spotty at best.

    In my humble opinion, I have a hard time imagining pressure doing an already sketchy kicker any least in terms of accuracy.  Suppose they're in the playoff hunt midway through the season, and he starts being forced to nail some pressure-filled kicks all the way up to potential game winners?

Jerome Harrison, Cleveland Browns

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    Jerome was fantasy football's darling during it's playoff run last season, accumulating 561 yards on 106 carries in only three games.  It led most to believe he would be the unquestioned starter in Cleveland this year, but with the drafting of Montario Hardesty it's likely not the case.

    He certainly hasn't helped his case by developing a fumbling issue this preseason.

    Whether or not it's caused by the pressure of being pushed is a moot point.  He already had enough detractors due to questions about his size and durability. 

    I believe he will start the season being heavily leaned upon while Hardesty's knee gets right, but it feels like a situation where the guy is keeping the seat warm for the heir apparent.

James Harrison, Pittsburgh Steelers

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    Of all the players I've listed, this one probably makes me the least comfortable.  He's getting older (32 years old), but it's a young 32 due to having only been in the league seven years.  However, I'd rather take a chance and be wrong then pick someone like Justin Hartwig or Hines Ward (who is likely to prove doubters wrong anyways).

    His numbers last season dropped from 101 tackles, 16 sacks, and seven forced fumbles in '08 to 79 tackles, 10 sacks, and five forced fumbles in '09.

    Can he stop the slide?  It's possible, but he's got a younger, hungrier player opposite him who's also looking for his first big payday in Lamarr Woodley.  He'll still be an impact defender, but less so then even the standard set last season due to Woodley's continued emergence.

Willis McGahee, Baltimore Ravens

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    It's fairly easy to guess that McGahee's impact will be lessened this season, given that he put up a tremendous 12 touchdowns on only 109 carries last year.  That may overshadow the fact that he averaged a very solid 5.0 yards per carry for 544 yards.

    If Ray Rice builds upon his momentum from last season, anyone in the backfield aside from him may be nothing more than an afterthought.

    He had over 2,000 yards from scrimmage, along with eight total touchdowns.  That number would have likely been quite a bit higher had McGahee not been given so much short yardage work.

    Rice is likely to claim some of the touchdowns for himself, and forgotten man Le'Ron McClain is probably going to get more then the two he posted all last year.  McGahee's still good, but being an aging back with two very different, much younger backs on the roster is not a good position to be in.

Chad Ochocinco, Cincinnati Bengals

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    When it comes to tooting his own horn or tweeting his twitter, Chad's an equal opportunity kind of guy.  This expansive personality of a wideout may be stretching his services a bit thin, as he was all over reality TV during the summer of 2010.

    Then you've got Batman's presence (Terrell Owens), and his constant need for passes his way.  That's not even acknowledging the additions of a couple of promising rookie pass catchers in Jordan Shipley and Jermaine Gresham.

    I'm not of the opinion that this situation will blow up like I think the Jets' has a strong chance of doing.  In this case I think it's the case of a team redefining itself as a defense-first, run-oriented squad.

    It's that redefinition, along with all of the extra weapons, that has me convinced that Chad will fail to provide his usual impact on the field.

Well, What Do You Think NFL Fans?

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    Is it just my opinion and I all by our lonesome, or do you for the most part agree with me?  Any players I missed by not including, or guys in the article that you think will have their usual season at a minimum?

    I'll try to respond to any and all comments, nothing better than talking some football.  We won't know who's right until December, but given the passion of the average NFL fan it'll be one heck of a debate!