NFL: 10 Former Rookies Set To Excel in 2011
There's something different about 2011's class of second year players, and for once, it doesn't bear an uncertain question towards their skill, athleticism or ability.
For those that have been keeping track, St. Louis' Sam Bradford averaged a double-double in his senior year of high school basketball. Ndamukong Suh, on the other hand, has a first name that is translated to mean "House of Spears" in the Ngemba language. While Colt McCoy has earned the nickname "The Real McCoy" associating him with a genuine attitude or perhaps a future brand of french fries in the years to come.
What do these seemingly irrelevant facts have to do with anything?
Nothing, nothing at all. Instead, all of these mindless stories are simply distracting us from the talent that is set to unleash on the NFL next season, as 2010's rookies look to portray their talent on a bigger stage next year.
So which players are worth your attention?
Simply put, a lot.
Here's a look at 10 Former NFL Rookies Set to Excel in 2011.
10. Dez Bryant
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Dez Bryant is to the Cowboys as water is to a fish—extremely necessary to survive.
In 2010, Bryant managed to shine a small flash of light on the Cowboys' future years, as the rest of Jerry Jones' team crumbled around him. Jon Kitna filled in nicely for the injured Tony Romo, but at the same time, Bryant only managed to play in just 12 regular season games due to the severe receiver competition.
But don't be mislead, this only makes Byrant's overall statistics that much more impressive. With 561 yards and six touchdowns to his name, the Cowboys most-prolific draft pick has begun to pay off in more ways than one, considering he successfully outplayed Roy Williams and kept pace with Miles Austin on the score sheet.
If the CBA allows another season, bigger and better things are to come. In a tough division such as the NFC East, the Cowboys must rely on their wide receivers to pull most of the weight offensively. Running backs Felix Jones and Marion Barber are still valuable assets in Jason Garrett's game plan, but the main brunt of scoring clearly comes in the air.
The Cowboys running backs piled on 10 touchdowns last season, in comparison to the 29 seen in the passing game. Bryant continues to develop and stand tall above the evaporating Williams, tossing him into the main role with Austin and the ever trustworthy Jason Witten.
Discipline does pop up as a very minor concern, especially in such a major NFL city like Dallas. Still, Bryant appears to have the tools in order to make a serious case for the Pro Bowl this season.
9. Tim Tebow
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The situation in Denver right now is as fickle as Al Davis' sanity. Just about all of Mile High is screaming for the era of Tim Tebow, while head coach John Fox is still toying with the idea of Kyle Orton in the starting role.
Fortunately, though, we have an answer, at least for now. Fox told reporters during the NFL combine that Orton is indeed the team's starter ahead of this season, although he credited Tebow's effort saying "He did an outstanding job toward the end of the season."
Fox didn't discount third string starter Brady Quinn either, saying that he is excited about all three prospects heading into 2011.
So what does that leave for Tebow?
Perhaps, the best way to look at this situation, is in a positive manner. Should Orton start in September and fail, at least Denver has a high draft pick to rely on in Tebow. On the opposite end, should Fox change his mind and see Tebow fail, at least the Broncos can resort to a player who has some expertise to steer the ship around in Orton.
But nevertheless, Tebow is still set for a much more promising season in comparison to 2010. Even if he fails to step into the starting role, don't be surprised to see Denver utilize him on specific third down situations, an area which Tebow's ground game can pay dividends for the Broncos.
Last season, Tebow accounted for 227 yards and six touchdowns on the ground, statistics that resemble a similar skill to Michael Vick. We won't pencil Tebow in as the Broncos' savior just yet, but after seeing Denver's season collapse last year, it may only be a matter of time before fans get their wish.
8. Ndamukong Suh
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It's hard to fathom why the NFL's reigning Defensive Rookie of the Year is so low on this list, but with the offensive star power so strong heading into 2011, Ndamukong Suh is somewhat lost a little amongst the other names to come.
To start off with, it's easy to say that Suh will continue to improve. Chances are he will once again headline the Detroit Lions roster, and once again become one of several candidates to earn a trip to Hawaii in the future.
Yet, at the same time, all of the awards and celebrity appearances only scratch the surface, as we take a look at Suh's upcoming season in full depth.
Firstly, the Lions as a team look extremely dangerous. The Green Bay Packers are the defending champions, yes, but with Minnesota and Chicago encountering serious problems, a small window of opportunity has begun to open for Jim Schwartz's team.
Secondly, Suh must lead the way if the Lions are to take advantage of said window. Quarterback Matt Stafford is also a key piece to the puzzle, along with wide receiver Calvin Johnson. However, Suh is one of few defensive standouts on the Lions roster, making his pass rush ability all that more essential if Detroit should make the playoffs.
