Point No. 1: Falcons wide receiver Roddy White is poised for a 100-catch season.
After three consecutive seasons with more than 80 catches, the sixth-year veteran should make a serious run at his first 100-catch season with the help of quarterback Matt Ryan, who is entering his third year as an NFL starter.
"We're completing a lot of balls out there for big plays," White said during the team's recent minicamp. "We're going to continue to get better."
With the return of running back Michael Turner, who missed five games because of injury last year, and the emergence of fourth-year rusher Jason Snelling, opponents won't be able to drop additional defenders into pass coverage very often, opening up more passing opportunities for the Falcons. During 14 game appearances and two starts last year, Snelling averaged 4.3 yards per carry while rushing for 613 yards -- second only to Turner's 871 yards during his 11 starts.
The team's top receivers -- White, Tony Gonzalez and Michael Jenkins -- are all back. And the wide receiver corps will get an added boost with the return of Harry Douglas, a promising young receiver out of Louisville who turned in a solid rookie season in 2008 before missing the 2009 season with a torn ACL.
While it appears White and the Falcons offense should be set for an outstanding year, there's one other significant factor that must work in their favor in 2010 if they're going to make a deep run into the playoffs.
"Everybody stay healthy, and we'll be successful," White said.
Point No. 2: Limas Sweed is proving to be a rare and costly blunder for the Steelers' scouting department.
The former University of Texas wide receiver was drafted with the 22nd pick in the second round in 2008 by the Steelers. But after his first two seasons in the league, Sweed hasn't lived up to expectations, catching a measly seven passes for 69 yards and no touchdowns.
Then Sweed tore his left Achilles' tendon during the team's minicamp earlier this month, likely marking the end of his tenure with the Steelers. The team placed him on the reserved/injured list, ending his 2010 season even though training camp doesn't begin for another two months.
According to one NFL source, after receiving a $1.5 million signing bonus as a rookie, Sweed has pocketed $680,000 in salary over the past two years. And because his 2010 salary is set at $470,000, the Steelers will have shelled out $2.66 million by the end of this season for his seven career catches, making Sweed the team's most disappointing high draft pick at wide receiver since Frank Lewis in 1971.
Over the past 40 years, the Steelers have fared well with the receivers they selected in the first two rounds of the draft. Antwaan Randle El, Will Blackwell, Jeff Graham and Ron Shanklin were solid contributors as second-round picks. The team's first-round picks during that span -- Santonio Holmes, Plaxico Burress, Troy Edwards, Charles Johnson, Louis Lipps, Lynn Swann and Frank Lewis -- all put up much better numbers than Sweed, even though Edwards and Lewis didn't live up to their first-round status while playing for Pittsburgh.
The 26-year-old's NFL future is certainly in doubt, and that's a shame. There's no debate he has the work ethic, desire and the competitive spirit to be successful, but the leap to the pro game has been a real struggle for him so far.
Point No. 3: The Packers' 2010 season could go south really quickly if Aaron Rodgers doesn't stay healthy.
Should Green Bay fans be worried if Rodgers isn't able to get through the 2010 season without missing a start? Well, considering that Matt Flynn was a seventh-round pick in 2008 while Chris Pizzotti and Noah Shepard are both undrafted free agents, it certainly wouldn't be an unreasonable reaction.
Flynn has a level of moxie and reliable football skills that allowed him to outlast fellow 2008 draft pick Brian Brohm, even though Brohm was a second-round selection. But that doesn't necessarily mean he's a solid second-tier NFL quarterback. That said, coach Mike McCarthy evidently likes his current depth chart, including what he has been seeing out of former Harvard quarterback Chris Pizzotti.
"Chris has really improved," McCarthy said during the team's minicamp earlier this month. "Actually, we do a video the first day of quarterback school on fundamentals, and then we do it the last day -- just the number of things that we addressed -- and then we do it at the end of the quarterback school. I'm excited and curious to see Chris' video this year, because I think he's made a lot of fundamental improvements and I think it showed up this week. I thought he did a nice job handling the offense this weekend."
As for Shepard, a rookie out of the University of South Dakota, the Packers coach was very impressed by his command in the huddle and his ability to make big plays on third down.
"You look for those types of things where he's able to get the timing and just play the game with new receivers and new scheme, new language. But I thought he conducted himself very well," he said.
All that enthusiasm aside, the collective pro experience behind Rodgers is Flynn's seven completions for 58 yards and an interception. And because the Packers are clearly a team that has Super Bowl potential in 2010, it seems a bit reckless for them to ignore the need for better depth at quarterback.
Point No. 4: I'm glad Brian Cushing got to keep his Defensive Rookie of the Year Award.
I have to admit I was shocked the Associated Press moved forward with a revote on Cushing's award months after the fact, despite recent revelations he was found guilty of violating the NFL's policy on anabolic steroids and related substances. But after the revote, I was even more shocked by the reaction of the members of the NFL media community who had believed Cushing should have been stripped of the award. Their calling out of the AP voters who had stuck by their original vote or voted for Cushing to protest the concept of a revote reflected a self-righteous stance that bordered on pouting because their opinions hadn't been affirmed by the revote.
