10. Aaron Curry – LB – Seahawks
It’s tough to say a rookie underachieved, but Curry entered the league as a can’t-miss prospect. His 2009 season was a disappointment from day one. He started 12 games for the Seahawks and played nearly every snap when he was healthy, but just never produced. Making the transition from the ACC to the NFL certainly wasn’t aided by the sinking ship that was the Seattle Seahawks in 2009. The new regime has no allegiances to him, meaning he’ll have to earn his job in 2010 and the expectations will be very high.
9. Charlie Johnson – OT – Colts
Maybe this isn’t the right list for Johnson, because no one has really ever expected much from him. But he remains the starting left tackle for one of the league’s best quarterbacks, and with that comes the expectation of success. Johnson was a liability last season, especially in the Super Bowl when he allowed one hit and three pressures. As Manning gets older, protecting him becomes more important and Johnson needs to prove he can step up the challenge.
8. Jonathan Vilma – LB – Saints
Vilma was the Saints best linebacker in 2009, but that’s not saying much. They’ve since parted ways with Scott Fujita and failed to find an adequate replacement. Vilma will need to continue to improve in order to make up for the deficiencies at outside linebacker in New Orleans.
7. Levi Brown – OT – Cardinals
Brown’s poor play was masked by Kurt Warner’s pocket presence the past few seasons, but his sloppy play must stop now that Matt Leinart is under center. He’ll be asked to anchor the Cardinals patchwork offensive line and finally live up to expectations.
6. Amobi Okoye – DT – Texans
Drafted as a 19-year-old in 2007, Okoye was supposed to be an instant terror on the Texans’ interior defensive line. Instead, Okoye has been a liability against the run and rarely made an impact as a pass rusher. He registered just two sacks and five hits in 2009, numbers that much improve if he’s to avoid a bust label in his 4th season in the league.
5. LaRon Landry – S – Redskins
Landry was supposed to be the leader of the Redskins’ secondary in the post-Sean Taylor era. He’s made his presence felt in run support, but he’s struggled to adjust to the speed of the NFL passing game. He is stiff in coverage and is often caught out of position. The Redskins have remained committed to him, but his days could be numbered if he doesn’t impress the new regime early on.
4. Derrick Johnson – LB – Chiefs
Johnson was a college legend at Texas, but his transition to the NFL has been a tough one. He’s never lived up to expectations in Kansas City and he could be getting his last chance in 2010. Romeo Crennel will look to him to step up as a starter at inside linebacker and he’ll need to perform if the Chiefs have a chance to rebound from a miserable defensive performance in 2009.
3. Darren McFadden – RB – Raiders
McFadden was supposed to have an Adrian Peterson-like impact and help turn around the Raiders fortunes. Instead, he’s struggled to hold off Michael Bush and Justin Fargas for the starting job in Oakland. McFadden needs to finally live up expectations before the Raiders send him packing along with JaMarcus Russell.
2. Matt Forte – RB – Bears
After a memorable rookie season Forte suffered a brutal sophomore slump. Mike Martz likes to incorporate his running back into the passing game as much as any offensive coordinator, which could mean Forte is due for a breakout season. We should get a good idea for how much Martz trusts Forte based on how they use him in training camp and in preseason games.
1.Matt Leinart – QB – Cardinals
All eyes will be on Leinart early this season. He has the physical tools to be an elite quarterback, but he just hasn’t put in the effort to live up to expectations. Perhaps the light bulb has finally gone off now that Warner is gone and he’s been given his last chance to succeed in Arizona. Derek Anderson will be breathing down his neck, pushing Leinart every step of the way.