The Next Level: Ten Unheralded NFL Players Who Could Emerge As Stars
If the 2010 NFL season taught us anything, it was that players can emerge from relative anonymity to unquestioned superstardom over the course of one season.
Ray Rice went from a rookie stuck in a crowded backfield to second in the league in total yardage smashing through the 2000 yard ceiling. Darrelle Revis burst through onto the scene as "Revis Island" shutting down the best wideouts in the league week after week.
Here are 10 NFL players who have a chance to jump from virtual obscurity to the top echelon of the league's megastars. (And with a Revis-like improvement maybe one of these players can demand $100 million or holdout)
With Santonio Holmes exiting Pittsburgh this offseason through trade with the Jets, Mike Wallace will become Mike Tomlin's go-to receiver.
As a rookie last season, Wallace led the entire league averaging 19.4 yards per catch and finished the season with three touchdowns in the last three games.
While Wallace was only able to rack up 756 yards as a rookie, one must remember that he was the third receiver behind both Hines Ward and Santonio Holmes.
Being the new number one target, it is certainly reasonable to expect that Wallace's receptions will increase from 39 to around the 65-75 range.
If Wallace is able to avoid the historical sophomore slump, his blazing speed will allow him to easily eclipse the 1000 yard benchmark.
It's tough to get noticed when you're on the Oakland Raiders, but Miller has done a nice job in his first few years in the league.
In 2009, the former second round pick was among the top ten tight ends in both yards and receptions. Miller was able to accomplish this with the abomination that was former top pick Jamarcus Russell.
With a 6'5'' frame as well as soft hands, Miller has all the tools to become a top 5 tight end in the NFL this year, of course depending on his ability to establish a rapport with new Raiders' quarterback Jason Campbell.
Here's a trivia question. Which quarterback had the highest QB rating in 2009: Tony Romo, Kurt Warner, Tom Brady, or Matt Moore?
The Answer: Matt Moore
Matt Moore was more than impressive in 2009. Although he only started five games for the Carolina Panthers, he undoubtedly made the most of them. In the last four games of the season, Moore racked up over 800 yards and eight touchdowns with zero interceptions.
The fact that the Panthers are known for their running game makes Moore's performance all the more impressive. While it must be noted that Moore's 2009 season included only a sampling, his last four starts came against New England, Minnesota, the New York Giants, and eventual Superbowl Champion the New Orleans Saints.
And the Panthers? Well, they went 4-1 in games Moore started.
Unfortunately for Raiders fans, this is one candidate to become a superstar who will not do it in a Raiders uniform. Just another example of the ineptitude of the Oakland Raiders organization, Oakland traded Morrison and a 5th round pick to the Jaguars to move up 45 spots.
Since starting as a rookie, Morrison has quietly become a force at middle linebacker. In 2008 and 2009, Morrison ranked 5th and 6th in the league in tackles, respectively.
Morrison also added two sacks and three forced fumbles in 2009. Hopefully, with the new scenery in Jacksonville, Morrison will be able to get the credit he deserves.
With the Seahawks releasing Julius Jones today, Forsett will now step into the role as feature back for Pete Carroll's new offense. Forsett was fifth in the league last year in yards per carry, averaging just over 5.4 ypc.
Not just a force running the ball, Forsett has developed into a strong receiver out of the backfield accumulating 41 receptions for 350 yards last year.
Given the opportunity to be a feature back, and it seems probable that he will become Pete Carroll's number one running back, Forsett has the chance to put up close to 1500 yards from scrimmage this year.
With the expected departure of Vincent Jackson, there will be some big shoes to fill at wide receiver in San Diego.
Luckily, the Chargers have Jackson's replacement already on their roster with Malcolm Floyd. While Floyd only found the end zone once last season, that number is expected to increase considering his enormous 6'5'' frame and the ability of Phillip Rivers to make it rain out there.
Floyd was tied for fourth in the league with his teammate Jackson in 2009 in yards per catch (17.2), and with more targets expected in 2010 it is not unreasonable to expect over 1000 yards receiving from the new number one WR in San Diego.
At the end of his sophomore season, Flowers really burst onto the scene. In his final four games of 2009, the Kansas City cornerback recorded three interceptions.
Not only does Flowers have the classic ball-hawking skills seen in top corners, but his field vision allows him to see the ball extremely well.
Flowers was fourth in the league among corners in pass deflections with 23 deflections. Add in 58 solo tackles and two forced fumbles, and it is easy to see that Flowers had an excellent 2009 season.
With the addition of top draft pick and highly regarded safety Eric Berry, Flowers has a shot to breakthrough this season with what appears to be a very much improved Kansas City secondary.
To fantasy football owners, Harrison's inclusion in this list comes as no surprise. If you were fortunate enough to snag Harrison in the final few weeks of last season, you are already aware of the monstrous statistics Harrison put up.
In the last three games of the 2009 campaign, Harrison racked up 561 rushing yards with five touchdowns including a 286 yard, three touchdown performance.
Despite a possible challenge from draft pick Montario Hardesty, Harrison will have a terrific opportunity to run behind a strong offensive line which includes Joe Thomas and Alex Mack.
Orton has been challenged throughout his career. After putting up respectable numbers in an anemic Bears offense, Orton was traded to the Broncos last year as part of the Jay Cutler deal.
Now, Orton faces a new challenge from golden boy and media darling Tim Tebow. In his first year with Denver, Orton surprised many by throwing for more than 3800 yards and 21 touchdowns.
While he certainly hasn't proven that he is an elite quarterback yet, Orton will have the opportunity this year to step up in a strong offense led by Broncos head coach Josh McDaniels.
Despite only starting eight games last season Charles put up some very impressive numbers. If rushing for 1120 yards and seven touchdowns was not enough, the former Longhorn added 300 reception yards while leading the league in yards per carry surpassing even Chris Johnson.
While Charles has some competition this year from Thomas Jones, the Chiefs clearly hope that he can be a top featured back in the league this year. With his blazing speed and agile frame, it is certainly not unreasonable to expect that Charles can eclipse the 1500 total yards this season with 10+ trips to the endzone.
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