Charlie Bernstein, JagNation.com
The "sleeper" on the Jaguars who will surprise fans with his improved play in 2007 will be last season's first round pick, tight end Marcedes Lewis. Lewis struggled with a high ankle sprain that caused him to miss virtually all of training camp in his rookie season, and he never got caught up to speed. Despite his great hands and a large body at 6-foot-6, 265 pounds, his 2006 numbers were very ordinary for a backup tight end. Lewis recorded just 13 receptions for 126 yards and one touchdown.
This season, the Jaguars have a new offensive coordinator in Dirk Koetter, who emphasizes two tight end sets. And his philosophies use the tight end a lot more in the passing game. Combine that with the return of starting quarterback Byron Leftwich and a full session of camp, and Lewis should easily surpass his rookie season numbers of 2006, reminding Jaguars fans why the front office selected Lewis with the 28th pick of the 2006 NFL Draft.
Ken Palmer, TheGiantInsider.com
New York Giants
Giants fans will be pleasantly surprised with New York's final
draft choice. Running back Ahmad Bradshaw came out after his junior year so he
could support his daughter. If he shows he's matured from the off-field
problems that led to him to never enrolling at Virginia and landing at Marshall
instead, he could be a real steal.
Bradshaw is quick as lightning and should see plenty of snaps as he's likely to handle the third-down receiving back role in New York's offense. While most football fans haven't heard of him yet, they sure will by the end of the season. He's probably a safe bet for a late-round fantasy draft choice as well.
Matthew Postins, BucsBlitz.com
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
I'll take this opportunity to make a bold prediction. Chad Owens will be the
kickoff and punt returner for the Buccaneers in 2007, and I think he has the
potential to make a big impact on the return game.
Owens is the University of Hawaii's all-time leader in all-purpose yards with 5,461 yards and did time at punt and kick returner, as well as wide receiver. Bucs head coach Jon Gruden wants one player to handle both kicks and punts.
Mark Jones and Michael Pittman handled punt and kick duties last year, respectively, and while both are serviceable, neither is a game breaker. Owens has the speed to give Gruden the game-breaking presence he wants in that role. Sure, he muffed three punts in one game in his NFL debut. And that's not good. But he looked sure-handed in minicamp and he's faster than any player the Bucs have right now. He has the potential to be Tampa Bay's most surprising player in 2007.
Aaron Wilson, RavensInsider.com
Rookie outside linebacker Antwan Barnes is a swift pass rusher out of Florida International with a blend of speed (4.45) and strength (31 reps of 225 pounds). He also has explosive upfield pass rush moves, including a crisp spin move that confounded Ravens offensive tackle Adam Terry during minicamp drills. If Dan Cody's knee doesn't respond to treatment, Barnes could emerge as a situational force as a sub-rusher.
Jerry Langton, ColtPower.com
He went to Lindenwood University. He wasn't drafted. In his one-year NFL career, he has zero carries, zero catches and zero returns, but he will be expected to be a major contributor in the Colts' hyperactive offense in 2007.
|DeDe Dorsey (Getty)|
But Cincinnati -- already packed with talent at halfback -- tried to sneak Dorsey through waivers and onto the practice squad. Colts' president Bill Polian grabbed Dorsey and stashed him on the 53-man roster for a full year.
Joseph Addai is the starting halfback and desperately needs a tandem partner now that Dominic Rhodes has left for Oakland. That leaves Dorsey in the catbird seat -- the Colts need a reliable big-play guy, and Dorsey looks very much like the player who can fill that role.
Todd Korth, PackerReport.com
Green Bay Packers
Running back Brandon Jackson was selected in the second round of the NFL
draft out of Nebraska by the Packers. While Jackson is expected to begin the
season behind third-year pro Vernand Morency, look for him to be starting near
the end of the season.
Jackson has better speed and burst than Morency in Green Bay's zone-blocking scheme, giving him all the ability to break off long, game-changing runs.
Brad Keller, CardinalInsider.com
While he shouldn't be a "sleeper" at this point in his career, former first round pick Bryant Johnson has the best potential to fill that role on everyone's favorite sleeper team. With a new coach, the possibility of a new contract on the horizon, and Ken Whisenhunt's propensity to spread the wealth, Johnson is in line to have a very productive year since he also happens to be the team's best deep threat in a system that favors the vertical passing game. While he won't approach Boldin or Fitzgerald numbers this season, he will be this year's Brandon Stokley or Kevin Curtis in Whisenhunt's offense.
