What is a superstar?
The term is thrown around often in sports, but its true definition is -- to quote the great Michael Scott -- a bit neb-u-lous.
Here's our interpretation: A superstar is a transcendent, Hall of Fame-level talent. He is a monster statistical producer and the unquestioned centerpiece of his team. If he were to be removed from the equation by injury, retirement, act of God, or underinflated footballs, his team is totally, irrevocably FUBAR.
There aren't many players like that in the NFL. And once you reach that rarified air, it's a challenge to stay there for long. Every season, there will be players who become superstars. Conversely, there will be those who fall off.
For fun -- it is late June, after all -- let's take a shot at predicting who stays and who goes in 2015. First, the ground rules: There is a maximum occupancy for the Superstar Club®. Let too many people in and you leave yourself open to overcrowding, poor bar service and a potential fire code violation. Nobody likes a sausage party.
To prevent this, I'll take out my clicker and institute the most loathsome of door man protocol: The one-person-in-one-person-out move. I am the bouncer and this is a zero-sum game.
Let's get to it.
IN: Welcome to the Club, C.J. Spiller
Spiller made the best decision of his career when he signed with the Saints in free agency. The shifty running back has the ideal skill-set for Sean Payton's system, which thrives at getting the ball to playmakers in space. That's exactly what Spiller needs if he is going to return to the guy who tallied nearly 1,500 all-purpose yards and eight touchdowns during his 2012 breakout season in Buffalo. Colleague Chris Wesseling was bullish on Spiller when we talked about the Superstar Club on the latest Around The NFL Podcast: "We've seen Sean Payton do it with Reggie Bush and Darren Sproles. C.J. Spiller is way better than both of those guys."
OUT: Come with me, Brandon Marshall
Marshall has been one of the NFL's most productive wide receivers for years, a guy who's overcome personal turmoil and multiple surgeries. But he won't overcome playing wide receiver for the New York Jets. Pop quiz: Who was the last Jets wideout to go to the Pro Bowl? That would be Keyshawn Johnson, who played in the league's all-star game two months before Britney Spears released "Oops I Did It Again." Devil's advocate angle: Jets offensive coordinator Chan Gailey has a sneaky way of producing yardage and scoring points. Never forget this is the man who got Ryan Fitzpatrick a $60 million contract.
IN: Step in the door, Matt Ryan
Ryan has been on the precipice for superstardom for years. One could argue that there's a reason for that. But Ryan has also been held back -- especially in recent years -- by a weak supporting cast. The Falcons made a strong personnel hire in offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, who should do wonders for a running game that has been stuck in the mud for years. With some more help, could Ryan's fortune turn the way it did for another underappreciated eight-letter QB? Said Gregg Rosenthal on the podcast: "He's overdue for a monster season. Ryan is a little like Tony Romo, where he's better than his overall reputation. If things work right, I can see him having an MVP caliber season."
OUT: Hey Larry Fitzgerald, come with me, man
I hate, hate, hate to do this. I love me some Larry Fitzgerald. We all do. But the Superstar Club is a meritocracy and Fitzgerald hasn't put up superstar production in some time. Did you know Larry Fitzgerald hasn't had a 1,000-yard season in four years? I bet you didn't, and you know why? Because we love Larry Fitzgerald. We want to think he'll always be the monster who tore apart the league during the Cardinals' Super Bowl run in 2008. But age, injuries and production suggest that's no longer the case.
IN: (Clicks hand tally counter) Enter, Randall Cobb
The 2015 Packers have that 2013 Broncos buzz to them right now. If everyone stays healthy, a 600-point season is in reach. And if that happens, there will be plenty of love to go around. Cobb, still just 24, is a special player who is made better by having two players (Aaron Rodgers and Jordy Nelson) already in the Superstar Club and another (Eddie Lacy) knocking on the door. Cobb and Rodgers have undeniable chemistry, and defenses never know what the Packers are going to do because of their unmatched balance on offense. That will leave the middle of the field wide open for Cobb -- perhaps more than ever before.
OUT: Time to say good night, Jimmy Graham
If Fitzgerald was the toughest cut for sentimental reasons, then Graham is the hardest dismissal for "This guy can make me look like a total idiot" reasons. When 100 percent healthy, Graham is virtually uncoverable. But Graham doesn't typically make it through a season at full health, and he's not close to the same guy when he's banged up. Then add in the scene shift to Seattle. The Seahawks are the best running team in football (172.6 yards per game last season). Are they going to shift their offensive philosophy for one guy? (Let's never, ever forget that the Seahawks are probably back-to-back Super Bowl champions if they give Marshawn Lynch the ball in February.) Throw in the challenges of an unfamiliar environment, a new scheme and quarterback, and 2015 could be a transition year for Graham spent on the wrong side of the velvet ropes of The Superstar Club.
IN: Don't forget to tip your waitress, Khalil Mack
Hey, let's talk positively about the Oakland Raiders! Reggie McKenzie has taken his lumps (deservedly in most cases) for his GM tenure in Oakland, but give credit where credit is due: Khalil Mack was a home run pick at fifth overall in 2014. Mack showed all the signs of future stardom as a rookie, getting to the quarterback with regularity, stuffing the run and being a general menace for opposing offenses. Mack had four sacks last season -- a pedestrian total -- but 40 QB hurries and 10 QB hits (according to ProFootballFocus.com) hints of a stud on the rise. With another year of development, don't be surprised if all those visits to the quarterbacks lead to double-digit sacks.
OUT: You don't have to go home, but you can't stay here, Drew Brees
Now that Tom Brady and Peyton Manning have successfully defied Father Time at the quarterback position, we've begun to assume everybody can do it. But perhaps it's smarter to look at Manning and Brady -- two of the greatest players in NFL history -- as the outliers that they are. Brees remained a statistical stud last season, but a closer look at his game tape shows a quarterback making far more mistakes in big spots. Never blessed with outstanding physical tools, Brees, now 36, could be more susceptible to an age-related drop-off. And this is before you remove Jimmy Graham from the equation and factor in a new, run-heavy approach. Brees could still be great, but the 5,000-yard dynamo seasons are likely history.
And that, my friends, is 1,200 words of earnestness on a club that does not exist. Has training camp started yet?