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No longer rookies, some second-year players must emerge

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Kevin Terrell / Associated Press
Even without a full season, 49ers WR Michael Crabtree had a solid rookie year. Expectations will be high in 2010.


This time last year, Aaron Maybin was out to prove he could play outside linebacker and/or defensive end. Chase Coffman was set to show he was more than just a receiving tight end. And Everette Brown was a first-round worthy pass rusher.

Each was drafted but not one stood out as a rookie.

With their teams in draft preparation mode, several players who showed so much promise coming out of college in 2009 now must hope they invoked enough trust in their teams that they don't draft players to compete with them. They must hope that their teams realize they could be counted on a lot more in 2010. The second year is when most players are expected to show whether they're ready to be major contributors.

Kirwan: Fringe first-rounders
While Steve Wyche examines some of the second-year players on the hot seat, Pat Kirwan takes a look at those college players that could be drafted as their competition. More ...

With that in mind, let's look at some players and how/if their projected impact will affect their teams' drafts or approaches free agency.

CB Chris Owens (Atlanta, third round): Owens ended last season as the starter, and the Falcons hope he can make a similar jump as Saints cornerback Tracy Porter. The Falcons still will likely use their first rounder on a corner to pair with Owens. The potential youth on both secondary edges makes Owens' development that much more important.

DE Lawrence Sidbury (Atlanta, fourth round): Sidbury didn't show much as a rookie (five tackles, one sack). The Falcons need a defensive end and could draft one high if they don't think Sidbury can hold things down.

OLB Aaron Maybin (Buffalo, first round): The switch to a 3-4 defense seems perfect for Maybin, who was undersized to be an every down DE. Any scheme change brings about personnel shuffling and question marks. Maybin could have competition, although he will get first dibs and every benefit of the doubt since he was the ninth overall pick last year.

WR Michael Crabtree (San Francisco, first round): He missed five games before joining the team after his holdout, but when he did we saw why he was so special coming out of Texas Tech. Expectations are going to be high, even though the 49ers' quarterback situation remains far from ideal.

OT Andre Smith (Cincinnati, first round): The combine is where things started to unravel for Smith. After a contract dispute and a broken foot, he played some, but his return on the investment has hardly borne much. He just had foot surgery, and his much-needed conditioning process will be stalled again. The Bengals have depth at RT, so they probably won't add another. But Smith has to make progress in a big way.

TE Chase Coffman (Cincinnati, third round): The most prolific receiving tight end in college, Coffman was inactive for 12 weeks before being placed on IR with bone spurs in his anke. Too bad, because the Bengals could have sorely used him in the passing game. Cincy needs a tight end and likely will draft one. It's up to Coffman, who has Dallas Clark-like ability, to become better-rounded and prove himself as an asset.

DE Connor Barwin (Houston, second round): Barwin came on toward the end of the season and for a guy still trying to figure things out, getting 4.5 sacks this season was promising. If he can make the next step and be a reliable threat in the Texans' three-man, defensive end rotation, Houston could be much better.

MLB Jasper Brinkley (Minnesota, fifth round): Brinkley is a prototypical, old-school middle linebacker who was forced into action when E.J. Henderson suffered a devastating broken leg against Arizona late in the season. Henderson's return is in question and Brinkley has big shoes to fill. He is capable but Minnesota could draft an MLB as insurance.

WR Brian Robiskie (Cleveland, second round): Robiskie was supposed to be one of the most pro-ready receivers in last year's draft. He barely played, nabbing just seven passes. Robiskie, one of two WRs chosen by Cleveland in the second round last season, could have a role but he must somehow get Coach Eric Mangini's attention. Cleveland could pursue a wide receiver in the draft or free agency.

TE Jared Cook (Tennessee, third round): Cook was all the buzz before the Titans put on pads. They were really hoping that he would emerge but he stalled. Tennessee has some decisions to make with their three-deep tight end situation. Their faith, or lack thereof, in Cook could determine whether they keep him, Bo Scaife and Alge Crumpler, downsize or re-arrange.

WR Darrius Heyward-Bey (Oakland, first round): It wasn't Heyward-Bey's fault he was chosen seventh overall and was ridiculed for being overdrafted. It was his fault for not getting up to, pardon the pun, speed. No one knows what the Raiders will do in the draft but they could select a wide receiver at some point. If Heyward-Bey doesn't step things up, he'll be another in the line of high Oakland draft picks that didn't work.

WR Ramses Barden (Giants, third round): A tall, strong specimen, Barden was supposed to be the big target that replaced Plaxico Burress. Barden couldn't work his way into the rotation. Things will be expected of him this season and he could be cleared out to make room for someone else if he doesn't make a surge like Mario Manningham did last season.

OLB Brad Jones (Green Bay seventh round): One of the biggest surprises in the NFL last season. Jones took over when Aaron Kampman went down with a knee injury and was a far more natural fit at the 3-4 outside linebacker position. Kampman is an unrestricted free agent who could be let go, putting more pressure on Jones to improve. The Pack likely will add another OLB as insurance.

Everette Brown (Carolina, second round): Brown was projected as a first-round pick but dropped into the second. With Julius Peppers bound for free agency, Brown, who managed just 2.5 sacks as a rookie, will be asked to produce in a big way. Carolina figures to draft or sign a defensive end in free agency or through the draft since Brown is more of a pass-rush specialist than he is a full-time end like Peppers.

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