10 NFL Players Whose Production Will Drop off in 2013

Andrew Garda@andrew_gardaFeatured ColumnistMay 30, 2013

10 NFL Players Whose Production Will Drop off in 2013

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    We often get caught up in expectations when watching the NFL. If something plays out a certain way once, more often than not, folks just expect it to replicate itself.

    The more it happens, the more we expect it to.

    Some players perform at such a high level—and make it look easy in doing so—that we develop the assumption that they will succeed over and over again. Even when it's unlikely to happen for any number of reasons.

    The following players are my picks for guys who will see their production drop in 2013.

    In some cases, this won't mean they'll have bad years; they'll simply be less productive than they were in one or more areas last season.

    For some, it will be the a blip on the radar; for others, the beginning of the end.

    We'll start off with some of the more obvious ones and head off from there.

Adrian Peterson, RB, Minnesota Vikings

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    Last season saw Peterson, who was coming off a catastrophic knee injury, run for the second-most yards in a single season.

    Putting the injury aside, it was an amazing feat, as Peterson had a career-high yards-per-carry average of 6.0 (his highest since his rookie-season number of 5.6) and the second-highest total of carries (348) in his career.

    It's very hard to bet against Peterson, who has set a goal of 2,500 yards for himself.

    And yet, here we go.

    Why He'll See a Drop-Off

    The fact is that no running back who has topped 2,000 yards has ever replicated it. Not Eric Dickerson, not Jamal Lewis, not Barry Sanders, not Terrell Davis, Chris Johnson nor O.J. Simpson.

    In fact, each of those backs had his yards take a nosedive the year after he ran for 2,000.

    Dickerson, for instance, ran for just 1,234 yards. Lewis barely broke 1,000. Johnson amassed just 1,364 yards. Sanders had a very solid follow-up year, accumulating 1,491 yards and then retiring. The trend continues, and some (like Davis) dealt with injuries.

    However history isn't the only—or even the biggest—reason Peterson will see a slide in his totals (which I still expect to be around the 1,500-yard mark).

    His team will be.

    If everything goes to plan, this team will not need him to run the ball 348 times. The Vikings are committed to improving their passing game, as evidenced by the additions of wide receiver Greg Jennings and rookie wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson to replace the departed Percy Harvin.

    They expect bigger things from quarterback Christian Ponder and a step forward from the guys they retained from the 2012 campaign—players like wide receivers Jerome Simpson and Jarius Wright, as well as tight end Kyle Rudolph.

    This will actually make Peterson's life easier in many ways, as when the passing game works, defenses can't show eight and nine men in the box to stop him. I expect his yards per carry to drop a little but still hover around 5.0.

    He's just not going to get the opportunity to carry the ball as much, and I don't expect him to do so enough to make 2,000—forget 2,500. Even if he kept the 6.0 yards per carry, he'd need to carry the ball over 330 times to top or approach 2,000 yards, and that's just not what this team is looking to do.

    In fact, if he has to carry it that many times, something has failed elsewhere.

    Why I Might Be Wrong

    There is, of course, every chance that things fail elsewhere.

    Maybe Ponder doesn't show the ability to utilize a vertical threat like Jennings. I've been charting Ponder's passes for a look at how this pairing will work, and while I still have work to do, Ponder simply didn't throw long often last year. When he did, his accuracy was very hit-or-miss.

    I'm not fully convinced he can consistently hit his deep threat.

    Or instead, maybe Jennings is too tapped to hold up his end of the deal. Maybe he gets hurt again, as he was in 2011 and 2012. Maybe Simpson continues to play more like his 2010 self than the 2011 version.

    Perhaps Rudolph starts dropping balls again or Wright doesn't continue to show the flash he did in the latter half of 2012. Maybe Patterson is too raw to have an impact this season.

    All of those things are possible.

    If that's the case—if all hell breaks loose in the offense again this year—this team is going to lean on Peterson. I can't imagine that defenses will have an easier time stopping him now that he's 100 percent than they did when he wasn't last year.

J.J. Watt, DE, Houston Texans

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    Not only was Watt a nearly unanimous selection for Defensive Player of the Year in 2012, but he was also (in some quarters at least) worthy of consideration for NFL MVP.

