Right now, in football camps across this great land, thousands of young, dedicated, hard-working men are embroiled in position battles running five deep or more. Many will have their dreams shattered and hearts broken. For some, this will be the end of a relatively long, successful line; for others, the dream will die tragically, within sight of the prize, without ever having reached it. You have to understand this fact to understand what the NFL is: one of the most competitive environments on planet earth. Seriously, think about what your job would be like if (1) you knew you needed to make every dime you would need for a very long time before you were in your mid-30’s and (2) there was an immense statistical likelihood that you would not. Anyone who tells you that the NFL is “just a game” is just wrong.
By and large, these guys are special. They understand things about commitment and work that many of us, based on my observation, do not at such an early age. I submit that football has everything to do with that. Nobody is in the NFL who hasn’t dreamed of putting on a uniform on Sundays since they were little boys, and who hasn’t worked like heck to get there. And, just as many will be turned away, every year there is at least one player on every team who becomes an invaluable piece of the core, if not a star. These are not necessarily rookies, but guys who may not have yet landed on your mental player rolodex. Some of these guys are breakout candidates, and some are just solid pieces to a puzzle. But if you watch enough NFL football, you know that to win, you’d better have enough of both. Here’s to the new guy!!
ARIZONA CARDINALS: Daryl Washington, LB. If you have to replace Karlos Dansby, this is a good place to start.
ATLANTA FALCONS: Brent Grimes, CB. Scrappy playmaker who is getting rave reviews in camp. Liked him from day 1. Love it when they prove me right.
BALTIMORE RAVENS: Ed Dickson & Dennis Pitta, TE’s: These two rookies can both play, right now. I particularly like Dickson’s skill set, but Pitta is more polished as a receiver. Bottom line, Ozzie Newsome is one of the 3 best football talent evaluators in the league. You think he’s missing on a tight end?
Dude is gutsy.
BUFFALO BILLS: Andy Levitre, G & Eric Wood, C. A year under the belt should make a big difference.
CAROLINA PANTHERS: Matt Moore, QB. He’s not going to just roll over and give Jimmy Clausen the job. The guy’s got moxxy, and he can sling it. He stabilized the offense in 2009. Another guy to watch is rookie WR Brandon LaFell.
CHICAGO BEARS: Devin Aromashodu, WR. He just looks like a football player to me. Cutler hit him a lot down the stretch.
CINCINNATI BENGALS: Brandon Ghee, CB. An underrated 3rd round draft pick who is another good player in one of the league’s top secondaries.
CLEVELAND BROWNS: Matt Roth, DE/OLB. The Manguin grabbed the former 2nd round pick off waivers mid-season from Miami, and he was the Browns’ best defensive player from that moment forward. He appears to be precisely what Mangini wanted at the position. I’m buying it. Double-digit sacks or my name is Stanley.
DALLAS COWBOYS: Dez Bryant, WR. You’re either in or out. I’m in.
DENVER BRONCOS: Steve Antonopulos, Head Athletic Trainer. Apparently he’s going to be needed with the frequency.
DETROIT LIONS: Jahvid Best, RB. As you know, I’m driving the bandwagon.
GREEN BAY PACKERS: Brian Bulaga, T. Their O-line was already getting better with some adjustments late last year, and Bulaga will push that process along.
HOUSTON TEXANS: Jacoby Jones, WR. Time for the long-time fantasy sleeper to grow up.
INDIANAPOLIS COLTS: Jerry Hughes, DE. Another in the Freeney-Mathis “holy crap, that guy’s quick to the quarterback” mold. The talented rookie spells the starters and helps keep them fresh late.
JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS: Tyson Alualu, DE. At least, he better be, after they surprised the whole league by taking the former Bear 10th overall. He’ll obviously get every opportunity to prove he belongs.
KANSAS CITY CHIEFS: Tamba Hali, OLB. Chiefs fans know this already, but a lot of NFL fans don’t. Got close to so many sacks last year I stopped counting. Maturation along the 3-4 front will benefit him noticeably.
Sean Smith is smoooooth.
MIAMI DOLPHINS: Sean Smith, CB. Almost too good last year to put him here this year. This guy is all kinds of tough. A big, physical, modern-day prototype at the position.