And thirdly, Suh simply needs to do what he does best. I know it sounds rather simple, but a 10-sack season last year tells the entire story, leaving no real reason for further discussion.
It's no secret that big men strive in this league, and Suh is one of those players expected to excel for many years to come. Injury concerns could pop up somewhere down the line, but for now, Suh is in for another great year, as the expectations and excitement of 2011 should propel him to new heights.
7. Devin McCourty
Patriot fans will be happy to know that they have one of the leagues most promising cornerbacks, as Devin McCourty is on the right path to becoming a future Nnamdi Asomugha, Charles Woodson or Darrelle Revis-like player very soon.
Okay, so that may be a little hasty after just one year, but let's not forget McCourty had seven interceptions last season which threw him into the running for Defensive Rookie of the Year among the likes of Ndamukong Suh.
But aside from the promising factors that lie ahead, the skills that McCourty possesses right now are astounding. Standing at only 5'10", McCourty has somehow kept pace with the league's larger wide receivers, containing players such as Santonio Holmes, Pierre Garcon and Mike Wallace.
Still, this only tells half of the story.
Along with the Patriots' expectations ahead of next year, McCourty has now become a vital piece of Bill Belichick's game plan. Previously, New England's defense has been missing a leadership-style presence since the departure of Tedy Bruschi, and although McCourty is extremely young, he has the ability to provide a big play to spark energy at the drop of a dime.
The Patriots find themselves among Super Bowl favorites next year, throwing familiar expectations toward Foxboro. Tom Brady is the golden boy, but McCourty is fast becoming the main man on defense behind Vince Wilfork.
6. Mike Williams
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The new age of the Buccaneers is alive and breathing, and who can we credit that too? Josh Freeman, LeGarrette Blount and Mike Williams. Oh, and don't forget coach Raheem Morris either.
As far as rookie seasons go, Williams had a fairly successful first-year campaign. With 964 yards and 11 touchdowns to his name, Williams led the rookie receiving category last season, although the Bucs unfortunately missed the playoffs.
Luckily, though, this is a huge reason for Williams to push himself even harder in 2011. The Bucs are still favorites to take home the third spot in the NFC South next year, but there is no reason Tampa Bay can't overcome both New Orleans, and Atlanta should they draft another successful player with the 20th pick in April.
Experts were right last year when they said Williams is great after the catch, and his touchdown tally in 2010 certainly highlights that. He did have some struggles off the field during his college years but has self-matured since joining Morris' strict program in Tampa Bay.
Next season looks to be a promising year for the Bucs, as they are a sleeper pick to keep an eye on. Williams leads the way in the air, and Freeman's precision continues to shed light on how threatening Tampa Bay can be.
5. Rob Gronkowski
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Tight ends rarely stand out after their rookie year, but when you piggy-back linebacker James Laurinaitis numerous yards before crossing the goal line, you can expect some serious recognition as a result.
New England fans reading this, congratulations, your passing game got that much better. I guess losing Randy Moss at the time seemed scary, but the emergence of Rob Gronkowski has offered Tom Brady a tight end option that hasn't been seen in, well, a very long time.
So what is Gronkowski all about, and what does he bring to the table?
While Gronkowski is of course a huge receiving threat, it is his blocking that is also impressive. The Patriots were among the league's top performers offensively last year, but the running game was particularly strong, ranking ninth in the league.
For other teams, this is a recipe for danger, as the slow turning ways of Laurence Maroney have been replaced with BenJarvus Green-Ellis, a player who piled on 13 touchdowns in 2010 to earn the Patriots a 14-2 regular season record.
Then, there is Gronkowski's receiving game, which was also spectacular at 546 yards and 10 touchdowns last year.
Looking ahead to this season, 2011 is a chance for Gronkowski to really assert himself in the Patriots roster. New England aren't exactly riddled with competition, but a lazy year on Gronkowski's part could leave starting tight end Alge Crumpler firmly in command.
New England produces bad receivers like Oreo produces bad cookies, nearly never. It would be a shame to see such a valuable target fade away.
4. Colt McCoy
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If the Cleveland Browns were unhappy with their quarterback situation this time last year, they can thank their lucky stars they chose Colt McCoy in the third round.
McCoy is yet to portray his full skill set in Cleveland, which is predominantly due to the bad luck that surrounds the stadium. Among the bad luck, the quarterback bug is still alive and well in the Dawg Pound, especially since the indecisiveness of former coach Eric Mangini cost the team dearly.
