Top 10 Players Who Need to Prove Themselves Next Season in the NFL

Cian FaheyFeatured ColumnistMarch 24, 2011

Top 10 Players Who Need to Prove Themselves Next Season in the NFL

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    Michael Vick didn't know it coming into the 2010 NFL season but he would eventually become the league's comeback player of the year for that season.

    Every NFL fan knows Michael Vick and knew him before he supplanted Kevin Kolb in Philadelphia, but each season there are plenty of players that are faced with similar situations.

    Not all players are comeback players—many are only tasting NFL stardom, or just becoming an average starter for the first time, but they all face the same situation.

    Whether you're a first-round draft pick who instantly becomes a star, such as Ndamakong Suh, or an undrafted free agent that has to wait for years, a la Tramon Williams, every NFL player with a helmet on must at some stage prove themselves.

10. Brandon Tate, New England Patriots

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    The Patriots need a big time deep threat on the outside. Tate has shown so far in the league that he does have pace and the ability to get open deep down the field.

    He is not the tallest of receivers but has shown his explosion on special teams. His special teams play is no longer going to be good enough for the Patriots because of the recent rule changes that could make kickoffs redundant.

    The former third-round draft choice was considered a first-round talent but fell when the Patriots drafted him due to a torn ACL. Tate had 432 yards and 24 receptions in what was, realistically, his rookie season last year after playing in only two games in 2009.

    Make no mistake that Tate's job is now on the line in 2011. A week ago maybe it wasn't but his special teams play is no longer going to be enough to keep him on a Patriots team that demands more from its players.

9 .Ryan Matthews, San Diego Chargers

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    Before his rookie season, Matthews was unfairly anointed as LaDanian Tomlinson's successor amid incredible media attention and hype.

    Despite destroying many fantasy teams last year, Matthews still has the potential to become a better than average NFL back.

    Matthews had 158 carries for 678 yards and seven touchdowns and cannot spend another season splitting carries with Mike Tolbert.

    Notably, in his final game of the season, he carried the ball 26 times for 120 yards and fumbled twice. Furthermore, he had three fumbles in the two games 20-plus carries.

    Matthews may never be able to carry the load in San Diego, but he cannot continue to lose the football—something he did five times during his rookie season, which is about once ever 30 carries.

8. Donnie Avery, St. Louis Rams

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    It is not easy to come back from a torn ACL injury. I can say that from personal experience and I certainly don't have the stresses that come with playing in the National Football League.

    Avery was impressive as a rookie and put up similar numbers in a bad team during his second season before his third season was stricken from him due to injury.

    Avery is yet to have as good a supporting cast as he will have this year. He hasn't significant time with Sam Bradford who looks to be a better player than the aging Marc Bulger who Avery last caught balls from.

    The Rams' biggest issue offensively last season was the lack of a big-play threat, Avery needs to bring this to the table in St. Louis as the Rams look to become a better than average football team in 2011.

    He could also create a formidable partnership with Danny Amendola—potentially the best slot receiver in the NFL.

7. Jimmy Clausen, Carolina Panthers

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    I really dislike putting a second-year quarterback on this list. Quarterbacks cannot truly be evaluated until their third year in my opinion, however this is the ruthless nature of professional football.

    The circumstances Clausen finds himself in mean that he has to give the fans and coaches in Carolina something to believe in.

    New regimes often bring in new faces at quarterback unless the team has a proven leader at the position. Clausen is definitely not proven and his leadership has repeatedly been in question since high school.

    Clausen looked like a lost puppy under center last year and needs to reclaim his swagger in order make his teammates believe in him.

    He had very few flashes during his rookie year and there is even talk of taking Blaine Gabbert or Cam Newton in the draft, which isn't totally unreasonable even though Clausen was their first pick last season.

    This season will determine whether Clausen is just another Brady Quinn or a potential draft steal such as Tom Brady.

