May 15, 2012; Alameda, CA, USA; Oakland Raiders quarterback Carson Palmer (3) at organized team activities at the Raiders practice facility. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee/Image of Sport-US PRESSWIRE
The NFL offseason is a time when players are putting in the work to take the next step. Which players need this offseason the most to take the next step in 2012?
The offseason is a time when nearly every NFL team believes it has a chance to make the playoffs the next year. That parity is one of the reasons the NFL is so great. Some teams are just one big season from a key player away from being title contenders.
The NFL offseason includes a series of Organized Team Activities and other minicamps, which are basically a series of practices without full pads. Because of that, it's hard to gain any legitimate insight into how each team and player is doing.
But SB Nation's NFL roundtable, which includes SBNation.com contributors Ryan Van Bibber and Alfie Crow as well as NFL editor Joel Thorman identified the players who need to have a huge offseason.
Sam Bradford, QB, St. Louis Rams: If anyone in the league needed a fresh start this year, it was Bradford. He had a month last year to learn a complex new offense and a season to fight through an improbable cascade of injuries. There seems to be more stability in St. Louis right now, a pair of legitimate running backs and a healthy Danny Amendola.
Julio Jones, WR, Atlanta Falcons: It's hard to look at 54 catches, 959 yards and eight touchdowns as something that still has room for improvement. I really think Jones breaks out in a big way this season. That probably comes at the expense of Roddy White, who is preparing for a lesser role this year, and I might even be overestimating Matt Ryan. Still, we didn't get a chance to see everything that Jones is capable of doing.
Mario Williams, DE, Buffalo Bills: This just seems like the perfect fit for any free agent from this offseason. Williams joins a loaded front four with fellow free agent Mark Anderson sandwiched with Marcell Dareus and a healthy Kyle Williams. Buffalo looks like a surprise candidate for second place in the AFC East, in no small part due to Williams' headlining that group.
Carson Palmer, QB, Oakland Raiders: Palmer was thrown into being the quarterback for the Oakland Raiders last season a bit earlier than the team would have liked. Despite the fact that Palmer sat out all offseason and the first part of the regular season, outside of his first game with the Raiders, he wasn't that bad. Palmer now has a stable situation and offseason with his new team and should reap the benefits, getting back to his prior form.
Randy Moss, WR, San Francisco 49ers: After seemingly ending his Hall Of Fame career with a thud in 2010, playing for three different teams and then sitting out the entire 2011 season, Moss has found his way back in the NFL with the San Francisco 49ers. By all accounts, he looks like the Randy Moss of old in practices thus far in the offseason. According to media and teammates, he looks like the uncoverable downfield threat that caught everything.
Blaine Gabbert, QB, Jacksonville Jaguars: Admittedly I am a Jaguars fan, but quarterback Blaine Gabbert is working to rebound from a horrible rookie season under some of the worst circumstances. Gabbert now has a coaching staff dedicated to working with him and fixing some of his mechanical flaws, and they seem to be reaping the benefits thus far. All reports out of Jaguars camp are his footwork has improved and he's picked up the new offense. Actually having coaching that cares and a real offseason should help Gabbert out tremendously.
Joel Thorman | SB Nation NFL
Mark Sanchez, QB, New York Jets: The Jets quarterback signed a contract extension over the offseason which should mean that he's not under a lot of pressure. But this is New York and Tim Tebow has been signed. That contract extension means very little for him. Sanchez is an impossible spot because unless he lights it up with Pro Bowl-type numbers there will be calls for Tebow. Even if he is putting up Pro Bowl numbers there will be calls for Tebow. Sanchez will be hearing it all season long. He needs to have a terrific offseason in order to establish himself as the clear No. 1 quarterback. He will enter the season as the starter but his preparation this offseason will determine how long he stays there.
Reggie Bush, RB, Miami Dolphins: Last year Reggie Bush put up career numbers with 1,086 rushing yards and six rushing touchdowns. If the Dolphins are going to succeed, they'll need another big year from Bush. The problem is that Miami is tweaking its offense with offensive coordinator Brian Daboll now gone, the same offense in which Bush put up career numbers. The Dolphins job this offseason will be figuring out how best to use Bush in their new offense. He's a weapon, but you have to know how to use him.
Carson Palmer, QB, Oakland Raiders: As Alfie notes, Palmer may need the biggest offseason of anyone. He came to the Raiders midseason last year and didn't have much time to become acclimated to the offense. The Raiders have weapons on the offensive side of the ball and a competent quarterback, which Palmer showed at times last year he was, could be what's missing ingredient to an AFC West title. Maybe no other player in the NFL can make as big of a difference with a good offseason as Palmer.