About the Author
Recent posts by Eric Edholm
It appears that first-round picks will have four-year contracts, per the soon-to-be-completed CBA, with a fifth-year option that could pay those players among the top 10 at their respective positions.
This is crucial because it will mean that highly touted first-rounders essentially will have three years to prove themselves. Think about it: In Year Three, either they will have done enough for their team to pick up that expensive fifth year, or they will have been enough of a bust for the club to cut them before they ever get to that point.
That jacks up the pressure even more on first-rounders — and shortens the time frame to succeed. But last season we saw that, given time, talented players — guys like Darren McFadden, Mike Williams, Gosder Cherilus, Jason Babin, Robert Meachem and others — can produce.
With them in mind, here are a few players to watch as potential late bloomers who break out in 2011:
Texans DT Amobi Okoye
People tend to forget that he is only 24 years old. That's where you start with Okoye, who has started all but six games in his four years in the NFL but has yet to break out the way some people expected him to.
Really, the expectations were unreal to begin with when he entered the league at age 20 and had a two-sack game as a rookie in Week Two at Carolina, his second NFL contest, and sacks in each of the next two games.
What could hold him back this season is the team's switch to a 3-4 scheme, which either makes him a nose tackle, a five-technique or a bench player. If the Texans move on and don't get anything for Okoye, be sure to keep an eye on where he lands.
One personnel evaluator suggested, "what he needs is a DL line coach to whip his (tail) and light a fire under it, a real old-school guy." Then that talent could come out — and thrive.
Raiders WR Darrius Heyward-Bey
Heyward-Bey, a size-speed prospect who has yet to put it together, has been somewhat of a predictable failure to this point. Honestly, he might never be anything close to worth the seventh pick in the draft, as he formerly was.
But there were enough flashes last season — check out the Rams and Seahawks games — that make you think he won't be a total waste, either. The Raiders have an intriguing young stable of receivers, and yet it's disturbing that a pair of fourth-rounders (Louis Murphy and Jacoby Ford) have looked so much more advanced than Heyward-Bey has.
We might need to think of him going forward as more of being a big-play specialist than an 80-catch guy. If Seattle's Williams can do it, Heyward-Bey can too.
And the pressure is on. Head coach Hue Jackson made sure it was known when he said "there's no question" that DHB had to step up this season. He's 24 now, and the time might be now.
Chiefs DE Tyson Jackson
The good news is that Jackson is a hard worker, and he played much better in the second half of last season after dealing with a pesky knee injury. Although Jackson has to be much better against the run, there is enough athleticism and upside to think he quickly could turn into a quality defender against the pass.
The Chiefs' defense has some young, quality parts around him, and a healthy season from Jackson could make Year Three his best. Defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel has a way of coaxing the most out of talent.
Chargers OLB Larry English
Some observers hated the English pick back in 2009, but others saw a pass rusher with upside. And like Jackson, he was affected by an injury in 2010, so we shouldn't draw too much from his play.
But the time is now and the opportunity is there on a talented defense to finally make a splash. He doesn't have to be a 15-sack player, but he must provide consistent pressure and hold up against the run for a team with Super Bowl aspirations.