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Second year spotlight: NFC North

A look at some players who are ready to break out. Greg Gabriel

Print This May 24, 2014, 07:00 AM EST

Many fans expect their team’s rookies to make big contributions right out of the box. While that happens in some cases, it is more likely that a player in his second year will come on strong and make significant contributions to his team.

Just use the Bears Alshon Jeffery as an example. In his rookie year in 2012, he only played in 10 games because of some injuries. He caught just 24 passes for 367 yards and three touchdowns. In 2013, his second year, he caught 89 passes for 1421 yards and seven TD’s. He also went to the Pro Bowl.

How does this happen? For a rookie, everything is new. He is on his own basically for the first time, in a new city, and is getting paid to play a game he loves. There is an obvious period of adjustment.

The NFL season is much longer when you include the off season program, training camp, pre-season games, and the regular season. In college, there was no pressure in the form of "produce or be cut" situations. That pressure is day-to-day in the NFL.

A rookie has to learn a new offense or defense that is far more sophisticated than anything he did in college. In college, players are limited to 20 hours per week of practice, meeting, and conditioning time. In the NFL, that hourly commitment is more than doubled.

By the time a player gets to his second year, he is far more settled. He is comfortable in his surroundings and knows what is expected of him. As a rookie everything was new. By his second year, it has become routine, and the player has much more confidence in what he does. With that said, here are some second year players in the NFC North who could come on with big years in 2014.

Marquess Wilson – Chicago

Wilson a seventh-round draft choice from Washington State played little as a rookie and only caught two passes. Big things are expected this year.

While Wilson was drafted in the seventh round, he had second round talent. In his final year at Washington State, he quit the team after a run-in with the coaching staff. This dramatically hurt his draft stock. As a rookie, he flashed in the pre-season but clearly wasn’t ready for prime time duty.

During the off season, he spent a month training in Florida with Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery. He has gotten bigger, faster, and stronger, as well as matured. He is expected to be the Bears third wide receiver and make significant contributions to the offense.

Ziggy Ansah – Detroit

I know, you’re all saying, "How can Ansah, who was a first round pick a year ago, be on this list?" While Ansah put up fairly good numbers in 2013, he is just beginning to scratch the surface of how good he can be.

Ansah is still new to football. He only began to play the game after he was already enrolled at BYU. He wasn’t even a full-time starter his final year at BYU. As a rookie last year, he had 32 total tackles and eight sacks. With a year of learning the game under his belt, I expect those numbers to nearly double. There is no telling how good Ansah can eventually become.

Darius Slay – Detroit

As a second round pick a year ago, big things were expected from Slay. He struggles at the corner position and finished the season with 34 total tackles and no interceptions. Slay spent a good part of the off-season working with Hall of Fame corner Rod Woodson. The work helped improve Slay’s confidence.

Slay has the talent. He needs to play with consistency. While at Mississippi State, he did not play in a lot of different coverages. Coming to Detroit, he had to play multiple coverages, and it showed. When you have to think on the fly, it shows your play. That’s what happened with Slay. He has all the physical traits to be a top cover guy. Now, with confidence, it could happen.

J.C Tretter – Green Bay

J.C. Tretter was a high school quarterback who started his college career as a tight end. He was then moved to tackle and finished his career as one of Cornell’s top offensive linemen ever. When Green Bay drafted him, they moved him inside to play both guard and tackle.

Tretter was injured in training camp and was not on the active roster until the final few games. With the Pack having lost Evan Dietrich-Smith in free agency, Tretter is fist in line to be the starting center in 2014.

Having done a lot of tape work on Tretter for last year’s draft, I feel he has a chance to become one of the better centers in the league. He has excellent size, to go along with very good athleticism for an offensive lineman, as well as very good strength. If he stays healthy, he should be a fixture at center for years to come for the Packers.

Sharrif Floyd – Minnesota

Floyd was the 23rd pick in the first round a year ago. A lot was expected of him, and he didn’t come through. Instead of starting, he was a backup but still got significant playing time in the defensive line rotation.

Floyd finished the year with only 19 total tackles and 2.5 sacks. This year, under new Head Coach Mike Zimmer’s attacking scheme, Floyd figures the play the role Geno Atkins played for Zimmer in Cincinnati. Floyd has a little more size than Atkins, and with a year under his belt, figures to have similar production. Floyd is quick and explosive, he just needs game time and proper technique to become one of the better inside players in the league. 

Follow Greg on Twitter @greggabe

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