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These guys could become household names by year's end

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Donna McWilliam / Associated Press
Fred Davis, Devin Aromashodu and Mike Wallace are primed to become stars by the end of the year.


One of the joys of the NFL season comes from watching new stars emerge.

Last year alone we saw players like Miles Austin and Sydney Rice rise from obscurity to football stardom. It's a process that's often unpredictable, yet also inevitable, and it can be a vital factor in helping franchises rise among the league's elite.

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With that in mind let's take a look at some young veterans who could be ready to do great things in 2010. Some of them are already familiar to casual fans, but now are poised to make a huge leap. Some peaked a little soon, watched their performance dip, but should be ready to re-emerge. And others have a profile every bit as tiny as Austin's before he started becoming Tony Romo's new favorite target.

I'm not saying all of these guys will have massive seasons the way Austin and Rice did a year ago, but I wouldn't rule out them making as big of an impression, and several of them breaking through to be more household names.

Fred Davis, TE, Redskins

In his first two years , Davis has been overshadowed by Chris Cooley and needed some time to mature both mentally and physically, but he has all the tools to dominate. Defensive backs who have gone against him in practice have raved about the demon of a playmaker trapped inside this manchild. The discipline of the Mike Shanahan regime should bring out the best in this 2008 second-round pick. He began to understand the focus and dedication necessary to perform at a high level last season, and I expect that trend to continue. With few great options at wide receiver, the Redskins will run a lot of two-tight end sets, and Davis has the size and strength to overpower corners or safeties in the slot. He may be the only pick from Washington's ill-conceived 2008 draft to pan out, but his upside is significant enough to make up for some of those other whiffs.

Kevin Kolb, QB, Eagles

By now we all know who he is, but many still doubt how well he can play. In a few weeks I doubt such questions will linger. Yes, he's made just two NFL starts, but he's surrounded by a sterling cast, has had three years to perfect Andy Reid's system. I expect him to be an absolute star by season's end. The young leader of a young team will thrive as well, replacing Donovan McNabb as Aaron Rodgers did getting out of Brett Favre's shadow. He has better accuracy than McNabb on the short-to-mid-range stuff and should be a perfect fit in this system.

Haloti Ngata, DT, Ravens

He is the next young Raven in line for a massive new contract, and everyone in Baltimore's organization knows it. Already perhaps the best run stopper in the game, his supreme athleticism and a healthier/deeper cast around him should lead to bigger sack numbers this season. If he stays healthy, I could see a monster All-Pro season ahead. He has the agility, leaping ability and hands to be a turnover machine, too. Some would already consider him one of the best defensive tackles in the game, but his low-key personality, coupled with the larger-than-life personas of Ray Lewis and Terrell Suggs obfuscates just what an impact player Ngata is for Baltimore. He makes it all work for one of the premier defenses in the NFL.

Mike Wallace, WR, Steelers

Wallace is explosive. Even last year on a veteran-laden Pittsburgh receiving corps he ranked in the top 10 in the NFL with 11 catches of 25 yards or more and averaged 19.4 yards on his 39 receptions. He is poised to expound on that with Hines Ward possibly playing his last year in Pittsburgh and Santonio Holmes now gone. Wallace is evolving into a top deep threat option, and could be a franchise cornerstone.

Sean Smith, CB, Dolphins

He had moments of brilliance as a rookie in 2009 and was asked to play right away at a difficult position. Smith should take major steps in 2010 and be more consistent. Another guy with a freak-of-nature body, he has smothering size to go with elite quickness. His cover skills will continue to develop. If some of the Dolphins' other key youngsters are ready, and the team gets a push from its front seven, I expect Smith to make many plays as opponents continue to test Miami's youthful secondary.

Jonathan Casillas, OLB, Saints

A year ago at this time I gave you Anthony Hargrove from the Saints, who went from being institutionalized and out of football to a valuable contributor for the Saints. Casillas isn't overcoming that degree of adversity, but he could make for a heck of a story himself. He went undrafted in 2009 out of Wisconsin, but made his debut for the Saints last season and is having an excellent camp. He could be an impact player in Gregg Williams' aggressive scheme. Casillas has great speed and good instincts. There is some concern about how his body might hold up, but if he withstands the rigors and can use his acceleration to his advantage, he'll be just fine. Undersized linebackers have had success in this system before.

Josh Morgan, WR, 49ers

So much attention was devoted to TE Vernon Davis and WR Michael Crabtree as they both broke through last season. Morgan could be next. He is coming off another strong offseason of work, and with opponents devoted to stopping the more prominent targets, Morgan could make some big plays as well. He has the ability to stretch defenses and excel in yards per catch.

Eric Wright, CB, Browns

Other corners have great respect for his technique and cover skills, but Wright has been stuck on horrible defenses for most of his career. He won't get too much help from the pass rush this year, either, but if rookie Joe Haden can perform adequately on the other side, perhaps the Browns can start building from the back on in defensively. He merits recognition for his work amid the chaos, and maybe he'll start to receive more this season.

Cameron Wake, OLB, Dolphins

Wake faced a difficult transition going from CFL sack champ to NFL part-time player in 2009, but he made the adjustment over time. He got much better in the second half of the season and has the quickness to strike fear in opposing quarterbacks. Players in this role on a Bill Parcells team tend to flourish. With guys like Joey Porter and Jason Taylor no longer around, the time is now for Wake.

Devin Aromashodu, WR, Bears

Probably the least talked about of their on-the-cusp receiving group, Aromashodu has the size that Jay Cutler loves and was the closest thing he had to a Brandon Marshall last season. Aromashodu has bounced around teams and practice squads, but I believe he's found a place to shine in Chicago.

Antonio Cromartie, CB, Jets

Maybe he doesn't fit here in the sense that he is a former Pro Bowl player with a double-digit interception season under his belt already, but his play has dropped noticeably since then, to the point the Chargers were looking to dump him. His financial and offseason issues are well documented, and I was originally skeptical that New York would be the best spot for him. But he is having a truly outstanding camp, seems like a great fit for Rex Ryan's scheme and if Darrelle Revis does come back, Cromartie will be in position to rack up interceptions like the good old days. I have a feeling he will produce to a level where he joins that list of Jets looking for that big payday (Nick Mangold, David Harris, Revis, etc.).

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