    Watt accomplished that by finishing first in the NFL with 20.5 sacks. He also had 16 batted passes—an unofficial stat, but impressive nonetheless. Watt also had 76 quarterback disruptions.

    He also helps six-year-old girls attain their dreams.

    And he claims to still be learning.

    For the love of Luck make him stop.

    Why He'll See a Drop-Off

    The return of Brian Cushing may both help and hurt Watt's third season. Ultimately, he could drive some attention away from Watt, but given Watt's production last season, offenses are going to key on him until someone makes them stop. They are going to do everything in their power to keep him out of reach of the ball, the quarterback, the backup quarterback and the play in general.

    Watt appears to be (and mind you, it's going to be only his third season) a rare talent—not just physically (though you can't deny his athleticism) but also mentally. However, he is still young. An entire offseason of observation and study will be dedicated to Watt and stopping him.

    The offenses will evolve to stop him.

    We've seen a little evidence they were adjusting toward the end of last season and during the postseason. After he lit up Andrew Luck in Week 15, he quieted down a bit, and New England contained him in Houston's loss during the playoffs.

    That's not to say he didn't have an impact—just less of one.

    His sack total is probably where we'll see the most regression. Looking at just raw numbers, guys who hit 20-plus sacks, like Lawrence Taylor, Chris Doleman, Mark Gastineau, Michael Strahan and most recently Jared Allen, saw a big drop the following year, in part due to the extra attention.

    Watt will continue to progress and get even better. However, we will probably see a dip in his numbers this year as he readjusts to the offenses adjusting to what he did in 2012.

    Why I Might Be Wrong

    While all the statistics are undeniable, we do have one guy who broke the trend—Reggie White. White followed his 21 sacks in 1987 with 18 in 1988.

    Of course, I'm not ready to call J.J. Watt the next Reggie White—he's way too young for that comparison—but it can be done. Even if you glance at Gastineau's 22-sack season, you'll notice it followed a 19-sack season.

    The eras are far different, but it can be done.

    Specifically looking at Watt, while he had to carry the defense in many ways with Cushing out, he had outstanding games while sharing the field with Cushing to start the year. In fact, two of his six multi-sack games came in that span, and he had 1.5 sacks in two others.

    As much as teams and offenses will adjust, Watt will also be adjusting as he did all last season. Thus, he may actually find that they can't do enough to slow him down.

    On top of all of this, he played last season with a torn-up elbow. He's looking to be 100 percent healthy now.

    So he essentially accomplished all of what he did last season with one hand tied behind his back.


Calvin Johnson, WR, Detroit Lions

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    Like his fellow NFC North offensive player Adrian Peterson, Calvin Johnson was chasing a record. In Megatron's case, he topped the one he was after—Jerry Rice's record for all-time single-season receiving yards. He did miss the 2,000-yard mark, but that wasn't nearly as big a deal as passing Rice.

    On the other hand, the Lions were a disaster—all the yards he accumulated didn't change that. Like the other two players topping this list, Johnson was carrying a portion of his team and still couldn't be stopped.

    Why He'll See a Drop-Off

    The offense cannot keep functioning like it has. Quarterback Matt Stafford throwing almost 30 percent of his passes towards Johnson is a real issue.

    Part of the problem was the injury to Nate Burleson (who had seen a lot of targets before he broke his leg) and the slow implosion of Titus Young over the course of the season. The team never really found anyone to replace either player, and rookie Ryan Broyles missed the early part of the season and then struggled for much of the rest.

    This year should be much different.

    Burleson will be back and will continue to be a reliable presence for Stafford, and Broyles (assuming he can stay healthy) will likely take a larger and more productive role in the offense as well.

    In addition to returning players, the Lions drafted rookie Corey Fuller, a speedy guy who might be able to stretch the field opposite Johnson. More importantly, they acquired Reggie Bush, who is normally good for anywhere from 50 to 70 targets in a given season. The Lions will want to use him a ton.

    All this will mean Johnson should get fewer targets, which in turn means fewer yards. This isn't a bad thing at all, as it will mean the offense is spreading the ball around and, in fact, acquiring more effective yards rather than just yards.

    The interesting addendum to this will be that I suspect Johnson's touchdown total will go back up to double digits. The five he had in 2012 were an outlier, not the future for him. (So as I expect his yards to go down, that might make this a wash.)

