AFC East: Show and Prove 2013

The AFC East blog continues its "Show and prove" series for the division in 2013.

On Thursday, we take a look at New England Patriots starting cornerback Alfonzo Dennard.

2012 stats: 35 tackles, three INTs

What he must prove: Dennard has to prove that the strong finish to his rookie season wasn’t a fluke. Dennard took over the starting cornerback job about midway into the 2012 season and never let up. The rookie fit in well with the Patriots and was tied for third on the team with three interceptions. Dennard also had some legal issues that were recently resolved. The Patriots are counting on Dennard to be focused in Year 2 and not have a sophomore slump.

Walker's 2013 outlook: I liked what I saw from Dennard last season. He was aggressive, fearless and appeared to get better as his rookie season went on. Dennard was a top-100 talent in last year’s draft who fell to the seventh round due to his pending legal issues. But the Patriots got a bargain by drafting Dennard, who should be a starter this season. He made some expected rookie mistakes last year. But I expect New England’s secondary to be better with Aqib Talib returning for a full season and Dennard having a year of experience under his belt. If both corners play well, New England’s defense could dramatically improve in 2013.
The AFC East blog continues its "Show and prove" series for the division in 2013.

On Thurday we take a look at New York Jets second-year receiver Stephen Hill.

2012 stats: 21 receptions, 252 yards, three TDs

What he has to prove: Hill has to prove that he’s polished enough to be a starting wide receiver in the NFL. The former second-round pick came to New York very raw and with little experience catching passes at Georgia Tech. But Hill has the kind of size and speed that you like at the position. New York doesn’t have many weapons on offense this year. So Hill should get ample opportunities to prove his worth with the rebuilding Jets.

Walker’s 2013 outlook: Hill still has a long way to go based on what I saw in his rookie season. Hill had issues with drops and overall concentration, which is not a surprise considering he wasn’t asked to be a pass-catcher much in college. He must also stay healthy this season. It’s going to take a lot of coaching for Hill to be a polished receiver at the NFL level, and he did not get very good coaching with the Jets last season. This will be Hill’s second offensive system in two years. Perhaps offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg can get more out of Hill's potential in a West Coast scheme than former Jets offensive coordinator Tony Sparano. Veterans Santonio Holmes and Jeremy Kerley should get most of the receptions in New York. But Hill has the potential to at least be New York’s top deep threat this season.
The AFC East blog continues its “Show and Prove” series for 2013 in the NFL.

Next up, we take a look at potential Buffalo Bills starting quarterback Kevin Kolb.

2012 stats: 1,169 yards, eight TDs, three INTs

What he must prove: Kolb has to prove he is worthy of being a starting NFL quarterback. He’s had ups and downs in stops with the Philadelphia Eagles and Arizona Cardinals. Now, Kolb will be part of a three-way competition with Tarvaris Jackson and rookie EJ Manuel. If Kolb is worth his salt, he should beat out a career journeyman and a first-year quarterback still trying to learn the NFL game. Kolb has the most experience of the three, but he’s also been inconsistent and prone to injuries.

Walker’s 2013 outlook: Longtime readers of the AFC East blog know I’ve thought Kolb was a legitimate franchise quarterback. He’s never had the consistency or durability to lead a franchise. This is perhaps Kolb’s final chance to prove he can be a starter. If Kolb can’t win a starting job in Buffalo, he probably can’t win a starting job with most other NFL teams. Either way, Kolb is nothing more than a stopgap option in Buffalo. The job will eventually go to Manuel whenever he’s ready. That could happen in Week 1, Week 10 or the following season. The best Buffalo can hope for is for Kolb to play decent football long enough this season for Manuel to develop.
The AFC East blog continues its “Show and Prove” series for the division in 2013.

Next up Monday we take a look at New England Patriots’ starting wide receiver Danny Amendola.

2012 stats: 63 receptions, 666 yards, three TDs

What he must prove: Perhaps no wide receiver in the AFC East has more to prove this year than Amendola. Not only is Amendola trying the fill the huge shoes left behind by former Patriot Wes Welker, but Amendola must also prove his durability. Amendola has missed more games (20) than he’s played in (12) the past two seasons. Still, New England saw his talent and signed him to a five-year, $31 million contract. Amendola must produce immediately to make Patriots fans forget about Welker.