Like Denver, though, the Browns now face a quarterback battle ahead of September. McCoy is the fan-favorite, followed by Delhomme and the forgotten man Seneca Wallace, who continues to throw in his own two cents toward the situation as time draws on.
If we are to make a decision right now, however, McCoy wins hands down. The Browns ranked 29th in pass yards last year due to many factors, one of which was poor accuracy on the quarterbacks behalf. McCoy threw nine interceptions last season and six touchdowns, but he is by far the safest option moving forward.
It's hard to say if McCoy will be any better next year due to the wide receiver group that surrounds him. Second string player Josh Cribbs continues to develop, and the running back option of Peyton Hillis is also a major luxury.
Much of this issue will be determined come training camp and team practice, in the mean time, have some faith in McCoy. His deep throwing arm helped earn the Browns some yards last year, and if he can improve on the accuracy front, there is no reason he can't develop into another promising young quarterback.
He's not the next Aaron Rodgers, yet. But, maybe this season, everything will string together.
3. LeGarrette Blount
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Tampa Bay's run game is up for serious investigation as the draft approaches. Cadillac Williams is a free agent this year and pending Tampa Bay's plans, they may very well lose a suitable third down runner sometime this offseason.
Say hello to a problem, folks.
Don't get me wrong, LeGarrette Blount is a fantastic power runner. He led all other rookies in rush yards last year (1,007) and acted as one of the main reasons for the Bucs "close-but-no-cigar"-type season. But with the good comes the bad, as all of Blount's gashing power could easily result in an injury on any given Sunday.
Will this hurt Blount in 2011?
Yes and no. Should Williams return, Blount can rest easy knowing that coach Raheem Morris can pull him out of the game on a third down situation. But if Williams should stray, expect Tampa Bay to pick up a running back in the Draft.
It could easily be a win/lose situation.
As for Blount's performance, expect no different. Tampa Bay are hungry for top spot in the South, and with offense playing the main role in the division, the Bucs have a power game equal to Atlanta's right now.
A case of the second-year blues isn't likely for Blount or the entire Bucs team.
2. Sam Bradford
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St. Louis' 2010 Cinderella story came to an end against the Seattle Seahawks last year, crushing the hopes of rookie quarterback Sam Bradford along the way. The playoffs would have been unbelievably eventful should the Rams have pulled off the unthinkable, but now, we wait another year and see what the Rams can offer their fans.
If you are like me and wish to credit Bradford's development to one man, make sure it is former coordinator Pat Shurmur. Bob Stoops of course played a role at Oklahoma, but Bradford's questionable transition to the big leagues is mostly due to Shurmur's positive offensive coaching.
Now, you see why Bradford is so high on this list.
It may be quarterback bias to some, but Bradford is among the very few players who can lead their team single handily. It is my honest opinion that if wide receiver Mark Clayton hadn't gone down injured, St. Louis would have made the playoffs, but that's all history now.
What isn't history, though, is Clayton's career, as the Rams are attempting to seek out a contract extension right now.
Should this deal go through, Bradford will be surrounded by one more great option, complementing running back Steven Jackson and also reigniting the deep threat the Rams utilized so well prior to Clayton's Week 5 injury.
Expect Bradford to be a much more mature passer this season. We all remember last minute interceptions against the likes of Atlanta which cost the Rams, casual rookie mistakes for a first year quarterback.
Overcoming those same mistakes is key for Bradford this offseason.
1. Jahvid Best
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It's funny to think how quickly the Lions run game has transformed over the course of a season. One smart draft pick and a very strong year despite a 6-10 record, now leaves Detroit in a favorable spot in the NFC North, a division that could see them rise as high as second if Jim Schwartz plays his cards right.
Picking up with Jahvid Best, the Lions running back was rather unfortunate in his rookie year. In the early going, he started off strong, posting 78 yards and two touchdowns against Philadelphia, but injuries began to pile up, and a pesky turf toe problem hung around.
In the end, Best wound up with 555 yards and four touchdowns,short of the overall estimate placed on his shoulders.
No matter, this upcoming season is a chance to make up for it.
The three main factors that Best has going for him are speed, agility and burst. All four of Best's touchdowns came within opponents 19-1 yard line, showing how quick footed he can be when a score is needed.
Detroit ranked rather low in overall rushing last year (23rd) but went on a four-game win streak to end the season. Wins over rivals Green Bay and Minnesota leaves the Lions with confidence, along with another barrage of talented draft picks to come.
Best rules the Lions run game, but he could also be a folk hero in Detroit if they can somehow squeeze into the postseason.