    Why I Might Be Wrong

    First of all, last year was supposed to be the year the Lions spread the ball around and look what happened. The Lions could see a repeat of last season, when injuries (and plain old idiocy) decimated the receivers, or they might just roll with the guy they know can make the catch.

    The bigger reason I might be wrong could be far simpler, though: It could come down to Stafford.

    Basically, Stafford has had two reliable receivers during his time in Detroit—Johnson and Burleson. Nobody else has come close to being reliable for him, whether we're talking receivers, tight ends or running backs.

    Of the two, who has upside? Who is a game-changer?

    That's right, Johnson.

    Stafford can get a bit of tunnel vision when it comes to his targets—which isn't a shock since he has had issues with almost everyone not named Johnson. It's not outside the realm of possibility that he keeps feeding the player who has been there for him consistently during his entire time in the NFL.

    Besides, this is Calvin Johnson, and when you have him on your team, are you going to go out of your way to not use him?

Richard Sherman, CB, Seattle Seahawks

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    Did you know who Richard Sherman was before he started verbally dissing players and then shutting them down on the field last year?

    Like him or hate him for his jawing and off-field stuff, you have to admit: The guy can ball.

    Cian Fahey of Pre-Snap Reads broke down everything about last season for Sherman, and you should take the time to read it (it's rather in-depth, so grab a comfy chair).

    The bottom line is, this guy is as good with his play as he is with his mouth.

    Plus, he's got a darn fine sense of humor.

    Why He'll See a Drop-Off

    Aside from the obvious difficulty of repeating a season like Sherman's—that quarterbacks simply won't challenge you, so your numbers will decrease—Sherman might run into trouble on other fronts.

    While Sherman faced some good receivers, he wasn't locked on to the best the opposition had to offer on every down and therefore often ended up facing guys like Louis Murphy and Titus Young.

    Sherman didn't shut down wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald (though he had a key interception while muscling Fitzgerald off a route) the first time out, wasn't often on Calvin Johnson in their meeting, didn't see much of Steve Smith and regularly got beat by the Bills' Steve Johnson.

    He was also absolutely abused by Tony Gonzalez in the divisional-round loss to the Falcons (he did, however, play well against Julio Jones).

    The point is, he still has a ways to go before he is consistently the best in the league.

    This year, he'll have his hands full with some of the same faces (he and Steve Smith should have a good time in Week 1) as well as Andre Johnson, Reggie Wayne, Kenny Britt, Vincent Jackson, Marques Colston, Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz.

    It's a much tougher road for him this year, and I expect his numbers to drop and for him to have a few more down games.

    That said, in the end I believe he will have a very good 2014. Sherman is much smarter than folks give him credit for and ultimately will adapt. He may not have the numbers and notable performances he had last year, but he will end up as a long-term pain in the rear end for offenses.

    Why I Might Be Wrong

    It's hard to imagine that the Seahawks defense will have any more issues this year than last, though the recent suspension of Bruce Irvin for violating the NFL's controlled substance policy, as well as the multiple issues around PEDs, could hurt the team.

    And lest we forget, Sherman had his own issues with that last season, getting off basically on a technicality.

    Still, the team added depth at defensive line, bringing in guys like Cliff Avril, Tony McDaniel and Michael Bennett to improve the pass rush.

    The Seahawks may also move Sherman around more this season and match him up more consistently with the opposition's No. 1. And Sherman thrives on challenges.

    On top of that, he has a very good supporting cast in the secondary. Brandon Browner, Earl Thomas, Marcus Trufant and Kam Chancellor were solid last year, and adding a veteran like Antoine Winfield will improve the tackling along the front.

    If the rest of the secondary does its job, then it won't leave offenses much choice but to attack Sherman on occasion.

    Which would just make his 2012 more the start of a trend than an aberration.

Matthew Stafford, QB, Detroit Lions

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    Matt Stafford came up just short of his second straight 5,000-yard season, armed only with Calvin Johnson and a bunch of "just another guy" receivers.

    While he struggled to produce touchdowns, Stafford was able to move the ball consistently even when the defense knew he was passing—which was once again pretty often last season.

    Why He'll See a Drop-Off

    In the last two years, Stafford has thrown the ball 1,390 times. That's more than even Drew Brees, who never saw a vertical route he didn't like.

