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Signs point to players like Charles, Henne having breakout seasons

  • By Pat Kirwan NFL.com
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You don't have to be a first-round pick to become a star in this league. Rosters are filled with players who have earned accolades after initially being overlooked.

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A year ago, no one thought of Dallas Cowboys receiver Miles Austin as a Pro Bowler, but he broke out with 81 receptions and 11 touchdowns after having just 18 career catches during his first three seasons.

Much the same can be said for Minnesota Vikings WR Sidney Rice. Despite being the seventh wideout drafted in 2007, behind guys like Ted Ginn Jr. and Craig Davis, Rice continued to develop and got a Pro Bowl nod behind 83 catches, 1,312 yards and eight touchdowns last season.

The examples go beyond receivers. Carolina Panthers center Ryan Kalil was the eighth offensive lineman selected in 2007, but became a Pro Bowler in his third year.

There are several players that look ready to take a similar step and emerge in 2010. None of them were first-round picks or have been to a Pro Bowl.

The 20 players in position to make a jump are listed in alphabetical order:

1. Kroy Biermann, Atlanta Falcons, DE: The 2008 fifth-round pick from Montana had five sacks a year ago and is capable of a 10-sack campaign with his nonstop motor. Is he headed for a career path like Kyle Vanden Bosch? Oh by the way, he can kickoff when need be.

2. Calais Campbell, Arizona Cardinals, DE:  He is a rare athlete and a guy that went from zero sacks to seven last season, four of which were half sacks. He also had five passes defensed at 6-foot-8. In talking with him about this article, he's so humble and focused on being great that he might be my lock to make it.

3. Jamaal Charles, Kansas City Chiefs, RB: Is he the next Chris Johnson? He went from 629 total yards rushing and receiving to 1,417 from his first to second season. As the offense matures, he could hit 2,000 yards from scrimmage.

4. Austin Collie, Indianapolis Colts, WR: The 2009 fourth-round pick has become a trusted target for Peyton Manning and rarely leaves his quarterback when the offense is on the sideline. He caught 60 passes for seven touchdowns as a rookie.

5. Fred Davis, Washington Redskins, TE: Coach Mike Shanahan likes to build a significant role for the tight end (Shannon Sharpe). Donovan McNabb likes to throw to the tight end. And Davis had a 45-reception improvement between 2008 and 2009 to go with six scores.

6. Thomas DeCoud, Atlanta Falcons, S: Had a conversation with DeCoud this week and this cool, calm athlete is ready for the big time. In 2009, his first season as a starter, he had 68 tackles, seven passes defensed, three interceptions and two forced fumbles. Still, he feels he has plenty of work to do.

7. Early Doucet, Arizona Cardinals, WR: Part of the reason the Cardinals felt they could trade Anquan Boldin was Doucet's development. His numbers are still low but he will make a big jump in production.

8. Jermichael Finley, Green Bay Packers, TE: A very talented tight end who still has to iron out maturity issues. He went from six receptions in 2008 to 55 a year ago. The sky is the limit for this guy, and with Aaron Rodgers throwing him the ball, he could jump to the 80 range.

9. Shonn Greene, New York Jets, RB: The Jets let Thomas Jones go and traded away Leon Washington. LaDainian Tomlinson came on board, but Green is going to be the "bell cow" for a team that ran more than any other in the NFL a year ago. He averaged 5.0 yards a carry as a rookie but did fumble three times in 108 carries.

10. Chad Henne, Miami Dolphins, QB: Now the clear-cut starter, Henne has Brandon Marshall running routes. He threw for 2,878 yards and 12 touchdowns in his first full season as a starter and could reach 3,500 yards and 20 touchdowns this year.

11. Tyrell Johnson, Minnesota Vikings, S: A 2008 second-round pick out of Arkansas State, he's still learning the pro game. He's an excellent athlete and plays on a defense that opposing teams don't even try to run on some weeks. That's a lot of pressure on the safeties to defend the pass. He had 57 tackles and seven passes defensed a season ago.

12. Terrance Knighton, Jacksonville Jaguars, DT: I was impressed with the 2009 third-round pick at camp last summer and he didn't disappoint as a rookie. He started 16 games and finished with 45 tackles and 1.5 sacks. After an offseason in the weight room, this 325-pound nose tackle will be a force inside.

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13. Kevin Kolb, Philadelphia Eagles, QB: It says a lot when a team trades a franchise quarterback to a division rival and hands the offense to someone who wasn't a first-round pick and has just two career starts. Coach Andy Reid likes to throw the ball, so look for Kolb to be up around 500 pass attempts. Both of his starts resulted in 300-yard passing games. While he won't keep up that pace, the numbers could add up with that many attempts.

14. Kendall Langford, Miami Dolphins, DE: Production for 3-4 ends can't always be measured in stats. Kendall started 13 games a year ago and had 45 tackles to go with 2.5 sacks. He has the talent to dominate the line of scrimmage.

15. James Laurinaitis, St. Louis Rams, LB: As a second-round pick last year, he put up 120 tackles, five passes defended, two interceptions, two sacks and a forced fumble. He might get overlooked as the Rams struggle, but he could easily have 150 tackles this season.

16. DeAndre Levy, Detroit Lions, LB: Another guy who will go unnoticed on a team without high expectations. The third-round pick from 2009 finished up with 85 tackles in 10 starts. In talking with coach Jim Schwartz several times about this young man, Levy's headed for big things this year, especially with a better defensive line in front of him.

17. Curtis Lofton, Atlanta Falcons, LB: Curtis has probably been overlooked a bit. He had 94 tackles as a rookie and came back last season with 133. Ask anyone who follows the Falcons and they will tell you he's already a star.

18. Jerraud Powers, Indianapolis Colts, CB: The Colts have had to deal with injuries and players leaving in the secondary as the majority of their competition has to play from behind against them. That puts a lot of pressure on the corners and Powers came thru as a rookie with 66 tackles, 10 passes defensed and a pick. Not bad for a third-round selection.

19. Sebastian Vollmer, New England Patriots, OT: I first met Vollmer when he played in the NFL world junior championships as a member of the German team. He was just a big kid then, trying to learn an American game. He has come a long way in a short time, starting eight games as a rookie last seaosn and protecting Tom Brady's blindside. He could be on the verge of a Michael Roos-type career.

20. Mike Wallace, Pittsburgh Steelers, WR: Santonio Holmes is gone and Wallace is the answer. With an aging Hines Ward and an injured Limas Sweed, the time is right for Wallace to explode. He had 39 receptions for 756 yards and six touchdowns in his first season and might venture into the 75-reception range in 2010.

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