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These second-year pros could come up big this season
Not every rookie enjoys immediate success. Here’s our list of players we expect to shine in their second seasons in the NFL.
Doug Baldwin, WR, Seattle
This hard worker is limited physically, but he’s extremely dependable and has little competition for targets in Seattle.
Vincent Brown, WR, San Diego
It took some time for the local product to get used to the NFL, but he showed flashes of ability against Green Bay (four catches, 79 yards), Oakland (five, 97, TD) and Denver (three, 50). With Vincent Jackson moving on to Tampa Bay, Brown can expect even more targets.
Randall Cobb, WR, Green Bay
An aging Donald Driver should create chances for the explosive and versatile Cobb in the slot. The 2012 Packers’ offense could easily provide value for three wide receivers.
Leonard Hankerson, WR, Washington
The former Miami Hurricane posted his first 100-yard game in only his second career start before his season ended due to a hip injury. He is on schedule to be back for summer camp and could start in 2012.
Roy Helu, RB, Washington
Robert Griffin III’s best friend this fall will be an effective ground game. Helu, a former Nebraska Cornhusker, started only five games as a rookie and scored only three times. Still, he posted a 4.2 yards-per-carry average and caught 49 passes. What keeps Helu from feature back status? Mike Shanahan’s infamously unpredictable running back rotation.
Mark Ingram, RB, New Orleans
Ingram dealt with nagging injuries as a rookie, but the former Heisman Trophy winner scored in four of the last six games he played and posted his two best rushing totals (91 and 80 yards) over his final four games of the season. Fully healthy, Ingram should prove why the Saints moved back into the first round to draft him in 2011.
Taiwan Jones, RB, Oakland
The Eastern Washington product will compete with scat-back Mike Goodson for time behind Darren McFadden — who has rarely been healthy in his brief career. Jones has been incredibly productive at every stop and has the talent to give Run DMC a break for 10-12 touches per game.
Mikel Leshoure, RB, Detroit
After rupturing his Achilles tendon last August, Leshoure never got the chance to show his explosive playmaking skill that made him a 1,700-yard, 17-TD back at Illinois. He has the size and physical presence Detroit has craved for years, and if he can stay healthy he could explode in 2012. Keep in mind that Leshoure is suspended for the first two games of the season due to his off-field transgressions.
Greg Little, WR, Cleveland
Only A.J. Green caught more passes among NFL rookie wideouts last season than Little’s 61. No one should be more excited about the addition of Brandon Weeden and Trent Richardson than Mr. Little.
Jake Locker, QB, Tennessee
Matt Hasselbeck will need to stay healthy — and play very well — to keep this talented gunslinger off the field. Locker displayed a big arm, above-average athletic ability and should be surrounded with more talent.
Christian Ponder, QB, Minnesota
With a new left tackle, a pair of new receivers to go with Percy Harvin and Kyle Rudolph and a (hopefully) healthy Adrian Peterson, Ponder should be trending upward into 2012.
Stevan Ridley, RB, New England
The former LSU Tiger can be a workhorse back. His best three games came in the final three games of the season, when he got double-digit carries and averaged 70 yards rushing. With BenJarvus Green-Ellis gone to Cincinnati, the job as No. 1 back could be Ridley’s.
Kyle Rudolph, TE, Minnesota
Expect many two-tight end sets from the Vikings. Rudolph has had injury issues in the past, but he has way too much speed, size and athleticism to be kept off the field.
Torrey Smith, WR, Baltimore
He made a name for himself in 2011, but Smith is still undervalued in mock drafts. With another year of seasoning, Smith will only build on his solid first season.
Daniel Thomas, RB, Miami
New coach Joe Philbin isn’t exactly a run-first coach, but there is no reason for Thomas not to improve dramatically in Year 2. A full season of healthy football will yield a nice ROI for a player of his raw talent — especially considering Reggie Bush’s penchant for injury.
Titus Young, WR, Detroit
The battle for the slot between this second-year player and rookie Ryan Broyles will be interesting. But in the Lions’ offense, there should be room for both to excel. Young caught at least four passes in each of the final four games last year.
— Originally published in the 2012 Athlon Sports NFL Fantasy Football preview magazine
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