MINNESOTA VIKINGS: Toby Gerhart, RB. Obviously, Adrian Peterson is The Man. They won’t need the Stanford baller much, but he’ll make plays when they do.
NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS: Brandon Spikes, LB & Brandon Tate, WR. Spikes is the perfect hammer for a Hoodified 3-4, and Tate is an under-the-radar guy with definite pro skills.
NEW YORK GIANTS: Ramses Barden, WR. He’s not going to be a 100-catch guy or anything, but he presents a nightmare in the red zone when teamed with the Giants’ other passing weapons, which are significant. As I’ve been saying, I know they want to get back to the power run game but I’m convinced they’ll discovery their best bet is to let Eli take the reigns.
NEW YORK JETS: Vladimir Ducasse, G & Kyle Wilson, CB. Wilson is one of the steals of the 2010 draft. I’m including Ducasse because, well…you know that old saying about how nobody notices an offensive lineman until something goes wrong? Well, given that he’s replacing a multi-Pro Bowler in Alan Faneca, and that the other 4 pieces of that line are intact, people are going to notice extra in his case.
NEW ORLEANS SAINTS: Malcolm Jenkins, S. Moving from corner to what I believe is his more natural position in the NFL, safety. He and Sharper are a nice playmaking duo back there for the returning champs.
OAKLAND RAIDERS: Offensive Skill Players. I had so many candidates here I just decided to mention it again- I think this team is a lot better on the whole than their quarterback play has allowed them to look. They need to stay healthy, but Chaz Schillens, Louis Murphy, Zach Miller, Darius Heyward-Bey, rookie WR Jacoby Ford, Darren McFadden and my main man Michael “Big” Bush represent an armada of talent.
PHILADELPHIA EAGLES: Brandon Graham, DE. Apparently this isn’t obvious to some people. I know. Surprised me too. It won’t last. He’s a household name by November.
PITTSBURGH STEELERS: Maurkice Pouncey, C. I came very close to putting Dennis Dixon’s name here (more on that later), which is my way of saying you should remember later that I wanted to put Dennis Dixon’s name here but chickened out and went for the obvious call. Pouncey is the mauler they desperately needed at the pivot to return to the Steeler way. The AFC North has apparently noticed everyone decent in the conference has monster nose guys.
ST. LOUIS RAMS: Sam Bradford, QB. For better or for worse, and probably a little of both as a rookie. But I think he’ll be fine if they can keep him protected. Personally, I’d be going Herschel Walker right now with Steven Jackson if I were the Rams, but I can also see where they could have talked themselves into believing they can compete immediately. Bradford’s intriguing.
SAN DIEGO CHARGERS: Ryan Mathews, RB. This is Donald Butler’s spot, but Norv has already told us this is coming.
SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS: Mike Iupati & Charles Davis, OL. I love Mike Singletary. He drafted these two monsters to fix the line with one shot, and he’s wearing it, having just announced that both will start. It’s a great call. Alex Smith will thank him.
SEATTLE SEAHAWKS: Pete Carroll, Head Coach. Does it translate this time? Pete better hope so, because the NCAA will want to have a word with him when and if he tries to return the college game.
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS: Brian Price, DT. Everyone knows about Gerald McCoy. But Brian Price has similar or better natural gifts, and when he’s going right is potentially more dominant. I’m hoping the #3 overall pick will rub off on my fellow Bruin and drive him to be the player he can be: an elite one.
Shop wrecker extraordinaire, Brian Price.
TENNESSEE TITANS: Jared Cook, TE. He never seemed to get into a rhythm as a rookie, but he’s got a ton of talent. I hesitate to admit that I liked damn near everything I saw from Vince Young in ’09, and the ‘Dinger likes to use his tight ends in the pass game. And you’ve seen their wideouts, right?
WASHINGTON REDSKINS: Fred Davis, TE. Maybe he is already too obvious to be on the list, and the ‘Skins certainly hope the real answer turns out to be one of the young, gifted wideouts. But Davis is as good as a WR at some things, and Ol’ Whatshisname will figure out a way to get him the ball.