Posted: Tuesday November 28, 2006 11:24AM; Updated: Tuesday November 28, 2006 11:01PM
Reggie Williams will need to produce more than the four TDs he's scored so far if the Jaguars hope to reach the postseason.
4. Reggie Williams: The Jacksonville Jaguars need some receiver to become a go-to guy for quarterback David Garrard, so it might as well be Williams. He has the most seniority of the best candidates -- having been a first-round pick in the 2004 draft -- and it's time to see if he ever will deliver on that investment. As it stands now, there is simply too much pressure on the Jaguars offense to not have a wide receiver who can be a reliable target in the passing game. It can't be Matt Jones, last year's first-round pick, because he still hasn't shown that he has the toughness to catch passes in traffic or the acceleration to run away from receivers on deep routes. Ernest Wilford, the other starter, is an adequate possession option but he's not going to terrify anybody. That leaves Williams, who is about as close to being a bust as a receiver can get in this league right now. These next few weeks would be a good time for him to start changing that perception.
5. Chris Henry: As troublesome as this Cincinnati second-year wide receiver has been over the last year -- and he has to have set some sort of unofficial record for run-ins with the law in a 12-month period -- he's still a hell of a player, one the Bengals need badly for their wide-open offense to be at its best in the stretch run. When Henry is on his game, his deep speed forces defenses to lighten up their coverage on fellow wideouts Chad Johnson and T.J. Houshmandzadeh. The Bengals missed that element when Henry was serving a suspension earlier this season for violating the league's substance abuse policy, but his presence played a key factor in Johnson producing 573 receiving yards over his last three games. True, Henry has been erratic in the last couple games, but the Bengals need him on the field.
6. Chris Draft: The Carolina Panthers would be woefully thin at middle linebacker if they didn't have Draft filling in for injured starter Dan Morgan. Draft has the veteran savvy to make up for what Carolina lost in Morgan's absence and he's helping a disappointing Panthers defense regain some of its edge. Even with Carolina's loss last Sunday to Washington, the improved play on defense has to give the Panthers hope that they can still overtake New Orleans for the NFC South title.
7. Martin Gramatica. So much for Mike Vanderjagt, the most accurate kicker in NFL history, solving the Dallas Cowboys' place-kicking problems. Now that Dallas has cut him and signed Gramatica, who couldn't last in New England earlier this year, I have to wonder just how much faith head coach Bill Parcells will have in his kicking game over the next five games. Look, I like the way quarterback Tony Romo is playing. But he's not going to throw five touchdown passes every Sunday and there will be plenty of close games that will likely come down to a field goal. Given the way things have gone for the Cowboys in recent years, I doubt they've found a player who actually can deliver a clutch kick when needed. If that's the case, Dallas' woes could give other playoff candidates new life.
8. Leroy Hill: Much of the focus in Seattle has been on the return of running back Shaun Alexander and quarterback Matt Hasselbeck from injuries, but Seattle's defense still needs to get better, and Hill, a second-year outside linebacker, is vital to that improvement. Quietly as the notion is kept, some scouts think Hill's a better linebacker than the more heavily hyped Lofa Tatupu. Hill is fast and instinctive, and the Seahawks need his play-making to avoid the struggles that plagued them earlier this year. Remember, five teams have scored more than 28 points against Seattle this year. That's not an encouraging sign.
9. Deuce McAllister: The Saints have the NFL's top offense (402.5 yards per game) but that's mostly the result of how pass-heavy that system has become over the last few weeks. New Orleans could use more balance in its attack, and that means using McAllister, its workhorse running back, more often. Currently, the Saints rank 28th in the league in rushing. That won't get it done when they have to start winning close games. McAllister and Reggie Bush simply need to contribute more to keep this storybook season from ending badly.
10. Jonathan Vilma: The New York Jets inside linebacker has ranked among the league leaders in tackles all season but he's also been producing in a 3-4 system that doesn't play to his strengths. At 6-foot-1 and 230 pounds, Vilma doesn't have the prototypical size to take on guards and centers in that scheme and opposing teams have exploited that fact at various times this year. If the surprising Jets are going to stay in contention, he'll have to keep playing at his best for a defense that really doesn't have adequate personnel for the 3-4.