Reviewing 'Show and Prove' Class of 2012

May, 25, 2013
5/25/13
8:00
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All this week the AFC East blog posted its "Show and Prove" series for 2013. This highlighted eight players in the division with a lot to prove this season. You can see the full lineup here.

But let’s take a look back at the “Show and Prove” Class of 2012 and see if they flopped or graduated with flying colors.

 

No. 1: LT Nate Solder, New England Patriots

What he must prove: “Solder has huge shoes to fill,” I wrote before the 2012 season. “He has to prove that he can replace a Patriots legend in Matt Light, who recently retired after a stellar career with New England. Light was a reliable force at left tackle protecting quarterback Tom Brady's blind side most of Brady's career. The change will put a huge spotlight on Solder.”

Analysis: Solder passed with good results. The Patriots pushed the tempo and led the NFL in total offense and points score. Brady also stayed healthy and played all 16 games. New England’s running game also was stronger than it had been in previous seasons. Solder helped pave the way for 1,200-yard rusher Stevan Ridley and proved to be New England’s long-term solution at left tackle.

Result: Thumbs up

 

No. 2: WR Brian Hartline, Miami Dolphins

What he must prove: “Hartline, by default, must prove he is a legitimate No. 1 receiver,” I wrote last year. “Miami traded Pro Bowl receiver Brandon Marshall to the Chicago Bears for two third-round picks this offseason. The Dolphins didn't take a receiver high in the draft or make any significant additions in free agency. That leaves Hartline trying to make the jump from a complementary receiver to a No. 1 threat.”

Analysis: Perhaps no player in the AFC East made a bigger jump from training camp to the end of the 2012 season than Hartline. He was injured and actually on the roster bubble for much of the offseason. Hartline was on the sidelines and couldn’t show his worth to a new coaching staff. Fortunately for Hartline, other receivers in Miami were struggling, as well. Therefore, first-year head coach Joe Philbin stuck with Hartline, who finally got healthy and came around in the regular season. It wasn’t long before he became rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill’s biggest playmaker. Hartline led the Dolphins with 1,083 receiving yards and turned it into a five-year, $31 million extension with the team.

Result: Thumbs up

 

No. 3: QB Ryan Fitzpatrick, Buffalo Bills

What he must prove: “Fitzpatrick must prove that he is a franchise quarterback. The Bills certainly are paying him like one,” I wrote last year. “Fitzpatrick received a $59 million contract extension during the 2011 season. But he struggled down the stretch, got injured and lost eight of his last nine starts.”

Analysis: The 2012 season was a no-excuse year for Fitzpatrick, and he never lived up to his contract. Fitzpatrick was the same inconsistent, streaky player he’s always been and led Buffalo to another 6-10 record. Fitzpatrick had a knack for turning over the football at the worst possible times. Fitzpatrick simply wasn’t a franchise quarterback, and the Bills made a huge error. Fitzpatrick was released this offseason and signed to be a backup with the Tennessee Titans.

Result: Thumbs down

 

No. 4: Shawne Merriman, Bills

What he must prove: “First, Merriman must stay healthy,” I wrote last year. “He suffered back-to-back season-ending Achilles injuries, and Merriman must prove he's fully recovered and can play close to a full season for the first time since 2009.”

Analysis: Despite Achilles issues the previous two seasons, the Bills brought back Merriman in hopes that “Lights Out” could add something to their pass rush. It turned out Merriman still lacked the explosiveness that once made him a good player. He was a bench player for the Bills who didn’t offer much. He retired after the season.

Result: Thumbs down

 

No. 5: QB Tim Tebow, New York Jets

What he must prove: “Tebow, first and foremost, has to prove he can be an asset to the Jets, who acquired him in a trade with the Denver Broncos this offseason,” I wrote last year. “New York's coaching staff is behind Mark Sanchez as the starting quarterback, but the team wants to find creative ways to get the most out of Tebow's abilities. That includes the Wildcat, special teams and maybe a few surprises.”

Analysis: The hype was immense. Tebow was coming off a playoff victory with Denver and was expected to push Sanchez in New York, but that never materialized. Instead, Tebow had a strange year in New York where he was used poorly at Wildcat, H-back and special teams. When Sanchez struggled, Tebow also was passed over for third-string quarterback Greg McElroy, which was a sign that Jets’ coaching staff didn't think Tebow was capable of leading the team. He was a bust in New York and eventually released.

Result: Thumbs down

 

No. 6: DE Jared Odrick, Dolphins

What he must prove: “Odrick must prove that he's ready to be a full-time starter,” I wrote last year. “Odrick, a former first-round pick, has eight starts the past two seasons.”

Analysis: Odrick is a former first-round pick, who is solid at several things, but not really special at anything. Odrick played all 16 games and started 12 at defensive end for the Dolphins last year. He was solid against the run, but didn’t offer much of a pass-rushing threat. That led to Miami drafting No. 3 overall pick Dion Jordan in this year’s draft. Odrick has some versatility and is getting a look inside at defensive tackle. He’s a good piece to have on your team. But Odrick proved last year that he’s not a game-changer.

Result: Thumbs down

 

No. 7: DB Devin McCourty, Patriots

What he must prove: “McCourty must prove his stellar rookie year wasn’t a fluke,” I wrote last year. “New England’s 2010 first-round pick took the NFL by storm as a rookie with 82 tackles, seven interceptions and two forced fumbles. McCourty looked like a genius pick by the Patriots and made the Pro Bowl. But McCourty had a huge sophomore slump in 2011.”

Analysis: McCourty struggled at cornerback so much that Patriots head coach Bill Belichick made him a full-time safety. McCourty had a few ups and downs, but actually proved to be a decent safety. McCourty may not be a shutdown corner some thought he would be after his rookie year. But McCourty’s versatility to play all positions in the secondary makes him a valuable asset in New England’s defense.

Result: Thumbs up

 

No. 8: RT Wayne Hunter, Jets

What he must prove: “Hunter must prove he's a starting right tackle,” I wrote last year. “The 2011 season was his first as a full-time starter, and it was a disaster.”

Analysis: Hunter became infamous with Jets fans. In terms of balance, strength and lack of consistency, he was arguably the worst starting offensive tackle in football in 2011. Hunter’s struggles continued in camp with the Jets, who eventually cut ties and made a trade with the St. Louis Rams for another bust in Justin Smith. The trade, as expected, didn’t work out well for either team. But at least it got Hunter out of New York, where he was eaten alive by the Jets fans and media. It also allowed the Jets to discover relative unknown Austin Howard, who played decent football at right tackle last season.

Result: Thumbs down

James Walker | email

ESPN Miami Dolphins reporter

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