    This was largely due to the Lions' lack of a consistent run game. Mikel Leshoure and Joique Bell sort of supplied that last season, but overall they were underwhelming. Leshoure's 798 yards came with a ton of carries and a bad 3.7 yards-per-carry average, while Bell's carries were too few and far between.

    With running back Reggie Bush in town, the Lions have a guy who was 14 yards shy of back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons on a team (Miami) that had issues on the offensive line.

    The Lions will never be a power run offense by any means, but they will definitely run the ball more consistently with Bush around, and Leshoure will get a chunk of carries. With that, the offense should be more balanced than it has been in recent years.

    Stafford will break 4,000 again—heck, even Carson Palmer can do that—but he won't flirt with 5,000 this year.

    I will say the one area in which Stafford's production will rise will be throwing touchdowns. As with Calvin Johnson, the poor showing last year was more the exception than the rule.

    One more point: The Lions have worked hard to get the defense in shape again, and if they do, they will not be trailing by as much as often. This will require Stafford to hurl the ball less often and for fewer yards.

    If the defense plays as well as the Lions think it can, Stafford's numbers will drop in due course.

    Why I Might Be Wrong

    It's all well and good that Bush is in town, but we should probably expect him to catch the ball almost as often as he runs it.

    And above all, this is a passing team featuring one of the greatest receivers ever to play the game.

    What's more, the Lions get guys like receiver Nate Burleson back and were able to jettison dead weight like Titus Young. The offense, in general, seems like it is poised to better handle an air attack, while sprinkling in runs when needed.

    If you look at teams around the league, what's happening? Sure, there are throwbacks like last year's Vikings and other teams who have incredible running backs and will hammer you with them. Tampa Bay and Doug Martin are a similar case.

    Overall, though, this is a passing league. Stafford struggled at times last year—he certainly looked off on more than one occasion while throwing—but has had an offseason to correct his issues.

    He certainly could keep doing what he's doing until his arm falls off.

Shonn Greene, RB, Tennessee Titans

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    Shonn Greene had a career high in carries, yards and touchdowns during his 2012 season with the New York Jets.

    What makes this somewhat impressive is how bad the rest of the offense was—there was zero threat from the passing game, so the defense knew the only way this team would move the chains was on the ground.

    Why He'll See a Drop-Off

    Most obviously, he goes from the starter—in a mediocre offense, but a starter nonetheless—to at best the second back in the pecking order behind lead running back Chris Johnson in Tennessee.

    While Johnson has struggled at times behind a shaky offensive line, he's still a back who has had five straight 1,000-yard seasons to Shonn Greene's two. In addition, he can catch the ball and pass-block, which makes him less of a liability on third down than Greene.

    Further, Greene saw his yards per carry drop from a tolerable 4.2 to an unacceptable 3.9. While some of that was on the Jets offensive line and the stacked fronts Greene saw, some of it was also on Greene himself.

    Yes, Greene had a career high in yards, but it took his career high in carries to get there.

    The word I have most used to describe a Shonn Greene run is "uninspiring." Greene looks like he runs through molasses—slow to the hole and slow through it.

    Let's imagine, for the sake of argument, Johnson gets hurt and Greene gets the starting gig. If a guy who amassed 2,006 yards one season is struggling behind this line, what makes anyone think a guy who ran behind perennial Pro Bowlers Nick Mangold and D'Brickashaw Ferguson and couldn't hack it will do better?

    Why I Might Be Wrong

    I'm wiling to bet I won't be, but here goes.

    Let's say the Titans have improved the offensive line enough with the additions of rookie guard Chance Warmack in the draft and former Buffalo Bills guard Andy Levitre that their run-blocking improves significantly.

    Then Johnson goes down with a serious injury early in the season and Greene takes over. Behind a solid offensive line and with a chip on his shoulder to prove his doubters wrong, Greene looks better than he has since he hit the NFL, ending up with a career-high yardage total and a bucket of touchdowns.

James Jones, WR, Green Bay Packers

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    Last season, only one player scored more touchdowns than James Jones. That was Arian Foster, who had 17.

    Jones had 14 last season for the Packers, showing off better hands than he had earlier in his career and becoming a key fill-in for quarterback Aaron Rodgers while other receivers like Greg Jennings and Jordy Nelson were out.

