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Posted June 27, 2009
We live in a society in which we demand instant results. I think our projections are often viewed in the short term as opposed to the long term. If you did well as a rookie, then you should do even better as a second-year player. However, if you didn't do much as a rookie, you aren't expected to do anything as a second-year player, but this isn't the case. Here is a list of players who didn't have a high level of production as rookies, but will make a surprising impact next season for their teams.
Chris Long, DE, St. Louis: It takes a while for ends to transition to the NFL. We saw it with Mario Williams and Osi Umenyiora in their second seasons. Granted, players such as Erasmus James, Kenechi Udeze, Andre Carter, and Jamaal Anderson simply did nothing as a second-year players, but Chris Long has those elite intangibles. He has a great work ethic, and the addition of James Laurinaitis, and moving Will Witherspoon to the weakside will give Long more time to rush the passer. Expect seven or more sacks - which is very good for a 4-3 defensive end - out of Howie Jr. next season.
Sedrick Ellis, DT, New Orleans: Ellis was the No. 3 player on my 2008 Big Board, and I think he will simply dominate for the Saints next year. They are finally moving him to 3-technique where he will flourish with his high level of athleticism and lateral quickness. I think Ellis' production makes this entire defense better and people will be surprised at how good the Saints will be next season on defense.
Ray Rice, RB, Baltimore: I was a big fan of Rice coming out of Rutgers, and it looks as if Baltimore plans on making him the featured back, as they should. They lost Jason Brown, but they get a smarter and highly technical player in Matt Birk to replace him. Michael Oher is a tremendous upgrade at right tackle. Rice can turn the corner and gain big yardage, but is still capable to pick up the three- and four-yard runs. Baltimore drafted him in the second round for a reason. Next season, you will find out why.
Jamaal Charles, RB, Kansas City: Like Rice, I feel Charles can definitely find a niche in the NFL at running back. Charles is more of a game-breaking back than Rice, but I expect him to get a higher number of carries next season for Kansas City. The Chiefs' potentially anemic passing game might hurt Charles' potential.
Jeremy Zuttah, G, Tampa: Tampa drafted Zuttah out of Rutgers to be a backup offensive linemen. When Davin Joseph went down last season, he started quite a bit early in the year. Arron Sears is mysteriously not in Tampa for OTAs, and Zuttah is slated to start at left guard. He will thrive in Jeff Jagodzinski's zone-blocking scheme with his athleticism and compact build.
Steve Johnson, WR, Buffalo: This was my guy. I didn't care that he went in the seventh round, I still had a second-round grade on him. Buffalo stole him, and like I predicted, he beat out James Hardy and received more playing time. If Buffalo's coaching staff isn't a bunch of complete morons, they'll start Johnson in the slot. He is a playmaker. He makes things happen. He is a gamebreaker. I have been on him for a very long time, and there have been reports that he has had a fantastic offseason, but I have said he will break out even before those reports.