We all know who the top rookies were last season; Adrian Peterson, Patrick Willis, Joe Thomas, etc… But what about the guys who played in every game but were situational players; guys who were highly touted prospects, but didn't get a chance to play because of an injury; and the guys who flashed talent during their rookie campaign and emerged as promising prospects late in the year?
I chose seven second-year players - one from each round (1 – 7) - and observed their situation, put that up against their performance last year and determined the sophomores ready to emerge as potential superstars.
You may have heard of the guys I have listed, but they're not on your radar like Peterson, Willis and Thomas are; these guys are looking to the next step…
Robert Meachem, WR, New Orleans Saints
1st Round, 27th overall
After being inactive for the entire 2007 season, due to a knee injury which required arthroscopic surgery, Meachem enters his second season with the Saints and will be given every opportunity to be the second WR alongside Marques Colston. The Saints resigned Devery Henderson and David Patten this off-season and also have Lance Moore, who will compete for playing time. But, Meachem is a highly touted prospect, who has tremendous quickness, vertical speed and playmaking ability.
Meachem is the perfect compliment to Colston, who's a physical, sure-handed intermediate route-runner, and the tandem has the potential to be explosive with Drew Brees delivering them the ball.
2nd Round, 41st overall
The trade of DeAngelo Hall allows Houston to step into the spotlight and become an elite cornerback in the league. Houston has the potential to be a "lockdown" corner, and although he's not the tallest CB, he's a physical, speedy defender who can muscle-up receivers at the line of scrimmage and blanket them in coverage.
Last season, Houston played in all 16 games, starting 11, and performed extremely well for a player the opposition was trying to exploit. He showed his physical prowess and amassed 58 tackles (57 solo), but didn't record an interception and didn't show the true ball skills he possesses. With Houston being the Falcons No. 1 corner this season, he will see more action on the outside and more opportunities to emerge as a rising star.
3rd Round, 87th overall
A standout performer at strong side linebacker for Nebraska, Bradley was selected by the Eagles to provide depth and versatility to the linebacking core. Bradley flashed his potential in mini-camp and training camp last season and was a standout on special teams during the season. It became evident that Bradley had the skills and ability to play inside, which would provide the Eagles with more flexibility.
With Takeo Spikes no longer in Philadelphia, it allows for Bradley to become the starting middle linebacker and last year's starter at MLB, Omar Gaither, to move to his natural weak side position. The Eagles have high expectations for Bradley this season, and judging from his first career start last season against the Saints - where he recorded six tackles, a sack and an interception – there's no reason to believe Bradley won't live up to the hype.
4th Round, 102nd overall
There were two major instances this off-season that will dramatically help the progression of Robison; the acquisition of Jared Allen and the trade of former first round bust Erasmus James. Robison has a lot in common with Allen, in the respect that they were fourth round selections and they're undersized DEs with great speed and pass rushing ability.
Robison played in all 16 games, starting five, and displayed flashes of becoming a tremendous pass rusher. In the first game of the season last year against Atlanta, Robison made a great first impression and recorded two sacks. He finished the year with 4.5 sacks, primarily as a situational player, and battled a few nagging injuries along the way. With Allen on one side and Robison rotating in with Ray Edwards, look for Robison to amass double-digit sacks this year.
5th Round, 153rd overall
The ascension of Boss was the main reason why the Giants were rumored to be close to trading incumbent starting TE Jeremy Shockey before the draft. But Boss took advantage of his opportunity when Shockey went down with a broken leg during the Giants Week 15 matchup against the Redskins. Boss displayed his potential in the Giants regular season finale against the New England Patriots, finishing with four catches for 50 yards and a touchdown; showing the potential to be a playmaker.
Shockey's hard-nosed, physical style of play has led to numerous injuries, and his future with the Giants is uncertain. But the potential of Boss is evident and if he has a solid training camp and continues to progress during the preseason, don't be surprised to see Boss challenge Shockey for the starting job this year.
6th Round, 179th overall
The Redskins have to be worried about their starting linebackers; Rocky McIntosh is coming off of a major knee injury, Marcus Washington is showing signs of slowing down, as his production has dropped since he's been with the Redskins, and London Fletcher, even though he had a great year last year with 129 tackles, is 33 years old and isn't getting any younger. These concerns present an opportunity for Blades to impress new Head Coach Jim Zorn and push Fletcher or Washington for a starting job.
Blades played in all 16 games last season and was a key contributor on special teams. He finished his rookie season with 21 total tackles (16 solo) and if he's granted the opportunity to start this season, this tackling machine will produce heavily.
7th Round, 253rd overall
Losing Madieu Williams in free agency is a major loss, and duplicating his production will be hard to do. But Ndukwe displayed a lot of promise last season, and in a situational role he produced 45 tackles, two sacks, three interceptions, and a fumble recovery for a touchdown. Ndukwe played in all 16 games, starting two last season at SS when Dexter Jackson went down with an injury. But his playmaking ability and instincts bode well for a switch to FS, just like he played at Notre Dame.Ndukwe is a versatile athlete who provides the Bengals with a lot of options, and his talent is obvious enough for him to be considered a starter. If Ndukwe is a full-time starter this season, at either safety position, he will represent the Bengals in Hawaii.
A member of the Pro Football Writers of America and the Football Writers Association of America, Chris Steuber has provided his analysis of the NFL and NFL Draft prospects on the web and on the radio since 1999.