Colt McCoy and 10 Second-Year NFL Players to Watch in 2011
Going into the 2011 season, the stakes are high for some of the top rookies from last season.
Whether it be the risky first round or the less popular second and third rounds, when the spotlight was on these rookies, they stepped up in a way that made heads turn.
Now's the time for these talented players to prove that they are not one-hit wonders. That they can consistently play at the top level day in and day out.
Rookie of the year winners Sam Bradford and Ndamukong Suh will be pressured to take their game to the next level and help their ailing teams reach the playoffs for the first time in a long time.
The pressure will also be on quarterback Colt McCoy, who finally has the support of the Cleveland Browns behind him. Now it will be up to the "Cowboy" to finally lead the Browns in the right direction.
These are just three examples of second-year players who will look to have successful encores, and here are seven other second-year players to watch.
WR Mike Williams (101st Overall)
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Heading into the 2010 NFL Draft, many believed Syracuse wide receiver Mike Williams was first round material.
However, Williams had numerous disciplinary problems while in college and he fell to the fourth round, where he was selected by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Many believe that if he just focus on football he would be great.
That is exactly what Williams did in his first year in the NFL. He finished the year with 65 receptions for 964 yards and 11 touchdowns.
His 11 touchdowns set a new Buccaneers record for most touchdown catches in a single season.
According to the ESPN.com Fantasy Report, Williams has route running that is "distinctly un-rookie-like, and the chemistry he had with Josh Freeman was palpable."
The chemistry between Freeman and Williams is a key reason the Buccaneers are on the right path back to being a contender in the NFC South.
Williams is by far the best receiver on the Bucs roster and will be a key target in a lot of fantasy football drafts this year.
Williams was nominated for the Offensive Rookie of the Year Award, but fell just short. If he can improve on his rookie season numbers, Williams is undoubtedly a Pro-Bowler.
QB Colt McCoy (85th Overall)
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Out of the players on this list, no one's path to starting went less according to plan than Colt McCoy.
When the Browns drafted McCoy in the third round, their plan was to keep the Texas Longhorn alum on the bench for the entire season.
The Browns wanted to let veterans Jake Delhomme and Seneca Wallace play while McCoy developed as an NFL quarterback.
However, injuries to both Delhomme and Wallace gave then coach Eric Mangini no other choice than to put McCoy in as the starter in week 6.
McCoy impressed in his first big league start, completing 23 of 33 passes for 281 yards, a touchdown, and two interceptions.
McCoy would go on to start the next four games for the Browns and was able to lead the team to surprising victories over the defending Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints and the always dangerous New England Patriots.
Unfortunately for McCoy, an ankle sprain sidelined the 24-year-old for the next three weeks.
When McCoy returned, his ankle was still not 100% and he struggled in the final two games of the season.
Now with new head coach Pat Shurmur, McCoy will have to learn a new offense, the west coast offense that President Mike Holmgren made so popular with Brett Favre when he coached the Green Bay Packers.
The West Coast is an offense more suited for McCoy and he has shown in preseason that he can succeed under it.
Now that McCoy is the clear No. 1 quarterback for the Browns, the city of Cleveland and the rest of the league will be watching to see if he is the quarterback of the future or if Cleveland will once again have to return to the drawing board.
WR Emmanuel Sanders (82nd Overall)
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Even though Emmanuel Sanders spent the entire season as the fourth receiver on the depth chart, the Southern Methodist alum had a decent first season for the AFC Super Bowl representative.
He finished with 28 receptions for 376 yards and two touchdowns.
Sanders is on the smaller side for receivers, but has an impressive 40-yard dash time (4.4), as well terrific quickness.
In the second half of last season, Sanders played a lot of early-down snaps and third and long situations and distanced himself from teammates Antwaan Randle El and fellow rookie Antonio Brown.
Sanders showed enough promise for the Steelers to choose not to re-sign Randle El for the upcoming season.
With Mike Wallace and Hines Ward receiving most of the attention from opposing defenses, Sanders could be a sleeper at the slot receiver position.
Although Sanders has a lot of promise for the upcoming season, he will have to battle with injuries. He required offseason foot surgery in the winter, as well as another surgery at the beginning of this year's training camp.
