Five players ready to bust out in '07
By C.E. Wendler on April 4, 2007 02:35 AM
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How many players blossomed before our eyes in 2006?
Did anyone expect Frank Gore to rush for 1,700 yards? Asante Samuel became one of the game's elite cornerbacks in New England. Houston's DeMeco Ryans surprised almost everyone by winning NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year. Whose turn comes in 2007?
Here are five young players who are not only being counted upon by their respective teams but might be sleepers in your fantasy football draft, too.
1. WR Vincent Jackson, San Diego Chargers :
Why does a third-year receiver with 30 career catches make this list? Because 20 of those came in the final seven weeks of 2006. Jackson's size (6-foot-5) and speed (4.46 40-yard dash) intrigued teams on draft day two years ago, and he finally started using those attributes to his advantage at the end of last season, flashing big-play ability with six touchdowns and nine receptions of 20 yards or better. With the release of veteran Keenan McCardell, it appears Jackson will be given every opportunity to win a starting job opposite the dependable Eric Parker. A year under Philip Rivers' belt
as a starter will also help.
Prediction: 1,000 yards, 10 TDs.
2. QB J.P. Losman, Buffalo Bills :
There were major questions about Losman after he completed a lousy 49.6 percent of his passes in 2005, but he rebounded last season and put together an extremely solid season. Losman established wonderful chemistry with the speedy Lee Evans
(1,292 yards, eight touchdowns) while lacking even a decent running attack in support. The Bills hopefully corrected that during free agency, improving their offensive line and dumping the malignant, underachieving Willis McGahee. It appears Buffalo has the utmost confidence in Losman heading into 2007, as they traded veteran Kelly Holcomb last week. Now if Losman can just cut down on those fumbles, maybe the Bills will make the playoffs for the first time this century.
Prediction: 3,500 yards, 25 TDs.
3. QB Jay Cutler, Denver Broncos :
The effect Cutler had on Denver's offense at the end of 2006 was remarkable. With Jake Plummer at the helm, the Broncos averaged just 17 points and 304 yards per game. With Cutler, those numbers jumped to 24.8 and 320. Not only was Denver's passing game much improved (Cutler threw nine touchdowns in only five games), but opponents were forced to respect Cutler's deep passing ability, opening up the running game. With an offseason of work, the Broncos could have a really scary talent on their hands -- and reportedly, Cutler has a great work ethic, as he's been a regular at the team's training facility for over a month now. If second-year wideout Brandon Marshall develops
as a complementary threat to Javon Walker, expect the Broncos to return to the top of the offensive stat page in 2007. Free-agent acquisition Travis Henry will help, too.
Prediction: 4,000 yards, 30 TDs.
4. LB Manny Lawson, San Francisco 49ers :
For a first-round draft pick, 57 tackles, 2½ sacks and one interception is a disappointing stat line. It's even more disappointing when you're being counted on as the franchise's defensive savior, as Lawson was a year ago when the 49ers drafted him. Fortunately, San Francisco dumped its previous defensive coordinator, Billy Davis, under whom the 'D' ranked 32nd and 26th the past two seasons. His replacement? Greg Manusky, who served as San Diego's linebackers coach the last four seasons. You might not recognize the name, but this hire is the best possible thing the 49ers could have done for Lawson. Under Manusky, the Chargers were a linebacker factory. Whomever they plugged
into the lineup had success. Donnie Edwards, Shawne Merriman, Steve Foley, Randall Godfrey, Shaun Phillips -- it didn't matter. Even when Merriman and Phillips missed games because of injuries and suspensions last year, Marques Harris and Carlos Polk played well. If Manusky can turn all of those San Diego linebackers into productive players, imagine what he'll do with an uber-talent like Lawson. The addition of linebacker Tully Banta-Cain will also complement Lawson's skills when it's time to get after the quarterback.
Prediction: 75 tackles, eight sacks, five forced fumbles.
5. FS Jarrad Page, Kansas City Chiefs :
How many rookie safeties intercept Peyton Manning? I'm guessing you can count them on one hand, and Page joined them last year. No one expected the seventh-round pick to have much of an impact when the Chiefs selected him, but after an impressive training camp it was clear he'd find his way onto the field. Over the regular season's final seven weeks, Page collected three interceptions (and one more in the playoffs) and five passes defensed, often spelling starters Greg Wesley or Sammy Knight in the middle of games
, or even playing cornerback. Knight is gone and Wesley will soon be traded. 2007 will be Page's year, and he'll likely start at free safety.
Prediction: 60 tackles, five interceptions, 10 passes defensed.
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