The NFL officially returns on Thursday, and Shutdown Corner is rolling out the red carpet, previewing what’s to come for the 2013 season. We’ll finish it off by picking our individual awards and the Super Bowl winner on Thursday before the Ravens and Broncos kick off the season.
Sometimes it takes a year.
As fast as we are in this instant-reaction society to call a player a bust after a so-so, or even poor, rookie season, we should remember that some players just take longer to incubate.
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Maybe there was an injury. A veteran ahead of them on the depth chart. A rookie-hating head coach. Maybe the player just needed to mature, get stronger or dive further into the playbook.
Whatever the situation might have been, these 2012 rookies — and now second-year players — might be ready to make some noise this season. Late but not forgotten:
Chiefs nose tackle Dontari Poe
Although he started 16 games a year ago for Romeo Crennel’s defense, Poe offered few splash plays and reportedly fell too much in love with the famous K.C. barbecue. After shedding 20 pounds and finding himself in a more attacking scheme, Poe could dominate this season.
Steelers guard David DeCastro
His rookie season was a lost cause, derailed by a preseason knee injury that got him off on the wrong foot. When he returned, he often was overwhelmed, but so far in the preseason he has looked terrific and should be a staple up front.
Lions offensive tackle Riley Reiff
Following mainstay left tackle Jeff Backus actually shouldn’t be hard in one respect: Lions fans constantly complained about Backus and wanted an upgrade. Reiff has looked good so far, displaying some athleticism and a little vinegar in his veins, too.
Packers outside linebacker Nick Perry
He’s starting across from Clay Matthews and should have good protection up front in the form of rookie defensive end (and former college rival) Datone Jones. If Perry can hold up vs. the run and provide consistent pass rush, that defense should be markedly better.
Bears wide receiver Alshon Jeffrey
Jay Cutler has raved about Jeffrey’s work in camp practices, and he has backed it up with some nice preseason moments in preseason games, too. The Bears need a foil to Brandon Marshall at wideout, and Jeffrey appears their best hope.
Dolphins running back Lamar Miller
The Dolphins have come to the conclusion that Miller is their best option in the backfield, and his quickness should lead to some big plays.
Bengals receiver Mohamed Sanu
Sanu has vaulted himself into the Bengals’ No. 2 receiver role opposite A.J. Green and should become a steady, dependable chain mover who sees a fair amount of passes thrown his way.
Saints defensive tackle Akiem Hicks
The Saints need all the talent they can find defensively, and the still raw but intriguing Hicks has shown up a few times this preseason. He has room to grow, but the team needs his power and quickness up front.
Rams receiver Chris Givens
Givens and running back Daryl Richardson both could be in line for huge gains in opportunities and yards, but Givens’ deep ability will help open this offensive immensely. He has been their best receiver this preseason.
Patriots cornerback Alfonzo Dennard
Provided that Dennard does not hear bad news when he heads to court Sept. 6, two days before the Pats’ season opener, he is expected to provide good coverage this season. He finished on a high note in 2012.