Now that the draft is in our rear view mirror, we can begin to imagine which teams will be moving towards a coveted playoff spot in 2012 and which teams will likely be taking a step back. The NFL is a quarterback driven league. It's become one of the great sports cliches of our time, but the gravity of that statement is perfectly real. For a number of young quarterbacks, 2012 could be a make or break season.
Mark Sanchez, Sam Bradford, Blaine Gabbert, Christian Ponder, and to a lesser extent, Josh Freeman all face difficult challenges as we approach the beginning of the 2012 season. Mark Sanchez will be on a short leash in the eyes of New York City, if not Rex Ryan. The addition of Tim Tebow does make the Jets a more dynamic offense, there's no denying that, but it also adds far more pressure than is necessary for a player to be pushed towards success. In face, it may add far too much pressure. If that's the case, Tim Tebow must be ready, and the Jets have to be able to adapt to a completely different style if Tebow is called upon to lead them into the playoffs.
Sam Bradford had what many people would call a "sophomore slump," but that doesn't mean he can't bounce back. The Rams lacked weapons in 2011, but they're still committed to Sam Bradford. They're taking an optimistic view of Bradford's performance, as they should, and they're actively making the Rams a better team. To build a team that lasts in the NFL, general managers must be patient in acquiring talent. That seems to be a lesson Les Snead understands. These things take time, and they don't happen overnight. That being said, Sam Bradford can do better in 2012, and he'll need to if he wants to be the Rams' long term solution down the road.
Blaine Gabbert and Christian Ponder were both thrown into poor positions in 2011, and both of those guys struggled mightily. Gabbert threw for just 12 touchdowns and 11 interceptions while Ponder threw for only 13 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. Both quarterbacks' completion percentages ended at just over 50%, but neither team abandoned ship this offseason. The Jaguars were in the running to land Tim Tebow, but they failed in that effort. Despite seeking Tebow, the Jaguars did not go out of their way to add a franchise quarterback. The closest thing they did to replacing Gabbert was acquiring Chad Henne, hardly a vote of no confidence by the Jaguars. The Vikings were also in a position where they could have moved up in the draft to select Robert Griffin III prior to the Redskins' blockbuster trade with the Rams, but they stuck to the guy they believe in. Ponder will need to be more accurate and more consistent in 2012, but again, he should be capable of doing that. As with many of the quarterbacks mentioned above, Ponder needs more weapons, and the Vikings will do their best to give them to him.
Josh Freeman also faces a big year in 2012. I wouldn't go so far as to call this a make or break season for him, but he certainly needs to perform better than he did last season, or questions about his future as the Buccaneers' franchise quarterback will begin to creep into the picture. Freeman complete a solid 62.8% of his passes last season, but he also threw more interceptions (22) than he did touchdowns (16). Any time you're turning the ball over that much more often than scoring touchdowns, your team is put in unwinnable situations. If he can make better choices, or less poor choices rather, in the future, the Buccaneers will once again be on the rise.
As is the case, the NFL is a quarterback driven league. Teams want to win right now, and these guys will all be on very warm, if not sizzling, seats in 2012. All of these guys still have the opportunity to gain their team's trust, but to do that they'll need to start performing up to their potential. Otherwise, they'll be heading for the exits as their teams move on.
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