If Sanders can stay healthy, he should be in for a breakout season. However, if his foot continues to bother him, Brown could surpass the third round pick on the depth chart.
CB Devin McCourty (27th Overall)
When the New England Patriots drafted Rutgers Scarlet Knight Devin McCourty, he was projected to be a No. 2 cornerback or a package player at best.
However, McCourty exceeded all expectations for New England, starting all 16 games.
McCourty had a impressive rookie season where he recorded 82 tackles, two forced fumbles, as well as seven interceptions.
His best game of the 2010 season was their 45-24 victory over the Lions. During the game, McCourty recorded seven tackles and two interceptions, returning them for 50 and 23 yards, putting the Patriots offense in great scoring position.
His stellar play did not go unnoticed. He was selected to the Pro Bowl, as well as nominated for the Defensive Rookie of the Year Award.
McCourty came up just shy of winning the award and finished second to Ndamukong Suh.
With his first season a success, McCourty will look to start where he left off this upcoming season.
If McCourty numbers exceed his numbers from last season, there will certainly be some trophies with his name on it. McCourty could find himself back in Hawaii at the end of the year.
QB Tim Tebow (25th Overall)
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Tim Tebow is the only player on this list that fans will not wonder how he will play this season, but if he will play at all.
Tebow started the last three games for the Denver Broncos last season and had some impressive numbers, throwing for 651 yards and four touchdowns.
Tebow also rushed for 198 yards and averaged a touchdown a game rushing in the three starts.
However, Tebow has struggled with his mechanics and his accuracy, as he had to learn an entirely new throwing motion before the draft.
Going into this season, it was assumed that Tebow was going to be the starter under new head coach John Fox.
The Broncos even placed starter Kyle Orton on the trading block and as soon as the lockout lifted, there were rumors that Orton was quickly on his way out to Miami, but the Broncos asking price was too high.
Flash forward to week three of the NFL preseason and Tebow still finds himself on the bench. Even though Orton was almost traded, he still finds himself as the Broncos starter for week one.
To make matters worse, the team's third string quarterback Brady Quinn, who was acquired for Peyton Hillis from Cleveland, has passed Tebow on the depth chart and now stands behind Orton as his backup.
Although Tebow has played decent so far in the preseason, he cannot seem to catch a break in the NFL.
Is this the end of the line for the Broncos and Tebow? According to ESPN, "Denver is not 'openly' trying to deal Tebow, but they aren’t saying he isn’t off the trading block."
Unfortunately for Tebow, there is not a lot of interest in the quarterback, except for possibly St. Louis where Josh McDaniels, the man who drafted Tebow, is now the offensive coordinator and would use Tebow as a package player.
If Denver can't find a place for Tebow, they may admit their mistakes and cut the 24-year-old.
WR Dez Bryant (24th Overall)
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One of the impressive rookies last season had to be Dallas Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant.
The former Oklahoma State Cowboy had a good start to his rookie season and caught on fire in October and November.
In 12 games, Bryant recorded 45 catches for 561 yards and eight all-purpose touchdowns.
Unfortunately, that would be it for Bryant as the star receiver broke his ankle in a December game against the Indianapolis Colts.
Now once again healthy, it will be interesting to see what Bryant does for an encore.
He could have a very successful year, but his attitude could be his downfall.
Around this time last year, Bryant made the news for all the wrong reasons when he refused to carry the pads of former Cowboy Roy Williams.
Bryant "reportedly didn't absorb the Cowboys' playbook last season and definitely didn't run great routes, plus he spent this spring at the center of all kinds of silly off-field controversies," according to ESPN.com.
If Bryant can become focused and dedicated to football and football only, he could have an impressive second season.
With Williams no longer on the team, the pressure will be on Bryant to carry the load as the team's No. 2 receiver behind Miles Austin.
CB Joe Haden (7th Overall)
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Going into the 2010 Draft, the Cleveland Browns had plans to go defense with their first pick in the draft, most importantly in the secondary.
This was truley a blessing in disguise for the Browns as Haden had an outstanding rookie season.
Haden finished with 64 tackles, a forced fumble, and team leading six interceptions.
Haden became the first Browns player since 1968 to record an interception in four straight games.
