As minicamps start springing up around the NFL map, this month is when we get that first sneak peek of the new rookie draft class. But as much as all the new faces in all the new places pique our interest, a less obvious source of impact will come from all those highly-regarded 2008 rookies who either fell off the radar screen due to injuries or failed to live up to expectations last year.
Supposedly the biggest leaps of improvement in the NFL are made by players between their first and second seasons, when the rookie daze starts to subside and a veteran air of understanding begins to descend. With that in mind, here are 20 second-year players who need to deliver in 2009, erasing the memory of their underachieving rookie seasons:
1. Calais Campbell, DE, Arizona
A second-round pick in 2008, Campbell gets his chance to crack the starting lineup of the defending NFC champions this season, as a replacement for departed free-agent defensive end Antonio Smith (who signed with Houston). Campbell had 28 tackles but no sacks in 16 games last season, seeing time at defensive tackle and end, in addition to covering kicks on special teams. The 6-foot-8, 282-pound Campbell needs to rediscover the pass rush skills that made him the 50th overall choice in last year's draft.
2. Early Doucet, WR, Arizona
The majority of rookie receivers struggle to produce up to their collegiate standards, and Doucet, a third-rounder out of LSU, was no exception last year. He caught just 14 passes for 90 yards, making him only Arizona's seventh-busiest receiver. Doucet has the most to gain from a potential Anquan Boldin trade this offseason, because he'd move up a notch on the Cardinals receiving depth chart -- behind Larry Fitzgerald, Steve Breaston and Jerheme Urban -- if No. 81 finally leaves Arizona.
3. James Hardy, WR, Buffalo
The Bills thought they satisfied their long-standing need for a big receiver last year when they drafted Hardy in the second round (41st overall) out of Indiana. But he caught just nine passes for 87 yards and two touchdowns in 14 games, ending the season on injured reserve after tearing his ACL in Week 15. His rehab has been ahead of schedule, and Hardy might be ready to play in time for Buffalo's final preseason game. In the meantime, the Bills went out and got themselves another big receiver this offseason. A guy by the name of Terrell Owens, who promptly took Hardy's No. 81, with Hardy switching to No. 84.
4. Chris Williams, OT, Chicago
Preseason back surgery cost the Bears' 2008 first-round pick the first seven games of his rookie season, and he saw only limited playing time in Chicago's final nine games. But he's being counted on to handle the starting right tackle spot this season, after the retirement of veteran John Tait. The Bears signed Orlando Pace to replace John St. Clair at left tackle, and also added veteran Kevin Shaffer to the tackle rotation.
5. Felix Jones, RB, Dallas
The first of Dallas's two first-round picks in 2008, Jones was an early season sensation as a rookie. But injuries to his hamstring and left big toe limited him to just six games last year, and his toe problem required surgery. Jones rushed 30 times for 266 yards last season (a whopping 8.9-yard average) with three touchdowns, forming an effective speed and power tandem with veteran Marion Barber. He also returned 16 kickoffs for a 27.1-yard average, with a 98-yard touchdown.
6. Mike Jenkins, CB, Dallas
With Anthony Henry and Pacman Jones no longer around, Jenkins will, at worst, compete with fellow second-year man Orlando Scandrick for a starting corner job opposite Terence Newman. Jenkins had a decent, but low-impact rookie season, starting three games and making one interception, which he returned for a touchdown against the Giants. Jenkins missed two games with a hamstring injury, but the Cowboys' second 2008 first-round pick finished the season strong and wound up with 22 tackles and six passes defensed.
7. Derrick Harvey, DE, Jacksonville
Harvey's rookie season was greatly impacted by his being the last 2008 first-round pick to sign. His 33-day holdout didn't end until late August, and he wound up starting just nine games, with 3½ sacks (tied for second on the team) and one interception. His 29 quarterback pressures led the Jaguars, and he's a player who is expected to take a significant step in 2009, justifying the No. 8 overall draft slot that Jacksonville spent on him.
8. Quentin Groves, DE, Jacksonville
The Jaguars are counting on Groves to play a much larger role in their defensive line rotation in year two, after he garnered just 2½ sacks as a rookie pass rush specialist. Job one this offseason was to get him big enough to handle a 4-3 end position, and he has put about 15 pounds on a frame that was down to 251 at season's end. With Jaguars losing starting end Paul Spicer in free agency, Groves, a second-round pick in 2008, will be Jacksonville's third DE this season.
9. Glenn Dorsey, DE, Kansas City
Is the No. 5 overall pick in 2008 suddenly a man without a position? The Chiefs say Dorsey will probably shift from tackle to an end slot in their move to a 3-4 defensive formation, but Kansas City took a pair of 3-4 ends with its first two picks in this year's draft -- LSU's Tyson Jackson in the first round and Purdue's Alex Magee in the third. Dorsey had a very low-impact rookie season, with one sack and one forced fumble, despite starting 16 games.
10. Chad Henne, QB, Miami
Before the Dolphins acquired Chad Pennington in early August, Henne looked like the odds-on favorite to start as a rookie in Miami. While conventional wisdom says Henne will once again be No. 2 this season, and then challenge for the starting job in 2010, when was the last time Pennington played two consecutive seasons without suffering either an injury or a benching? I expect Henne to play at some point, for some reason, in 2009.