Looking up and down what is now a 90 player roster and picking the top six players who need a productive year deemed a more difficult task than I originally planned. Of course the team needs production from ALL of what will become the final 53 man roster. However, certain players need a productive year to either keep a roster spot, justify the investment, or even stay on the team. I could have easily picked 10 or 12 players, but chose what I feel is the top six.
The criteria was pretty simple. For the most part I tried to keep the selection to players that have been around for at least 3 years. You won’t find any rookies or second year players here. I also concentrated on skill positions and areas where improvement is needed. In no particular order….
First up is Safety Chris Clemons. With secondary captain Yeremiah Bell being released during the off season and the pass defense rated in the bottom half of the league, the safety spot will be key for the defense this year. As a 5th round pick in the 2009 draft, Chris will be going into year 4 and will be battling for a spot with 7 other players, including likely keepers such as Reshad Jones and Tyrone Culver. IMO, this year is crucial to Chris and his future in Southbeach.
My second choice is Roberto Wallace. RW is going into year 3 and was signed as UDFA and has the same size as Brandon Marshall at 6’4″ 225 pounds. I like RW as my dark-horse to be something special, but it is time to show it. Securing a WR position, which will arguably be the most competitive battle on the team will be a challenge. As of now, 12 players are vieing for 5 or 6 spots, with at least two spots (Bess & Hartline) thought to be settled. I could have chosen Marlon Moore, but with his contribution on special teams, it becomes all the more critical RW needs a good pre-season and a solid year.
Last year turned into a disaster for the Fins at RT, and it was at least partly because Lydon Murhta went on the IR. The Fins drafted Jonathon Martin to fill that need, but Lydon will still need a good year to hang around. Going into year 5 and being picked from the Lions practice squad in 2009, it is his year to shine….or not.
Similar to the fate of Murtha is Jared Odrick. Going into year 3, Jared and was the 28th overall pick in 2010. A broken foot in camp ended his rookie season before it ever started. IMO, Jared may be THE ONE person on this list who is most favored to have a break out year. In 2011 he started coming on with a pick and 7 sacks despite being in the 3-4 system. Look for those numbers to improve in 2012 with a 4-3 hybrid defense and with the Fins losing DE Kendall Lankford in free agency it makes it even more important that Ordick stay healthy and be productive.
While I noted the safety position earlier with the loss of Bell, the CB position cannot be ignored in the pass happy NFL. IMO, considering the current rules, the CB has the 2nd most difficult position on the field, only to be out done by the QB. Last year Vontae Davis declared in pre-season that with he and Sean Smith made up the best CB tandem in the NFL. This year they need to prove it.
At a 2nd round, 61st overall pick in 2009, the Fins have a big investment in SS and with only three interceptions in his career, the Fins must be getting anxious. This is a big year for Sean Smith. Sean, it is time to step up!
How could I make a list of players that need to produce without mentioning the QB? I can’t! Regardless who is under Center come September, they will need to produce. Maybe not at the risk of losing their jobs or being cut, but this is clearly a spot that must shine and improve for the team to be a winner.
Matt Moore performed admirably last year and got better as the year went on. Will MM win the job or could Pat Devlin or David Garrard de-throne him is anyones guess. However, it is not a guess that whoever calls the signals will need to step it up.