    Why He'll See a Drop-Off

    I'm talking purely touchdowns here—an area in which we'll see a significant dip this coming season.

    Greg Jennings is gone, but Jordy Nelson looks to be 100 percent and third-year receiver Randall Cobb is poised to be a bigger part of the offense than ever. In addition, tight end Jermichael Finley is in the last year of his contract, and he has to perform to get the money—from anyone, not just the Packers—that he'd like to see.

    With a healthy group of receivers, Jones will not have the targets in the red zone he saw this past season. In fact, it's unlikely he'll even see the same number of targets in general.

    When the Packers needed him, he stepped up. Now that they aren't in a bind, his touchdown total will normalize...

    Why I Might Be Wrong

    ...unless, of course, the injury bug hits the Packers again.

    If Nelson or Cobb goes down, Jones will have another chance to step back up and produce. Finley may be in a contract year, but he's not the only one—Jones' best chance to make a big payday is to up his yards and keep his touchdown total high.

    Speaking of Finley—does anyone buy that this year is finally the year it all comes together for the talented but underproducing tight end? Why is this year different? Because of the contract?

    Since 2010 (when he had his season cut very short due to injury), Finley has become less and less effective, even when he has had more targets. Let's not even get into his alleged "blocking."

    Jones, on the other hand, has improved in each of the last few years and has become a trusted target for Rodgers, whereas Finley has let his quarterback down on the field.

    Much of the league is trying to utilize a two-tight end set to spread the defense out. The Packers already try to spread the defense out with their receivers, so we could easily see Jones becoming the big red-zone target in this offense.

Tim Jennings, CB, Chicago Bears

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    Jennings was one half of possibly the best cornerback tandem in the NFL last season. He and Charles Tillman were a very effective duo and made life miserable for many, many quarterbacks.

    While the seven-year veteran did miss two games and saw his tackles and assists fall a bit, Jennings also had career highs in passes defensed (21) and interceptions (nine).

    Why He'll See a Drop-Off

    It's rare to see a guy who has been around this long suddenly have an upswing in his numbers and be able to keep it up. While Jennings has always been fairly consistent, that consistency has come with relatively mellow numbers in terms of turnovers and defensed passes.

    In fact, this past season saw Jennings' highest number of defensed passes double while his number of interceptions more than tripled. Expect that to correct itself this season.

    Part of the reason for the better numbers was certainly the extraordinary season his buddy Tillman had. Teams just wouldn't challenge Tillman, so they had to go at Jennings.

    Some of this was also due to a tremendous defense in front of both Jennings and Tillman. The front seven created pressure on the opposing quarterback and therefore an increased the number of mistakes.

    The defense is going through a bit of a change, though, the key point of which is the loss of linebacker Brian Urlacher. Lest you believe this is not a big deal—after all, he retired and was clearly an aging player—you should remember how much Urlacher did on defense for the Bears.

    Urlacher called out plays, helped shift players into the correct positions, helped read the offenses and made sure the defense made the right adjustments. Finding a guy to fill that role is a tall order. Fellow linebacker Lance Briggs looks poised to do this, but we can expect some bumps.

    On top of that, there have been several other departures.

    All of this may decrease the overall effectiveness of the defense and the pass rush, thereby making it easier for quarterbacks to avoid mistakes while making it harder for Jennings to generate turnovers and stay in position to make plays.

    It's an asset for a secondary to have a great pass rush, as they have to hold their positions and coverage for less time. The longer they have to stay on a receiver, the more likely the coverage will break down somewhere.

    I expect this to be the case for the Bears, and further, I expect it will affect Jennings more than Tillman.

    Why I Might Be Wrong

    While Urlacher and a few others are gone, Briggs, defensive ends Julius Peppers and Shea McClellin and tackle Henry Melton remain. The basis for a continued solid pass rush is still here.

    So is Tillman. Unless Tillman completely falls apart, quarterbacks will try to avoid him and Jennings will therefore continue to have a shot at turnovers. He clearly has the hands and instincts for it—that will not change.

    Further, the offense looks poised to be very good this year. A better offensive line will help quarterback Jay Cutler and his receivers put on more points and get a lead. If that happens and the defense stays solid, teams will find themselves behind the Bears on the scoreboard and will have to throw to come back.

