The Schein Nine  

 

Geno Smith, Trent Richardson among players I still believe in

We live in a "What have you done for me lately?" world. Maybe that's a mistake.

Some young players need time to grow. Some experienced players can go through a down year and bounce back. Some old players shouldn't be kicked to the curb quite yet. And some injury-riddled players cannot be forgotten.

It's a good thing I'm such a positive person.

Here are nine players I still believe in:

1) Percy Harvin, WR, Seattle Seahawks


Watch "The Top 100 Players of 2014" every week at 9 p.m. ET on NFL Network as we count down to the top player in the NFL. "The Top 100 Players of 2014 Reactions" airs Wednesdays at 10 p.m. ET.

Last offseason, John Schneider sent three draft picks (including a first-rounder) to the Minnesota Vikings in exchange for Harvin. And the Seahawks general manager gave his new receiver a big pile of cash. Then Harvin suffered an offseason hip injury, went under the knife and caught one ball during the regular season.

Complete disappointment? Well, hardly.

In Super Bowl XLVIII, Harvin accounted for 137 yards on four touches, including an 87-yard kick-return touchdown that opened the second half and closed the book on the Denver Broncos.

Worth every penny.

Seattle fans have yet to even see the real Percy Harvin. It's scary to ponder how dynamic Russell Wilson and the defending champs can be when Harvin is healthy and providing a deep threat.

2) Ryan Clady, LT, Denver Broncos

It's incredible to think that Peyton Manning had a regular season for the ages -- without his All-Pro left tackle. Clady suffered a season-ending foot injury in Week 2.

Remember: This guy is arguably the best left tackle in the NFL. If you don't believe me, ask Peyton.

"Getting Ryan back, it's about, it's kind of like signing a free agent or having a top pick in the draft," Manning told the assembled media in late May. "He is the top left tackle out there. It's certainly nice to have him back."

That's not hyperbole. So yes, Denver's offense -- which established itself as the highest scoring unit in NFL history last season -- can be better in 2014. Holy Omaha!

3) Matt Schaub, QB, Oakland Raiders

There's no truth to the rumor that Schaub threw another pick-six as you were reading this.

Schaub endured a miserable final season in Houston, but I put more of the blame on former Texans coach Gary Kubiak than the quarterback. Remember when Richard Sherman delivered a game-changing pick-six in Seattle's comeback win at Houston last September? Remember what Sherman told the Houston Chronicle afterward? "I knew it was coming. ... I picked the same play against our scout team on Friday."

That's on the play caller.

New Raiders back Maurice-Jones Drew said on my SiriusXM Radio show, "Schein on Sports," that he believes Schaub can lead a team to a Super Bowl.

I believe Schaub is a solid player who had a bad year. He'll give the Raiders a chance to win games in 2014 while serving as a mentor for rookie Derek Carr.

4) Jeremy Maclin, WR, Philadelphia Eagles

DeSean Jackson became a problem for Chip Kelly, so the coach jettisoned his leading receiver. (Yes, that's how you translate the amusingly vague "football reasons" explanation.) It was a major statement. But Kelly also knew he was getting back Maclin.

Maclin, of course, tore his ACL last July and missed out on all the fun of Kelly's first season. While the sixth-year pro won't stretch the field like Jackson, I bet he reaches 82 catches (the amount Jackson hauled in last season) and shines as a prime-time target for Nick Foles in Kelly's high-octane attack.

5) Geno Smith, QB, New York Jets

It feels weird to include a second-year pro on an "I still believe" list, but given Geno's yo-yo neophyte campaign, the Jets' signing of Michael Vick and the overall scrutiny that comes with quarterbacking in New York, I'm compelled to do so.

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Take a second. Think about the running backs, receivers and tight ends on last year's Jets. Rank that group against the corresponding factions fielded by the rest of the league.

You can't blame Geno Smith.

This offseason, the Jets added receiver Eric Decker and running back Chris Johnson in free agency while spending a second-round draft pick on tight end Jace Amaro. This definitely helps. And the game should slow down for Geno in Year 2.

I just hope Gang Green doesn't foul this up by starting Vick. The 2014 season should be about developing Geno Smith as their quarterback of the present and future.

6) Antonio Cromartie, CB, Arizona Cardinals

Cromartie was never quite 100 percent last season, and his play suffered. Not surprisingly, the Jets made a financial decision to cut bait in March. The market was a tad chilly in free agency, and Cromartie signed a one-year "prove it" deal with the savvy Cardinals.

Cromartie's a good player with a lot left in the tank at age 30. He will thrive on the opposite side of Patrick Peterson.

7) Antonio Gates, TE, San Diego Chargers

Antonio Gates is entering his 12th NFL season. Where has the time gone?!?! After Gates tallied just four touchdown catches in 2013 -- his lowest total since Year 1 -- Philip Rivers, the Chargers and their fans have taken to drooling over the upside of young Ladarius Green. And rightfully so, as the third-year tight end has dynamic natural ability.

But don't write the epitaph on Gates' career quite yet. He is still highly productive -- as evidenced by his 77 catches last year -- and very reliable for the Chargers.

8) Steve Smith, WR, Baltimore Ravens

Do I believe Smith has something to prove after getting cut by Carolina? Is water wet?

Yes, Smith posted the second-lowest yards-per-catch average of his career at 11.6 (not counting the 2004 campaign, when he played just one game). But it was illogical for the Panthers to release him, given their paper-thin receiving corps.

Baltimore needed to add more talent at receiver. Frankly, the Ravens needed somebody with a killer instinct who can be a tone setter in practice, during games and in the locker room. This mentality had left the building with the departures of Ray Lewis and Ed Reed.

Smith is supremely motivated. In my chat with Eric DeCosta on SiriusXM, the Ravens' assistant general manager raved about the qualities that Smith brings to the table.

Smith has always played with the proverbial chip on his shoulder, but in 2014, it's a boulder.

9) Trent Richardson, RB, Indianapolis Colts

Maybe I'm the last man standing on the Trent Richardson bandwagon -- and it's understandable if that is indeed the case. Last year, Richardson had trouble staying upright while carrying the football, which is a significant problem for a runner.

Here's what I believe: Trent Richardson has talent. He was deflated after the Cleveland Browns abruptly shipped him out of town in a shocking trade. Then he had to learn a new playbook -- and familiarize himself with new teammates -- on the fly in Indy.

Will he ever live up to his draft slot (third overall in 2012)? That's up for debate. But I think he can be a really productive piece for Andrew Luck and the reigning AFC South champion Colts.

Follow Adam Schein on Twitter @AdamSchein.

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