NFL: The 7 Players with the Most to Prove in 2011
While the lockout appears to be slowly creeping to an end, it's time to start looking at players that have a lot to play for in 2011.
These players all have very good talents, yet still have some question marks about them. This could range from not being able to stay healthy or because of a huge burden cast on a young player because of being a high draft pick.
I think that these seven player could have big years in 2011, and if they don't, could have some people questioning either them or the organization.
So, let's get on with the list.
Michael Crabtree, WR San Francisco 49ers
Michael Crabtree was the 10th overall pick in the 2009 draft by the San Francisco 49ers. He was a record-setting wide receiver in college at Texas Tech and came into the league with some high expectations.
After a huge holdout that probably caused some friction within the team, Crabtree is yet to live up to the expectations set forth for him.
In two seasons, Crabtree has caught 103 passes for 1,336 yards and eight touchdowns. He had 55 catches for 741 yards and six touchdowns in 2010.
It was a step in the right direction, but still not worth the money he is getting.
Crabtree needs to become a perennial 1,000-yard receiver starting this year to make up for some of the problems he has caused the team. He has the ability to do so with the right work ethic and communication with his quarterback.
Ryan Mathews, RB San Diego Chargers
It's not that the 12th overall pick in the 2010 draft was bad last year, it was just that he didn't live up to expectations.
Mathews was drafted out of Fresno State to take over LaDainian Tomlinson's spot as the team's running back but injuries and some inefficiency kept him from completely taking over the position.
Mathews rushed for 678 yards on 158 carries, which is 4.3 yards per carry, and seven touchdowns. Many Charger fans are probably hoping for close to a 250-carry, 1,100-yard, 10-touchdown season from the guy they are paying to be the team's running back.
Mathews definitely has the talent to be the top guy, he just has to stay healthy and must work hard to separate himself from Mike Tolbert.
Julio Jones, WR Atlanta Falcons
He's never even stepped on an NFL field, yet Julio Jones already has a world of expectations on him. The Falcons traded five picks between the 2011 and 2012 drafts to move up and draft Jones, who now must be a major impact player as a rookie.
It's not that Jones will be the focal point of the offense, it's just that the Falcons gave up so much for him. He has to make some big plays this year and help them make a run in the playoffs.
Aaron Curry, LB Seattle Seahawks
When Aaron Curry was drafted by the Seattle Seahawks with the fourth pick in the 2009 draft, they did so drafting one of the safest players available and a guy many thought would become a Pro Bowl-calibur linebacker.
This far it hasn't quite happened.
Curry is a good, solid linebacker, but he hasn't been the playmaker that the Seahawks wanted him to be when they drafted him.
In two years, he has racked up 134 tackles, 5.5 sacks, four forced fumbles and did have an interception this past postseason.
That's more of what the team is hoping for every year from Curry, yet they haven't gotten it yet. This is a big year for the 25-year-old.
Andre Smith, OT Cincinnati Bengals
Andre Smith was the sixth pick in the 2009 draft by the Cincinnati Bengals, and let's just say he hasn't been what they've thought thus far.
Smith is probably most well-know for the pictures of him with his shirt off while working out for NFL coaches. His physical fitness has also been an issue at the NFL level, as has his ability to stay healthy.
Smith has only started five games in his career, and this is without question the make-or-break year of his career.
C.J. Spiller, RB Buffalo Bills
The explosive tailback could not have been a bigger disappointment in his first year as a Bill. Spiller was drafted with the ninth pick in the 2010 draft, yet struggled through his rookie year.
On 74 carries, Spiller racked up a measly 283 yards (3.8 ypc) and no touchdowns.
No one is questioning Spiller's physical talents, but the Bills need it to translate into a healthy running game in 2011. Another year of struggling to make big plays, and he could be considered another Reggie Bush.
Of course, he is going to have to have help from his offensive line as well, but Spiller has big-time potential. It just has to be reached.
Matthew Stafford, QB Detroit Lions
I have a feeling that if Matthew Stafford can just stay healthy, then the Detroit Lions will make some major moves this season.
The Lions took Stafford with the first overall pick in the 2009 draft. He has since impressed while on the field, yet just can't seem to stay on it. Stafford has had some trouble keeping his shoulder healthy, but it hasn't taken the zip off of his passes.
As a Georgia fan, I know how good Stafford can be once he gets fully into a system and gets comfortable with the players around him. His five-touchdown performance against the Cleveland Browns in 2009 also shows what he can do if he sticks on the field.
If Stafford can stay on the field for 16 games, look for him and Calvin Johnson to become one of the better QB-WR combos in the league.
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