Nick Athan, WarpaintIllustrated.com
Kansas City Chiefs
At the end of the 2006 season, Chiefs head coach Herm Edwards asked middle linebacker Boomer Grigsby if he'd take some reps in practice at fullback. The second-year player did so well that he officially made the switch to offense during the offseason.
|Boomer Grigsby (Getty)|
Grigsby has showed amazing speed and far better hands that anyone could have hoped for making the transition. He might not start this year, but the local cult hero who has a fan base matched by some of the team's Pro Bowl players, might just shock quite a few people this season. If he gets into the end zone at home, Arrowhead Stadium might reach even higher decimals.
Craig Massei, SFIllustrated.com
San Francisco 49ers
Delanie Walker wowed the 49ers and other observers with his playmaking
ability early in the preseason last summer before dislocating his shoulder, an
injury that carried over into the season and pretty much thwarted his rookie
year. But now, with Eric Johnson gone to New Orleans in free agency, the
athletic Walker will be a receiving complement to starting tight end Vernon
Davis on passing downs and could see considerable action as an H-back and in two
A wide receiver in college, Walker has shifty moves and breakaway ability, and the 49ers will look for ways to get the football in his hands in their improving offensive attack. He also has a chance to make an impact on special teams with his return ability.
Steve Waters, BroncosUpdate.com
With the Denver Broncos moving D.J. Williams to middle linebacker to replace
Al Wilson, an obvious hole in the defensive lineup is at strongside linebacker.
Several candidates are vying for that starting position, but former Miami
Dolphin Eddie Moore has been the leader so far in taking snaps with the first
Moore (6-1, 235 pounds) was out of football during 2006 following microfracture surgery, but signed a reserve-future contract with the Broncos in January where he has been reunited with Jim Bates, his former defensive coach for three years with the Dolphins. Bates is now the assistant head coach with Denver and has been revamping the Broncos' defense.
Moore's familiarity with Bates' defensive schemes has given the fourth-year player and second-round draft choice out of Tennessee an early edge at the strongside linebacker position. And he's a good candidate for the "sleeper" on the team who will surprise fans in 2007.
Stan Jones, TitansInsider.net
While most Titans fans are very familiar with his name, he may
be the biggest sleeper for the Titans in 2007.
Running Back Chris Brown has spent the last several months as a free agent without a lot of interest in him on the open market. Brown, who had 1,067 yards rushing in 2004 and 857 in 2005, has shown that he can play at a high level in this league when he is healthy. Staying on the field has been his problem in the past, but a fresh start after the departure of Travis Henry could be just what the doctor ordered. His career 4.2 yards-per-carry will be an important part of any success that the Titans have this season.
John Crist, BearReport.com
It's hard to classify a former No. 4 overall draft pick as a sleeper, but since Cedric Benson is just now getting the chance as the featured runner, I believe 2007 will be his breakout season.
|Cedric Benson (AP)|
I honestly don't believe the Bears are going to miss Jones very much, and should he stay healthy for the entire season, I'm looking for Benson to put up 1,300-1,400 yards and 10-12 touchdowns on the ground.
Tim Yotter, VikingUpdate.com
The Vikings have a lot of options for potential surprise players this year, as each of their first four draft picks should contribute regularly. And while second-year pro Tarvaris Jackson is expected to be the starter at quarterback, we'll turn to the other side of the ball for our pick as surprise player of the year.
First-round pick Chad Greenway tore his anterior cruciate ligament before
ever getting a chance to play defense in the first preseason game of 2006. Now
he is tabbed to become a starter at the playmaking position of weakside
linebacker in the Tampa-2 defensive scheme.
Last year, in the Vikings' first season in that system, E.J. Henderson had a breakout campaign with 142 tackles and was the only Minnesota defender to register over 100 tackles. After receiving a five-year extension at the end of the season, Henderson is moving to middle linebacker while Greenway, the former Iowa Hawkeye standout, is getting the opportunity to shine. His skills seem like a perfect fit to put up big numbers in his first season of action if he can stay healthy.