Walker’s 2013 outlook: Amendola, 27, is a younger and more athletic version of Welker. From that perspective, it makes sense why New England made this move. But what was questionable is New England making the switch when Welker was still extremely productive and still had a strong chemistry with Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. I don’t see Amendola developing Welker-like chemistry with Brady in one year, and that’s a problem because the slot receiver is very important to Brady and New England’s offense. Welker also was very durable, which Amendola is not. The biggest goal for Amendola is to play all 16 games this year, which he’s only done once in his career. That would mark a good first step with the Patriots.
The AFC East blog continues its "Show and Prove" series for the division in 2013.

Next up we take a look at Buffalo Bills defensive end Mark Anderson.

2012 stats: 12 tackles, one sack

What he must prove: Anderson must prove that he is worthy of the free-agent contract he received from the Bills in 2012. Anderson, who came off a 10-sack season with the New England Patriots in 2011, signed a four-year, $19.5 million contract with the Bills last year but had an injury-plagued season. He played in just five games due to a knee injury in 2012. This is a make-or-break year for Anderson. If he cannot produce halfway through his four-year contract, the Bills could be forced to go in another direction.

Walker’s 2013 outlook: Anderson was a risky signing from the beginning for Buffalo. His 10-sack season with New England in 2011 had "flash in the pan" written all over it. Anderson only registered eight sacks in his previous four seasons combined. Buffalo needs as many pass-rushers as possible under new defensive coordinator Mike Pettine. But I am not sure Anderson is the type of player the Bills can consistently rely on this season. Despite his big contract, Anderson is probably best suited as a pass-rusher off the bench and a part-time starter if there are injuries on Buffalo’s defense.
The AFC East blog continues its "Show and Prove" series in the division for 2013.

Next we take a look at New York Jets starting linebacker DeMario Davis.

2012 stats: 36 tackles

What he has to prove: Davis must prove he is the long-term solution at inside linebacker for New York. The Jets drafted Davis in the third round in 2012, and now it’s his turn to step up after the team cut veteran linebacker Bart Scott. The Jets are in full rebuild mode in 2013. They desperately need young leaders to emerge, and it’s important that Davis develops into one of those players.

Walker's 2013 outlook: The Jets put a lot of hype on Davis as soon as he arrived, and I’m not sure that was a good idea. New York head coach Rex Ryan compared him to a young Ray Lewis last year in training camp before Davis played his first NFL game. That raised a lot of eyebrows. Davis didn’t see the field regularly until the second half of his rookie season. I saw some flashes of athleticism. But Davis didn’t make many impact plays, and I’m still not convinced he’s the next great linebacker under Ryan. Davis must prove he can be a consistent playmaker for 16 games.
The AFC East blog will begin its 2013 "Show and Prove" series this week. We will examine key players in the division who have a lot to prove this upcoming season.

Let’s start with Miami Dolphins tailback Lamar Miller, who will be a first-year starter.

2012 stats: 51 carries, 250 yards, one TD

What he has to prove: Miller must prove that he can carry the load in his second season. He showed a lot of potential in 2012 by leading the Dolphins with 4.9 yards per carry, but this year will be different with the departure of former starter Reggie Bush to free agency. Miller’s carries could increase from 51 last season to more than 200. That's a big jump. Miller had injury issues in college and must prove his durability. Miller also is a bit undersized and struggled mightily with pass protection. That’s a major focus for Miller if he wants to be the long-term solution at tailback in Miami.

Walker’s 2013 outlook: I liked what I saw from Miller last season. He has good burst and vision, which are two things needed from a tailback running behind Miami’s zone-blocking scheme. Miller is a better fit in that respect that Bush, who had a penchant to run east and west too often for zero or negative yards. However, I do have serious doubts about Miller as a pass blocker. Teams identified and exposed Miller last year in that area when he was in the game. He has a long way to go with taking on blocks, and I’m not sure he can make huge strides in just one offseason. Otherwise, Miami’s backfield of Miller, Daniel Thomas and potentially rookie Mike Gillislee should be solid and better than advertised.