Don't get me wrong, I respect their opinions and their right to put it into print. But that could have been accomplished without calling out other members of the NFL media community -- some by name -- in the process.
I agree with the stance of Charean Williams, president of the Pro Football Writers of America.
"If I had known in January when we initially voted that Brian Cushing had tested positive for a banned substance, I might not have voted for him," she said. "However, Cushing won the award in January, and I don't feel like we should revise history. I am concerned about the precedent."
That sums it up pretty well. Once a decision has been made, at what point do you try to undo history? For example, let's assume years had passed before Cushing not only failed a test, but also then perhaps admitted he had actually been taking steroids for his entire NFL career. Do you call for a revote on every award he had won during his pro career? That's ludicrous. And that's the precedent some people have overlooked during this heated debate.
What the Associated Press -- and any other organization that hands out these awards -- should do is adopt a policy that clearly states at what point, if any, it will consider a revote situation in the future. It shouldn't wait until one of these situations becomes so high-profile it arbitrarily imposes such a policy on the fly.
I couldn't help but wonder if players -- who are often the target of biting commentary by NFL writers -- were chuckling to themselves as they watched members of the media attack each other for a change. I wouldn't have blamed them one bit.
Point No. 5: Dez Bryant isn't going to knock Roy Williams out of his No. 2 wide receiver spot this year.
Yes, I know Bryant is a huge talent and a player who appears to have a bright NFL future if he can keep his head on straight. And I also fully acknowledge Williams has yet to prove that he's worthy of being the Cowboys' No. 2 receiver.
But all that said, rookie wide receivers don't often transition smoothly enough to NFL to be worthy of a No. 2 slotting, especially when drafted by a playoff-level team. And let's face it, some first-round receivers are outright busts. San Diego's Buster Davis, a 2007 first-round pick, has just 30 catches on his pro resume after three seasons. Even eventual stars often don't make much of a splash in their debut seasons. A good example is the Colts' Reggie Wayne, who caught 27 passes for 345 yards after being picked in the first round of the 2001 draft. And I wouldn't even put Dez Bryant in the same breath as Reggie Wayne when comparing their talent and football intelligence coming out of their respective college careers.
Will Bryant eventually bump Williams from the No. 2 spot? I think so. But it's more likely to happen during the 2011 training camp than during this season unless Williams gets injured.
Point No. 6: Adam Carriker and Bobby Carpenter will prove that some players are like fish out of water when they aren't in the right scheme.
Carriker, a former first-round pick by the Rams in 2007, recently landed in Washington after a trade during the draft that involved two relatively low picks. For Washington, that will be a real steal if he can return to his rookie-season form, when he played in a 3-4 scheme for Jim Haslett, the new defensive coordinator for the Redskins.
"He knows what to expect out of me. I know what to expect out of him," Carriker said last week during the team's minicamp. "So it definitely makes the transition easier."
The former Nebraska star started 16 games as a defensive tackle for the Rams back in 2007, making 30 tackles and a pair of sacks. Then he lost his starter's job during his sophomore campaign and missed the 2009 season with a tear in his shoulder muscle. But Carriker is excited about his opportunity to play defensive end in Washington.
"My body type is more of a 3-4 end, a longer-armed guy," he said. "I feel comfortable doing that. Coming out of college, that's what a lot of scouts saw me as."
Carpenter, a highly respected linebacker when he was drafted with the 18th pick overall in 2006 by the Cowboys, floundered in Dallas' 3-4 scheme over the past four seasons, earning just three starts. But thanks to a recent trade with the Rams, the former Ohio State star is expected to step into a starter's role at one of the outside linebacker spots in St. Louis' 4-3 scheme, playing alongside another former Buckeye, middle linebacker James Laurinaitis.
"It's a youthful, energetic group. The coaches are very passionate, and just being in the building today, there's a ton of energy here," Carpenter said during a conference call last week. "It's something that I don't know that you necessarily take for granted, but everybody in Dallas had been there for a while. They've got more of a seasoned group of players down there, but now coming up here, it's a totally different feel and outlook. Everybody's very optimistic and positive. It's going to be a pleasure working up here."
Keep an eye on both of these players as the 2010 season progresses. I think you're going to see both of them settle in quickly and make solid contributions to their clubs' success.
Point No. 7: The Eagles may not fully realize the loss of Donovan McNabb until they reach the two-minute warning.
With McNabb leading Philadelphia's offense for all but two contests last season, the Eagles finished the 2009 season with the most productive two-minute offense in the league. Philadelphia scored 49 points during the closing minutes of play, while the New Orleans Saints finished close behind with 44. No other NFL team managed to score more than 30 points.
McNabb completed 60 percent of his two-minute drill throws for 545 yards and four touchdowns, posting a passer rating of 102.5. By comparison, Kevin Kolb completed 50 percent of his passes for 119 yards and no scores while registering a 31.7 passer rating in his five game appearances and two starts last year.
Will Kolb fare better in 2010 as the team's full-time starter? I think so, but not as well as McNabb did last year.
Follow Ed Thompson on Twitter.
Statistics referenced in this article are provided by STATS, LLC. Copyright 2010 by STATS, LLC. Any use or distribution of such Licensed Materials without the express written consent of STATS is strictly prohibited.