Philadelphia Eagles QB Donovan McNabb – I don’t know if it is injuries or questions by “loyal” Eagles fans, but McNabb seems to be on the prove something list every year. Though he looked good in the team’s last four games (3-1 with passing numbers of 96-147, 995 yards, 65%, 6 TDs, 1 INT, 96.2 QB rating with an additional 101 yards rushing). McNabb needs to prove that he can stay healthy and lead this team back to the playoffs for the first time under him since going to the Super Bowl in 2004. Some experts that I have talked to are saying if things don’t go right in ’08, it could be McNabb’s last year in Philly. Unfortunately for the 10-year veteran, we now know the “playmakers” that he was asking for in February have not arrived other than tight end LJ Smith returning from injury and trading for running back Lorenzo Booker. I can tell you from watching mini-camps that quarterback in waiting Kevin Kolb is very confident and seems poised to make a move after being elevated to the number two quarterback slot.
New Orleans Saints RB Reggie Bush – Needs to prove that he can be more of a complete running back while understanding that a homerun is not needed on every single play. Bush showed during the time that Deuce McAllister (knee) was out that he couldn’t handle the load of being an every down back. The second overall player selected in the 2006 draft had his numbers in ’07 drop in receiving yardage (742 to 581), total touchdowns (9 to 6), and punt return yardage (261 to 12) with a slightly better number of yards in rushing 581 to 565, but only 3.7 yards per carry. Now in his third season, Bush needs to live up to his commercial hype by grasping the fact that in the NFL you need to have more than pure speed.
Carolina Panthers OT Jeff Otah – When the Carolina Panthers traded up in the first round of the 2008 NFL Draft by swapping their ’09 first round pick plus two lower level picks in ’08 (3rd and 4th rounds) to the Philadelphia Eagles to select the huge tackle (6’6, 340), the bull’s eye was on Otah. The former University of Pittsburgh road-grader was a dominant player in the Big East conference (101 knockdowns in ’07), but he will have to face bonafide pass rushers on a weekly basis in the NFL. Otah will need to answer questions on his conditioning and must protect recovering from injury quarterback Jake Delhomme.
Kansas City Chiefs RB Larry Johnson – After a lengthy holdout that drifted into training camp, Johnson got a new contract with the terms six years, $45 million, and $19 million in guaranteed. However the big back from Penn State was plagued by nagging injuries ending with a season ending foot injury. Johnson’s 2007 numbers were not his usual Pro Bowl numbers (8 games played, 158 rushes for 559 yards, 3.5 ypc and 3 touchdowns). If Johnson wants to live up to his ’07 boasts of pushing toward Eric Dickerson’s single season NFL rushing record (2,109 yards), he will need to prove he can stay healthy for 16 games.
Miami Dolphins DE Jason Taylor – All eyes this off-season have been on Taylor, as he became Mr. Dancing With the Stars. Everyone was impressed with his dance moves except the Bill Parcells led Miami Dolphins front office. Whether he plays for the Dolphins, Jaguars, Saints, Eagles, or any other team, the 6-foot-6, 255-pounder needs to prove he is not done at 34 years old. Since being drafted in the 3rd Round of 1997 NFL Draft, Taylor has produced 117 sacks including eleven in ’07.
Chicago Bears RB Rex Grossman – Much like Donovan McNabb, Grossman seems to be on this list every year. Though the former Florida quarterback has led the Bears to the Super Bowl in 2006 if he is shaky again in ’08, you can say good-bye to Rex in Chicago. Grossman, who is in the last year of his rookie contract, has great ability but just cannot avoid the mistakes that drive coaches insane as shown by his passing numbers in ’07 (7 starts, 122-225, 54.2%, 1411 yards, 4 TDs, and 7 INTs). Bears head coach Lovie Smith has been a strong supporter of the Grossman, but he may have seen enough as shown by the stoic coach leaving the quarterback position up for grabs this off-season. Surprisingly the Bears didn’t draft a quarterback leaving Kyle Orton and Grossman to battle for the starting position.