    Which only plays into the very sure hands of Jennings.

Wes Welker, WR, Denver Broncos

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    Wes Welker has changed teams, but has he changed situations?

    He still has:

    A Hall of Fame-bound quarterback.

    An offense that passes the ball—a lot.

    And a quarterback on the lookout for a consistent veteran presence.

    All this should translate to a third straight 100-catch-plus season with a third straight 1,000-yard total, right?

    Why He'll See a Drop-Off

    In the past, Welker has been the steadying influence on a cavalcade of new faces and so-so players at the wide receiver position.

    With the exception of his first year with the team in 2007, Welker has been the player each year with the most yards at the end of the season, though not always the most catches. He had been quarterback Tom Brady's "Mr. Reliable" each season, and even when the terror twins (Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski) arrived, Welker was still the main force in the passing offense.

    This will not be the case in Denver.

    Oh sure, quarterback Peyton Manning will look his way often. However, Welker is now the new face in an offense which already has a solid No. 1. Demaryius Thomas had a breakout 2012, totally 1,442 yards and 10 touchdowns on 94 catches.

    Eric Decker was right behind him with 1,064 yards and 13 touchdowns.

    While I can see Welker stealing some of the 280 targets those two receivers got, I cannot see him stealing enough to come close to his usual numbers.

    He might break 1,000 yards, but I won't even say that's a sure thing.

    Why I Might Be Wrong

    They sure didn't bring Welker in to stand on the sideline and look pretty, did they?

    While Decker is solid, he doesn't have the ability to generate the yards after the catch that Welker does. In 2012, Welker led the league in YAC (yards after the catch) with 702, while Decker was a distant 54th, compiling just 290.

    That's not to say Decker is a bad receiver—just that he doesn't bring to the table what Welker does.

    Ditto Thomas, who is ranked fourth in yards after the catch but had just 538.

    Welker may catch shorter passes, but he turns them into longer gains.

    Manning could be looking for a short-yardage helper, someone he can dump the ball to who will gain positive yards afterwards.

    That could make Welker a very attractive option.

BenJarvus Green-Ellis, RB, Cincinnati Bengals

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    BenJarvus Green-Ellis had a career-high 1,094 yards on a career-high 278 carries last season, as he helped the Cincinnati Bengals reach the playoffs for the second straight year.

    It was the first season in Cincinnati for Green-Ellis after he spent the previous four in New England.

    Why He'll See a Drop-Off

    Despite the career highs, "Law Firm's" yards-per-carry average of 3.9 was pretty disappointing. Sure, it was an increase over his 3.7 in 2011, but it's still below even the ideal minimum of 4.0 YPC.

    It bothered the Bengals enough that they drafted North Carolina running back Giovani Bernard in the second round of the 2013 NFL draft.

    Green-Ellis has very little explosion and not much breakaway speed. He's never going to be a big-play, game-breaking threat, and he's just about useless on third down.

    He's consistent—consistently average.

    Bernard has much of what Green-Ellis doesn't. He has excellent burst, 4.5 speed and great hands as a receiver out of the backfield. He isn't much smaller than Green-Ellis, but he runs with strength and can break arm tackles.

    Green-Ellis will definitely see plenty of carries, but as the season wears on, Bernard will take on a bigger role while Green-Ellis ends up as a role player and not much more.

    Why I Might Be Wrong

    Simply put, rookies struggle. While Bernard had a fantastic final year in college, there's no guarantee that he'll end up with the starting job. He won't add much mass, and there is only so much pounding he is likely to be able to take.

    Green-Ellis, for all his flaws, can play tough and play through pain. He has been through the rigors of an NFL season and knows how to manage his body so he can play every game.

    Further, he had a year to become a trusted option for the Bengals offense and works well with the young group of players they have.

    Bernard isn't going to be handed anything, and Green-Ellis is likely to come into camp with a large chip on his shoulder—often a sign of a big season to come.

    Andrew Garda is the former NFC North Lead Writer and a current NFL analyst and video personality for Bleacher Report. He is also a member of the fantasy football staff at Footballguys and the NFL writer at CheeseheadTV.com. You can follow him at @andrew_garda on Twitter.