NFL 2012-13: Six players to watch for the coming season

One more big hit and the good ship Roethlisberger could be sunk for good

It's a case of something old, something new and something bruised for the NFL season as Romilly Evans looks at some promising rookies and returning veterans to watch out for stateside

"One more big hit in the wrong place and big Ben Roethlisberger will strike midnight."

Robert Griffin III (Washington Redskins)
Top collegiate honours don't always translate into immediate NFL success, especially in a player's rookie season. So while the Heisman Trophy likes to hold the hand of Great Expectations, these welcome bedfellows can often produce an unwelcome bed-wetter. Robert Griffin III will look to scotch any such concerns in Week One, when the Redskins quarterback takes charge of a side which posted a distinctly underwhelming 5-11 last year.

Griffin allies a cannon-arm to a versatile running game, making him an unpredictable twin-threat outside the pocket. It would be foolish to expect Michael Vick-style numbers from the get-go against the Buffalo Bills this weekend but he should prove both a game-changer and, more importantly, winner for the Skins.

RG3's debut can't come soon enough and it should also shine a light on a murky list of receivers whose respective talents have yet to be unveiled. Griffin's passing accuracy - or lack thereof - will soon unveil their offensive prospects. Washington's future is now.


Josh Freeman (Tampa Bay Buccaneers)
Josh Freeman was a sleeper selection on many a fantasy roster last term, styling himself as the comeback kid after Brett Favre's retirement had offered up the mantle. He successfully led the Bucs on a fourth-quarter rally three times in the first half of the season. But the jaw-dropping rallies soon turned to free-falling agony with an alarming touchdown-to-interception percentage.

Still, at a tender 23, Freeman deserves another shot at redemption. And he may well get that now that the youngster has some new toys to play with. Chief among them is Vincent Jackson, part of the receiving corps that made up for many a Philip Rivers misfire in San Diego. Freeman is still raw but his year of under-achievement should have refined his skills and humility. A more cautious and productive talisman might be the result.


Adrian Peterson (Minnesota Vikings)
Paragons of athletic prowess don't get more dazzling than Adrian Peterson. The star running back has proved the point again, returning from debilitating, two-tear ACL surgery as quickly as Terrell Owens can say Hyperbaric Oxygen Chamber. And TO has never had a problem with rapid-fire diction.

AP, on the other hand, prefers to do his talking on the field - and the early signs are that he will get the chance to do just that on Sunday, although the Vikings' Leslie Frazier makes him no better than 60-40 to start. "He's doing all the things in practice he used to do and there's nothing that makes me want to hold him back," confided the coach. "But we do have time."

Expect Peterson to gear up over the first four games, before showcasing his glittering array of moves for the remainder, running record numbers and TDs on the ground. In the meantime, the Vikes have an able deputy in Toby Gerhart to give them some options.


Doug Martin (Tampa Bay Buccaneers)
All the hype in the 2012 draft for running backs centred around Trent Richardson but Tampa's Doug Martin shouldn't be far off his pace. Furthermore, he should get his fair share of backfield palm-offs in a team desperate to find some offensive poise and variety.

He has a rival and mentor for such duties in the seasoned LeGarrette Blount, but this should only act as a competitive spur for the former Boise State Bronco. Martin should secure the starting spot with his attitude and carrying consistency over the gain line.

Calvin Johnson (Detroit Lions)
The Lions of Detroit are gradually overcoming the memory of their 2008 campaign when they became the first team in history to lose all 16 regular-season games. Banishing such traumas is a hard-fought battle, but it certainly helps when you have Calvin Johnson on your side.

This imposing 26-year-old posted milestone figures last season with 96 catches for 1,681 yards, featuring 16 touchdowns - and it's easy to see why. At six feet five inches, Johnson fuses a rare blend of physicality, speed and bucket hands which make him virtually unplayable when he's on song.

Nicknamed "Megatron" by his teammates, world domination can wait. First, Johnson must help the Lions negotiate a way past the Green Bay Packers in the NFC North. Considering his team signed an eight-year contract extension in March for a reported $132m, it's the least he could do.


Ben Roethlisberger (Pittsburgh Steelers)
Just as an in-form quarterback can boost the value and performance of every player on a team's offensive line, so too will an out-of-sorts QB shackle their potential. "Big Ben" Roethlisberger has been absorbing the blitz for years and that was when his Steelers had some viable running lanes. If a one-dimensional passing game is their only recourse, it will be of scant consolation to Roethlisberger and his ailing bones.

Time and time again, this admirable lionheart has put his body on the line for the greater good, but his throwing arm still needs surgery if it is ever to return to its Super Bowl-winning condition. One more big hit in the wrong place and Big Ben will strike midnight, with darkness inevitably falling on Pittsburgh's challenge.

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