Behind Devin McCourty, Haden was the next best rookie cornerback in the NFL and like McCourty, was nominated for the Defensive Player of the Year Award.
The Browns are still a ways away from becoming a contender in the AFC, but they are moving in the right direction and Haden is one of the reasons why.
Alongside safety TJ Ward, the Browns second round selection in last year's draft, the Browns are slowly building one of the better secondaries in the league.
Haden is becoming a fan favorite around the city of Cleveland and if he can adjust to Dick Jauron's new 4-3 defense, he should have a breakout season.
S Eric Berry (5th Overall)
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Eric Berry is slowly becoming one of the best safeties in the game today.
"The Fifth Dimension" was one of the highly touted players coming into the 2010 draft and he did not disappoint.
Berry started all 16 games for the Chiefs and helped lead the team to a 10-6 record and the team's first AFC West crown since 2003.
Although they lost in the first round to the Baltimore Ravens, the Chiefs were a huge improvement from their 4-12 2009-2010 season.
Thanks to Berry, the Chiefs' defense jumped from 29th the season before to 11th last year. He led the team in interceptions (4) and was second to linebacker Derrick Johnson in tackles with 92, 77 of them being solo tackles.
He was also able to notch his first NFL touchdown, returning an interception 54-yards against the Tennessee Titans in a 34-14 victory.
Berry had the honor of representing the Chiefs in the Pro-Bowl this year, along with Matt Cassel, Jamaal Charles, Dwayne Bowe, and Brian Waters.
Berry played every snap for the Chiefs defense last year and came out of the season unscathed.
The 22-year-old will look to start where he left off and capture back-to-back AFC West crowns for the first time in franchise history.
DT Ndamukong Suh (2nd Overall)
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The Detroit Lions are finally heading in the right direction after several seasons of disappointment.
The team may finally have their franchise quarterback if Matt Stafford can stay healthy.
The Lions' defense is slowly making improvements.
Their defense received a huge boost at the 2010 draft, when the team selected Nebraska Cornhusker defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh with the second overall pick.
The Heisman Trophy finalist came in and immediately made an impact in Mo-town.
Suh led the team in sacks (10) and was fourth in tackles with 66.
Even though the Lions only won two of their first 13 games, the team rebounded and finished the seasons winning four straight games, including a 7-3 victory over the eventual Super Bowl Champion Green Bay Packers.
At the end of the year, the awards started to pile in for the rookie tackle. Along with a Pro Bowl selection, Suh racked up defensive lineman of the year (NFL Alumni), defensive rookie of the year (Associated Press), and overall rookie of the year awards from Pepsi and Sporting News.
Like any year, the pressure is always on the rookie of the year winner to take his game up to the next level in his sophomore season.
If Suh can do that, the Lions may go where they haven't gone in quite a long time, which is to the top of the NFC North.
QB Sam Bradford (1st Overall)
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Sam Bradford was the clear choice to be selected No. 1 overall in the 2010 NFL draft. It was unclear, however, what team would draft him.
Several different teams had discussed the possibility of trading up and selecting the Oklahoma Sooner quarterback.
Teams that needed quarterback help included Cleveland, Carolina, as well as Miami.
However, in the end, the St. Louis Rams kept their pick as they also needed help under center and selected Bradford.
Bradford had an impressive rookie season, improving the Rams record from 1-15 the previous season, to 7-9 and playoff contenders in the NFC West.
Bradford finished with a QB rating of 76.5, recording 3,512 yards and 18 touchdowns.
The 2008 Heisman Trophy winner broke several rookie records, that included most consecutive passes thrown without an interception (169), most attempts by a rookie (590), and most completions by a rookie (354).
Like his defensive counterpart Suh, Bradford was awarded the AP Offensive Rookie of the Year Award.
Bradford's success was one of the reasons that former offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur was hired onto his first coaching job in Cleveland. The Browns saw what Shurmur was able to do when it came to molding a rookie quarterback and hoped that he would do the same for Colt McCoy.
Sam Bradford gave Rams fans the taste of a playoff race for the first time since 2006. Now, with one season under his belt, the Rams will look to Bradford to take the team to the next level and take them to their first playoff appearance since 2004.