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10 NFC players with make-or-break seasons ahead

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After looking at 10 AFC players with make-or-break seasons on Monday, let's take a look at the NFC players at the crossroads heading into 2015:

1-2. Mike Wallace and Cordarrelle Patterson, Vikings wide receivers


Before Demaryius Thomas and Dez Bryant signed their recent contracts, Wallace was still the second-highest paid receiver in the league in average yearly salary. His contract in Miami was always overcooked and a great example of how players can win big if they risk waiting to reach free agency. Still, his one-dimensional skill set showed up more than expected in Miami. He was never a top-five receiver, but he wasn't a top-20 guy with the Dolphins.

There's a good chance that changes in Minnesota. Teddy Bridgewater throws a far superior deep ball to Ryan Tannehill. Wallace may only have one trick, but it's a valuable skill that he should be able to show off again.

At least Wallace knows what he does well. Offensive coordinator Norv Turner is still searching for how to fit Cordarrelle Patterson into the offense. Last year's breakout candidate that broke needs to get up to speed fast or he could get lost in the shuffle permanently in Minnesota.

3. Robert Griffin III, Redskins quarterback


Two years ago, Andrew Luck vs. RGIII was a legitimate debate. It threatens to look as historically laughable as the year when people made the case for Chris Johnson over Adrian Peterson.

It's jarring to consider how far we've come in giving up on Griffin in such a short time. At this stage, most people would be surprised if he just had a respectable, healthy season as a starter. Redskins coach Jay Gruden might be the most surprised of all.

We'd love to see Griffin rebound if only to shut everyone up and give us a pleasant surprise for the 2015 season. Griffin's Washington career depends on it. He is due $16.2 million next season, but would have to play at a Pro Bowl level to see that money. With Kirk Cousins and Colt McCoy still in the mix, Griffin might only have September to prevent Gruden from spinning the wheel of "blame the quarterback" again.

4. Doug Martin, Buccaneers running back


It's a surprise Martin made this list because his career appeared to have hit a low point last season. It's not easy to understand why Martin's play fell off so far after his great rookie year. Easier to understand: Backing up Bobby Rainey is normally a sign you are on your way out.

New Buccaneers offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter was Martin's lifeline. He kept Martin on the team and it appears he is the early favorite to start over second-year pro Charles Sims. This is an offense with latent potential if Jameis Winston pans out. Martin's unlikely to get another chance like this to turn his career around.

5. Bruce Irvin, Seahawks linebacker


Irvin entered the league looking like he had the chance to be one of its premier pass rushers. He's now settled into a solid career as a useful role player. Seattle general manager John Schneider can't pay everyone, and Irvin is well below Russell Wilson and Bobby Wagner on the team's to-do list. Irvin has been connected to the Atlanta Falcons as a free agent option next year with old friend Dan Quinn, now the Falcons coach. But Irvin has to show that he's worth big money. A 13-sack type of season would make him wildly rich.

6. Sean Lee, Cowboys linebacker


Dallas' long-term deal for Lee back in August of 2013 looked like a no-brainer. They were buying relatively low on a future star. He's missed 22 games in two seasons since. (And 32 games overall in the last three years). Lee was one of the best inside linebackers in the league, but he's moving to the weak side in an effort to stay healthy and make room for Rolando McClain. Lee simply needs to stay on the field and re-establish his career as an ascending player.

7. Matthew Stafford, Lions quarterback


Stafford is a little different than the rest of this list. He's entrenched as a starting quarterback, and will be paid a ton of money for the next five years. It's not like the Lions are going to consider moving on from him. The inclusion here is more personal. After his down season in 2014, I'm starting to wonder if Stafford ever improves. Or is this just what he is? Ultimately Stafford is not at a level much different than what Jay Cutler has brought to the table for years, and that gets more frustrating as time wears on.

8. Tavon Austin, Rams receiver


The speed is there and the big plays have followed occasionally. Getting Austin into the mix as a consistent weapon has proven to be a huge challenge in his first two seasons there. Former offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer was a big problem, but Austin deserves some of the blame. A player his size needs transcendent speed and ability to make people miss; Austin just hasn't showed up on film yet as anything more than a role player. The Rams don't have a clear No. 1 and there is still room for him to carve out a big role in the offense. At this stage, he's an equal receiving partner with guys like Kenny Britt, Brian Quick and Stedman Bailey.

9. C.J. Spiller, Saints running back


A lot of believers have been waiting for Spiller to get a chance like this. Still only 27, Spiller has a shot for a mid-career reboot after leaving Buffalo, not unlike Marshawn Lynch when he was traded to Seattle. Like Lynch, Spiller landed in the absolute perfect spot for his skillset. Sean Payton knows how to use running backs on passing downs. (The trick: Every down is a passing down.)

Payton knows how to use running backs in the slot and moving around a formation. He knows how to get runners in space, and not to force them to play out of their comfort zone. In short: This is Spiller's chance to show that his 2012 season was not a fluke. There's plenty of time to rewrite his career arc.

10. Aldon Smith, 49ers linebacker


Smith looked like one of the five best defensive players in the league in 2012. Since then, he's recorded 10.5 sacks in 18 games, been suspended nine games for violating the league's personal conduct and substance abuse policies, been arrested for making a false bomb threat, been arrested on felony charges, DUI charges, and spent time in rehab. This is the NFL, and teams have consistently looked past off-field concerns for premium players. He's still going to get paid next offseason if he stays out of the news and shows he's still at that level.

The latest Around The NFL Podcast discusses the eight most intriguing training camp battles heading into the season.

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