Three To Watch: Veterans

The 2007 marked the year that Reggie Wayne emerged from Marvin Harrison's shadow and made the Pro Bowl. Who will break out in 2008, and who will see a decline in production? Brad Keller prognosticates inside.

Veteran Who Will Make it to His First Pro Bowl:

Although Anthony Gonzalez will likely make the most progress between last season and this season, his path to success was covered when sophomores were discussed.

And, really, with the number of high-profile AFC players at the position, it seems very unlikely that Gonzalez will make that big of a leap between his first and second seasons.

Joseph Addai, Marvin Harrison, Jeff Saturday, Peyton Manning, Reggie Wayne, Dwight Freeney, Robert Mathis, Bob Sanders, and Antoine Bethea have all made the trip to Hawaii, either as a starter or an alternate, so their names are out of contention.

The defense is set up so that Marlin Jackson and Kelvin Hayden do not grab the headlines or the big plays, or to make household names out of the linebackers.  Aside from the fact that Freddy Keiaho, Tyjuan Hagler, and Gary Brackett do not have the flow of the ball funneled towards them, they are also good, but not great players that will most likely make the plays they can make and leave the spectacular, highlight reel plays to Sanders and Bethea.

Dallas Clark could be in line to make his first Pro Bowl in 2008
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Dallas Clark is the player that will see enough of a boost in his production to end up on the Pro Bowl roster in February 2009.

He will not be the starting tight end, as that honor will most likely go to Antonio Gates, but Tony Gonzalez should see a sharp decline in production in what should be a limited Chiefs offense and Kellen Winslow may end up hurt or have talked his way out of Cleveland by the end of the season.

That leaves Clark in a very enviable position atop the next tier of elite tight ends.

With defenses focused on taking away the two deep routes in the two-two deep patterns — discussed in the sophomore article as well — Clark will see his opportunities, catches, looks in the red zone, and touchdown production all improve in 2008.

In addition, without a proven replacement on the bench, this might be the season that Clark really shines as the most productive player at his position on a great offensive team.  This worked in Reggie Wayne's favor last season, earning him a Pro Bowl nod in 2007.

Veteran Who Will Bounce Back:

Stars returning from injury, such as Marvin Harrison and Dwight Freeney, are left off this list.

Ryan Diem actually didn't have a bad season in 2007, though many have called for his release, it's simply that he was banged up and wasn't that much better than Charlie Johnson.

Manning had one of the better seasons of his storied career last season, as detailed in this story, so he doesn't qualify, either.

Everyone else on the team either had seasons on par with their career averages, or posted career-best seasons.

Everyone, that is, except Adam Vinatieri.

Though he converted nearly 80 percent of his attempts, Vinatieri was not his usual reliable self in the wind-free confines of the RCA Dome.  Usually known for his icy veins and clutch kicks, Vinatieri missed a game-winning 23-yard field goal against San Diego in Week 10 and went the entire regular season without attempting a field goal longer than 40 yards.

While that speaks to the offense's tremendous ability to move the chains from midfield to the red zone, the Colts also attempted a number of fourth-down conversions over the course of the season in lieu of going for three.

No historical data on Vintieri indicates that he is on the decline and there is no data to suggest that kickers in general start to fade at a certain age.  Simply put, he had a bad season and has had the entire offseason to put it behind him psychologically and move on.

He should return to his flawless dominance at home, now at Lucas Oil Stadium, and the first 50-yard kick he converts will put the demons of 2007 behind him.

With players at his position, it's always about the next kick.  For Vinatieri, that next opportunity cannot come fast enough.

Veteran Who Will Take a Step Back:

With more weapons at the offense's disposal, Wayne will see a decline in his production.  There is always the possibility that Manning cannot keep his Hall of Fame pace up forever.  Saturday, it has been said, will take a step back, but nothing too pronounced.

Sharing carries could lead to a decline in Joseph Addai's numbers
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The defense as a whole may see a diminished ranking, considering that they ranked first overall in points allowed last season, but individual players will not see too much of a dropoff.

It is very unlikely that Sanders will be chosen as the Defensive Player of the Year again, but it is just as unlikely that he will experience a big decline in production.

Joseph Addai, with more of a focus on the passing game in 2008 and a three-headed monster in the backfield of Addai, Dominic Rhodes, and Kenton Keith splitting fewer carries than in 2006 and 2007, the third-year tailback should be more productive with the opportunities that he receives, but he will not receive nearly as many of them as he has in the past.

He will probably have a higher yards per carry average, his average of touchdowns to carries and receptions will surely rise. But, with a sharp decline in overall touches, his overall numbers will decline.

Though he may gain 1,000 yards from scrimmage and he may score 10 touchdowns this season, his individual stats this season will be a disappointment to him ... and fantasy football owners across the country.

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