6. Chris Wells, Arizona Cardinals

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    Beanie, as he is more affectionately known, was impressive during his rookie season but was somewhat derailed by injuries last year.

    The Cardinals will likely focus on the running game this coming season. They will probably pick up a young quarterback opposed to a veteran and their new offensive coordinator, Russ Grimm, is a former Pittsburgh Steeler offensive line coach.

    Wells is exactly the type of back that Grimm should love as he had so much success with Jerome Bettis in Pittsburgh for so long.

    His size and explosion give him the potential to be a premier running back in the league sooner rather than later.

    Don't be surprised to see him as one of the top-10 backs in the league by the end of next season.

5. Lardarius Webb, Baltimore Ravens

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    The Ravens struggled for talent largely last season due to injuries to their starters from the season before.

    Webb started the final four games of the regular season during his rookie season before tearing the cruciate ligament in his knee that reduced him to a backup role in 2010.

    Webb had obviously not fully recovered from the injury during last season. Josh Wilson gave the team good snap time in his place and this luxury of not forcing Webb back eventually payed off, as Webb's play improved towards the end of the season.

    He had recovered the pace and agility that had appeared to be gone completely early in the season. Don't be surprised to see the third-year corner slide right back into the starting lineup in Baltimore in August...err...September?...October?... You get the idea!


4. Mike Jenkins, Dallas Cowboys

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    Another under-performing corner that would love the excuse of an injury to explain his play from last season.

    Mike Jenkins is missing one thing—effort.

    He is a supremely talented player who impressed during his sophomore season, but his indifference at times caused him to fall apart.

    Lacking talent is excusable but lacking passion makes playing football pointless.

    Maybe Jenkins was just so disappointed by the Cowboys' underwhelming performances early on after carrying the favorite tag coming into the season. Should he get his head right, he is potentially a shut-down defender.

    This season will make or break the 26-year-old.

3. Elvis Dumervil, Denver Broncos

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    Dumervil missed the whole of last season after leading the league in sacks the previous season with 17.

    He put up those impressive numbers as an outside linebacker in Mike Nolan's 3-4 defensive scheme. He must now revert to a 4-3 defensive end with John Fox as head coach.

    Nolan has continued to succeed with other outside linebackers in Miami and now Dumervil needs to do better than the five sacks he last posted as a defensive end.

    He is not the largest of bodies and will probably need to bulk up to go back to playing end.

    His transition back to that position will be vital for the Broncos this season who rewarded him with a six-year contract guaranteeing him $43 million.

2. Tony Romo, Dallas Cowboys

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    Surprised? Don't be.

    Romo was looking to lead the Cowboys to the Super Bowl in Dallas last season before his season was derailed by injury. Even before then though, they looked more like the Bills than Packers.

    If the Cowboys can pick up a left tackle in the offseason Romo will have no more excuses, not that he is one to look for them. He has an expert play caller who is now his head coach, he has a great receiving corp and talent at running back.

    Romo is no longer the young face of the franchise; he is 30 years of age and after Jerry Jones sent Wade Phillips packing, his head is next on the chopping block

1. Matthew Stafford, Detroit Lions

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    The most surprising thing about the Detroit Lions in 2010? Their 6-10 record? No. The performances of Ndamakong Suh? No. The leaky secondary? Definitely not!

    The most surprising thing for the Lions last season was the fact that their offensive-production  didn't really drop off when Stafford went out.

    Shaun Hill came in and played stellar football for his new team.

    Maybe it's the fact that he had Calvin Johnson to throw Hail Marys to, or maybe its because the offense around the quarterback in Detroit had vastly improved since Stafford's rookie season, but you have to wonder what $50 million worth of quarterback is going to do in Hill's place next year.

    If Stafford lives up to his status as the first overall pick, it is tantalizing to think what he could do with such weapons as Johnson, Jahvid Best and Nate Burleson around him.

    Now, if only Detroit could figure out what to do at left tackle...