NFL Preview: 10 Veterans Who Still Have Something to Prove
Every season there are some veterans who come off either a huge increase in production or a huge decline in production.
The breakout veterans, who come out of nowhere to explode on the scene, always get called into question for whether they have the staying power to make a difference year after year.
The aging veterans, the ones who saw their production decline, need to do whatever it takes to get their name out of the media as being over the hill or washed up.
Then there are the guys who changed uniforms. The guys who either needed a change of scenery or were being held back by a firmly entrenched starter.
These are the guys who need to put up or shut up.
Steve Smith, Carolina Panthers
Steve Smith is one of the only throwbacks to the Carolina Panthers team that played in the Super Bowl against the New England Patriots.
The veteran receiver has certainly earned his keep with the Panthers, possibly being the player most associated with the franchise.
That does not mean he should get a pass from the media or Panthers fans. Smith has been very vocal about the team and has at times been a major disruptive force in the locker room.
Smith was not a big fan of Jimmy Clausen and didn't want to have to be part of the rebuilding process. He instead looked like he would have preferred to go a contender. He had a change of heart as the lockout grew to a close.
Smith now finds himself again with a starting rookie quarterback, who has not exactly inspired confidence, at the helm of the offense. Smith needs to take a step back and go against his nature and try to help mentor his young receiving group and help Newton transition to the NFL.
Kevin Kolb, Arizona Cardinals
After several years of hearing how great Kevin Kolb would be, he finally got his shot in Philadelphia and was nearly immediately injured. He was then replaced by Michael Vick and the rest is history.
Kolb is one of the great unknowns heading into this season. There is great potential in Kolb. He was the first quarterback to ever throw for 300 yards in his first two starts, a statistical quirk that has been shoved down our throats since it became clear the Donovan McNabb era was ending.
Kolb has an All-Pro receiver in Larry Fitzgerald but not much else on offense. The injury to Ryan Williams and letting Steve Breaston go in free agency certainly hurt, but Kolb will certainly be given the change to shine, as the Cardinals have absolutely no one else at the position to take the job away from him.
Terrell Owens is known as much for his mouth as he is for his on the field performance. He still has to prove that he can keep his mouth shut while playing for a contender.
It is one thing to keep your mouth when no one is paying attention. It is a completely different thing when the lights are shining on you.
Owens is likely to be picked up after the season starts, meaning his contract will not be guaranteed. He needs to not only produce but be a good teammate. As Randy Moss showed last season, performance is not the only reason teams get rid of players.
Owens needs a ring to cement his legacy. Keeping his mouth shut might be the only way to get it done.
Chad Ochocinco, New England Patriots
Chad Ochocinco was one of the most dynamic receivers in the league in Cincinnati. Over the past few seasons, his off the field antics have increased and his on the field production has decreased. It's not exactly a recipe for long term employment.
Ochocinco was sent to New England as a way to get him out of Cincinnati and start the re-building process in Cincinnati.
Ochocinco described landing in New England as "being in heaven." So far, the new spot has not proved to be quite as heavenly as expected.
Ochocinco has had a hard time grasping the progressions and reads and has not quite clicked with Tom Brady. Ochocinco seems to be putting in the work, but it hasn't quite paid off yet. Ochocinco and Brady are talented enough to make it work. It might just take some time.
Otherwise, Ochocinco will just be that fool on the bad teams who could never produce when it mattered.
Peyton Hillis, Cleveland Browns
Peyton Hillis was initially just a throw in for the Browns in the Brady Quinn trade. Turns out he was the most valuable part of the trade.
Hillis went from virtual unknown to Madden cover star in one short season. Hillis is a downhill runner who little ran over anything and everything in his way.
Hillis compiled 1,100 yards and 11 touchdowns running and almost 500 yards and two touchdowns through the air. His signature game came against the New England Patriots when he rushed for almost 200 yards and scored two touchdowns leading the Browns to a stunning upset.