Jon Scott, PatriotsInsider.com
New England Patriots
The sleeper on the Patriots team's roster is probably a receiver they just acquired, Wes Welker. With all of the high-priced talent on the Patriots roster, many feel that the offense will flourish from the Tom Brady to Randy Moss connection. Others feel that Donte Stallworth will be the main beneficiary of Brady's attention. Yet others believe Laurence Maroney will have a breakout year. But what I see is Wes Welker being the perfect fit in this New England offense.
Although Welker had a career season in Miami, the general perception is that
he is just an "okay" receiver. His average of 10.3 yards-per-carry
didn't exactly set the world on fire, and Welker didn't intimidate any defenders
he matched up against. But his workmanlike effort and lunchpail mentality fit
perfectly into the New England scheme.
Brady will certainly try to hit the long ball with Moss and Stallworth, but if he can't - and you have to figure opponents will work hard to prevent it - he'll have to check back down to his third option, Welker.
Jim Wexell, SteelCityInsider.com
Surprise the fans? Well, that takes a few more levels of understanding than
I'm probably capable. Steelers fans are expecting a big season from tight end
Heath Miller and they expect outside linebacker James Harrison to replace Joey
Porter without a hitch, so those two can't be classified as surprises.
Second-year O-lineman Willie Colon won't surprise the intelligent fan, but I'm picking him here. He might surprise the experts who aren't really experts and who will write later what a big surprise Colon has been. (I think that's three or four levels of surprise-gauging right there). My pick for camp surprise is tight end Jon Dekker, who outplayed third-round pick Matt Spaeth every day this spring.
Michael Lombardo, SDBoltReport.com
San Diego Chargers
|Vincent Jackson (Getty)|
Jackson flashed signs of greatness during the 2006 season. He paced the Chargers' receivers with six touchdown receptions and led the team with a 16.8 yards-per-catch average. With a little more experience and consistency, Jackson should be the team's best wide receiver since Curtis Conway.
Alain Poupart, DolphinDigest.com
The Dolphins offense has its share of big names, and it finally might be able
to produce this year now that Miami has its first head coach with an offensive
background. So it wouldn't be a major surprise if guys like Chris Chambers,
Marty Booker or Trent Green were able to produce big numbers.
The one guy who might exceed expectations is new tight end David Martin. After beginning his career as a backup in Green Bay, the former University of Tennessee wide receiver gets his first shot at a full-time starting job. It's going to help that he'll play in an offense that features the tight end (think about what Antonio Gates did in San Diego in the Cam Cameron offense) and with a quarterback who favored his tight end in Kansas City.
Barry McBride, TheOBR.com
Browns LB Leon Williams has been lurking just under the surface for years,
starting as a backup linebacker playing out of position on the University of
Miami's 4-3 defense, and later as an unexpected fourth-round pick plucked out of
nowhere by GM Phil Savage in the 2006 draft.
As reported first by Scout.com's Adam Caplan, the Browns will use Williams exclusively as an inside linebacker in 2007, and the youngster could threaten starters D'Qwell Jackson and Andra Davis for their starting jobs. Williams has terrific instinct, gets himself into position well, and is one of the few Cleveland linebackers who can stuff a running play at the line of scrimmage. Whether displacing a current starter, or just getting on the field frequently via Crennel's love for front seven rotation, Williams should make an impact on ballcarriers and fans both in 2007.
Chuck Hixson, WarNest.com
Chris Gocong could be a very pleasant surprise for Eagles fans this season. After spending last season -- his first in the NFL -- on injured reserve and having a tough time adjusting to playing linebacker, Gocong seemed to put it all together in minicamp. The Eagles linebacking corps is suspect to say the least. So if Gocong fits in as well as he seemed to in camp, he'll be a great addition to the defense.
Actually, the Eagles may finally see some production from their 2006 draft, since none of their draftees stood out in their first season. Besides Gocong, first-round pick Brodrick Bunkley seems to be getting the hang of the Eagles' defensive schemes while second-rounder Winston Justice is doing the same on the offensive line. Wide receiver Jeremy Bloom spent his first season on injured reserve, but is healthy and has all the tools to start getting some playing time as a part of the young crop of wide receivers that the Eagles have assembled.