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Tuesday, May 17, 2011
Sophomore jumps: Who'll make a leap?

By Paul Kuharsky

Mel Kiper recently wrote about seven 2010 rookies he expects to have a big second year. None were from the AFC South.

Kiper mentioned seven other players, and only one plays for an AFC South team.

Of the Colts first-round pick from 2010, Kiper says: “I was shocked at how little [defensive end] Jerry Hughes saw the field. Will he rise to the challenge? The innate pass-rushing skills are there if he responds to the coaching.”

Who’s got the combination of promise and opportunity to make that second year jump?

Here’s a name for each team from me:

Houston Texans

Mitchell

Mitchell


We wrote recently about Shaun Cody and Earl Mitchell (a third-rounder out of Arizona in 2010) as the guys expected to fill the nose guard role in the Texans new 3-4 deployed by new defensive coordinator Wade Phillips. Mitchell’s got a great outlook and will have great opportunity. While Cody will be first in line, with the new coordinator, seniority should mean less and Mitchell may have more upside once he catches on to what the Texans ask him to do. But it could take some time. He’s only been a tackle for four seasons, having played as a fullback prior to that.

Indianapolis Colts

Eldridge

Eldridge


I was big on fifth-round tight end Brody Eldridge heading into his rookie season and thought he’d have a big influence on the rushing game. He didn’t really. Injuries allowed for the emergence of Jacob Tamme, a pass catcher, and more guys involved in a three-receiver set as the team sorted through receiver injuries. I’ll say Eldridge again. With two big rookie additions to the offensive line (Anthony Castonzo and Ben Ijalana), a new goal line style back (Delone Carter) and a healthier stable of Peyton Manning targets, he’ll have more chances to have an impact.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Smith

Smith


The Jaguars feel like their interior defensive line has turned into a strength because of the past two drafts, with 2009 third-rounder Terrance Knighton and 2010 first-rounder Tyson Alualu playing side by side. But the depth wasn’t what they’d planned on having because they lost third-rounder D'Anthony Smith early in training camp with a right Achilles injury. We don’t know what kind of pro Smith will be yet, but he stands to be an upgrade over guys like Leger Douzable, C.J. Mosley and Nate Collins, who finished last season as the interior depth.

Tennessee Titans

Williams

Williams


Mike Munchak and his offensive coordinator, Chris Palmer, simply have to find ways to get young receivers like Damian Williams to contribute earlier than their predecessors did. As a rookie third-rounder out of USC he didn’t win the return job and he didn’t get many chances at receiver, even late in the season when the Titans were foolish not to give him a thorough look. Justin Gage shouldn’t be around any longer and Williams should rank behind only Kenny Britt and Nate Washington in the Titans order, ahead of Lavelle Hawkins and Marc Mariani. Williams had a clear connection with Kerry Collins when the two played, a result of their team working on the scout team together. Whether Collins is the veteran QB ahead of Jake Locker or not, Williams should have opportunity.