What players in the division qualify as the most important, emerging second-year guys?
We’ll steer away from guys who were major contributors as rookies last year, looking for breakout sophomore candidates.
In Houston, we know Brian Cushing can play and we know the Texans love Glover Quin. Antoine Caldwell, the Texans' 2009 third-round lineman, needs to be part of the solution on an interior offensive line that suffered serious injuries early last season. It was particularly ineffective in the run game. He looks like he might be the guy at right guard, but there is still quite a bit to sort out. (Correction: Caldwell was taken in the third round, not the second.)
For the Colts, halfback Donald Brown needs to pass protect better to earn time on the field. But our choice is defensive tackle Fili Moala. The 2009 season amounted to a redshirt season for him as he tried to make the adjustment from USC to the NFL. But they drafted him as part of a push to be bigger and more physical inside and it would be good for them if he earned a slot in the rotation.
The 2009 Jaguars were loaded with rookie contributors, and Eugene Monroe, Eben Britton, Mike Thomas, Terrance Knighton and Derek Cox all did too much to still qualify as candidates here. Zach Miller's a great candidate, but with Marcedes Lewis and Ernest Wilford having good springs, the need at tight end doesn’t compare to safety. With a shaky corps of veterans at safety, Courtney Greene has room to earn the faith of the coaches and time on the field. He was an undrafted free agent out of Rutgers last year.
The Tennessee Titans are looking to their 2009 draft class for a giant contribution. Receiver Kenny Britt and linebacker Gerald McRath are going to get significant playing time. While Jason McCourty or Ryan Mouton will get the spotlight as a second corner, I’m not sold on either DB yet. But I do expect defensive tackle Sen'Derrick Marks to break out. He’s gotten stronger, and should be a key interior piece. Maybe he will take snaps away from the disappointing Jovan Haye?