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Posted June 2, 2010

Six Sophomores Who Need to Step Up

Rookies are rookies - they make mistakes and they grow. However, some sophomores have more to prove than others and some teams really need their 2009 first-round picks to step up. Here are six 2009 rookies whom I feel like have very critical seasons in 2010:

Matthew Stafford: Stafford was the No. 1 overall player on my 2009 Big Board, and he needs to prove to us that he is a franchise quarterback next season. Granted, he should be cut some slack because his offensive line is below average, but with offensive additions Jahvid Best, Tony Scheffler and Nate Burleson, Stafford needs to take this team to the next level. No, I don't expect the him to lead the Lions to the playoffs, but I wanted to see a far more competitive Detroit team next season, and I'd like to see seven or more wins. Stafford needs to show us better decision making and field vision in 2010.

Jason Smith: Not too many people were critical when the Rams selected Smith No. 2 overall last year, but it sure looks like a questionable pick now, which is why Smith has to step up next season. Smith didn't see the field very much last year as a rookie when you consider the expectations for such a high draft pick. Smith didn't play in a three-point stance at Baylor in college, and you just have to question why he was the first tackle chosen when he was so raw. If Smith can notch in a solid sophomore season, then we will forget all about his troubles as a rookie. If he struggles next year, then the Rams have a serious problem on their hands.

Andre Smith: I have made tons of mistakes over the past couple of season (as everyone has), but if Smith turns out to be a colossal bust, then all I can say is you shouldn't be shocked. Smith checked it in at No. 63 overall on my 2009 Big Board, yet still managed to go in the top 10. You just really have to question why so many teams (not just the Bengals - but they pulled the trigger) would take a player with pathetic intangibles so highly. Smith was the JaMarcus Russell of the 2009 Combine, and if he can't get in shape and show more willingness to improve as a player then he will struggle to crack Cincinnati's starting lineup next season.

We also shouldn't be shocked if the Bengals eventually move Smith full-time to left guard. I feel like this is a make-or-break year for Smith. If he shows no improvement, then like Russell, the writing is one the wall and he just doesn't care about being a productive player in the NFL.

Aaron Maybin: No defensive player was probably benefited more by a scheme change than Maybin as the Bills move from the 4-3 to the 3-4 defense next season. His lack of size and strength will be masked in the scheme and he needs to show the great pass-rush skills that he displayed at Penn State back in 2008. The Bills need all the help they can get on defense because their offense will struggle to score next season.

Peria Jerry: I am not going to completely bash the Falcons for taking Jerry last year, but they should be criticized somewhat when you consider Jerry's injury history at Mississippi. Jerry is a good player, but he needs to prove next season that he can stay healthy. If he still has durability problems, then Atlanta has to find a way to move on at the nose tackle position.

Chris Wells: We're going to find out just how good Wells is next year unless Derek Anderson (Matt Leinart sucks - this is going to eventually be Anderson's job... OK, Anderson sucks too, but at least he has some arm strength) has an unexpectedly great season. Wells needs to show us better ball security and that he is a top back in Arizona's offense next year as the pressure is on him. This is going to be a run-based offense with Kurt Warner gone, and Arizona's season might be riding on the shoulders of their highly talented running back.

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