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Cullen: NFL players with new opportunities to produce

Scott Cullen
8/14/2013 4:23:38 PM
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There are a lot of tremendous athletes in the NFL and, sometimes, all they need is a new and better opportunity to improve their production.

While a new team, or scheme, doesn't guarantee production, the opportunity is what matters.

Last season, for example, Brandon Marshall set career highs in receptions (118), yardage (1,508) and touchdowns (11) upon joining the Chicago Bears; Demaryius Thomas broke through in his third season with the Broncos, thanks in no small part to having Peyton Manning as his quarterback; Vincent Jackson had a career-best 72 catches for 1,384 yards in his first season with Tampa Bay. Those three ranked third, fourth and fifth in receiving yardage last season.

It should be noted that some players, like Mike Wallace going to Miami and Ahmad Bradshaw going to Indianapolis for example, may continue to be productive with their new teams, but may not be as likely to improve on the numbers they've put up previously. 

So, who are some players getting new opportunities this year that might be in for productive seasons?

Steven Jackson, RB, Atlanta - Jackson has run for more than 1,000 yards in eight consecutive seasons. He's 30-years-old, which can be a time of decline for running backs, but Jackson joins an Atlanta Falcons offence that is much more prolific than the Rams offence that he's been trying to carry.

For all of the yardage he's accumulated -- last season's 1,363 yards from scrimmage was his lowest since 2007, Jackson hasn't scored more than eight touchdowns in a season since 2006. The back that Jackson is replacing, Michael Turner, scored 61 touchdowns over the last five seasons with Atlanta, so a double-digit touchdown season shouldn't be out of the question for Jackson.

Daryl Richardson, RB, St. Louis - In the wake of Jackson's departure from St. Louis, there is opportunity for Richardson, the second-year back who gained 638 yards from scrimmage as a rookie after he was a seventh-round pick in 2012.

Richardson may not be big enough to handle a full starter's workload, and Isaiah Pead will compete for touches, but whoever gets to run for the Rams will have a chance to produce.

David Wilson, RB, N.Y. Giants - A first-round pick in 2012, Wilson found himself in the doghouse for much of his rookie season after a fumble on the second carry of his NFL career, but showed potential late in the year, rushing for 247 yards in the last four games.

Wilson will share backfield duties with Andre Brown, and could lose touchdown opportunities as a result, but he's a good bet to be the more productive back for Big Blue.

Greg Jennings, WR, Minnesota - After injuries limited him to just eight games for the Packers last season, Jennings gets a fresh start with a division rival and does so as the Vikings' number one wide receiver.

That brings no guarantee of production, considering the focus on the running game with Adrian Peterson and the fact that third-year quarterback Christian Ponder isn't exactly Aaron Rodgers, but Jennings is a three-time 1,000-yard receiver who has scored nine touchdowns in a season four times, and he could get back to those numbers over a full season with the Vikings.

Tony Moeaki, TE, Kansas City - AFter sitting out the entire 2011 season with a knee injury, Moeaki returned last season and had modest numbers for the Chiefs, but could be poised for a bigger role as the Chiefs offence is overhauled, with new quarterback Alex Smith and new head coach Andy Reid implementing an offence that has tended to be good for tight end production.

If it's not Moeaki who benefits, maybe it will be newcomer Anthony Fasano, who was reliable, if perhaps under-utilized, in Miami.

Danny Amendola, WR, New England - Few newcomers have the notoriety of Amendola, the slot receiver who is set to replace Wes Welker in the Patriots' offence. Amendola has missed 20 games over the last two seasons, so health is a primary concern, but he's productive when he plays, recording 153 receptions in 28 games (5.46 per game) over the last three seasons.

If Amendola can build trust with Brady, though, Amendola will have far better opportunities to produce than he did with St. Louis while quarterback Sam Bradford was in the infancy of his NFL career. Can he catch 100 passes and gain 1,000 yards, like Welker? That might be asking a lot, but it's not out of the question.

Jared Cook, TE, St. Louis - Following a breakthrough season with the Titans in 2011, when he had 759 receiving yards, Cook took a step back last season and has moved on to a Rams offence which, due to unproven receivers, offers plenty of room for Cook to become a big part of the passing attack.

Cook is a big target and athletic enough to get down the field. If he becomes a red zone threat (he's scored eight touchdowns in four NFL seasons), then his value will really take off.

Martellus Bennett, TE, Chicago - Going from a back-up role in Dallas to a starting spot with the Giants last season paid off for Bennett as he registered career-highs in receptions (55), yardage (626) and touchdowns (5) and now he moves to the Bears, where there should be ample opportunity to play a big role in the Bears' passing game under new head coach Marc Trestman.

Maybe Bennett won't improve dramatically over last season, but the Bears are likely to pass more than they have in the past and Bennett can be part of that production.

Dallas Clark, TE, Baltimore - Far enough removed from his career-best 2009 season, with the Colts, when he caught 100 passes for 1,106 yards, Clark could be a valuable addition to the Ravens' offence in the wake of Dennis Pitta's hip injury.

Re-connecting with offensive co-ordinator Jim Caldwell, who coached Clark with the Colts, provides familiarity and, even at 34, Clark could put up good numbers with a good quarterback and an offence that targets the tight end. Ed Dickson is also a consideration for the Ravens, but he's currently dealing with a hamstring injury, providing more opportunity for Clark to get settled into his role.

Jacoby Jones, WR, Baltimore - Staying with the Ravens, Jones could see a bump in production as he moves into the starting lineup due to the departure of Anquan Boldin. Jones is a terrific return man, but has a career-high of 562 receiving yards, so he has a chance to exceed past production.

Rashard Mendenhall, RB, Arizona - Injuries sabotaged Mendenhall's 2012 season, but he'd run for 3,309 yards and 29 touchdowns in the previous three years and he seems likely to be the Cardinals' No. 1 back, though he does face competition from Ryan Williams.

If Mendenhall is healthy and remains the starter, a 1,000-yard season isn't an unreasonable expectation.

There are others, including some that will be included in an upcoming position battles post, but these are some of the new faces in new places that could make a difference this season.

Scott Cullen can be reached at Scott.Cullen@bellmedia.ca and followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/tsnscottcullen. For more, check out TSN Fantasy on Facebook.



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