After that though, Hillis was eerily silent the rest of the season and disappeared against some of the leagues' better defenses.
Hillis plays in one of the most physical divisions in the NFL, and he might have worn out. He needs to show that last year was not a fluke. He also needs to show that the Madden Curse isn't real.
Darren McFadden, Oakland Raiders
Just like his former Arkansas Razorback teammate Peyton Hillis, Darren McFadden still has something to prove this season.
Hillis and McFadden has nearly identical stats except McFadden was far more efficient doing so in three less games. McFadden seems to hit a wall at 13 games, so the Raiders would be wise to figure out which 13 they would like him o play in and bench him the other three weeks.
After taking a step back in 2009, McFadden broke loose in 2010, averaaging 5.2 yards per carry.
The Raiders will certainly need that type of production if they wish to build upon their recent success and not just for 13 games.
Donovan McNabb, Minnestoa Vikings
The Donovan McNabb experiment failed in Washington.
McNabb isn't exactly set up for success in Minnesota. With the loss of Sidney Rice, the offense won't be quite as dynamic. The Vikings still have weapons in Adrian Peterson and Percy Harvin and Kyle Rudolph should prove to be a big valuable tight end.
McNabb needs to show that last year was an aberration and that he wasn't successful just because of Andy Reid. McNabb was a consummate professional in Philadelphia despite the constant criticism, no one will ever deny that. His performance might be attributed, in part, to Andy Reid's system.
McNabb is one the downward slide of his career, but a performance that lifts his quarterback rating above last season (his lowest since his rookie season) will go a long way to show that McNabb was never the problem in Washington.
Taylor Mays/ Jimmy Clausen, Cincinnati Bengals/Carolina Panthers
These two are grouped together because they are, from all accounts, busting their way out of the NFL in short time.
Jimmy Clausen looked downright putrid in his first season, but so did Peyton Manning his rookie year. The more stunning fact is that despite having selected Clausen in the second round last season, the Panthers then selected Cam Newton with the No. 1 pick in the NFL draft.
So much for being the future quarterback of the franchise.
The Panthers have so little faith, that rather than showcase his skills so that he might be trade bait, Clausen instead will likely be the No. 2 quarterback and may not see any actual on field time this year.
Taylor Mays was a physical beast who wreaked havoc at USC. Mays had limited coverage skills. Despite being a big hitter in the mold of Ronnie Lott, to play safety in the NFL, you need to be able to make plays on the ball. Mays just couldn't do that.
Mays was shopped around the NFL in surprising fashion. By email. His services were offered to the entire league via email. Shocking. It is clear that Mays was not a part of the 49ers plans. Hopefully the Bengals don't feel the same after this season.
Ray Edwards, Atlanta Falcons
Ray Edwards spent the past three seasons playing opposite Jared Allen. It's no surprise that he looked dominant at times.
Edwards was a highly sought after free agent who will now play opposite of John Abraham. The Falcons certainly needed to upgrade their pass-rush if they wanted to take the next step to be a true Super Bowl contender.
Edwards steadily improved each season. It might be that part of Edwards production was from playing opposite Jared Allen. John Abraham certainly is no slouch, but he doesn't provide the same motor that Allen did.
It remains to be unseen if Edwards will truly be worth the paycheck.
Brandon Lloyd, Denver Broncos
Odds are, after seven unproductive seasons in the NFL, a receiver is not likely to break out. Brandon Lloyd shattered that perception putting up career numbers.
The likelihood of a repeat performance is slim. Especially, with John Fox's aversion to the passing game.
He was Kyle Orton's favorite target last year with 77 receptions and the odds of Orton shying away from looking his way are not likely.
Lloyd broke out early in the season but struggled down the stretch. He caught only one touchdown in the last five weeks.
Lloyd does not have a lot on his side. He is in his ninth season and 30 years old. Wide receivers generally do not have continued success if they break out at 29 years old.