Oakland Raiders RB Darren McFadden – The big questions regarding the Raiders first rounder are “Can McFadden be this year’s Rookie of the Year like Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson?” and “Did the Raiders really need him?” The former two-time Heisman runner-up had several off the field red-flags going into the draft process, so he will need to make an impression while holding off Justin Fargas and Michael Bush for playing time. McFadden (6’2, 210) will also need to answer questions about his durability and fumbling problems while negotiating the Lane Kiffin-Al Davis situation. The former Arkansas star has all of the measurables including blazing speed (4.33 seconds in the forty) and leading the SEC in rushing (school season-record with 1,830 yards). However in the NFL, McFadden will need to prove that he can succeed outside of Arkansas’ gimmicky “Wildcat” offense.
Cleveland Browns DT Shaun Rogers – Even with head coach Romeo Crennel on a semi-warm seat, the Browns went about rebuilding their team through free agency and trades. All the off-season moves caused the Browns to not pick until the fourth round in the 2008 NFL Draft. Pardon the pun, but no off-season move was bigger than bringing in gigantic (6’4, reported 340 probably closer to 355) defensive tackle Rogers from the Detroit Lions for a 3rd round pick and cornerback Leigh Bodden. The Browns re-negotiated the big defensive tackle’s contract committing six-years and $42 million on him. Though Rogers has flashed legitimate playmaking ability (7 sacks in ’07), he often is said to take plays off at times.
Atlanta Falcons QB Matt Ryan – The Falcons announced with authority that they have moved on from the Michael Vick situation by selecting Ryan (6’5. 224) with the third overall pick. Falcons’ owner Arthur Blank went even further by signing Ryan to a six-year, $72 million contract with $34.5 million guaranteed (the most guaranteed money ever for a rookie). With his teammates looking for him to live up to his contract and a good majority of the Falcons’ fan base being loyal to Vick, Ryan has much to prove. The Philadelphia suburbs kid has the credentials as shown by his ’07 college numbers (388-of-654, 59.3%, 4507 yards and 31 TDs), but he better cut down on his 19 interceptions from last year.
Dallas Cowboys QB Tony Romo – Sure he has the celebrity girlfriend (or Maybe not depending if Jessica Simpson’s publicist is answering calls) and the big contract (six-year, $67.5 million contract extension with $30 million guaranteed), but Romo has not yet answered the call in the postseason. Everyone can forgive him for fumbling the field goal snap against the Seahawks in the ’06 playoffs. But there is no excuse for Romo’s performance (18-36, 201, 1 TD, 1 INT) in helping his 13-win team lose at home to the Giants. Romo’s ’07 numbers say he is a player (335 for 520, 4211 yards, 64.4 %, 36 TDs, and 19 INTs), but he needs to prove that after 27 career regular season starts that he is more legit than hype.
Baltimore Ravens QB Troy Smith – With the new Ravens’ head coach John Harbaugh putting the starting quarterback position up for grabs, Smith is in the mix with former number one quarterback Kyle Boller and ’08 first round selection Joe Flacco. Against the two more heralded signal callers, the 2006 Heisman Trophy winner will have something to prove to scouts that have questioned his height and ability to play in the NFL. Smith showed brief flashes at the end of the ’07 season while subbing for an injured Steve McNair, but it is the time for him to either live up to his highlight heisman college career or go by the way side like too many other Heisman winners.
Other Players that will need to answer the bell include:
Dallas Cowboys CB Pacman Jones – First will he be reinstated and simply put can he stay out of trouble enough to contribute to the Cowboys’ defense.
Cleveland Browns QB Derek Anderson – Was he a one-year wonder or a legitimate Pro Bowl passer plus Brady Quinn is waiting for his chance.
Minnesota Vikings DE Jared Allen – Received a huge contract from the Vikings, but he will need to lead them to the playoffs.
Green Packers RB Ryan Grant- Was he a one-year wonder and can he play without Brett Favre.
Tennessee Titans QB Vince Young – After a season of 9 TDs and 17 INTs plus laughable retirement talk, it is time to prove he is more than the hype.
Dallas Cowboys LB Zach Thomas – At 34 is he too old and can he make a difference in the Cowboys middle.
Cincinnati Bengals WR Chad Johnson – Has the talkative receiver’s mouth and his agent Drew Rosenhaus’ said too much for Ocho Cinco to back it up.
Kansas City Chiefs OT Branden Albert – Can he play LT in the NFL after being an All-American guard in college?
Denver Broncos Safety John Lynch – At 37 in September, can the tough safety still get it done for the Broncos.