Robert Alford – Atlanta Falcons
Last year, as a second round pick from Southeast Louisiana, the book on Alford was that he was talented, but raw. He played a lot of press coverage in college and had to learn NFL coverage techniques.
Alford proved to be a quick study and pressed veteran Asante Samuel for play time. He became the starter the last four games of the season and finished with 40 total tackles and two interceptions.
This year, the job is his. With a year under his belt, he will feel much more comfortable and gives Atlanta an upgrade at the position. It wouldn’t surprise me to see Alford get 60+ tackles and more than double his interception production as he has good ball skills.
Levine Toilolo – Atlanta Falcons
Last year, Toilolo played and learned behind Tony Gonzalez, one of the best tight ends of all-time. With Gonzalez retired, Toilolo becomes the starter. At 6081 – 260, he has the size and athleticism to create a lot of mismatches.
As a rookie, Tiololo had 11 catches and two touchdowns. While I don’t expect him to have an 80+ catch season like Gonzalez had, 60+ receptions is possible.
Tiololo doesn’t have the speed and overall athleticism that Gonzalez had, but with his size and power, he can be a better point-of-attack player. He already is a good enough blocker and that will improve with experience.
Kawann Short – Carolina Panthers
In his final year at Purdue, Short played at over 330 pounds and flashed ability but was very inconsistent. When at the top of his game, he looked like a first round pick, but there were too many games when he was average.
Short lost a bunch of weight and showed up at the Combine and his pro day at about 300 pounds. Though he moved around well, I thought that it was too light for him. As a rookie, he played closer to 310, which is ideal.
Short played in the defensive line rotation his rookie year and got a significant amount of playing time. He finished the year with 30 total tackles and 1.5 sacks. This year, he will still play in a rotation, but with a year to mature and figure out how to be a pro, I can see Short showing dominating ability.
With Star Lotulelei and Dwan Edwards working with Short, the Panthers can have one of the better interior defensive lines in the league.
William Gholston – Tampa Bay Buccaneers
I’ll admit, I’m guessing here, but in Lovie Smith’s defense, Gholston has the physical traits to be a star.
Gholston has always looked, but never played, the part. He is tall with long arms, athletic, and has a burst. His play at Michigan State and his first year in Tampa has been up and down. He has flashed but hasn’t put it all together.
Joe Cullen is one of the best defensive line coaches in the business and is the perfect coach to help Gholston reach his potential.
Last year Gholston played in 12 games and finished with 30 total tackles and 2.0 sacks. In Smith’s defense, Gholston should get 7+ sacks and 50+ total tackles. He has the talent to do it. Now it is up to him to get it done.
Terron Armstead - New Orleans Saints
Coming from small school Arkansas-Pine Bluff, Armstead didn’t get the position coaching he would have gotten at a major Division I school. Still, he had the athletic traits and showed at the Senior Bowl that, with development, he can become a solid NFL left tackle.
Last year, Armstead moved into the starting lineup for the Saints fifteenth game versus Carolina. The Panthers Pro Bowl defensive end, Greg Hardy, abused him in that opening game, but Armstead came back to improve in his last three games. Two of those games were playoff games.
This year, Armstead has the left tackle job to himself. He has worked hard in the offseason to improve and the Saints are expecting big things. There are not too many left tackles in the league who have the natural physical traits that Armstead has. He has a chance to become a dominant left tackle, maybe as soon as this year!
Follow Greg on Twitter @greggabe
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